What Went Wrong: Lessons Learned From 11 Recent Draft Busts
Whether it’s picking stocks, investing in real estate or projecting baseball players, trying to predict the future will inevitably lead to some misses.
In general, teams have a strong track record of correctly identifying the top five to seven players in the draft each year. Things get a bit more muddled beyond that, but over the course of draft history, first-round picks have outproduced second-round picks, second-round picks have outproduced third-round picks, and so on.
Still, there is no such thing as a “can’t-miss prospect,” and many draft prospects who received that designation in the draft did, in fact, miss.
Here are some of the top draft picks scouting directors, special assistants and other executives cited as players they thought would go on to long, successful MLB careers, only for those players to fall short of those expectations. Some reached the majors and bounced around for a few years, while others never made it out of the minor leagues.
All evaluators were granted anonymity to speak freely.
Mark Appel, RHP
Drafted: No. 1 by the Astros in 2013
What he was supposed to be: A frontline ace
What he was: A career minor leaguer
Appel is the rare player who was drafted in the top 10 twice. The Pirates selected him with the eighth overall pick in 2012, but he returned to Stanford for his senior season and was drafted first overall by the Astros the following year.
On the surface, Appel had it all. He had a workhorse 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame, a mid-90s fastball that reached 98 mph, a swing-and-miss slider, a solid changeup and a clean delivery that allowed him to pound the strike zone with ease. There was little doubt he would get to the majors quickly and assume the role of a No. 1 starter.
“Outside of probably Mark Prior and Stephen Strasburg, I thought it was the most ready-made pitcher I’d seen,” a longtime American League scouting director said. “It was ready-made. The look, the delivery, the pitch package . . . He had a presence to him. The feel, the command, the stuff. It never was the Strasburg/Prior level for me, but it was about as close to it as you could get.”
As soon as Appel reported to the Low-A Midwest League after signing, however, red flags began to surface. The primary concern was how straight and hittable his fastball was, something scouts had noted his junior year at Stanford. He struggled to locate his slider, he often tipped his changeup and his stuff noticeably backed up whenever he had to pitch from the stretch.
Even when Appel reached his peak velocities, the quality of his pitches never quite matched his radar gun readings.
Appel got torched for a 6.91 ERA and averaged less than a strikeout per inning in his first full season at High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi in 2014. He improved the following year, but still posted an underwhelming 4.37 ERA while averaging well under a strikeout per inning across Double-A and Triple-A. The Astros traded him to the Phillies after the season as part of a five-player package for closer Ken Giles, and he spent two years in Triple-A in the Phillies organization before retiring in 2018 at age 26.
At the time of his retirement, Appel had a career 5.06 ERA with 412 hits allowed in 375 innings.
“I think one thing for him now as you kind of look back, we didn’t have the data that we do now,” the scouting director said. “I can say with a fairly high level of certainty the pitch profiles, especially the fastball, did not play particularly great. He could overpower pretty mediocre college players, (but) in pro ball it catches up to you pretty quick. He turned really ordinary and got hurt.”
Both mental and physical health played a part in Appel’s struggles. An appendectomy, elbow surgery to remove bone spurs and shoulder inflammation all took a toll on his body. He has talked openly about the mental health battles that came with his poor performance and maintains an active presence on social media, frequently posting about faith and personal growth.
In 2021, Appel made a comeback and posted a 6.06 ERA in 23 appearances (15 starts) for Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the Phillies system. He is a member of the IronPigs’ bullpen this season.
Tim Beckham, SS
Drafted: No. 1 overall by the Rays in 2008
What he was supposed to be: A perennial all-star shortstop
What he was: A journeyman utility infielder
Beckham consistently stood out as the best player on the high school showcase circuit as an amateur, including winning MVP of the Aflac All-American Classic, and signed for a then-record $6.15 million bonus as the top pick in the 2008 draft.
The players drafted immediately after Beckham included Pedro Alvarez (No. 2), Eric Hosmer (No. 3), Buster Posey (No. 5) and Yonder Alonso (No. 7), but Beckham’s selection at No. 1 was justifiable. He ranked No. 3 on the BA draft rankings.
As a prep, Beckham demonstrated the potential to hit for average, hit for power, steal bases and play an excellent defensive shortstop with his combination of athleticism, aptitude and energy, all while demonstrating top-tier makeup out of Griffin (Ga.) High.
“He had just this incredible personality,” a veteran National League crosschecker said. “His team was terrible . . . and he’d turn around and help his left fielder position himself when there was a lefthanded batter up. He’d talk to his second baseman about where to be on a cut, and he’d go make a mound visit when some dude throwing 70 miles per hour couldn’t get it over the plate.
“He just struck you as the whole package. It was tools, athleticism, baseball IQ, makeup, and you’re like ‘This guy is can’t-miss.’ I loved Posey, but I definitely had Tim over him. Tim was No. 1 and Posey was No. 2 on my list that year.”
One concern noted by scouts at the time was Beckham had a lot of above-average tools, but no truly plus tool. Once he got into pro ball, that lack of a carrying skill hampered him. Beckham failed to hit better than .275 or hit more than five home runs at either of the Class A levels. His lower body got thicker, leading to decreased athleticism at shortstop, and he became lackadaisical with his footwork, leading to an alarming number of throwing errors.
Beckham was then suspended 50 games in 2012 after a second positive test for a drug of abuse. When he returned, he struggled to improve his pitch recognition and showed a lack of willingness to shorten his swing, leading to continued underwhelming performance in the minors.
Beckham finally got his first extended playing time in the majors in 2015, seven years after he was drafted, and bounced around from the Rays to the Orioles to the Mariners as a part-time infielder from 2015 to 2019. He played more than 100 games in a season only once and is a career .249/.302/.431 hitter. He is currently on the injured list for Triple-A St. Paul in the Twins organization.
“I think I overvalued his athleticism,” the crosschecker said. “I think his body was maybe more in the above-average twitch and explosiveness categories than the plus categories you wanted it to be.
“And I think the money changed him. He lost some of that drive to be good. I think Tim may have rested on his laurels a little bit. If you talk to the people who were around Tim, the makeup wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. It was just average, and he didn’t put in the required work to really maximize his tools, which it turned out were just OK.
“He had good tools and he showed it in that glimmer with Baltimore when he actually got to play every day (in 2017), but I know he didn’t really get after it the way he needed to . . . He couldn’t get away with that approach. He needed to put in more work.”
Luke Hochevar, RHP
Drafted: No. 1 by the Royals in 2006
What he was supposed to be: A top-of-the-rotation starter
What he was: A low-leverage reliever
Hochevar was a candidate to go No. 1 overall in 2005 out of Tennessee but fell to the Dodgers at No. 40 due to questions about his signability. In a controversial turn of events, he switched agents from Scott Boras to Matt Sosnick three months after being drafted and agreed to sign with the Dodgers, then switched back to Boras and reneged on the deal.
Hochevar spent the 2006 season pitching in the independent American Association and was selected first overall by the Royals. He received a $3.5 million signing bonus and a $5.25 million guarantee as part of a major league contract in what was the franchise’s first draft under general manager Dayton Moore. In the process, Hochevar became the first Royals draft pick since Bo Jackson in 1986 to sign a major league contract.
“I thought he was going to be a really good pitcher,” a veteran NL special assistant said. “I saw three above-average pitches for enough strikes. More importantly, I liked the way it operated—arm action, delivery synced up. I mean, I was pretty impressed by this guy.”
Hochever was considered further along in his development because of his experience in indy ball, but in reality his tenure there consisted of just four starts and 22.2 innings. The Royals nonetheless pushed him quickly, sending him to Double-A to start his first full season and promoting him to Triple-A midway through the year.
Hochevar struggled with the aggressive assignments and posted a 4.86 ERA with less than a strikeout per inning in 2007. Undeterred, the Royals called him up to the majors at the end of the year and put him in their rotation in April of the following season.
With fewer than 170 innings in the minors and the missed developmental steps as a result of being rushed, Hochevar struggled badly. He posted a 5.65 ERA in five seasons as a starter before the Royals moved him to the bullpen in 2013. He won a World Series ring as a reliever with the Royals in 2015 and shined with 10.2 scoreless innings in the postseason, but he had thoracic outlet surgery the following year and never pitched again.
Overall, Hochever went 46-65, 4.98 in nine seasons and averaged just 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
“He had maybe 150 innings in the minor leagues before he went to the big leagues,” the special assistant said. “That plays a part. They rushed him. They spent a lot of money. He was obviously a top pick and he got rushed to the big leagues.”
Greg Reynolds, RHP
Drafted: No. 2 overall by the Rockies in 2006
What he was supposed to be: A front-of-the-rotation workhorse
What he was: A hittable organizational arm
A 6-foot-7, multi-sport standout who had Division I football offers to play quarterback out of high school, Reynolds emerged as Stanford’s ace as a junior in 2006. That year’s draft class was deep in college pitchers, including fellow Pacific-12 Conference arms Tim Lincecum and Brandon Morrow as well as Max Scherzer, Andrew Miller and Brad Lincoln. All six were drafted in the top 11 picks.
Reynolds threw both four-seam and two-seam fastballs with rare command for a college pitcher. He had a curveball and changeup that both drew solid-average grades and threw plenty of strikes with a balanced, repeatable delivery that spoke to his athleticism in his big frame.
Reynolds ranked No. 5 on the BA draft rankings—behind fellow college pitchers Miller, Lincecum and Lincoln—but his selection at No. 2 overall was not viewed as controversial at the time.
“It was easy. It was strikes,” a longtime NL scouting executive said. “I saw him match up with Tim Lincecum and the stuff came out better, and he was a foot taller and he threw better strikes. It was the prototype, man.”
In a precursor to Appel, another big Stanford righthander considered a future frontline starter, Reynolds’ stuff immediately played down once he got into pro ball. His fastball lacked movement and he struggled to miss bats, which did not bode well for success in the thin air of Colorado.
When Reynolds reached the majors in 2008, he went 2-8, 8.13 with 83 hits allowed in just 62 innings, including 14 home runs. A shoulder injury cost him most of 2009, and he didn’t get back to the majors until 2011, where he again proved hittable. He allowed 40 hits in 32 innings for the Rockies and was traded to the Rangers after the season.
Reynolds had one more major league stint with the Reds in 2013 and again got hit hard, allowing 38 hits in 29.1 innings. He never pitched in the majors again, spending one year in Japan and another with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate before his career ended in 2016.
Reynolds finished with his major league career career 7.01 ERA, a .317 opponent average and just 3.9 strikeouts per nine innings. As of 2021, he was working as a firefighter in the Bay Area.
“I think now if I would walk in, I would slice the delivery up a little bit,” the scouting executive said. “I didn’t know at the time, I wasn’t educated yet, but I think there was probably some delivery stuff, and there was probably some metric stuff that we didn’t recognize.
“There was probably a bad spin on this and a bad miss on that. I think there was probably a bunch of tells with him, but we didn’t know.”
Bubba Starling, OF
Drafted: No. 5 overall by the Royals in 2011
What he was supposed to be: A five-tool center fielder
What he was: A raw athlete who couldn’t hit
The legend of Bubba Starling reached mythic proportions when he was a high school senior in Gardner, Kan. He passed for 39 touchdowns as a quarterback and averaged 28 points per game in basketball in addition to being the nation’s top high school baseball player.
He was committed to play quarterback at Nebraska in addition to playing baseball for the Cornhuskers, but he instead signed with the hometown Royals for a franchise-record $7.5 million after they drafted him fifth overall.
Starling’s swing got long at times as an amateur, but his strength and athleticism were too enticing for teams to pass up. He was the first position player taken in the 2011 draft, ahead of Anthony Rendon (No. 6), Francisco Lindor (No. 8), Javier Baez (No. 9) and George Springer (No. 11).
“I had reservations, but I also had high hopes,” a veteran NL special assistant said. “There was a lot to like, man. There was a lot to like. People can say what they want, but it was huge power, huge athlete and it was football. You still had reservations with it, but he should have been better than this.”
Starling was old for the class—he turned 19 just over a month after the draft—and largely beat up on bad competition in high school. Once he got into pro ball and began facing equally physical players, he struggled. He hit .241 with 128 strikeouts in 125 games in his first full season at Low-A Lexington, then hit .218 with 150 strikeouts in 132 games at High-A Wilmington the following year.
His problems making contact never went away. Starling’s timing, hand-eye coordination and pitch recognition remained poor as the Royals pushed him up their system, and he only fared worse as the competition got better. In his first season in the upper levels in 2016, he hit .183 with the lowest on-base percentage in the minors.
Starling eventually spent parts of five seasons at Triple-A and received token MLB callups in 2019 and 2020, where he hit .204 with a 32% strikeout rate. He retired after the 2021 season.
“The classic can’t-hit tool,” the special assistant said. “That’s really it in a nutshell. Just can’t hit. That’s it. We liked him quite a bit. That’s the one who’s kind of flunked out of that group.”
Wade Townsend, RHP
Drafted: No. 8 overall by the Rays in 2005.
What he was supposed to be: A mid-rotation starter or dominant closer
What he was: A career minor leaguer
Part of Rice’s “Big Three” along with Philip Humber and Jeff Niemann, Townsend was drafted eighth overall by the Orioles in 2004 but failed to come to an agreement after Baltimore lowballed him during contract negotiations. He returned to school to complete his degree but was ineligible to pitch after he renounced his college eligibility, so he worked out for clubs on his own while waiting for the 2005 draft.
At his best, Townsend pitched with a low-90s fastball, a devastating spike curveball and an effective changeup. His high-effort delivery and intense demeanor led many teams to project him as a closer, but his arm talent was undeniable.
“He had a really live fastball, a really plus breaking ball, a changeup, all three,” a longtime scouting director said.
After a year of not pitching, though, Townsend’s fastball dropped to 85-89 mph and his curveball lost its bite. The Rays still drafted him eighth overall when Tampa Bay’s penny-pinching front office overruled their scouting department and ordered Townsend’s selection because he would have little bargaining power in negotiations.
Townsend suffered a neck strain in his first career start that further sapped his stuff. A few months later, he suffered a torn elbow ligament in the Arizona Fall League that required Tommy John surgery.
Injuries and declining stuff continued to afflict Townsend in the years after. He had another surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow in late 2008, continued to pitch with a fastball in the mid 80s and never made it past Double-A when the Rays released him in 2009. He never pitched in affiliated ball after that and finished with a career 5.28 ERA in the minor leagues.
“Probably the one thing looking back is he was a really heavy-effort mover,” the longtime scouting director said. “Not really a loose mover. He stiffened up really quick when I saw him again in the minor leagues.
“Everybody points to injuries…but looking at how the mover was—how he did it—that’s what probably got him.”
Townsend became a professional poker player following the end of his baseball career. His earnings totaled more than $100,000 in World Series of Poker competition.
Adam Haseley, OF
Drafted: No. 8 overall by the Phillies in 2017.
What he was supposed to be: An everyday center fielder
What he was: An up-and-down reserve outfielder
Haseley helped lead Virginia to a national championship as a freshman and simultaneously starred both pitching and hitting for the Cavaliers over three decorated seasons. He was a two-time All-American, was a finalist for the Golden Spikes award as a junior and finished among the national leaders in nearly every offensive category in 2017.
Though he didn’t have any truly plus tools, Haseley’s ability to hit from the left side, play center field and long track record of performance made him a consensus top 10 pick in the draft class. The Phillies drafted him eighth overall, and he immediately became a Top 100 Prospect.
“He might not have had upside or, like, all-star potential, but he was going to go have a good major league career,” an NL scouting director said. “I thought he controlled the zone well (with) his advanced approach, and there was enough adaptability with the bat and his swing and the mind and the way it worked.
“He just seemed like he had the hit, plate discipline, decision-making trifecta, like he kind of had it figured out. And then you add in center field defense, which has value, and you’re like, ‘Ok, this is going to be something.’ ”
The one drawback on Haseley in college was his power was only average at best, and he had a short track record of hitting for power in games. Once he got into pro ball and started swinging a wood bat, he struggled to impact the ball.
Haseley moved quickly to the majors despite a pedestrian showing in the minors and posted some of the lowest average and maximum exit velocities of any outfielder in his major league debut in 2019. They decreased even further in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and he spent most of 2021 in Triple-A after suffering a groin strain.
The Phillies traded Haseley to the White Sox before the 2022 season, and he played in just five games for the White Sox before they optioned him to Triple-A Charlotte. Overall, Haseley has hit .262/.322/.368 in parts of four seasons in the majors.
“We had swing questions, and the power was more like opposite-field than pull-side, which always is a little alarming, but I really don’t know (what went wrong),” the scouting director said. “We didn’t love him, but if you’re going through the players of sure major league probability, I think he fit that category for a lot of teams.”
Deck McGuire, RHP
Drafted: No. 11 overall by the Blue Jays in 2010
What he was supposed to be: A solid No. 3 or 4 starter
What he was: An emergency swingman
McGuire had a decorated career at the front of Georgia Tech’s rotation. He went 28-7, 3.28 while playing some of the best college competition in the country and was named Atlantic Coast Conference pitcher of the year as a sophomore.
With a durable 6-foot-6 frame, a low-90s fastball he commanded to both sides of the plate, two breaking balls he could throw for strikes, a usable changeup and a proven track record of being an elite competitor who rose to the occasion in big moments, McGuire universally projected to rise to the majors quickly and settle into the middle of a rotation.
“Big workhorse starter, three pitches. Like, this guy is a good big leaguer, right? Safe bet?,” an NL crosschecker said. “No, he’s actually a 4-A guy.”
While McGuire had feel and polish, his stuff was largely average and it never improved in pro ball. A back injury in his first season contributed to his fastball dropping to 88-92 mph, and his already borderline stuff became a liability.
He went 5-15, 5.88 with 162 hits allowed in 144 innings at Double-A New Hampshire in 2012. After two more seasons of getting hit hard at Double-A and Triple-A, the Blue Jays sold him to the Athletics.
McGuire continued to bounce around in the minors and received brief callups in 2017 and 2018, posting a 5.23 ERA in 27 appearances with the Reds, Angels and Blue Jays. He pitched in Korea in 2019, Taiwan in 2021 and is currently pitching for Gastonia in the MLB partner Frontier League.
Overall, McGuire has played for eight different organizations, a Korean team, a Taiwanese team and an independent league team in 12 seasons.
“I just think he was a good college performer who could never hit another gear in development,” the crosschecker said. “He just kind of stalled out because his weapons just weren’t as good in pro ball as what you thought they were on a college field.”
D.J. Peterson, 3B/1B
Drafted: No. 12 overall by the Mariners in 2013
What he was supposed to be: A middle-of-the-order slugger
What he was: A career minor leaguer
Peterson drew raves at New Mexico as one of the best hitters scouts had seen in years. His quick, strong hands, flawless hitting mechanics and enormous power gave him the potential to hit for both average and power at a level few could accomplish. He earned comparisons to Edgar Martinez on the high end and Kevin Youkilis on the low end, with little doubt anywhere that he would move quickly to the major leagues.
The Mariners drafted Peterson 12th overall in 2013, with many scouts whose teams picked earlier disappointed they didn’t select him. He appeared on track to live up to those lofty expectations when he hit .297/.360/.522 with 31 home runs and 111 RBIs in his first full-season in 2014 across High-A and Double-A.
“I couldn’t have seen him better as a hitter,” an AL scouting director said. “I thought it was one of the more natural hitters you’d ever see righthanded. Just a pure hit tool, and then he goes out and hits 30 home runs his first year . . . he was a guy who I just thought, “Man, you can’t miss with this hitter.”
But while Peterson appeared fine on the surface, the foundation for his demise had been laid. In his pro debut shortly after signing, he was hit by a pitch that broke his jaw in eight places. He became noticeably skittish in the batter’s box and bailed out against inside fastballs after that. He was able to get away with it and still produce in the low minors—especially at the hitter’s paradise of High Desert, where he hit 18 of his 31 homers in 2014—but once he got to the upper minors, more advanced pitchers exploited it.
Peterson hit just .223 with seven homers across Double-A and Triple-A in 2015, his first full season in the upper levels. He fared better in 2016 and was added to Seattle’s 40-man roster after the season, but after another uninspiring showing by Peterson at Triple-A in 2017, the Mariners designated him for assignment.
Peterson briefly played at Triple-A in the White Sox and Reds organizations but never reached the majors. He spent two seasons in independent ball and signed a minor league deal with the Rockies before this season. He is currently batting .244 with six home runs at Triple-A Albuquerque.
“To me, that’s one of those when you start looking at it, it’s like he had everything that you were looking for in a player,” an NL scouting director said. “That’s a tough one.”
Phillies Trade Adam Haseley To White Sox For Relief Prospect
The Phillies traded Haseley to the White Sox on Tuesday in exchange for righthanded pitching prospect McKinley Moore.
Trevor Crowe, OF
Drafted: No. 14 overall by Cleveland in 2005
What he was supposed to be: A dynamic, switch-hitting center fielder
What he was: A light-hitting reserve
Crowe had a unique athletic history as a junior national racquetball champion and the son of a former professional golfer. Drafted out of high school, he instead went to Arizona and became the star leadoff hitter for the Wildcats.
He carried Arizona to the College World Series as a sophomore and hit .403 as a junior, all wrapped around standout performances in the Cape Cod League and for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.
Even with a lack of power and questions about whether he could stay in center field, Crowe’s pure hitting ability made him consensus first-rounder when the Indians selected him 14th overall in 2005.
“This was a really good learning lesson as I look back,” a veteran NL scouting director said. “University of Arizona, famous in high school, really blossoms. He always controlled the zone very well, but looking back, he didn’t have a true position and he didn’t really hit the ball hard.”
Though Crowe hit well with wood on the Cape and for Team USA, doing so over a long minor league season against professional competition proved a different challenge. A series of injuries including an abdominal strain, a bruised thumb and an oblique injury all took a toll on his body, and a failed attempt to make him a second baseman threw his game out of sorts on both sides of the ball.
He eventually reached the majors in 2009 but spent just parts of four seasons in MLB as a backup outfielder.
Crowe retired in 2014 after hitting .240 for Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers organization.
“I remember in the draft room talking about him versus Jacoby Ellsbury a lot,” the scouting director said. “Obviously Ellsbury had his career. Crowe, I think (it was) the lack of true position and profile, and then he controlled the zone, but the ball just didn’t come off his bat very well.”
Crowe surfaced in the news again in 2020 when federal prosecutors charged him with failing to report more than $300,000 of income gained from an illegal gambling business. He pled guilty and was sentenced to three years of probation. Crowe’s attorney wrote in court documents that the outfielder struggled with opioid addiction, one that began when he was prescribed OxyContin after sustaining an injury playing baseball.
Kolbrin Vitek, 2B
Drafted: No. 20 overall by the Red Sox in 2010
What he was supposed to be: An everyday infielder who hit for average and power
What he was: A light-hitting minor leaguer
Vitek starred as both a hitter and pitcher at Ball State and was a legitimate prospect both in the batter’s box and on the mound. The Red Sox drafted him 20th overall as a second baseman, with many opposing scouts believing Boston had gotten a steal in the bottom half of the first round.
With quick hands and a sound approach, Vitek consistently barreled balls and projected to hit for both average and power while stealing 20-plus bases a season with his above-average speed. He lacked a true position, but he projected to hit enough no matter where he played.
“We were scouting him for our first pick, too,” a longtime NL scouting director said. “Good athlete, two-way player in college at Ball State, good swing—he hit. I mean, honestly I have no idea what happened with this one.”
Vitek continued to make contact in pro ball, but he struggled to hit with much authority. He moved from second base to third base to the outfield and struggled at every position, often carrying his defensive failures back to the batter’s box with him.
He began suffering a series of injuries once he got to Double-A Portland in 2012, including an intercostal strain, a concussion and a neck injury. He retired in 2014, just four years after being drafted, with a career .258/.326/.356 slash line and having never played above Double-A.
“It was a pretty good swing, and he performed in college,” the longtime NL scouting director said. “I know it was a mid-major (college program), but this kid, his walks to strikeouts were one-to-one in college.
“He showed power, the defense was always a little bit of a question, but we had pretty good grades on him as a (scouting department). He fizzled out pretty quick. I thought that bat was going to be a lot better than it was.”