Will Yoder: Prospect pairs don’t always add up to greatness

There are many who will tell you that the Washington Nationals are a team in waiting. After several years of terrible misfortune on the field, they were unprecedented benefactors of great luck off of it. In back-to-back seasons, arguably the two greatest, or at least most hyped, prospects of all time would enter the Major League Baseball draft, and each year the Nationals had the first overall pick.

Washington shelled out the money to sign the two, and now the Lerners, general manager Mike Rizzo and everyone who has faithfully worn a curly W for the past six seasons are waiting patiently for two heroes to finally bring the Nationals to glory. Unfortunately though, their ascension to greatness will not be a guarantee - and neither will the Nationals’ chances of the postseason.

Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are certainly transcendent talents, and the combination of the two make many wonder what could lie ahead with such a blend of two stars, one at the plate and one on the mound. However, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a pair of prospects with such tremendous upside enter the majors together, and sadly, it doesn’t always end in a handful of World Series rings.

Below are three examples of mega-pitching/hitting prospects to reach the majors at about the same time for the same team. Each group had varying success, but they can teach us something about what we can hope to expect over the next 10-15 years.

Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry

In 1980, the New York Mets selected, at the time, one of the most hyped players to ever enter the amateur draft, silky smooth power-hitting outfielder Darryl Strawberry. On the mound, they would select a skinny 17-year-old kid out of Tampa, Fla., in 1982 that would forever change the franchise. Dwight “Doc” Gooden was one of the best pitchers in baseball by the time he made the club at 19.

These two had amazing success for the Mets throughout the early and mid-1980s. Strawberry was the Rookie of the Year in 1983 and Gooden won it in 1984. Strawberry made the All-Star team in nine consecutive seasons and Gooden won the Cy Young Award in his second year. Together, they helped turn around a last-place Mets team into one that won at least 90 games five seasons in a row, and famously went on to win the 1986 World Series. Unfortunately, a combination of Gooden’s drug problems and Strawberry’s lack of further development stalled the Mets in the late 1980s. It seemed a foregone conclusion that Gooden and Strawberry would lead the Mets to multiple championships. They would only win the one.

Rick Ankiel and J.D. Drew

In 1997, the St. Louis Cardinals drafted a flame-throwing high school pitcher who would quickly become the most exciting pitching prospect since Gooden. In 1998, the Cardinals signed one of the most sought after college players of the decade in J.D. Drew. Drew had abilities that invited many comparisons to Mickey Mantle as a guy who could hit tape-measure home runs as well as steal bases. He was considered the total package and combined with pitching prospect Rick Ankiel, the great baseball town of St. Louis had a bright future.

Unfortunately, Ankiel developed a terrible case of Steve Blass disease and was unable to throw a strikes regularly after just one year of full-time experience. You now know him as the Nationals’ starting center fielder. Drew, on the other hand, was never able to live up to expectations as injuries derailed his development, though he’s made a nice career for himself outside of St. Louis, three times cashing in on big free-agent contracts. He’s now 35 and with the Boston Red Sox.

Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle

In 1950, the New York Yankees rolled out a young man who would soon become their best pitcher, Whitey Ford. In his rookie year, at 21, he dominated the American League in 12 starts, posting a 9-1 record with a 2.81 ERA. The very next year, a young outfielder, Mickey Mantle would get off to a timid start for New York at the age of 19, but over the next 11 seasons he would win three Most Valuable Player awards.

Together, the two would help lead the great Yankees of the 1950s and 1960s to seven World Series championships, and are both in the Hall of Fame.

Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints this week as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

blog comments powered by Disqus