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What Happens To Veterans Displaced By Elite MLB Prospects?

When Brandon Drury hit a walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays the win in Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s major league debut, it was a well-timed reminder that he should not be forgotten.

Drury, after all, lost his spot as Toronto’s starting third baseman when the Blue Jays called up Guerrero from Triple-A. He has since bounced around in a utility role, making starts at second base, third base and right field.

As if to declare he intends to be more than just the answer to a trivia question—“Name the player Vladimir Guerrero Jr. replaced”—the 26-year-old followed his walk-off blast with a game-tying, three-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning two days later.

“I think my bat needs to be in the lineup every day,” Drury said in Anaheim during the Blue Jays’ first road series after Guerrero’s callup. “Whatever I have to do to be in there, I’m going to do. Ideally, I would like to stick to one position, but for now if I have to play around a little bit and play some second, third and outfield and be in the lineup, that’s fine for now.”

Drury is the latest veteran forced to navigate a difficult dynamic: playing the same position as a celebrated prospect, constantly hearing about the young hot shot’s exploits and knowing that almost no matter what you do, the prospect will supplant you at some point.

Elite Prospects Who Displaced Veterans
DebutTeamPlayerPositionPrevious StarterPrevious Starter Outcome
2019Blue JaysVladimir Guerrero Jr.3BBrandon DruryStill with team
2018BravesRonald Acuna Jr.LFPreston TuckerTraded July 2018
2017DodgersCody Bellinger1BAdrian GonzalezTraded December 2017
2016Red SoxAndrew BenintendiLFBrock HoltStill with team
2015DodgersCorey SeagerSSJimmy RollinsFree agent November 2015
2015AstrosCarlos CorreaSSJonathan VillarTraded November 2015
2015CubsKris Bryant3BMike OltLost on waivers September 2015
2012NationalsBryce HarperCFRick AnkielReleased July 2012
2011AngelsMike TroutCFPeter BourjosTraded November 2013

Drury has dealt with it to some degree already. He was the Yankees’ starting third baseman last year before migraines forced him to the injured list one week into the season and opened the door for Miguel Andujar to take over.

But to have the No. 1 prospect in baseball, and one as hyped as Guerrero, come up behind you presents a much more prominent, public challenge.

Mike Olt understands better than most. He was the Cubs’ starting third baseman for much of 2014 as Kris Bryant laid waste to the upper minors, won Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award and assumed the mantle of No. 1 prospect in the game.

Olt began the 2015 season as Chicago’s starting third baseman, but even he knew his time was short.

“When you get to see a talent like that, you’re going to know he’s going to be a special player and he’s going to be a big part of their plans,” said Olt, who now plays for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. “It’s just one of those things that you’re still just getting all the work in you can, you’re still making sure you’re ready to do your job . . . You’re going to try and do whatever you can to make sure you have a chance to succeed there and (for) whatever the plan is for you after to set up something down the road.”

In many cases, setting something up for the future is the best the player can do. Olt never played another game for the Cubs after they called up Bryant. The players supplanted by Ronald Acuña Jr. (Preston Tucker), Corey Seager (Jimmy Rollins), Carlos Correa (Jonathan Villar) and Bryce Harper (Rick Ankiel) were all gone from their teams within four months of the prospect’s promotion.

“You’re definitely aware of what’s behind you,” said Peter Bourjos, the Angels’ center fielder before Mike Trout.

“You’re in the big leagues, but you know he’s a top prospect, you’ve seen him play, you know he’s good. So I figured I need to control what I can control, go out and play well, and if I do that, hopefully we’ll be able to play in the same outfield together or I’ll get an opportunity somewhere else."

Bourjos had a similar experience to Olt.

On the one hand, he was confident in his own abilities. On the other, he knew the player coming up behind him was an MVP-caliber talent.

In a way, Bourjos said, that made things a little smoother.

“It’s almost easier because you know how good he is and that he’s a generational talent who is going to come up and be good right away,” Bourjos said. “As opposed to maybe a guy who’s a prospect but not that caliber, where you sit there and you say, ‘I think I’m better than him.’ Where, arguably, Trout was better than most big leaguers when he was called up—if not the whole league. So it was probably easier to accept in that sense.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr Jimmcissacgetty

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Bourjos shares similarities with Olt in that he was forced into a nomadic existence after Trout’s promotion. He had an excellent season the year of Trout’s debut in 2011, batting .271 with 26 doubles, 11 triples, 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases. But by 2012—Trout’s first full season—Bourjos was relegated to the bench. His chance to start again in 2013 was short-circuited by injuries. He was traded after that season and bounced between eight different organizations the next six years, including being back in Anaheim this season before drawing his release in May.

That can be the most difficult part: Knowing that even if you produce, there’s still a good chance you’ll be pushed aside.

“It’s a humbling thing and it’s something you have to take in stride, but it’s not something that’s exactly easy,” Olt said. “You kind of have to have the same mindset as at the field. That it should kind of be your main focus as a player, just to make sure you get all your work done and not really think about the roster situation.”

That is the challenge before Drury, and one that will be before some yet-to-be-named veteran in every future season as the newest top prospects rise to make their major league debuts.

Correspondents Shi Davidi and Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this story.

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