Who remembers Freddy Adu?
I was reminded of the once-wonderkid by a flurry on social media last weekend after he’d scored his first goal for new club Las Vegas Lights FC.
For those of you who don’t know, Freddy Adu was a highly touted footballer who was destined to be the next best thing. He made his MLS debut for D.C. United in 2004 and is the youngest goalscorer in MLS history, at 14 years old. He was then called up to the USA National Team. Often referred to as “the next Pele”, Adu is most notable for being one of the highest rated prospects ever on Football Manager, a football management simulation game for the PC. However, after moving on from D.C. United his career never took off as expected, and has since played for 13 other clubs, somewhat a journeyman.
So it made me question, are there any players in baseball who had a similar turn of fortunes to Adu?
And yes, there are plenty. But for all different reasons.
Matt LaPorta was a standout college player for the University of Florida, where he twice earned All-American honours as well as being named the SEC Player of the Year after batting .402 with 20 homers and 52 RBI in 52 games. Before attending college, he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 14th round but decided to enter college. He was then drafted three years later by the Red Sox in the same round, but stayed on at Florida to see out his final year. After finishing college, he finally entered professional baseball after being drafted 7th overall by the Milwaukee Brewers. However, before he even took to the plate for the Brewers he was traded to the Indians, the team that first drafted him. Cleveland were confident enough in LaPorta’s ability that they traded away star pitcher CC Sabathia in exchange for him (as well as a couple more prospects).
During the four years he spent in Cleveland, LaPorta hit a combined .238 with 31 homers and 120 RBIs in 291 games. He became very inconsistent and subsequently only played in 22 games in 2012, after slashing .241/.267/.328. A year later, the Indians released him at the end of the 2013 season after not seeing any time in the,ajors. A career -1.0 WAR wasn’t the production they’d envisaged when they had traded for him.
As his career went on, LaPorta was acknowledged less and less as a promising player. As much as LaPorta was once a highly-touted prospect, as a free agent he went mostly unnoticed.
“Appel profiles as a top of the rotation starter and could reach Houston in a hurry.” – For a player who has never reach the Majors, this quote on Mark Appel from 2013 hasn’t aged well for MLB Pipeline.
Mark Appel was a highly coveted college player. He was named a first team All-American but also went on to win the National Pitcher of the Year Award as a junior. He was projected as the number 1 pick going into the 2012 draft, but fell seven spots to the Pirates after reportedly rejecting a lucrative signing bonus. Appel didn’t sign for the Pirates and went back to Stanford to finish his senior year – which was just as successful, earning the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. In 2013 after finishing college, the Houston Astros selected him as the number 1 draft pick.
After he was drafted, Mark Appel was ranked as the 25th-best prospect in baseball.
Like Freddy Adu, Appel struggled to live up to what everyone else had projected him to achieve. After five seasons of professional baseball, he never made it past the Triple-A level and into the majors. With a less than impressive 5.06 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, the Astros finally traded him away as part of a package deal to secure Ken Giles. Since then, injuries have hampered any kind of fresh start for Appel. After a season-ending injury, and lengthy rehab, he posted a 5.14 ERA over 17 starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley to end the season. Following this, the Phillies designated him for assignment.
Instead, Appel watched on last season as the Astros won the World Series. It’s crazy to think Sports Illustrated predicted in 2014 that Houston would go on to win a World Series. The article featured Appel, alongside a picture of World Series MVP George Springer and Carlos Correa, who were all seen as a key part of that Astros re-build process, that was touted to dominate in the future.
They did. Just without Mark Appel.
Appel announced earlier this year that he’s stepping away from baseball, at only 26 years old.
Brien Taylor was, and is still quite possibly one of the best high school pitchers of all time. His high school talent (1.25 ERA, 28 BB & 213 K’s in 88 innings pitched) is what propelled him to become the number one draft pick in 1991, and get selected by the biggest franchise in baseball. The Yankees signed Taylor to a $1.55M contract and he looked all set to make his mark in professional baseball. Baseball America also ranked Taylor as the number one prospect, as his high-90s fastball was one of the most lethal weapons in the game at the time.
That was until Brien Taylor was injured during a fight.
In 1993, Taylor had sought out revenge on a man, Ron Wilson, who had hurt his brother. After confronting him, Taylor was involved in a fight with both Wilson and his friend. The fight didn’t go to plan – and Taylor ended up injuring his shoulder, badly. Taylor had hurt his shoulder so badly during the altercation, he ended up missing the 1994 season. This all occurred during his first two season in the minor leagues, in which Taylor was pitching strongly and making progress towards the majors.
However, since that fight in ’93, Taylor struggled through rehab and wasn’t the same pitcher again. He had lost a big chunk off of his fastball, and couldn’t strike out batters like he was doing in college. After getting through the 1995 season, Taylor wasn’t able to locate his fastball or control his other pitches as well as he used to.
The Yankees were desperate for Brien to show the potential from college that led them to draft him. But after keeping him in Single-A for three years with no signs of improvement, the Yankees cut him. Who could blame them? Taylor posted ERAs of 18.73, 14.33 and 9.59 over those three years. That lethal arm wasn’t helping him anymore, with his K/9 rate dropping over 4 strikeouts per 9 since his first year in the minors.
Life after baseball hasn’t been much better for Taylor either. Only a few years ago he was sentenced to prison time for drugs charges. Just like Mark Appel, or Steve Chilcott, infamously picked first overall ahead of Reggie Jackson in 1966, Taylor is another number one draft pick who has never played in the majors.