Spring training is actually quite refreshing. It signifies the return of baseball and reminds us that summer is around the corner. For baseball fans it’s ex-lax for the brain. A relief like no other. Finally, we get a much-awaited wave of baseball news and conversation that washes over us all the way through October.
The other bonus of spring training is the ability to see the youth of tomorrow play with the big boys. Questions begin to form about that slick-fielding shortstop your team took with its first pick in last year’s draft. Questions get answered about the right fielder, a first overall pick five years ago and supposed savior, now playing for his professional life … oops, looks like the $10 million signing bonus went for not … he could be the dreaded BUST!
Baseball is full of them. The bust is no stranger to most teams. If you’ve been a fan of a certain team long enough, then you’ve been sold on the “can’t miss” prospect. In the end, all they do is … well, miss!
Scouting or predicting talent in a baseball prospect is a science, not to mention very difficult. From what I can comprehend, predicting baseball talent in a prospect is about as likely as a farmer planting a tomato seed and being able to tell you how many tomatoes it will yield on a weekly basis, but don’t stop there, he will also tell you how juicy they will be -- variables in weather, soil, equipment be damned.
With all the time and variables that go into the progression of a ballplayer, there is bound to be the occasional bust. Below I have listed a few that stick out over baseball’s recent history …
Steve Chilcott, New York Mets, 1966 -- No. 1 overall pick -- Catcher
Fans of the 1960’s Mets just cringed in unison. In the second-ever draft, the Mets chose Chilcott, a high school catcher from California, with the first overall choice. The second pick of that draft was an outfielder by the name of Reggie Jackson. If you all remember correctly, Jackson had a pretty good (yes, sarcasm) career in the big leagues. Chilcott, on the other hand, never saw more than a handful of games above the Double-A level, and never played a single game in the majors.
David Clyde, Texas Rangers, 1973 -- No. 1 overall pick -- Pitcher
Clyde was billed as the next Sandy Koufax; he turned out to be the ultimate cautionary tale. What do you get when you cross a high school phenom, a local kid at that, with a greedy owner? Can you hear the raw talent flushing down the toilet?
Selected first overall in the 1973 draft, Clyde was a “can’t-miss” prospect. While at Houston’s Westchester High School, the left-hander managed five no-hitters and two perfect games. Then-Rangers owner Bob Short signed Clyde with a $65,000 signing bonus, a large sum of cash at the time. But that wasn’t all. He wanted to put butts in the seats and knew this would be a payday for the Rangers as well. He wanted Clyde to put the minors on hold and start two major league games before being sent down. In the short-term it worked. A few weeks after his senior prom, Clyde started his first major league game. He ended up getting the win after pitching five innings of one-hit ball. His next start was a strong seven-inning effort and another win, against the Tigers.
The only problem with Clyde was his control. He was wild, and when hitters figured that out, they sat on his fastball and he struggled. He ended his first season with a 4-8 record and a 5.01 ERA. The future was not much better, and in 1975 he was finally sent to the minors. The arm troubles surfaced about 1976. He bounced around baseball until 1981 and called it quits at the young age of 26 with a record of 18-33.
David Clyde might not be the biggest bust ever, but his situation might be one of the saddest. He was also one of the most poorly managed prospects in baseball history.
Todd Van Poppel, Oakland A’s, 1990 -- No. 14 overall pick -- Pitcher
OK, so Van Poppel wasn’t a No. 1 overall selection. The hype surrounding him was fit for a No. 1 selection, however. He was compared to fellow Texan Nolan Ryan, and he very well could have been selected No. 1 overall if teams were not so afraid he would choose college instead. The Braves, having the No. 1 pick in 1990, thought about choosing him, but took Chipper Jones … not a bad choice.
After a blazing trip through the minors, Van Poppel was given a start in 1991, at the age of 19. He got shelled, giving up five runs on seven hits over 4.2 innings. This started his eventual roller-coaster ride through the minors. He would not see the big club again until 1993. Of course, arm troubles plagued most of his young career. He bounced around for the better part of a decade, between the minors and big leagues as a reliever and occasional starter, but never lived up to the hype.
Brien Taylor, New York Yankees, 1991 -- No. 1 overall pick -- Pitcher
Taylor’s $1.55 million signing bonus almost tripled the record at that time. He drew comparisons to Dwight Gooden, and legend says he threw a fastball in the high 80s as a 12 year old! Scott Boras says to this day “he was the best high school pitcher I have ever seen.”
A brawl led to injuries and eventually kept him from ever seeing a major league roster. After toiling in the minors for much of the 90’s he goes down as one of two No. 1 overall selections to never see the majors.
As a Cub fan, I will close with this one. We waited and waited for this once untouchable prospect to show his face at Wrigley Field. A supposed “five-tool” prospect with Hall of Fame written all over him, what we got over the course of six seasons was an undisciplined, inconsistent hitter with great speed … what a waste. He could have been Carl Crawford, but instead he wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. He gave us one good season, or part of a season, in 2003 when he batted .298/ 13 HR/ 55 RBI in 83 games.
There are probably many other busts that rank higher, as every fan has a special place in their heart for the “bust” or the player that never was for their team, but this one burns the most for me.
Chet West writes for The View From the Bleachers blog, which is part of the SweetSpot network.