Pro sports drafts always carry with them an air of excitement because of the prospect of what might be. There’s the intrigue of which lower picks might turn out to be stars, who just haven’t demonstrated their full potential yet. On the flip side, a top draft pick might fill a void in particular team’s roster, but there’s also the potential for a player to become a breakout star who transcends his team to arrive as the kind of perennial All Star and champion who captures fans’ imagination across the country.
Not every Major League Baseball prospect realizes his full potential, or the lofty expectations foisted upon him. Whether it’s someone who failed to transition from college to pro ball, or someone scooped up early, straight out of high school, who didn’t actually have the physicality or chops to hang at the highest level of the game, these cases become unofficial cautionary tales. Names like Paul Wilson, Todd Van Poppel, and Brien Taylor stand out as youngsters with so much buzz around them who never amounted to stars fans or teams hoped for, out of combination of circumstance, accidents, and actual ability.
While baseball has gotten smarter in many ways, with better attention to more important metrics and more thorough scouting and vetting, it remains the case that flops still emerge. Even since 2010, the sport has seen quite a few “next big things” fizzle into “never weres.” This article takes a look at twenty of the biggest MLB prospect flops of the past eight years.
20 Danny Hultzen (2011, 2nd Overall, Seattle Mariners)
The Seattle Mariners took Danny Hultzen with the number two pick in the 2011 draft, giving him an $8.5 million contract in the process. An article from the Washington Post six years later revealed that Hultzen felt crippling pressure as a result.
He experienced insecurities—namely wondering if he really deserved a contract like that, and the lofty expectations that had been placed upon him.
Hultzen’s Major League play was lackluster, and he pitched through an injured shoulder as both his body and his game dipped, leading to two serious surgeries. He’s back playing Minor League ball now, and it doesn’t seem too likely he’ll make it back to the Majors.
19 Jake Skole (2010, 15th Overall, Texas Rangers)
Jake Skole was selected 15th in the 2010 draft by the Texas Rangers. Things didn't go according to plan though. While he’d been a high school standout, his game didn’t translate all that well to the professional level. After several years in the Minor League system, Skole interestingly made a major shift in focus.
While some guys toil forever in baseball without ever realizing their Major League dreams, Skole capitalized on his athleticism to instead refocus on football. He headed to the University of Georgia to play defensive back for them, and go back to get the education he’d previously bypassed.
18 Bubba Starling (2011, 5th Overall, Kansas City Royals)
The Kansas City Royals took Bubba Starling with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, selecting him over a host of respectable Major League talents who have thrived over the years to follow. The conventional wisdom is that the Royals like a project and building their own stars. They're never big spenders in free agency and have trouble re-signing their own players, so they love to build players from the ground up.
Starling has never developed into that guy, though. While he did make out of the Minor Leagues, he’s nowhere near the upper level talent the organization envisioned he might become when they drafted him.
17 Kolbrin Vitek (2010, 20th Overall, Boston Red Sox)
With the 20th pick in the 2010 draft, the Boston Red Sox picked up Kolbrin Vitek, a guy with bit time hitter potential coming out of college ball.
Vitek never amounted to much in the farm system, never climbing higher than Double-A ball before announcing his retirement from the sport in 2014.
The situation just goes to show that even a top tier organization like the Red Sox isn’t above the occasional miscalculation in evaluating its prospects and how they’ll transition to playing at the professional level. Luckily for the Red Sox, they seem to be content just buying players.
16 Mark Appel (2013, 1st Overall, Houston Astros)
Few players have entered the draft with greater buzz than Mark Appel, who had all the makings of an ace pitcher. However, his 2012 debut got deferred with messiness that had nothing to do with baseball itself. His demands for a lofty signing bonus reportedly made the Astros pass on him, and then he refused to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates who did end up drafting him.
Appel was back for the following year’s draft and taken by the Astros at number one. The problem is that once he was actually playing at the pro level, the bloom was off the rose. Appel has never played like the star he was envisioned to be. Meanwhile, the guy drafted directly after him, Kris Bryant, turned out to be a legitimate superstar, which only rubs salt in the wound.
15 Nathan Mikolas (2012, 3rd Round, New York Yankees)
The New York Yankees snagged Nathan Mikolas in 2012. Not known for his fielding skills, the Bronx Bombers looked to him as an eventual designated hitter in their lineup. Mikolas never made good on what New York would have hoped for, getting released after five seasons in the Minor League system.
The good news for Mikolas? He found a life in the sport after his playing days, making the transition to coaching. He was signed by the Miami Marlins in this capacity and looks to have a new career ahead of him, not quite on the field but adjacent to it.
14 Kyle Zimmer (2012, 5th Overall, Kansas City Royals)
Kyle Zimmer was selected fifth overall in the 2012 draft. While it wasn’t exactly a star studded field of prospects to select from the Kansas City Royals seem to have chosen poorly in this case.
Zimmer has split most of his time since in the Minor League system and on the injured list, in particular recovering from shoulder ailments.
Zimmer has most recently been reported to be in a recovery program based out of Seattle to help him come back at full strength, but the clock is ticking on whether his career in professional baseball will amount to anything of substance.
13 Zach Lee (2010, 28th Overall, Los Angeles Dodgers)
It's always a risk when a team drafts a two-sport athlete fairly high, but the Dodgers felt the upside with Zach Lee was worth it. As a two sport athlete, Zach Lee was quite the hot prospect who almost played college football at quarterback. The Los Angeles Dodgers gave him a reported $5.25 million bonus for him to focus on baseball, and unfortunately didn’t get much return on the investment.
Lee has played well in different Minor League systems, but has struggled to find a permanent place in the Majors. The highlight of his career so far was a short stint playing with the San Diego Padres.
12 Jed Bradley (2011, 15th Overall, Milwaukee Brewers)
Jed Bradley was a hot prospect as a starting pitcher, selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round of the 2011 draft. Out of a class of multiple star players, Bradley hasn’t exactly risen to the top.
Before getting called up to the Major Leagues, he was ultimately demoted to a relief pitcher role. The Brewers eventually gave up on him and he had a short stint in the majors with the Braves in 2016. While he’s maintained his MLB career, it’s in much more of a role player position than the star that he was once projected to be.
11 Brandon Nimmo (2011, 12th Overall, New York Mets)
The New York Mets organization saw big things in Brandon Nimmo when they selected the outfielder 12th overall in the stacked 2011 draft. In doing so, they passed up a number of eventual top tier players.
To be fair, Nimmo has worked his way into a proper Major League career and improved his hitting significantly this season.
Nonetheless, he remains much more of a supporting cast member than the team leader and star that the Mets had initially pinned their hopes on. We'll see if Nimmo can salvage a decent MLB career for himself, but it's unlikely he ever lives up to initial expectations.
10 Hayden Simpson (2010, 16th Overall, Chicago Cubs)
When the Chicago Cubs took Hayden Simpson in the first round of the 2010 draft, it was a surprising move. Simpson had been playing relatively anonymous Division II college ball, and as John Engel with Bleacher Report told it, the general sense was he’d go around the fourth round.
However, the Cubs had been following him closely and moved on what they seemed to think was a scoop. Simpson never made out of Single A baseball, and was ultimately released in 2013. No club picked him up after, essentially spelling the end of Simpson's baseball career.
9 Peter O’Brien (2012, 2nd Round, New York Yankees)
The New York Yankees drafted Peter O’Brien for his potential as a power hitter. Though he played respectably in the Minor Leagues, his game didn’t progress far enough to get called up to the big club. He did eventually get to play in two seasons of Major League Baseball with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but has otherwise spent his career bouncing between different franchises’ Minor League systems, most recently landing with the Miami Marlins organization. The clocking is ticking on him to build a career that doesn’t look overwhelmingly like a bust. But the odds are against him at this point.
8 Josh Sale (2010, 17th Overall, Tampa Bay Rays)
Josh Sale caught baseball’s attention as a high school power hitter out of Seattle. The Tampa Bay Rays drafted him with the 17th overall pick in the 2010 draft, expecting big production from the plate.
Unfortunately, his activities off the field wound up overshadowing anything he did on it.
Two suspensions and another for poor judgment on how he used his social media landed him in the doghouse. In 2015, he found himself released, never having exceeded single A baseball. Since the Rays released him, there hasn't been any update on whether Sale will ever get another shot again.
7 Hayden Jennings (2012, 6th Round, Washington Nationals)
Like we mentioned earlier, drafting two-sport athletes very high is always a risky move. While Hayden Jennings was not an exceptionally high draft pick, the two sport athlete who had starred in not only baseball, but also football in high school looked to have potential to thrive as a professional when the Washington Nationals selected him. Just the same, once he was actually playing in the Nationals’ system, his limitations became all the more visible—small for a professional outfielder, and not really standout in any given part of his game, besides demonstrating bursts of impressive speed.
6 Garin Cecchini (2010, 4th Round, Boston Red Sox)
Garin Cecchini got drafted in 2011, heading directly in into the Boston Red Sox’s big time franchise, and thus having the spotlight thrust directly upon him. He demonstrated good hitting potential in the Minor League system, before getting called up in 2014. He didn’t make much of an impact in his two seasons of Major League play before being shuffled back down, and then dealt to the Brewers organization, who then sent him to Kansas City. In the end, Cecchini just hasn’t seemed to get where scouts hoped he would in the early going. He looks to be a career minor leaguer.
5 Christian Colon (2010, 4th Overall, Kansas City Royals)
A certain level of expectation comes with a first round draft pick. After going in the tenth round when he initially entered the MLB Draft in 2007, Colon went to college and tried again, bettering his prospects until he was drafted fourth overall in 2010.
Though he did ultimately get in some play for the Kansas City Royals, including winning a World Series with them, he has spent more of his career in the Minor Leagues.
He was shuffled back and forth in the Royals organization and has since been in developmental for the Marlins and Mets.
4 Alex Wimmers (2010, 21st Overall, Minnesota Twins)
Alex Wimmers enjoyed a distinguished career in college baseball that included being a star in college and even winning the National Pitcher of the Year Award. It was little surprise, then, that he was a first round pick and received a million dollar signing bonus.
Though Wimmers had a brief stint playing Major League ball with the Twins, elbow injuries have held up his progress and mostly relegated him to the Minors in Minnesota and more recently in the Miami Marlins organization. Since getting waived this year, he can most recently be seen in the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.
3 Kenny Diekroeger (2012, 4th Round, Tampa Bay Rays)
Kenny Diekroeger was a high school star who wound up putting off his baseball career after being drafted in the first round in favor of going to college at Stanford. He would then be selected by the Rays in the fourth round a few years later.
Some experts claim that the hold up not only made his stock drop, but that Stanford’s coaching may have actually had an adverse effect on his play, as Mike Rosenbaum from Bleacher Report suggested that their style created holes in his hitting game.
Diekroger never actually made it to playing Major League Ball, but has since returned to Stanford to pursue his MBA.
2 Barret Loux (2010, 6th Overall, Arizona Diamondbacks)
The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Barret Loux with the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft. Despite a fine pitching career at Texas A&M, shoulder issues soon set in for Loux when he looked to take his skills to the pro level.
The team wound up waiving him before he played a game in their Minor League system, let alone at the Major League level.
Loux is still pitching on smaller stages and trying to make a career in baseball, but no one expects him to make it back to the highest levels of the game at this point.
1 Collin Wiles (2012, Supplemental Draft, Toronto Blue Jays)
Collin Wiles was one of the more surprising picks from the first round of 2012’s supplemental draft, taken by the Toronto Blue Jays 53rd overall. Accordingly, he struggled in the beginnings of his Minor League career.
Wiles started his career at the age of 18, and thus had time to grow into his game. As the years go by, his prospects of making it to the majors don’t look much brighter. Most recently, he had Tommy John surgery that may have an impact on his abilities, but the jury’s out on whether he’ll ever make it to Major League ball.