Welcome to our first trip down top prospect lane.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking back and breaking down yearly Top 10s from Baseball America’s MLB top prospect lists to see which names delivered, who we’ve already forgotten, and why some young ballplayers didn’t pan out.
On top of a brief look at each of the year’s Top 10 prospects and what happened to them, in this Boom or Bust series I'll also be handing out some awards for every list, including the Biggest Bust, Biggest Breakout, and the Should’ve Been On The List award, for a player outside the Top 10. If you’re a prospect pessimist, you’ll enjoy this look at the 2005 list:
They certainly nailed the top spot this year.
Joe Mauer defined his position and a franchise for 15 years. He's a rare one-team guy, playing 1858 games for the Minnesota Twins from 2004 to 2018. In his prime from 2008 through 2010, Mauer was an All-Star, Gold Glover, and Silver Slugger each year, finishing top-10 in AL MVP voting all three seasons, winning the award in 2009 while hitting an absurd .365. A 2005 scouting report said there was "nothing not to like" about Mauer, and that evaluator was right. The backstop retired with the ninth-highest career catcher WAR in baseball history, just short of Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza.
Mauer was already inducted to the Twins' Hall of Fame, and it's likely he'll get into Cooperstown soon after he's first eligible in 2024.
Hell of a one-two punch on this ’05 prospect list. (Don’t worry, the flops start soon).
Signed out of Venezuela for a bargain $710,000 bonus, King Felix soared up Seattle's minors. Prior to these 2005 rankings, Hernandez hadn't pitched above Double-A, but scouts already saw stardom.
“Hernandez will get to Seattle and become the No. 1 starter soon enough,” BA’s report read at the time.
After breaking into the big leagues in '05, he quickly became the bright spot on some suspect Seattle squads. From 2006 until 2016 he pitched at least 190 innings EVERY season, leading the league in ERA twice.
Hernandez almost single-handily changed Cy Young voting, too, winning the award in 2010 despite just a 13-12 record. It marked the death of pitcher wins as a meaningful stat, with Hernandez's league-leading ERA (2.27) and innings pitched (249.2) building his Cy case.
* = lead league in statistic
I certainly don’t affiliate Young with the Rays, but the Alabama native was drafted first overall by Tampa in the 2003 draft and actually broke in with the AL East squad during his first two seasons. After parts of two years with the Devil Rays (and a second-place Rookie of the Year finish), Tampa flipped him to the Twins in a package for Matt Garza.
Young had a solid 10-season career, for sure. But, entering his draft year as a two-way star, Young was touted as “one of the most celebrated young baseball players” in years, and never quite fulfilled the hype. The outfielder’s career batting numbers grade out almost exactly average and he never made an All-Star team in 10 seasons.
Stewart was the next big thing destined for the batter-friendly confines of Coors Field. As a 19-year-old in Single-A, he hit .319, launched 30 homers, and drove in 101 runs. Todd Helton took the torch from Larry Walker, and then Stewart was supposed to keep things rolling.
After fully breaking into The Show in 2008 and winning Rookie of the Month in July, the California native's career turned into a rollercoaster. He flashed the power, but injury troubles and high strikeout totals prevented him from snatching a full-time job. So, the Rockies decided to cut bait, swapping Stewart to the Cubs for a young prospect named D.J. LeMahieu.
In Chicago, Stewart never got it going, either. A wrist surgery further sapped his power and he was released in 2013 after a twitter rant accusing the Cubs of ruining his career.
"What career?" one Cubs player told the Chicago Tribune.
Jed Hoyer, on trading DJ LeMahieu from the Cubs to the Rockies for Ian Stewart in 2011:— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) April 2, 2021
"We made a bad decision. That was a bad trade."
Where did it all go wrong? Guzman was a six-foot-six, 225-pound monster at the plate, with Vladimir Guerrero Sr. comparisons and “as much offensive upside as almost any prospect in the minors.”
He raked in the low levels, but that jump to the upper-minors ate him alive. After peaking at No. 5 on this prospects list, better pitching exposed his approach. He stopped walking and started chasing pitches outside the zone. Many guys who rank this high on top prospect lists will bounce around the big leagues for a few years, with teams willing to take a shot on potential, but not Guzman. He played just 24 career MLB games and fizzled out on minor-league deals until he left affiliated ball in 2012.
It certainly surprised me to see Kotchman had double Delmon Young’s career WAR with a comparable OPS.
He never added any meaningful hardware to his cabinet, but Kotchman bounced around the bigs for a decade. The former 13th overall pick had a few stud seasons, too, hitting .300 in a full season in 2011 and posting an .840 OPS in 2007. Kotchman played for seven teams and hit 71 career homers, but his biggest claim to fame is owning the MLB record for consecutive games at first base without an error (274).
When the Rays traded for Kazmir as a prospect back in 2004, some industry evaluators saw him as a future "No. 1 starter or the next Billy Wagner." He may not be the first guy you think of when you’re naming off 2000s aces, but the lefty had one hell of a career.
From 2005 through 2008, Kazmir averaged 172 innings a season with a 3.51 ERA, 3.72 FIP, and 186 strikeouts per year. He even led the league in strikeouts with a gaudy 239 back in ’07. A three-time All-Star, Kazmir has more career innings pitched than Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber and a lower career ERA than Charlie Morton and R.A. Dickey.
After five years away from the big leagues from 2016 to 2021, Kazmir tried to get his career going again. He pitched for the USA Baseball team at the Tokyo Olympics and appeared in 11.1 innings with the Giants at the MLB level that season. His 2021 MLB showing didn’t go great, but maybe there’s a third comeback in the cards for Kazmir.
Rickie Weeks had himself a career. He retired after the 2017 season with an above average career OPS, 161 lifetime homers, 132 steals, and an All-Star Game to his name.
The long-time Brewer might not be the best second-overall pick in baseball history, but he’s no bust. Weeks' best seasons came in the early 2010s, where he hit leadoff for a dominant Milwaukee squad that followed him with Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder.
Weeks’ career WAR would be much higher with a little better defense. In the second half of his career, the Florida native was one of the worst defensive second basemen in baseball, finishing his career with +24.7 oWAR and -11.2 dWAR.
Baseball America tabbed Marte as the heir apparent to Chipper Jones back in 2005, saying he was "the Braves' long-term answer at third base." Obviously, that didn’t happen. Jones went on to play seven more seasons as Atlanta's hot corner and Marte never hit above .235 in the big leagues.
It’s easy to see where the Marte hype derived. He had complete control of the strike zone at every minor league level and even flourished at the Triple-A. But, stuck behind Jones and never earning more playing time, the first five years of his career were a cycle of Triple-A dominance earning him a promotion and MLB struggles sending him back down. He finished with a career .218 average and .634 OPS in 307 MLB games, before raking in Korea for two years at the end of his career. Marte died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic in 2017 at age 33.
We get to end this one on a high note.
After the Red Sox began Ramirez's career with a blockbuster trade to the Marlins, the Dominican infielder quickly ascended to the top of the game. In his first five seasons with Florida, Hanley went to three All-Star games, won the 2006 Rookie of the Year, won two Silver Sluggers, and earned MVP votes thrice.
Even back in ’05, Ramirez was probably the only true five-tool player on this top-10 list, and he flashed all the skills at the MLB level. Ramirez's didn't quite reach the elusive 300 HR, 300 SB club in his career, but finished just short with 271 and 281 respectively.
Defensive regression and mid-career injuries brought him down from the peak quicker than most, but Hanley managed to keep his career going for 15 years, even swatting homers in the Dominican Winter League as recently as 2022.
Biggest Bust: Joel Guzman (5th)
Biggest Breakout: Hanley Ramirez (10th)
Should’ve Been On The List: Curtis Granderson (57th)
All WAR calculations as of 2023 from Baseball Reference.