Prospects Turned Projects
Two short years ago, Domonic Brown appeared on the verge of becoming a big league star. Now he has yet to establish himself as a regular and is back in Triple-A. The 24-year-old Brown isn't the only one-time top prospect surprised to be in the minors in 2012. Here are six other prospects who, through a combination of their own performance and the major league club's roster, are back in Triple-A to start 2012.
• Brett Wallace, Astros:
Houston tried to make it work last season, affording Wallace 115 games and 379 plate appearances, but the 24-year-old first baseman batted .259/.334/.369 with five homers. This season he finds himself with Triple-A Oklahoma City, but not all hope is lost. Wallace shifted back to third base (on a part-time basis), and he has reunited with Jeff Luhnow, the new Astros general manager and the man who drafted him 13th overall in 2008 as scouting director for the Cardinals.
• Travis Snider, Blue Jays:
Snider debuted with the 2008 Blue Jays at age 20, and he returned to Toronto each subsequent season, so he had 877 big league plate appearances prior to turning 24. Unfortunately, the young left fielder (and 14th overall pick in 2006) batted just .248/.307/.423, bottoming out with a .616 OPS last season after hovering near league average in 2009 and '10. Snider returns to Triple-A Las Vegas for what should be the last time (he'll be out of options next season), trying to convince the Blue Jays that he's part of the organization's youth movement that includes the likes of Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, Kyle Drabek and Henderson Alvarez.
• Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians:
Though Chisenhall spent the second half of last season in Cleveland, he didn't hit particularly well for a corner player (.255/.284/.415 in 223 plate appearances) and then went 8-for-39 (.205) this spring. Given his youth (23) and status as a smooth-fielding, lefty-hitting third baseman, Chisenhall ought to get a second chance with the Indians this season, but for now he's off to a great start with Triple-A Columbus.
• Hank Conger, Angels:
Though he performed respectably for a 23-year-old rookie catcher in the first half last year (.682 OPS), Conger went into a tailspin when the calendar turned to July, starting just 12 games the rest of the way and going 6-for-42 (.143) . The Angels' offseason acquisition of Chris Iannetta buys time for Conger, the 25th pick in the 2006 draft, to iron out his swing and his receiving with Triple-A Salt Lake.
• Matt LaPorta, Indians:
Cleveland targeted LaPorta as the main compensation for C.C. Sabathia when they dealt the ace lefty to the Brewers in July 2008, but the 27-year-old first baseman has not yet lived up to his end of the bargain. LaPorta has been one of the worst offensive performers at his position since 2009, batting .238/.304/.397 in 1,008 plate appearances. That's the lowest on-base percentage among first basemen (min. 1,000 PA) and third-lowest average and slugging percentage. LaPorta, the seventh overall pick in 2007, will attempt to get back on track with Triple-A Columbus.
• Chris Tillman, Orioles:
Baltimore starters logged the highest ERA (5.13) and WHIP (1.48) among American League clubs from 2009-11, but still Tillman has not been able to stick in the rotation. He has made 36 big league starts spread over three seasons and is 7-15, 5.58 with a 1.58 WHIP. That performance means Tillman's back with Triple-A Norfolk this season on his final minor league option. While his overall performance for the Tides has been respectable (3.71 ERA, 2.5 K-BB ratio) a spacious home park hides a lot of his deficiencies. In 29 career International League road starts, Tillman sports a 4.85 ERA with a sub-2.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.9) and elevated home run rate (1.4 per nine).