Brandon Wood's Place Among Prospect Disappointments




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See also: All-Time Top 100 Prospects


Elite hitting prospects are baseball gold.

Pitching prospects are a fickle bunch who can flame out when an elbow or a shoulder starts barking. Hitters don't face the same risk of injury attrition, which is why it's so much more notable when a truly premium hitting prospect doesn't live up to lofty expectations.

That just makes the career path of Brandon Wood all the more remarkable. Ranked the No. 3 prospect in baseball entering the 2006 season, Wood played in 173 big league games over parts of five seasons with the Angels before the organization designated him for assignment on Tuesday. The out-of-options Wood went 2-for-14 with eight strikeouts this season, and the Angels deemed him expendable when they needed to find roster space for Erick Aybar.

Now 26, Wood owns a major league batting line of .168/.197/.259 in 494 trips to the plate, 153 of which have ended with Wood walking back to the dugout after hearing the umpire's strike-three call.

What exactly happened to Wood doesn't seem to be a major mystery: He simply hasn't been able to make contact against big league pitching. His career isn't over, but thus far, Wood's propensity to swing and miss has been something he hasn't been able to overcome.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is where Wood will end up ranking among the most disappointing prospects of the last two decades if he doesn't end up figuring out how to solve those contact issues. He figures to get a chance to start fresh with a new organization.

Power Prodigy

In the minor leagues, Wood's power was spectacular. Sure, it came with strikeouts, but he was able to tap into his power in game situations in the minors. Playing for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga as a 20-year-old in 2005, Wood smashed 98 extra-base hits, including 43 home runs in 130 games. After the season, Wood went to the Arizona Fall League and set a league record by clocking 14 more homers in 29 games. One manager in the California League called him the next Cal Ripken Jr. Only the Devil Rays' Delmon Young and the Diamondbacks' Justin Upton ranked ahead of Wood in the Top 100 following the '05 season.

Wood was more than just a Cal League mirage. He went to Double-A Arkansas in 2006 as a 21-year-old shortstop and hit .276/.355/.552 in 118 games. His Triple-A numbers in 2007 weren't quite as gaudy, but he showed plenty of pop by hitting .272/.338/.497 for Salt Lake. Wood started seeing big league time, but things never came together for him. He still crushed Pacific Coast League pitching with a .970 OPS in 103 games in 2008 and a .910 OPS in 99 games in 2009, but major league arms continued to pick him apart.

According to Baseball-Reference's wins above replacement (WAR) metric, which calculates a player's offensive and defensive contributions relative to a replacement player at his position, Wood has cost his team nearly three wins (-2.7 WAR) in his brief big league time.

So if Wood can't resurrect his career, where would he rank among the most disappointing elite position prospects in recent history?

From 1990 to 2006 (when Wood was baseball's No. 3 prospect), 47 position players have ranked among the top five prospects in all of baseball. Some players, like Joe Mauer, ranked among the top five prospects in baseball multiple times. Those 47 prospects have mostly been tremendously successful, a group of future Hall of Famers, perennial all-stars and solid big leaguers, with only a handful of true flameouts. Since many of these players are still active and should build upon their totals, their current ages are included for reference.

    PLAYER        WAR        AGE   
    Alex Rodriguez        103.0        35   
    Chipper Jones        80.7        38   
    Derek Jeter        70.0        36   
    Andruw Jones        60.0        33   
    Vladimir Guerrero        58.9        36   
    John Olerud        56.8        42   
    J.D. Drew        47.1        35   
    Carlos Delgado        44.2        38   
    Adrian Beltre        43.5        32   
    Joe Mauer        38.7        28   
    Tim Salmon        37.6        42   
    Mark Teixeira        37.2        31   
    Eric Chavez        36.1        33   
    Juan Gonzalez        33.5        41   
    Darin Erstad        27.8        36   
    Cliff Floyd        27.3        38   
    Ryan Klesko        26.7        39   
    Vernon Wells        25.7        32   
    Jose Reyes        23.7        27   
    Paul Konerko        22.6        35   
    Aramis Ramirez        22.2        32   
    Pat Burrell        18.0        34   
    Josh Hamilton        16.9        29   
    Nick Johnson        14.5        32   
    B.J. Upton        13.6        26   
    Sandy Alomar Jr.        13.2        44   
    Carlos Pena        12.4        32   
    Jose Offerman        12.3        42   
    Jeffrey Hammonds        9.9        40   
    Hank Blalock        9.2        30   
    Stephen Drew        8.8        28   
    Justin Upton        8.7        23   
    Rickie Weeks        8.1        28   
    Alex S. Gonzalez        7.4        38   
    Brian Hunter        7.0        40   
    Ben Grieve        6.7        34   
    Rocco Baldelli        6.5        29   
    Corey Patterson        5.9        31   
    Ruben Rivera        5.7        37   
    Travis Lee        5.6        36   
    Jeremy Hermida        3.2        27   
    Ian Stewart        1.9        26   
    Sean Burroughs        1.8        30   
    Delmon Young        0.5        25   
    Joel Guzman        -0.5        26   
    Brandon Wood        -2.7        26   
    Andujar Cedeno        -3.6        41   

Players like Hee-Seop Choi, Chad Hermansen, Jeremy Reed, Jason Stokes and others were all once top prospects who never panned out, but none of them were ever top-five prospects in all of baseball. Neither were Drew Henson or Joe Borchard, a pair of highly-regarded prospects who were even more prominent because of their college football exploits and signing bonuses.

We're going to look at the bottom of the list, so let's first take out Delmon Young, who is still just 25 and a regular with the Twins after ranking as the No. 1 prospect in baseball in 2006 when he was 20 years old.

We should also set aside Jeremy Hermida and Ian Stewart in their own category. Hermida ranked one spot behind Wood on the 2006 Top 100, while Stewart ranked No. 4 overall the previous year. The clock is ticking, but like Wood, let's let them get beyond the typical late-20s peak years of a hitter before we close the books on their chances.

The No. 3 prospect in 2000, Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson moved up one spot on the 2001 list, while Diamondbacks first baseman Travis Lee ranked fifth overall in 1997. Neither player lived up to expectations, though each has managed to log more than 4,000 career plate appearances, with Patterson still plugging away in Toronto.

Disappointments, to be sure, but there have been worse.

Power Tease

Andujar Cedeno, the No. 2 prospect in baseball in 1991 (behind Athletics righty Todd Van Poppel) shows more about how differently teams evaluate players today than they did 20 years ago. A Dominican shortstop who passed away in 2000, Cedeno ranked as the top prospect in the Astros system in '91, ahead of No. 2 Jeff Bagwell, No. 3 Darryl Kile and No. 4 Kenny Lofton, while Jeff Juden checked in at No. 6 and Luis Gonzalez ranked eighth.

At the time, Cedeno's numbers weren't spectacular. In fact, they were downright ugly: At age 20 with Double-A Columbus, he hit .240/.293/.442 in 132 games and committed 51 errors. So what was the draw here? People went gaga for his raw power. Cedeno hit 19 home runs, a counting stat that surely stood out at the time for a shortstop.

"His hands and arm are considered above average for his position," Baseball America's scouting report at the time said. "What really sets him apart from other shortstop prospects, though, is his ability to drive the ball. He has iron in his arms and a whip-like bat that Astros officials expect will one day produce 20-plus home runs.

"Scouts say Cedeno has as much power as anyone in the organization except Glenn Davis, Mike Simms and Eric Anthony, all much more physical players. Last season, Cedeno hit a ball at Orlando's Tinker Field that Astros scout and former Minnesota farm director George Brophy said he'd seen matched only twice before—by Harmon Killebrew and Gary Gaetti."

Scouts did have concerns about Cedeno's plate discipline and long swing, but his raw power overrode those worries. There was also talk that Cedeno might have to move to second or third base, where he played that winter in the Dominican League "to accommodate Dodgers shortstop prospect Jose Offerman."

In retrospect, the major league results weren't a huge surprise. Cedeno had one good year with the Astros in 1993 when he hit .283/.346/.412 in 149 games, but he salvaged only a few seasons of regular playing time before retiring with a .236/.292/.366 line in 616 games.

The Pure Hitter

Sean Burroughs, on the other hand, never lacked flashy stats, particularly when it came to getting on base. The Padres third baseman spent three straight years as one of the top game's top 10 prospects, checking in at No. 7 in 2000, No. 6 in '01 and climbing up two more spots to No. 4 in '02. Burroughs walked more than he struck out and posted a .467 OBP in 128 games between low Class A Fort Wayne and high Class A Rancho Cucamonga as an 18-year-old in 1999, then walked more than he struck out again the next year in Double-A Mobile.

As a 20-year-old with Triple-A Portland in 2001, Burroughs hit .322/.386/.467 in 104 games. Young for his level, a potential OBP monster and a scouting report that labeled him "the best pure hitter in the minor leagues" with above-average power potential thanks to "the bat speed and the approach to drive the ball out of the park as he gets more experience and learns to turn on pitches." Beyond his offensive prowess, his scouting report noted that Burroughs was "not a one-dimensional player, either," lauding his above-average arm strength and hands.

Burroughs reached the majors at age 21, but that power never came. In 440 major league games, Burroughs hit just 11 home runs, eight of them away from San Diego's vast ballpark. He's a career .280 hitter, but it's been an empty average with a .340 OBP and just a .358 slugging percentage. While Cedeno's plate discipline never allowed him to tap into his raw power, Burroughs' patience at the plate wasn't enough to carry his lack of pop.

After three years away from the game, Burroughs returned to action in 2011, signing a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks. Arizona general manager Kevin Towers served in the same capacity for the Padres when San Diego drafted Burroughs ninth overall in 1998. Playing third base for Triple-A Reno, the now 30-year-old Burroughs is off to a 4-for-11 start.

So if Wood decided to pack it in today and call it a career, would his career be the most disappointing ever for an elite hitting prospect? Not quite. In terms of hype, that title likely belongs to a supposed five-tool center fielder who came up with the Yankees.

The Hype

Ruben Rivera had among the loftiest expectations ever for a prospect, especially an international one. Rivera made five Top 100 lists from 1994-1998, including No. 2 in 1995, No. 3 in '96 and No. 9 in '97. Reports on Rivera were especially bullish heading into '95, when he ranked behind only Alex Rodriguez and just ahead of Chipper Jones and Derek Jeter. Rivera was the Yankees' top prospect, ahead of Jeter (No. 2), Andy Pettitte (No. 3), Jorge Posada (No. 7) and his older cousin Mariano Rivera (No. 9).

"The Yankees haven't had a talent like this guy since Mickey Mantle," said his manager in the Arizona Fall League, adding that "he does more things than (Andre) Dawson could do when he was this age, more than a young (Dave) Winfield could do. Winfield hit 20 to 30 homers. Ruben could hit 40 to 60. Winfield has a good arm, Ruben has a great arm."

A White Sox scout said that to make a trade for Ruben Rivera, his team would've had to part with Frank Thomas.

"I think he's probably the finest prospect since (Ken) Griffey," said another scout. "He reminds me a lot of Cesar Cedeno. He's got the tools to be as good as anyone in the game."

Major league results: 662 games, only 51 with the Yankees, and a .216/.307/.393 career line. After washing out of affiliated baseball, Rivera latched on with Campeche of the Mexican League in 2004 and '05, then suited up for the White Sox's Triple-A Charlotte club in '06 before heading back south of the border, where he continues to play to this day.

The 37-year-old Rivera has started slowly for the Campeche Pirates this season—just 4-for-17—but in his prior five years with the club he batted a robust .343/.445/.614 with 134 home runs in 2,508 plate appearances.

Perhaps he is the Mickey Mantle of the Mexican League.

The Cup Of Joel

Though Rivera failed to live up to spectacular expectations others placed upon him, he at least was a useful big leaguer in a small capacity. Looking at the players at the bottom of our list sorted by MLB plate appearances reveals one glaring outlier.

    PLAYER        PAs   
    Travis Lee        4233   
    Corey Patterson        4134   
    Andujar Cedeno        2223   
    Ruben Rivera        1818   
    Sean Burroughs        1690   
    Brandon Wood        494   
    Joel Guzman        62   

While Rivera signed for $3,070, Joel Guzman was a hot-shot 16-year-old Dominican shortstop whose power and impressive batting practice in front of Dodgers brass in 2001 helped earn him a $2.255 million bonus. Ten years of market explosion later, Guzman's bonus still stands as one of the 10 highest bonuses ever for an international amateur.

After some early-career struggles, Guzman appeared to be delivering on his promise as a 20-year-old in 2004 when he hit .307/.349/.550 in 87 games for high Class A Vero Beach and then finished in Double-A Jacksonville by hitting .280/.325/.522 in 46 games with the Suns. The No. 26 prospect in baseball coming into the year, Guzman jumped to No. 5 in baseball after his '04 campaign.

"When I saw him, he jumped out at me," an American League scout said at the beginning of the 2005 season. "I had scouted Chipper Jones and A-Rod before and to me, Guzman's bat was better. I mean, at 16 years old, the kid was as good as or better than anyone I'd ever seen."

Guzman's major league career was a brief one. He played in eight games with the Dodgers in 2006 at age 21 before getting dealt to Tampa Bay at the trading deadline, along with Sergio Pedroza, in exchange for Julio Lugo. Guzman played in 16 games for Tampa Bay in '07, but that has been his last taste of big league life, with a .232/.306/.321 batting line left to show for it in just 62 trips to the plate.

When he was a prospect, there were concerns about how wide the 6-foot-6 Guzman would grow and whether he possessed the plate discipline to hit more advanced pitching. Those concerns ended up being valid, as Guzman got up to a listed weight of 252 pounds and ended up moving to third base, also spending considerable time as a corner outfielder and first baseman. Guzman led the Double-A Eastern League with 33 homers last season, but now he's playing for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, his MLB career likely over.

So what can we learn from these players? It's tempting to look at Guzman, Wood and Rivera and be skeptical of high-power, low-contact hitters who put up big numbers in the minors, especially in the Cal League. Those are legitimate red flags. Yet then there are also players like Burroughs and Hermida—who drew 111 walks and posted a .457 OBP in 118 Double-A games as a 20-year-old—who show that having a good swing, the ability to control the strike zone and get on base a ton in the minors doesn't make a player a slam dunk for major league success either.

If Wood is looking for precedent for a career resurrection, there is Carlos Pena. The No. 5 prospect in baseball in 2002, Pena was a high-strikeout hitter who didn't have a breakout year until he was 29. Given that Wood can play third base or handle himself at shortstop, he'll almost certainly get more chances to continue to prove himself.

If he doesn't end it figuring out how to put it all together, he still arguably wouldn't be the most disappointing position prospect ever. He would, however, become the latest example that even the best hitters in the minor leagues are never can't-miss prospects.