Hitting Prospects Who Lost Value in 2017
Prospect hunting can be a fickle endeavor. Sometimes you strike gold, sometimes you fail miserably, and sometimes nothing happens for years at a time. After previously discussing some pitching prospects who lost value last year, I wanted to take a look at some players on the offensive side of the coin. Offensive prospects are often considered to be much safer than their pitching counterparts, and though I very much agree with that sentiment, there is plenty that can go wrong with the development of an offensive prospect.
Be it injury, ineffectiveness, or even just a change in organization, sometimes it just doesn’t work out for these guys. Let’s take a look at a few who fell from their 2017 ranking in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects list to a lower point in this year’s rankings.
Austin Meadows – Pittsburgh Pirates
If it seems like Austin Meadows has been floating around as a top prospect for seemingly forever, that’s because he was taken ninth overall as a high-school outfielder in the 2013 first-year player draft. He’s been in the system for nearly five years, and scouts have been salivating over his elite potential since he signed his contract. A 70-grade caliber star with endless tools, it’s not hard to understand why he’s been so highly regarded all this time. He packs an amazing hit-tool, above-average speed, and potential 60-grade power. Not to be too obvious here, but he’s the second coming of Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh.
Well, he could be that, or he could just wind up being a pretty good player that never manages to stay healthy. Five years in the minors have equaled out to exactly one 500+ plate appearance season, as Meadows has dealt with oblique and hamstring injuries that have sapped his ability to be on the field. Of course, when he has played, the power hasn’t developed like most scouts and analysts predicted. Questions still abound about his defense, as well, possibly taking center field out of the equation.
The sum of what we’ve seen from Meadows can take us down two main paths. First, the injuries have sapped his power and defensive ability, so once he’s truly healthy, we can expect the elite level talent he once projected to be. Or, secondly, we’ve seen a top talent with an inability to stay healthy and stalled development, which hasn’t provided the results, meaning we need to seriously reconsider what we think of the player. I think the truth lies somewhere in between these two options. I’m concerned the power isn’t ever going to come, and I’m concerned Meadows just never plays enough to be viable.
Everything considered, if I own Austin Meadows, I think I’m going to shop him around and see what I can get. If the price I want doesn’t get met, then I’ll hold and hope that this year is a turning point for the promising young outfielder. But if I can swing a deal with an owner that still believes he’s a potential top-10 outfielder of the future, I’ll bite.
2017 Ranking: 6
2018 Ranking: 44
Ceiling: Top 15 Outfielder
Kyle Lewis – Seattle Mariners
Kyle Lewis was one of the hottest college bats coming into the 2016 draft. He had 70-grade raw power and had put together some impressive stats playing for Mercer University and in the Cape Cod league. His ability to take a walk was on display, and he showed a glimpse of a hit tool that might enable him to produce some prodigious power. Lewis was going to be a welcome addition to any farm system in the game and was rumored to be a top choice for the Detroit Tigers at ninth overall. The fact that he fell to Mariners at 11th overall felt like a major victory for the team. They had just picked up a polished bat with immense potential.
Then he started to play baseball.
Lewis managed to see 30 games in Class-A ball and put up some nice numbers before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season. It’s been virtually downhill for him since then. Once he finally returned to action in extended spring training in 2017, Lewis was noticeably hobbled, and many believe he was rushed back into action too quickly. He spent the rest of the season going back and forth between playing a game or two, then shutting it down for an extended time. 2018 hasn’t started off much better, as it has already been announced that he underwent a less invasive knee scope to clean up the joint and alleviate some of his pain. He’s expected to miss about a month to begin the year, and from there, the jury is out.
Lewis still retains some immense potential considering how hard he can hit a ball. But with this kind of injury history already under his belt, the odds are very much against him. If I’m a Kyle Lewis owner, I’ll hang on to him and hope he debuts in 2018 and things go smoothly in his return. If he comes out of the gate swinging, then I’ll try to capitalize and trade him as quickly as I can. The risk is too high for me, so I’m staying clear away if possible.
2017 Ranking: 34
2018 Ranking: 67
Ceiling: Top 25 Outfielder
Nick Gordon – Minnesota Twins
The previous two players listed in this article were riddled with injuries, but that’s not the case with Nick Gordon. Brother of Dee and son of Tom, Gordon actually put together a really nice 2017 season in the minors where he proved he can handle Double-A pitching, which is a significant hurdle in the growth of a prospect. In 578 plate appearances, he managed to slash .270/.341/.408 with nine homers and 13 stolen bases. He walked almost 10% of the time, showing growth in that department while striking out in a still respectable 23% of his plate appearances. This was, by all means, a successful season for the youngster, and yet his ranking is plummeting on prospect lists everywhere.
There are a couple of factors at play here. First, Gordon may have had a nice season, but there wasn’t much growth as far as power goes and his stolen bases were misleading because he was caught seven times (65% success rate). Second, the Twins have made some crazy improvements to their farm system, and now Gordon is being overshadowed at his position by 2017 No. 1 pick Royce Lewis. This certainly can’t be quantified, but when you suddenly fall from No. 1 in your minor league system to anywhere from third to fifth, your overall value suffers a bit.
The final result for Nick Gordon is up in the air, of course, but what we should have is a nice middle infielder who hits for average, gets on base, and is steady enough at the position that he should hold eligibility at shortstop (at least until Lewis unceremoniously kicks him off of the position). The main problem lies in the fact that his counting stats aren’t going to be all that great. If he develops into a 15-HR, 15-SB player, then there is sure to be plenty of value to be had, but it caps the pure potential of the player. Of course, there’s also a chance that he is merely a 10-10 player, as well. Gordon fits that Dansby Swanson profile. They should be phenomenal real-life baseball players, but only pretty solid fantasy players.
I think if you go into evaluating Nick Gordon as less of your starting shortstop but more your starting middle infielder, then you’ll be pretty happy with what you get. If you hope for any more than that, however, then you’re likely going to be disappointed.