Bouncing Back: A Blank Slate
With the turn of the calendar fresh in our minds, I thought it would be worth discussing (no, not resolutions) which prospects would be happy to see 2013 return from whence it came, and welcome instead a new year and
anustart a new start. Each of these guys had bad seasons, for different reasons, but similarly, each isn’t so different from the player/prospect they were just a season ago. So, before we begin, I’ll warn you: you’ll hear the same refrain for each of these players, namely that they still retain a vast majority of their skills and shouldn’t be written off just year. But the why is the important part.
Trevor Story – SS – Colorado Rockies
Story entered the year as the top prospect in the Rockies organization and was summarily passed by… well just about everyone. The guys who flew past the quickest were Eddie Butler and newly signed pitcher Jonathan Gray. Even so, Story was so bad that he had people asking whether he or little-known Rosell Herrera should switch their affiliations (Herrera being the shortstop at Low-A, and Story manning the same position at High-A). Coming off a year in which he slugged over .500 in Low-A at 19 years old, Story had fewer questions on his bat than on whether he could stick at the position, and even then it wasn’t grave doubt.
So, what happened? Story couldn’t even crack a .400 slugging percentage in the hitter’s haven that is Modesto, in the paradise that is the California League. He racked up 183 strikeouts in just under 500 at-bats on his way to not hitting for much power as well. He also walked less in more at-bats compared to his 2012 season, though the one silver lining was his career high 23 stolen bases in 24 attempts. While the weaknesses in Story’s game played at the forefront in 2013, baseball is a game of adjustments. Pitchers adjusted to Story in 2013, and he’ll have to adjust back next year if he wants to reestablish himself as a prospect. His strengths are still there, he just has to find a way to let them function. Story will look to solve this riddle starting with a (relatively) clean sheet next year back at High-A.
Jonathan Singleton – 1B – Houston Astros
Many anticipated Singleton as a Rookie of the Year contender when he finished 2012 OPSing over 900 (as a 20-year old) at Double-A and the Astros did little-to-nothing to fill the standing sinkhole they had at first base. Instead, Singleton was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a recreational drug (marijuana) for a second time. This meant that Singleton only saw 90 games in 2013, and lost valuable development time, as well as created some makeup questions about himself. That said, it’s less of a concern suspension-wise once he gets on the 40-man roster, as he won’t be tested for marijuana once added.
Singleton returned with a brief stint in Low-A before jumping back to Double-A wreaking the same type of havoc he did in 2013. After a mere 26 games there, he was promoted to Triple-A where he was decidedly less effective. Singleton failed to crack a .700 OPS in 76 games at Oklahoma City, though he retained a keen eye at the plate. The difference was that he wasn’t hitting and he wasn’t hitting for power. That said, he is still only 21 years old, and he had a tumultuous offseason coming into last year. With a quiet winter in 2014, a return to Triple-A seems likely to be a prelude to a major league debut. A strong start this spring will likely quiet any doubt people have on Singleton, and if an owner in your league has questions, now is the time to pounce. Opportunity reigns supreme, as he only has the likes of Jesus Guzman and Brett Wallace’s rotting carcass to step over before earning major league playing time. 2013 wasn’t a banner year for Singleton, but there’s more than enough talent here to rebound.
Mike Olt – 3B – Chicago Cubs
With perhaps the worst year of any of the prospects mentioned, Mike Olt might be the best value play. A strong presence on the fantasy prospect radar these last few years thanks to his 25 home run power and projected third base eligibility, Olt seemed poised to be a major league presence in 2014, at least as an injury replacement if not as a utility type. None of that happened though, as Olt struggled to start his season at Triple-A while part of the Texas organization, thanks at least in part to vision problems. He put up a .135/.235./.236 line while struggling through them before receiving help with the issue. While he improved after his visit with the eye doctor, it wasn’t enough to solve his woes (in fact the problems resurfaced at the end of the season).
Olt was just one of many prospects sent to the Cubs in a trade for Matt Garza, as opposed to the headliner he might have been just a few months prior. Instead, Olt – who had recovered enough to show solid plate discipline and a modicum of power at Round Rock – reported to Triple-A Iowa with Chicago and was markedly worse than what he showed in Texas, recording a meager 551 OPS and an average below the Mendoza line in 131 at-bats. Cautious though we may be, it’s reasonable to anticipate that Olt would have solved his vision woes over the offseason and will return to the Cubs a whole player. If that’s the case, it’s fair to expect a return (at least in part) to his previously productive ways. Olt is still not a monster prospect, but as a player who could provide power and patience, and only Luis Valbuena in front of him at third base… there’s reason to want to believe. 2013 was a lost season for Olt, but 2014 might see (get it?) a return to prospect prominence.
Obviously, there’s no magic wand to wave and make sure the various maladies that affected these prospects’ seasons are gone for good or that 2013’s horrors won’t mentally affect them going forward. But with the calendar now reading January, and the 2014 season on the horizon, it’s time to renew our hope in the previously damaged.