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.
40) Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
What I said then: “Youkilis is a hotly debated prospect in the scout vs. stat-head world and those who were ‘against’ him coming into the season have jumped all over his struggles at Triple-A, using them as evidence of his demise. I’m not so fast to dismiss someone based on 109 bad at-bats, especially when he had been so good up until those struggles.”
What happened since: Youkilis hit .262/.343/.407 with three homers, 12 doubles, and 17 walks in 36 games at Triple-A and also saw extended action with the Red Sox because of an injury to Bill Mueller. He appeared in a total of 72 games with Boston, hitting .260/.367/.413 with seven homers, 11 doubles, and 33 walks.
39) Clint Nageotte, Seattle Mariners
What I said then: “I’m not as convinced of his ability to become a dominant starting pitcher as I was this time last year. … The deterioration of his strikeout/walk ratio is concerning. … I still think a guy who posts a 3.10 ERA as a 22-year-old at Double-A and strikes out more than a batter an inning there has a future as a starting pitcher, but 2004 will probably tell for sure.”
What happened since: Nageotte’s strikeout-to-walk ratio continued to deteriorate in 2004, as he went 6-6 with a 4.46 ERA and 63-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 innings at Triple-A. He also pitched a total of 36 innings during a couple stints with the Mariners, going 1-6 with a 7.36 ERA while splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation.
38) David DeJesus, Kansas City Royals
What I said then: “Should Carlos Beltran leave after (or during) the season, DeJesus will be his replacement in center field. … He’ll be a good one and he’s just about ready.”
What happened since: DeJesus began the year at Triple-A, hitting .315/.400/.518 with six homers, 14 doubles, and 21 walks in 50 games, and then took over as the Royals’ centerfielder when Beltran was traded to Houston at midseason. He played a total of 96 games for Kansas City, hitting .287/.360/.402 with seven homers, 15 doubles, and 33 walks, including .314/.385/.453 after the All-Star break.
37) James Loney, Los Angeles Dodgers
What I said then: “Loney was bothered by a sore wrist for much of the season and that no doubt hurt his numbers. … Assuming the wrist is healthy now (and judging from what I saw of him this spring, it is), Loney is a good bet to have a big season in 2004.”
What happened since: If 2003 was a disappointing season for Loney, 2004 was simply a lost year. After impressing the Dodgers by hitting .343 (12-for-35) during spring training, he hit just .238/.314/.327 with four homers, 19 doubles, and 42 walks in 104 games at Double-A.
36) Travis Blackley, Seattle Mariners
What I said then: “He’ll likely begin this season at Triple-A and could see time in Seattle by the end of the year. He doesn’t look to me like a future ace, but I think he’ll make a solid #2/#3 starter on a good team.”
What happened since: Blackley went 8-6 with a 3.83 ERA and 80-to-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 110 innings at Triple-A and made his major-league debut with the Mariners in July. He pitched 26 innings for Seattle, going 1-3 with a 10.04 ERA, and also experienced some shoulder soreness at the end of the year.
35) Michael Aubrey, Cleveland Indians
What I said then: “A polished college hitter, he should move quickly through Cleveland’s system and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was their starting first baseman by 2005.”
What happened since: Aubrey began last season at Single-A and hit .339/.438/.550 with 10 homers, 14 doubles, and 27 walks in 60 games. That was enough to earn him a promotion to Double-A, where he struggled for the first time as a pro, hitting .261/.340/.425 with five homers, seven doubles, and 15 walks in 38 games.
34) Jesse Crain, Minnesota Twins
What I said then: “Inning for inning, Jesse Crain was as good as just about any pitcher in baseball last year. … Crain is the future at closer for the Twins and could take the job as early as this season.”
What happened since: Crain’s 2004 season wasn’t as dominant as his 2003, but it was still plenty good. He threw 50 innings with a 2.49 ERA and 64-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Triple-A, before making his big-league debut in late July. Crain finished the year with the Twins, posting a 2.00 ERA in 27 innings. Overall, he tossed 77 innings with a 2.34 ERA and held batters to a .196 batting average.
33) Josh Barfield, San Diego Padres
What I said then: “The problem is that he may not stay at second base. Reports on his defense as mixed, but the general consensus seems to be that he’ll be average there, at best. He may eventually have to make a move to the outfield, where his bat will certainly allow him to still be a good player.”
What happened since: Barfield stayed at second base last season and committed just 14 errors in 136 games there, but his bat surprisingly became a question mark for the first time. After an MVP season at Single-A in 2003, he hit just .248/.313/.417 with 18 homers, 28 doubles, and 48 walks in 138 games at Double-A.
32) Khalil Greene, San Diego Padres
What I said then: “Greene hit .283/.342/.427 with 13 homers and 36 doubles between Single-A and Double-A last year. If you didn’t know about his college career and you just looked at him as a 23-year-old shortstop, those would be very good numbers. … I wouldn’t expect any huge numbers in 2004, but he should be able to hit .260/.320/.410 or so and improve on that in future years.”
What happened since: Greene hit .273/.349/.446 with 15 homers, 31 doubles, and 53 walks in 139 games with the Padres, numbers that would look even more impressive if not for the fact that he played half his games in the offense-depressing Petco Park (Greene hit .301/.353/.543 on the road, compared to .241/.345/.338 at home). His season was good enough for a second-place finish to Jason Bay in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
31) Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
What I said then: “Wainwright is one of those guys who just gets the job done, despite not having flashy numbers. … Despite the consistently good ERAs, Wainwright’s strikeout rate has dropped significantly. … Definitely not a good pattern. … He’ll likely start 2004 at Triple-A, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with the Cardinals by mid-season.”
What happened since: Traded from the Braves to the Cardinals during the offseason, Wainwright went 4-4 with a 5.37 ERA in 63 innings at Triple-A Memphis before a right elbow injury ended his season in June. Wainwright was able to avoid surgery and came back in time to pitch in the Arizona Fall League.