Prospects will break your heart.
So much potential and hype surrounds these guys, often just kids, on whom we’ve placed the burden of the franchise’s future. So much has to go right for these players to realize their potential yet almost none of it will. The list below certainly makes that clear: between prolonged slumps, injuries, or off field issues a lot can go wrong.
We’ll be taking a look at some top Tampa Bay Rays prospects who just could not cut it in the majors or just didn’t live up to their potential. Ladies and gentleman, we give you the All-Bust Team.
Catcher - Justin O’Conner
Taken in the first round of the 2010 draft, Justin O’Conner was hyped as the catcher of the future for the Rays. An 80-grade arm behind the plate and the potential to have plus power in the majors, O’Conner surely would be on the fast track to the majors.
Unfortunately, O’Conner was slow to succeed professionally, but after a breakout campaign in 2014, O’Conner surged back to the top of the Rays system, ranked their 3rd top prospect. His production slipped however in 2015 and then just before spring training in 2016, O’Conner suffered an injury that would ultimately cost him the entire season and ultimately his spot on the 40-man roster.
He is still with the organization, so there may still be hope for him in the future but with his back issues, his time behind the plate may not last much longer.
First Base - Joel Guzman
The Rays acquired Guzman from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2006 trade deadline in exchange for Julio Lugo. He was once the Dodgers number one prospect and among the top five in baseball, but was perhaps a victim of being rushed through the system as he hit a brick wall in the upper levels of baseball.
He’d only play in a grand total of 24 games in the majors during his career. After being released by the Rays following 2008, Guzman has spent time with other MLB organizations (just in the minors), and also playing in other countries. He hasn’t played anywhere though since 2013.
Second Base - Brent Abernathy
The only Olympic gold medalist (“it’s true, oh it’s true” I’m not actually sure if this is true) in Tampa Bay Rays history quickly saw his shine wear off once he was exposed to the majors. The Rays acquired Abernathy when they sent Steve Trachsel to the Blue Jays at the 2000 trade deadline.
Abernathy was named the Rays 6th best prospect following that season. In 2001, Abernathy took the starting 2B job and played well, but followed that up with a pitiful campaign in 2002. He ultimately fell out of favor with the Rays and wound up journeying around the MLB and the minors. During parts of four seasons in the majors, Abernathy accrued negative fWAR and would be out of baseball following 2007.
Short Stop - Reid Brignac
He was thought to have been the total package: providing pop at the top of the lineup, hitting for good contact, excellent arm, and steady improvement with the glove at short. He was mainstay near the top of the Rays list for years, but baseball has a cruel way of just being awful most of the time.
Brignac’s glove held its side of the bargain but his bat left so very much to be desired and so far after parts of nine seasons in the majors, Brignac has a career OPS of .573. Certainly not what the scouts and prospect pundits has predicted for the once perennial uber prospect.
Third Base - Jared Sandberg
The nephew of a Hall of Famer, Sandberg didn’t catch much notoriety from around the league but still found himself ranked among the best prospects in the Rays system during the late 90’s. During his time in the majors, he was able to provide plenty of pop (25 HR over 706 PA), but his inability to hit for contact plagued him during his short major league career.
He would only play for the Rays during his major league career (last in 2003), then he journeyed around the minors, but ultimately played the last year of his career in 2007. Sandberg has since found his calling as a manager, progressing his way through the ranks of the Rays system and is currently managing the Durham Bulls.
Left Field - Josh Sale
The Rays had high hopes for Josh Sale after taking him with the 17th overall pick during the 2010 draft. He had incredible bat speed and was expected to advance quickly despite being a high school draftee. He instantly became one of the Rays top prospects as well as one of Baseball America’s.
Things didn’t quite work out though, as Sale struggled both on and off the field dealing with very poor performance as well some terrible judgement. The Rays ultimately released him after just four seasons with the organization and Sale hasn’t played anywhere since.
Center Field - Elijah Dukes
A player with all the potential in the world who was poised to do big things on the field just couldn’t behave himself off the diamond. Between the attitude problems and the legal issues he doomed what could have been a promising career.
Dukes, who was ranked in the Rays top ten and heralded by Baseball America started off well, homering in his first major league game. His off the field issues proved too much however and the Rays eventually traded him to the Nationals, with whom he enjoyed a very good 2008 season (2.7 fWAR in 81 games). The personal issues continued to plague him, however, and he didn’t play a major league game following the 2009 season.
Right Field - Delmon Young
Here’s another player who had limitless potential that became very limited in a hurry. Coming up through the system as a number one overall pick, he was widely regarded as one of the top prospects in history let alone the present. Baseball America actually had him their top three in the game for four years in a row from 2003 to 2006.
Young dealt with his own share of issues of the field and the Rays traded him after the 2007 season when he finished runner up for the Rookie of the Year award. He managed to string together decent seasons for the Twins and Tigers, but injuries and poor conditioning caught up with him and he failed to find a job after the 2015 season.
Designated Hiter - Wes Bankston
Although he came up through the system as a first baseman/outfielder, Wes Bankston is a prototypical DH who seemed on the way to be masher in the majors. As an 18 year old in Princeton, he homered 18 times in just over 60 games. He didn’t quite bring the power the following season, but the potential was there as he cracked the top ten for the team three times.
Ultimately, Bankston stalled out around the Triple-A level from where he just could not make the leap to the majors on a permanant basis. He did make his MLB debut in 2008, but would not return and spent the last years of his career playing in Mexico.
Pitcher - Matt White
Widely considered the best pitcher in the 1996 draft class, Matt White signed with the Rays after his agent, Scott Boras, got him free agency through a technicality and he signed for a record amount. Baseball America thought highly of the pitcher as they ranked him 4th overall in the game.
Injuries have a way of just decimating a career, especially if you’re a pitcher and if it’s your shoulder that gets hurt. Matt White was sadly one of these cases as he would undergo three shoulder surgeries over his career and would never make it past the Triple-A level. He formally retired in 2006, but last threw a pitch in 2003.