With each box score and every game, the search continues. The next breakout prospect. We try to look under every rock to find them, with some analyzing nearly every prospect en route to saying, "I knew about this guy first."
While that search drives prospect mavens, I'm not sure we spend enough time on the opposite. Each season, dozens of prospects take giant steps back. Failure is the name of minor league baseball; most prospects never see time in the Majors. So rather than address those players moving backwards, we discard them for the flavor of the week.
I don't have scouting information on these guys, so I couldn't tell you the exact cause for 2006 concern. But after scouring through league statistics, and beginning to rework my top 75 for the midseason ranking, here are 8 guys in danger of slipping:
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C - Atlanta Braves: .210/.319/.320.
We didn't see this coming. Saltalamacchia flew up prospect lists last season when he showed a good amount of hitting in one of the minors' most difficult hitters parks. Myrtle Beach is hellish on bats, and while AA Mississippi is no cake walk, we should have been seeing improvements upon 2005 numbers, not this giant step back. The word has continued to be that Jarrod has altered his focus to defense this season, but it would be unfortunate if this came at the expense of his bat.
Brian McCann is very well thought of in Atlanta, and their slew of young catching was always considered a good problem. Because, at worst, if one of the players didn't make it, another player would be on the horizon. McCann seems to have made it in Atlanta, while Salty seems clueless in AA. He could turn things around with a good second half and a big 2007, but he didn't capitalize upon his opportunity to become a top ten prospect and push past McCann.
Thomas Diamond, SP - Texas Rangers: 4.19 ERA, 81 K / 45 BB.
In actuality, Diamond's numbers are not that bad this season. His prospect status is not in the toilet, his Major League hopes are still strong. But they aren't unchanged. After his dominant run through the Cal League in 2005, harder times were met in Frisco. The reason: increased walks, to the tune of a 4.96 BB/9, the highest of his career. Until now. After walking just 44 players in his first three stops, spanning nearly 130 innings, Diamond has 45 walks in 66.2 innings this season. His current 6.08 BB/9 matches the number he put up as a freshman at New Orleans.
Diamond has continued to show good stuff, not allowing very many hits and still maintaining a good strike out rate. But with his pitcher's body, we used to project a future innings eater with ease. However, in a season where pitching prospects are graduating to the Majors at huge rates, Diamond has been unable to capitalize and become one of the better prospects left. Instead, he's made us wonder: are we looking at a future reliever?
Eric Duncan, 1B - New York Yankees: .209/.279/.255.
Note the numbers listed above is just Duncan's performance in AAA, where he spent the beginning of the season before a demotion two weeks ago. Back in AA, Duncan is still relatively young for the league, but he has seen Eastern League pitching a time or two. Duncan has not had a very good season in 2 years, but salvaged his prospect status last season with a good showing in the Arizona Fall League. There are different theories as to why he hit so well there, but with this season, that should all be forgotten.
The most disconcerting of Duncan's numbers this year is his Isolated Power, which wasn't even .050 in more than 100 at-bats in Columbus. We worry that Delmon Young hasn't really shown any power in 2006, but what about Duncan? While he has hit two home runs and four doubles since being demoted, where were the hard hit balls in Columbus? Always a prospect whose stock was actively watched by those on the trade market, expect other organizations to pass on Duncan this season.
Garrett Mock, SP - Arizona Diamondbacks: 4.92 ERA, 79 K / 34 BB.
Mock represents one of the stones that I turned in the search for breakout prospects; regrettably, he was on my preseason breakout list. One of the Cal League's most prolific strikeout arms last season, Mock's numbers were depleted by horrible hit rates that I opined was caused by his .334 BABIP. While some of that may be true, it is now clearer that Mock is just pretty darn hittable, as his H/9 is approaching 10 again this season. Excuses can be made in California, but if we consider AA to be the litmus test, Mock has failed thus far.
Also lending to some problems this season are some new found control problems. Mock's 34 walks this season are one more than his total from last season, over 174.1 innings. I liked Garrett because if the BABIP rate ever went his way, it seemed as if all the other pieces were in place. Good control, the ability to strike guys out and consume innings. But when one of those disappears, and Mock continues to be hit, his prospect status fades. The Diamondbacks newfound pitching focus could very well leave Mock in the dust.
Wes Bankston, 1B - Tampa Bay Devil Rays: .295/.342/.429.
Surely, I will get hate mail for making this my Devil Ray selection. However, I just don't see that Delmon Young or Elijah Dukes has a depleted prospect status. Dukes, in fact, was really rising up my list before his latest suspension. And Young just hasn't been able to play baseball, until yesterday, so let's wait a little while before we give up on these guys for make-up issues. Instead, let's focus on the situation of Wes Bankston, who has not quite turned a corner in AA Montgomery.
Tampa didn't like that Bankston only offered the first base position for managers, so in Spring Training, the team thought to try him at the hot corner. While it looked, at times, like he might take to the position, the conversion overall didn't go so well. This is a first baseman. However, this season, he isn't showing the power or patience of one. While, granted, injuries have limited Bankston's productivity this season; we haven't seen enough promise of a future above-average corner player. Unfortunately for Bankston, his bat had been all he had left.
Chris Volstad, SP - Florida Marlins: 4.05 ERA, 65 K / 20 BB.
Before last season's draft, I watched all the video and heard the reports. I was convinced Volstad was the top prep pitcher in the draft, all 6-7 of him. But now, not even three months into the season, I'm not sure Mark Pawelek (not yet to throw a pitch) isn't the better prospect. Volstad doesn't even have top honors on his team, though the Greensboro rotation does rival the best low-A rotations ever. 'Polish' is an odd term in ranking prospects, and one that comes up often with players that have good control. Volstad, it will be said, has good polish.
But then why, I might ask, is Volstad not a polished-enough pitcher to prevent so many hits? Why are his strikeout numbers already in the toilet? The stuff is the same as it ever was, for the most part. But perhaps the fastball has straightened out, or his curve has not proven to be an out pitch. Whether it is Volstad's approach to hitters or his movement, big changes need to be made this winter. His cache of the first prep pitcher from the 2005 draft will lengthen his half-life, even if his peers go running past during that time.
Brad Harman, SS - Philadelphia Phillies: .237/.326/.310.
Another breakout selection, another misstep. After the World Baseball Classic, my opinion of Harman had reached an all-time high. I have no doubt that, had I revised my prospect rankings then, I would have found a place for him in the honorable mention. However, it seems like I really missed the boat with this kid. After leading the Australian team in hitting before they were ousted, Harman has been unable to hit in the Florida State League this season. Doing so is an uneasy task for a player with Harman's limited profile, but there really isn't much to pick from as positive here.
Harman has shown very little power, even of the gap variety, with just 13 extra=base hits this season. His 51 strikeouts are on their way to triple digits, lending to a batting average that has needed some recent success to climb from the Mendoza line. Defensive question marks continue to surround the Aussie. All that's left is a good walk rate, enough for a hope that his bat returns in the Eastern League. Harman is too young for his prospect status to be dead, but considering it was never very alive in world's outside of my brain, this season has really been a struggle.
Tyler Clippard, SP - New York Yankees: 5.16 ERA, 68 K / 28 BB.
Things have been a struggle for Clippard this season, his ERA higher than his hit rate suggests that it should be. The reason, as we have learned from the Hardball Times extensive coverage on the batted ball, is that EL hitters are likely hitting the ball very hard. We always knew that Clippard had a good curveball, a pitch that has always been enough to garner a good amount of strikeouts. We knew he always had good control, lending to positive walk rates for much of his career. Put those together, and many people thought you had the start of a pitching prospect.
But it's hard to be truly successful without a fastball. Clippard is a solid young pitcher, and his good control helps, but there just isn't enough juice on the fastball. It is going to, consistently, get hit hard. Add in the fact that a curveball-happy pitcher tends to hang a lot of pitches, and Clippard's future doesn't shine so bright. Like Duncan, you can bet Clippard won't be the most sought after Yankee prospect this July.