The very first column I wrote here at The Hardball Times, way back in March, was the first installment of a multi-part series naming my top 50 prospects. Starting with #50 (Adam LaRoche) and ending with #1 (Joe Mauer), I identified and ranked the 50 prospects I liked best heading into the 2004 season and said a few words about each player. With the 2004 season in the rear-view mirror and my third annual top 50 list in the works, I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a look back at last year’s top prospects to see how they did in 2004.
30) Delmon Young, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
What I said then: “It is my general policy to not include players without at least some minor league experience on this list. … I am making an exception to my rule. … Check back next year, because there’s a good chance he’ll be one of the top prospects in baseball.”
What happened since: Young is indeed one of the top prospects in baseball. Playing the entire season at low Single-A Charleston, Young batted .322/.388/.538 with 25 homers, 26 doubles, and 53 walks in 131 games. He was named the “Most Outstanding Major League Prospect” of the South Atlantic League after leading the league in hits and RBIs, and also ranking among the top five in the league in batting average, runs, total bases, and slugging percentage.
29) J.J. Hardy, Milwaukee Brewers
What I said then: “Any 20-year-old shortstop who can post a .368 OBP in a full season at Double-A with more walks than strikeouts and decent power is okay with me. Hardy doesn’t look like a future superstar to me, but he should be a very solid all-around player.”
What happened since: Hardy missed most of the 2004 season with a shoulder injury, but did hit .277/.330/.495 with four homers, 10 doubles, and nine walks in 26 games at Triple-A.
28) Scott Hairston, Arizona Diamondbacks
What I said then: “While there are very few doubters of Hairston’s hitting ability, there are many who question whether or not he’ll be able to stay at second base in the majors. His bat is good enough that he’ll have value anywhere, but whether or not he can stick in the middle infield will probably determine if he becomes a great player or just a very good one.”
What happened since: Hairston started the season at Triple-A Tucson and batted .313/.375/.565 with five homers, eight doubles, and 11 walks in 28 games, while splitting time between second base (21 starts) and the outfield (five). He was called up by the Diamondbacks in May and hit .248/.293/.442 with 13 homers, 15 doubles, and 21 walks in 101 big-league games, playing almost solely second base.
27) Guillermo Quiroz, Toronto Blue Jays
What I said then: “Guillermo Quiroz is obviously the “catcher of the future” for the Blue Jays. The interesting thing is that they sort of already have a catcher of the future in Kevin Cash, who will likely get quite a bit of time behind the plate in Toronto this year. I probably like Cash a lot more than most people (he was on this list last year), but if Quiroz keeps playing like he did last season, Cash has no chance of holding him off.”
What happened since: The Blue Jays traded Cash to the Devil Rays this offseason, further solidifying Quiroz’s hold on the long-term catching job. However, Quiroz struggled with a wrist injury and hit just .227/.309/.404 with eight homers, 19 doubles, and 28 walks in 76 games at Triple-A last year, before batting .212/.263/.250 with zero homers, two doubles, and two walks in a 17-game stint with Toronto.
26) Dustin McGowan, Toronto Blue Jays
What I said then: “Toronto has developed some very interesting pitching prospects over the past few years and Dustin McGowan is the best of the bunch.”
What happened since: McGowan’s train to Toronto was derailed when he went down an elbow injury in May and ended up needing Tommy John surgery. He did go 2-0 with a 4.06 ERA in 31 innings at Double-A before the injury, which may cause McGowan to miss a sizeable chunk of 2005 as well.
25) Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
What I said then: “All of the disclaimers about young pitchers and injuries apply, and certainly Hernandez needs to show that he can pitch like this at higher levels, but right now he looks like a serious stud.”
What happened since: Hernandez certainly showed that he can dominate at higher levels in 2004. He started the season at high Single-A and went 9-3 with a 2.74 ERA and 114-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 92 innings, before being promoted to Double-A. Once there, he went 5-1 with a 3.30 ERA and 58-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 innings, giving him the following season totals at the age of 18: 14-4, 149.1 innings, 2.95 ERA, 172 strikeouts, 47 walks.
24) John Maine, Baltimore Orioles
What I said then: “Baltimore hasn’t had a whole lot of good prospects lately, but with Maine and Matt Riley, they have a nice young nucleus to build the pitching-staff around.”
What happened since: Maine started the season at Double-A, going 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 34-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 innings there. He was then promoted to Triple-A, where he went 5-7 with a 3.91 ERA and 105-to-52 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 119 innings. In the middle of all that, he was called up to the Orioles to make an emergency start against the Twins in mid-July and got bombed, giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks in three innings.
23) Dallas McPherson, Anaheim Angels
What I said then: “This guy is just a great offensive player. … There are some questions about McPherson’s defense at third base and a lot of people seem to think he’ll have to move across the diamond or to an outfield corner at some point. While he’d obviously have the most value if he can stick at third, his bat will carry him anywhere.”
What happened since: McPherson had a monster year in 2004, combining to hit .317 with 40 homers, 37 doubles, 14 triples, and 57 walks (with 126 RBIs and 107 runs scored) in 135 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He made his major-league debut in September, batting .225/.279/.475 with three homers, one double, and three walks in 16 games with the Angels.
22) Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians
What I said then: “When he first started playing pro baseball, Sizemore was talked about mostly as a leadoff hitter. At this point, with his increased power and decreased basestealing abilities, he looks more like a #3 hitter to me.”
What happened since: Sizemore split last season between Triple-A and the majors. He hit .287/.360/.438 with eight homers, 23 doubles, and 42 walks in 101 games at Triple-A Buffalo and batted .246/.333/.406 with four homers, six doubles, and 14 walks in 43 games with the Indians. He continued to struggle on the bases, going just 17-for-27 (63%) stealing bases.
21) Ryan Wagner, Cincinnati Reds
What I said then: “He is basically a major league-ready closer right now. He’s got incredible stuff and his performance in college and in his time with the Reds last year was awesome.”
What happened since: Turns out Wagner wasn’t quite so major league-ready after all. He started the year with the Reds as a setup man, struggled to the point that he was sent back down to Triple-A, and then made his way back to the majors to finish the year. Overall, he went 3-2 with a 4.70 ERA and 37-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 innings for the Reds, and also tossed 16 innings with a 2.70 ERA and 19 strikeouts at Triple-A.