September 4, 2013
The Most Depressing Age-27 Seasons of 2013
Another year, another bunch of players who were 27 and will never be 27 again. As Ben Lindbergh once wrote, the idea of Age 27 as a time when players break out is mostly a myth. But as I once wrote (twice wrote, actually), the idea of Age 27 as the last year that broken-down prospects get taken semi-seriously as post-hype sleepers is maybe not. So, in what has become an annual thing, here’s a look at the Age 27 Sadness that 10 Age 27s felt this year.
10. Daric Barton
Type of Age 27 Disappointment: Stagnation
Top line of his resume: Thrice a top-50 prospect, platonic ideal of a Billy Beane prospect, led the majors in TAv in as a small-sample 21-year-old.
2013: .183/.256/.263 in 43 big-league plate appearances.
If you spend a lot of time feeling nostalgic for sabermetrics’ low-hanging-fruit days, Daric Barton is your baseball equivalent of the last song played at prom. Back then, “draft whoever Billy Beane picks up” was a valid fantasy strategy, and oh boy after the Mark Mulder trade you wanted to hold some seriously sweaty hands with Daric Barton, who had just hit .313/.445/.511, as the youngest player in the Midwest League, as a catcher. He did have one fantastic season, and through age 24 he had a better OPS+ than Derrek Lee, Justin Morneau, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Konerko, Richie Sexson, Eric Hosmer, a whole grip of guys. In three seasons since, he has two big-league home runs, and a .274 slugging percentage in more than 450 plate appearances. To his credit, 2013 was (narrowly) the best season he has had in Triple-A (where he has spent parts of six years), but it wasn’t the league domination you expect from 27-year-olds in the PCL: he led the River Cats in OBP but was, true to his history, just seventh in slugging.
9. C.J. Henry
Type of Age 27 Melancholy: Off-road comeback attempt
Top line of his resume: The highest draft pick the Yankees have had since 1993, Henry was ranked at the time as the second-best high school athlete of his class, behind Justin Upton. “I'm a five-tool player with a high ceiling and unlimited potential,” he said.
2013: .330/.410/.517 in 56 games for Evansville, of the independent Frontier League.
Henry turned down a scholarship to play basketball with Kansas to sign with the Yankees, but the error-prone shortstop stalled in Single-A, hitting .184/.238/.322 and striking out in 37 percent of his plate appearances as a 21-year-old. That sent him back to college basketball, where he went from Memphis to Kansas to Southern Nazarene University. He returned to baseball this year and has hit well in an environment that doesn’t produce many futures. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the raw tools,” his manager said recently. “There’s a lot of upside there. But, baseball is littered with a lot of guys that have fallen short of their ceiling. As far as tools go, there probably isn’t another guy in the league that can match his.”
8. Reid Brignac
Type of Age 27 Dislocation: Abrupt unmooring
Top line of his resume: As a power-hitting shortstop he was the 11th-best prospect in the game, a spot ahead of Ryan Braun and a spot behind Evan Longoria.
2013: .228/.321/.315 at Triple-A Colorado Springs; .185/.219/.261 in 98 big-league at-bats; 10th-worst WARP in majors.
There was only one concern about Brignac: the glove. He wanted to stay at shortstop, but he was below average there and might have ended up at third or right field if a) the Rays weren’t crowded there and b) God hadn’t reverse-imaged him in Photoshop around 2008, turning him into a no-bat, great-glove shortstop. He’s been baseball’s worst hitter over the past three years (a generous handful of pitchers have even hit better), and he has reached that point where the first result in a Google Images search of his name is his wife. Also, that point where the transactions start to accelerate, as three teams let him go this year.
7. Eric Hurley
Type of Age 27 Eviction: Quiet retirement?
Top line of his resume: “The Rangers inquired about Carlos Gonzalez but wouldn't consider parting with Eric Hurley for him.”
2013: Does not appear in the literature.
MLB Trade Rumors’ last notice of him was last summer, when the Twins released him. (He had a 6.85 ERA in Triple-A that year, split between the Angels and Twins orgs.) Rotoworld’s last mention was when the Twins picked him up for Triple-A depth. Google News doesn’t turn up a single reference to him since the end of last season. So that’s how it ends for a guy who everybody cared a great deal about not that long ago: he just vanishes, and is memorialized forever onward in an Angels hat, for shame.
6. Mat Gamel
Type of Age 27 Insult: Injury-ruined last chance
Top line of his resume: Top-40 prospect; compared to Ryan Braun by a baseball card; “He should hit .300 in the big leagues with over 25 home runs annually.”
2013: Has not played.
Gamel was already approaching Age 27 oblivion, as he has been so bad at the big-league level (.229/.305/.367 career), and so often injured, that he has managed to collect just a half-season’s worth of at-bats over the course of five seasons since his debut. The Brewers this year have given 57 starts at first base to Yuni Betancourt—Yuniesky Betancourt!—and their .260 OBP at the position is lower than any NL team's at any position. So this was Gamel’s big chance to get 600 plate appearances, but instead he spent it recovering from surgery on his ACL. Now he may never get to hit that third career sacrifice fly.
5. Michael Taylor
Type of Age 27 Rejection: The sad realization that it was probably never there
Top line of his resume: Once a top-20 prospect and a sexy name in the Roy Halladay blockbuster.
2013: .043/.120/.043 in nine big-league games, .282/.362/.472 in what is essentially his fourth full season at Sacramento.
Last year, Taylor added walks to his game but it didn’t turn him back into a prospect; this year, he added home runs (and gave back the walks). That didn’t turn him into a prospect, either, particularly now that he has aged out of most of his speed and his handegg physique becomes more a concern than a selling point. His big league record is notably small, which both gives him SSS cover for his .135/.210/.043 career line and introduces a new, relevant data point in the A’s informed reluctance to give him a real shot.
4. Mark Rogers
Type of Age 27 Conclusion: Only employer he’s ever had fires him.
Top line of his resume: Fifth-overall pick in 2004 despite playing in cold-weather state. First high school player from Maine ever taken in the first round, after striking out 142 in 56 innings (with 0.16 ERA) in senior year of high school.
2013: 5.66 ERA, 13 Ks and 15 BBs in 21 innings split between High- and Double-A.
Rogers spent most of the season trying to de-hurtify his shoulder, and eventually he was throwing 93 in short stints in August. But rather than call him up for September, Milwaukee removed him from the 40-man roster, ending (for now) their 10-year relationship with a draft mistake. During that decade, virtually all spent as a starter, Rogers pitched just 592 innings, having missed more than two years after labrum surgery, been suspended for twice testing positive for a stimulant, and struggled to keep his career walk rate below six per nine innings. That 2004 draft, man. Justin Verlander has been worth about 32 wins. Homer Bailey, about 10. The rest of the top 10 combine for just about zero.
3. Chuck Lofgren
Type of Age 27 Sadness: Anything to keep playing
Top line of his resume: As a projectable 22-year-old left-hander was the 35th-best prospect in baseball.
2013: 72 Ks, 57 BBs in 99 innings playing for Joliet in the independent Frontier League.
You probably wanted to play in the majors, right? You took grounders, spent money on batting cage tokens, tried to learn a gimmick pitch or two. Lofgren scoffs at your resolve. Besides playing in a independent league this year—where pay is reportedly between $600 and $1,600 per month, or less than $5,000 for a year—he played for independent Amarillo last year so he could try to reinvent himself as a hitter. He managed an OBP-heavy .702 OPS; he also pitched, compiling 68 Ks and 58 BBs in 120 innings. Then he went to Australia, where he was a’ight, and finally back to Joliet, where the team is named after the local prisons. Well, probably not finally. Lofgren might have another eight or nine years in him. Mexico, Taiwan, Italy; plenty of places still.
2. Delmon Young
Type of Age 27 Ennui: Total punchline
Top line of his resume: Top-3 prospect four years in a row.
2013: .300/.306/.383 in 14 minor league games; .261/.302/.397 and -.1 WARP as a big leaguer.
Don’t undersell how incredible it is that Young was a top-3 prospect for, essentially, a half-decade (if we include his consensus no. 1 draft prospect season). He didn’t fool the critics with one deceptive spike; basically, he was a critical darling for as long as the Pixies, only to be revealed to be Nickelback. Everything came together for him (as baseball’s heel, at least) this year: He was signed by Ruben Amaro, whose every move is internet-suspect; he was signed by Ruben Amaro during an offseason in which Amaro also traded for Michael Young and signed Yuni Betancourt; he was in line to block Domonic Brown, two years younger and arguably more upsidey at that point in his career; he was terrible while Brown broke out; and, when he was finally waived, he was replaced by Darin Ruf, Young’s pedigree opposite but now an apparently vastly superior player. Young has entered that strange zone, chosen for only a very unlucky few, who exists in baseball primarily to be rooted against.
1. Matt Bush
Type of Age 27 Prison: Prison
Top line of his resume: No. 1 overall pick, a spot ahead of Justin Verlander.
Bush is due to be released in mid-April 2016.
Honorable mentions: Wade Davis, Joba Chamberlain, Greg Golson, Franklin Morales, Greg Reynolds
Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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