Commentary

They're called 'prospects' for a reason

Marte, Escobar and Henson among the trade chips who never lived up to the hype

Updated: July 29, 2009, 2:33 PM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

The Philadelphia Phillies' search for a frontline starter ended Wednesday with the acquisition of Cliff Lee, rather than Roy Halladay, because general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wasn't willing to meet Toronto's demand for pitching prospect Kyle Drabek or minor league outfielder Dominic Brown.

The Phillies held firm in talks with the Blue Jays because they think Drabek has a chance to be the next Roy Oswalt -- or at the very least, the next Doug Drabek -- and they were fearful of checking out before all that promise comes to fruition.

The annals of baseball are replete with names of prospects who blossomed after trades -- from John Smoltz and Jeff Bagwell to Grady Sizemore and Adam Jones. But sometimes all the hype and hope don't amount to a heck of a lot. Only time will tell if Cleveland got a good deal with Philadelphia prospects Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald and Lou Marson.

In this week's edition of Starting 9, we look at nine players over the past decade who came highly-acclaimed in trades, but failed to thrive in their new environs. Some couldn't overcome injuries, others became outright busts, and two or three still have a chance to make something of their careers. But they're all cautionary tales: They're called "prospects'' for a reason.

Andy Marte, 3B

[+] EnlargeAndy Marte
AP Photo/Rob CarrThe Indians are giving Andy Marte, owner of a .213 career major league average, another chance to prove himself.
The trade (January 2006): Boston sends Marte, Guillermo Mota, Kelly Shoppach and cash to Cleveland for Coco Crisp, Josh Bard, David Riske and a player to be named.

The hype: Marte earned rave reviews as a young player in the Atlanta farm system. He hit 21 homers and drove in 105 runs for Macon in Low-A ball at age 19, and was the top prospect in the Double-A Southern League in 2004. In 2005, Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the top prospect in all the minor leagues.

The rest of the story: After the Red Sox acquired Marte from Atlanta in a trade for shortstop Edgar Renteria, Braves manager Bobby Cox said, "[Marte] can play in the big leagues right now. Unfortunately, he's a third baseman, and so is Chipper Jones."

It wouldn't happen in Boston. Less than two months after acquiring Marte, the Red Sox dealt him to Cleveland.

Marte has some warts -- most notably, a long swing and pitch-recognition issues -- and he hit .211 with a .603 OPS in sporadic appearances with Cleveland from 2005 through 2008. The Indians removed Marte from their 40-man roster this spring and sent him to Triple-A Columbus after nobody claimed him on waivers.

Still, Marte's story might have a few more chapters. He's only 25 years old, and after tearing up the International League this season, he received a promotion this week when the Indians traded Ryan Garko to San Francisco. Marte went 2-for-3 with a walk in Cleveland's 7-6 loss to the Angels on Tuesday.

If Marte needs some inspiration, he can look to fellow Dominican Nelson Cruz, who was designated for assignment by Texas in March 2008, worked his way back through the minors and made the All-Star team this year.

"Sometimes with [unrefined prospects], it's the second, third or fourth club that gets the benefits," a scout said. "[Marte] could be a pretty decent player with the right support and hitters around him."

lastname
Choi

Hee Seop Choi, 1B

The trade (November 2003): Florida sends first baseman Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs for Choi and a minor leaguer.

The hype: Choi signed with the Cubs for a $1.2 million bonus in 1999 and was designated as the heir apparent to Mark Grace at first base. In 2002, he became the first position player from Korea to reach the majors.

The rest of the story: Florida's front office, ordered to dump payroll after the team won the World Series, traded Lee and his $6 million salary to the Cubs. Choi's luster had dimmed a bit at the time of the trade, but he still was regarded as a legit prospect for his power potential and plate discipline. The stat heads loved him for his consistently high on-base percentage in the minors.

"We think he's going to be an outstanding player," Florida general manager Larry Beinfest said upon announcing the trade. "He certainly has power potential."

Choi hit nine homers and slugged .738 in his first month as a Marlin. But opposing pitchers learned they could overpower him with hard stuff inside, and his career quickly went south. Florida traded him to the Dodgers in 2004, and Choi returned home after nondescript turns with Boston and Tampa Bay. He's playing for the Kia Tigers in his native South Korea this season.

lastname
Esccobar

Alex Escobar, OF

The trade (December 2001): The New York Mets send Escobar, Matt Lawton and three minor leaguers to Cleveland for Roberto Alomar and two other players.

The hype: Baseball America ranked Escobar as the Mets' No. 1 prospect in 2001. "When Escobar has been healthy, he has been awesome," the magazine's scouting report said. "He's capable of playing any of the three outfield positions, is projected as a 20-30 stolen base threat in the big leagues, can hit for average and power and has an above-average arm."

The rest of the story: Alomar had finished fourth in the American League MVP balloting in 2001, but general manager Mark Shapiro had to move him as part of a mandate to cut payroll. Escobar, talented yet enigmatic at 23, was the high-upside piece from Cleveland.

"He can look like Vladimir Guerrero one minute, Ruben Rivera the next," ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote.

Eric Wedge, then managing in Cleveland's minor league system, believed Escobar and Milton Bradley, newly arrived from Montreal, could be high-impact contributors for the Tribe.

"What you have here is two extremely talented young players," Wedge told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We can't lose either way."

In hindsight, of course, the Tribe lost both ways. Bradley played his way out of Cleveland with his bad behavior, and Escobar became a walking medical disaster. His inventory of career injuries includes a stress fracture in his back, a torn ACL in his left knee, a broken foot, a torn labrum, and an assortment of hamstring and ankle issues.

Escobar also was a strikeout machine, with 112 whiffs in 388 major league at-bats. Washington released him in 2008, and he appears to have reached the end of the line at age 29.

Joel Guzman
Guzman

Joel Guzman, INF

The trade (July 2006): The Dodgers trade Guzman and minor leaguer Sergio Pedroza to Tampa Bay for shortstop Julio Lugo.

The hype: The Dodgers were loaded with prospects four years ago, but Guzman stood out among the crowd. Baseball America ranked him as the top prospect in the Los Angeles system -- ahead of Chad Billingsley, Edwin Jackson, James Loney, Andy LaRoche, Russell Martin and Jonathan Broxton, among others.

Guzman hit 23 homers and slugged .540 in two minor league stops at age 19. He was so athletic, he played shortstop at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds.

The rest of the story: Guzman's cachet had slipped a bit by 2006, but you still could file him under "intriguing." The Rays liked his versatility, and they were hoping first-base coach and former Dodgers instructor George Hendrick could help unlock his potential.

There were some red flags, however. Guzman reportedly sulked over a demotion in Los Angeles, and he didn't play with much passion. His proportions also kept expanding; by his early 20s, he stood 6-foot-6 and weighed 252 pounds.

Guzman lost out to Eric Hinske for a bench job in Tampa Bay on Opening Day 2008 and spent the entire season in the minors. Now he's playing for Washington's Double-A Harrisburg affiliate. His career is progressing in reverse.

"He's one of those 'long action' guys," a scout said. "He had some tools, but you could pitch to him. The more I watched him, the less I liked him."

Drew Henson
Henson

Drew Henson, 3B

The trade (March 2001): The Yankees acquire Henson and Michael Coleman from Cincinnati for outfielder Wily Mo Pena, only nine months after sending Henson to the Reds in a deal for Denny Neagle.

The hype: Henson was a latter-day John Elway as a strong-armed quarterback for the University of Michigan and the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees' system.

"His raw power rates near 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, and he has launched mammoth, 500-foot blasts since he was a high school freshman," Baseball America wrote in 2002. "Henson has a chance to be a franchise player because his work ethic and intelligence are as outstanding as his talent."

The rest of the story: The Yankees signed Henson to a six-year, $17 million deal in March 2001, and in return, he agreed to forgo his senior year of football at Michigan.

But owner George Steinbrenner was anxious to see a quick return on his investment, and the Yankees rushed Henson to Triple-A Columbus, where the pitching was too advanced for him and Ohio State fans rode him mercilessly for his Ann Arbor connections.

Ultimately, Henson flamed out because he couldn't play. After striking out 273 times and making 63 errors in back-to-back seasons with the Clippers, Henson forfeited $12 million of his Yankees contract to return to football.

"My time with the Yankees gave me experiences in baseball that I will always remember," Henson said in his farewell announcement in February 2004.

Five years later, Henson still is struggling to get a foothold in the NFL. He spent last season as the third-string quarterback in Detroit, but the Lions released him in April after signing No. 1 draft pick Matthew Stafford.

Bud Smith, LHP

[+] EnlargeBud Smith
AP Photo/Lednny IgnelziAfter no-hitting the Padres on Sept. 3, 2001, Bud Smith won only three more games in the major leagues.
The trade (July 2002): St. Louis sends Smith, Placido Polanco and Mike Timlin to Philadelphia for third baseman Scott Rolen, a minor leaguer and cash.

The hype: In its 2001 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America ranked Smith as the No. 1 prospect in the St. Louis organization -- one spot ahead of a promising young third baseman named Albert Pujols.

"The Cardinals hope he'll become something of a cross between Rick Ankiel and Jamie Moyer and occupy a spot in the middle of their rotation for years," BA wrote.

The rest of the story: Smith made a big splash in 2001 when he threw a no-hitter against San Diego. He even generated some Tom Glavine comparisons for his poise and ability to carve up the plate. But Smith pitched poorly in 2002, and when the Cardinals had a chance to acquire Rolen at the deadline, they packed Smith off to Philly.

The Philadelphia papers heralded Smith as the potential key to the deal, but Smith apparently was damaged goods. He made three minor league starts, underwent shoulder surgery and never pitched an inning in Philadelphia.

After a brief audition with the Twins and a comeback attempt or two in independent ball, Smith went home to California to coach high school ball. Two labrum surgeries and a procedure on his rotator cuff were too much for the crafty young lefty to overcome.

Jose Capellan
Capellan

Jose Capellan, RHP

The trade (December 2004): Milwaukee acquires Capellan from Atlanta for reliever Dan Kolb as part of a four-player trade at MLB's winter meetings.

The hype: In 2005, Baseball America ranked Capellan as Milwaukee's fourth best prospect behind Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy.

The rest of the story: Capellan, an imposing 6-4 and 235 pounds, wowed the scouts with his explosive fastball. But he lacked consistency with his breaking ball and changeup, and his control was spotty at times.

It appeared Capellan was turning the corner when he helped lead the Dominican Republic to the Caribbean World Series title in 2007. "He's a monster," former big leaguer Jose Lima said at the time. "He throws 97 mph, plus he knows how to pitch."

Not well enough, it turns out. Milwaukee traded Capellan to Detroit, which dealt him to Colorado, which left him exposed so San Francisco could select him in the Rule 5 draft. Capellan split last season between the Colorado and Kansas City organizations, and signed a minor league deal with Houston this spring.

Capellan pitched well in the Grapefruit League and nearly beat out Russ Ortiz for a spot in the rotation, but it's been all downhill since. He's 1-9 with an 8.41 ERA for Triple-A Round Rock. Capellan and his high-octane fastball appear to be running out of career opportunities.

Matt Murton
Murton

Matt Murton, OF

The trade (July 2004): The Cubs acquire Nomar Garciaparra and Murton from Boston as part of a four-way trade with the Red Sox, Twins and Expos. Boston gets Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz in the deal.

The hype: Murton won the Cape Cod League home run derby in 2002 but slumped in his junior year at Georgia Tech and lasted until the 32nd pick in the 2003 draft. Still, his plate discipline and intelligent approach suggested he would be a nice fit in Boston's lineup with a little minor league seasoning.

David Chadd, then Boston's scouting director, compared Murton to Jeff Conine, "but with much more power."

The rest of the story: Murton had his moments with the Cubs but never found a full-time niche. He was squeezed off the 2008 Opening Day roster when the Cubs acquired Reed Johnson late in spring training. Last July, Chicago sent him to Oakland in the Rich Harden trade.

Now Murton is with the Rockies. He spent five weeks in Denver earlier this season but was optioned to Colorado Springs when the Rockies recalled Carlos Gonzalez in early June. Murton is having a nice season in the Pacific Coast League, with a .342 batting average and a .927 OPS.

"He's more of a gap guy than a power guy, so he doesn't really profile as an everyday corner outfielder," a scout said. "But I still think there's a role for him on a big league club as a fourth outfielder."

Murton is fast approaching his 28th birthday and 2,000th minor league at-bat, so it's time for him to get his career out of neutral.

Jeremy Reed
Reed

Jeremy Reed, OF

The trade (June 2004): The White Sox trade Reed, Miguel Olivo and Mike Morse to Seattle for Freddy Garcia and Ben Davis.

The hype: Reed, a former Long Beach State Dirtbag, attracted lots of attention when he hit .409 in 66 games with Birmingham in the Southern League at age 22. He leapfrogged bonus baby Joe Borchard on Chicago's prospect list, and generated some "young Rafael Palmeiro" comparisons for his clean, line-drive stroke and advanced eye at the plate.

The rest of the story: Chicago GM Kenny Williams hated to trade Reed, but that was what it took to beat out the Yankees for Garcia, the most coveted starting pitcher on the market in the summer of 2004. Although Garcia went 9-4 the rest of the way, the Sox finished second in the AL Central and missed out on the playoffs.

The Mariners, meanwhile, were euphoric. They planned to start Reed off in Triple-A, then let him take over for Randy Winn in center field in 2005. General manager Bill Bavasi told reporters that Reed had Jim Edmonds-like potential as a defender in center.

But those best-laid plans never materialized. Reed hit a nondescript .254 with a .322 OBP in 141 games in 2005 and spent the next three years on the bench, with Triple-A Tacoma or on the disabled list. The Mariners sent him to the Mets in the J.J. Putz trade in December, and Reed is hitting .262 as a reserve for manager Jerry Manuel.

Reed now is 28 years old, and his closest historical parallel, according to Baseball-Reference.com, is former Pirates outfielder Jermaine Allensworth. It's a long way from there to Palmeiro.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer