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.
50) Adam LaRoche, Atlanta Braves
What I said then: “LaRoche looks like he’ll be a consistently solid performer for the Braves, starting this season. … He’s the kind of guy who should be able to string together a bunch of .275/.350/.450 years, with a couple .300/.375/.500 seasons thrown in.”
What happened since: LaRoche made the Braves out of spring training, started out slow, missed some time with an injury, and then caught fire with a .302/.368/.576 second half (including .348/.403/.682 in September). Overall for the year, he hit .278/.333/.488 with 13 homers, 27 doubles, and 27 walks in 110 games with the Braves.
49) Joel Zumaya, Detroit Tigers
What I said then: “Zumaya is a long way from the majors at this point, but he’s got a very high ceiling. … Keep an eye on this guy.”
What happened since: At 19, Zumaya started the season at Single-A, did fairly well, and then struggled after being promoted to Double-A. Overall, he went 9-9 with a 4.64 ERA in 135.2 innings, striking out 137, walking 68, and allowing opponents to hit .229 off him.
48) Matt Riley, Baltimore Orioles
What I said then: “After a surprisingly good comeback season in 2003, he’s now back on the prospect radar. … All the basic disclaimers about pitching prospects and injuries should obviously be multiplied about ten-fold for Matt Riley, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”
What happened since: The good news is that Riley managed to stay relatively healthy, needing just one stint on the 15-day disabled list because of a shoulder problem. The bad news is that he was extremely inconsistent with the Orioles, going 3-4 with a 5.62 ERA and 60-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 innings, and went back and forth between the majors and Triple-A a couple times. He was dominant at Triple-A, posting a 1.71 ERA and 51-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42 innings.
47) Jason Stokes, Florida Marlins
What I said then: “Last year I thought Stokes was on his way to developing into an elite offensive player, but now he looks more like an all-or-nothing slugger with a significant lack of plate discipline. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because of the impact the wrist problem may have had on his season, which is why he didn’t drop completely off this list.”
What happened since: Stokes once again both disappointed and performed just well enough offensively to keep me interested, hitting .272/.345/.513 with 23 homers, 26 doubles, and 42 walks (and 121 strikeouts) in 106 games at Double-A Carolina.
46) Gabe Gross, Toronto Blue Jays
What I said then: “I don’t think Gross is going to be a star, but he’s very close to being ready for the big leagues and he should be a solid corner outfielder for many years.”
What happened since: After hitting .294/.381/.454 with nine homers, 29 doubles, and 53 walks in 103 games at Triple-A, Gross was called up by the Blue Jays in early August. He struggled in his first taste of the majors, hitting .209/.311/.310 with three homers, four doubles, and 19 walks in 44 games.
45) Jose Lopez, Seattle Mariners
What I said then: “I thought long and hard about whether or not I was falling into what I like to call the “Luis Rivas trap.” … He never actually produced offensively, but most people kept giving him free passes because of his youth. … I am very willing to give extremely young players the benefit of the doubt, as long as they show me something to get excited about. Rivas never showed that, but Lopez definitely has.”
What happened since: Lopez hit .295/.342/.505 with 13 homers, 19 doubles, and 16 walks in 74 games at Triple-A, before the Mariners called him up at the end of July. Lopez spent the rest of the year in the big leagues as Seattle’s shortstop, hitting .232/.263/.367 with five homers, 13 doubles, and eight walks in 57 games.
44) Justin Huber, Kansas City Royals
What I said then: “Huber is not considered the greatest defensive catcher, but the man can hit. … He’s got good plate discipline and solid power, although he strikes out more than you’d like to see. … Huber should be ready for an everyday gig sometime around 2005.”
What happened since: Though he spent time at three different levels in 2004, Huber saw the bulk of his action at Double-A, hitting .271/.414/.487 with 11 homers, 16 doubles, and 46 walks in 70 games. He was traded from the Mets to the Royals at midseason, but never saw action in Kansas City’s system because of a knee injury.
43) Gavin Floyd, Philadelphia Phillies
What I said then: “I’d still like to see Floyd increase his strikeouts at some point, and he’s still young enough to do that. Right now though, he looks to me like a #2/#3 starter.”
What happened since: Floyd started the season at Double-A, went 6-6 with a 2.57 ERA and 94-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 119 innings, and was promoted to Triple-A. He went 1-3 with a 4.99 ERA in 30 innings at Triple-A and then went 4-2 with a 3.49 ERA in 28 September innings for the Phillies. Combined at all three stops, Floyd struck out just 6.9 batters per nine innings.
42) David Bush, Toronto Blue Jays
What I said then: “Bush seems to have the repertoire to succeed as a starter in the major leagues. He should get a chance with Toronto before the year is over and will be joining Roy Halladay in the rotation full-time soon after that.”
What happened since: Bush went 6-6 with a 4.06 ERA and 88-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 99 innings at Triple-A, before the Blue Jays called him up in early July. He spent the rest of the season in Toronto’s rotation, going 5-4 with a 3.69 ERA and 64-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 innings.
41) Franklin Gutierrez, Cleveland Indians
What I said then: “He is one of the toolsiest (is that a word?) players around, but he has also produced some actual good results. That’s a rare combination, particularly for someone so young, and that’s what makes Gutierrez such an intriguing prospect.”
What happened since: Gutierrez was traded from the Dodgers to the Indians in the package for Milton Bradley shortly before the start of the season. He spent the bulk of the year at Double-A, hitting .302/.372/.466 with five homers, 24 doubles, and 23 walks in 70 games. Gutierrez was promoted to Triple-A around midseason, but played just seven games there before an elbow injury knocked him out of action.