All of this recent talk about Chaim Bloom’s quest to rebuild the Red Sox farm system — and my generally cynical mood after the Mookie Betts trade — got me thinking about the Red Sox prospects through the years who didn’t make it.
For every Jon Lester or Xander Bogaerts, there are so many flamethrowers that flamed out and shortstops that stopped short. Can’t-miss kids miss all the same, in part because they’re, well, kids, in part because there are so many variables that can interfere along the way, and in part because playing major league baseball is really, really hard.
I actually took this topic to Twitter, asking readers who they thought was the biggest bust in Red Sox history. The responses were so varied and good that I decided to — yes, cynically — put together an All-Busts team of Red Sox prospects. At the moment, an exercise such as this is more interesting than talking about the current team.
A couple of ground rules: I eliminated from consideration players who might have been annoying or didn’t fully live up to their hype, but still ended up having quality major league careers. Clay Buchholz has pitched 13 years in the majors, made two All-Star teams, and finished sixth in the Cy Young voting once. He’s many things, but he’s not a bust. Same goes for Daisuke Matsuzaka, to a different degree.
I also eliminated players that had their promise curtailed by unfortunate real-life circumstances, such as Ryan Westmoreland and Andy Yount.
I eliminated players who never should have been considered prospects in the first place, such as Kung-Fu-fighting Izzy Alcantara, who was 27 when he debuted in 2000, and Pat Dodson, who broke through at age 26 in 1986 in his third full season in Pawtucket and somehow managed to be a Donruss Rated Rookie and a Topps Future Star on his 1987 baseball cards.
And — perhaps wrongly, but hey, it’s the approach I’m taking — I eliminated players who did briefly thrive in the major leagues before the game caught up to them. You’re not busts to me, Sam Horn, Phil Plantier, and Will Middlebrooks. The good moments might have been fleeting, but they sure were fun.
Prepare to wince, position by position . . .
Catcher: Blake Swihart. The 2011 first-round pick’s big-league career got off to a promising start in 2015 when he hit .274 in 84 games as a 23-year-old. Things might have gone differently had the Red Sox not stuck him in left field, where he suffered a career-altering ankle injury in ealry 2016. But the reality is that he got plenty of chances and never did much with them, putting up a .679 OPS across five partial seasons while drawing something less than raves defensively.
He edges out Peabody High legend Steve Lomasney, the No. 50 overall prospect in 2000 who got just two big-league at-bats.
First base: Otis Foster. I suspect most of you will go with Lars Anderson, who was rated the No. 17 overall prospect by Baseball America in 2009 but hit .167 in 56 at-bats for the Red Sox over three years. But my vote goes to Foster, the 15th overall pick in 1975 who was pegged as the next Jim Rice (talk about unfair expectations), if only for this amusing but probably apocryphal story.
The legend goes that in spring training in the late ’70s, as weight issues were causing Foster’s star to dim, the Red Sox devised a plan to help him lose weight: They’d make him run laps around a nearby lake. Great idea, except, as the story goes, Foster had a better plan. He had his girlfriend meet him halfway around the lake with a picnic basket so they could have a nice lunch before he finished his running. That’s my kind of thinking right there.
Second base: Donnie Sadler. In Baseball America’s ranking of the Red Sox’ top 10 prospects of 1996, two shortstops cracked the top four. Nomar Garciaparra at No. 4 . . . and Sadler at No. 1. That’s right: Baseball America did not know that Nomar was better.
Sadler, who might be the fastest Red Sox player not named Otis Nixon I’ve ever seen, did have a terrific season at Single A Michigan in 1995, putting up an .836 OPS with 9 homers and 41 steals. The Red Sox moved him around defensively and rushed him to the majors in 1998, which did him no favors.
But he never really had a good season after that promising start, and in 156 career games with the Red Sox, he hit .242 with 4 homers, maddeningly trying to hit for power when he should have been maximizing his speed.
Shortstop: Juan Bustabad. I mean, the last name should have been a blinking neon clue, right? Never trust a prospect whose last name includes the words “bust’’ and “bad.’’
Bustabad drew frequent reference for his defensive wizardry in Peter Gammons’s Sunday notes columns in the early ’80s. One comment from 1981: “The Red Sox liken Bustabad’s speed to that of Kirk Gibson, the Detroit outfielder who reputedly can run with KC’s Willie Wilson. Scouts from two other teams say he’s not that fast but is a great shortstop prospect.’’
I remember fully expecting him to become the Red Sox’ version of Ozzie Smith. Instead, he peaked as the PawSox’ version of Mario Mendoza, putting up a .606 OPS in nine minor league seasons and never playing a day in the majors.
Third base: Wilton Veras. He had a reputation as a future star in 1999 after he hit .288 in 36 games as a 21-year-old. But looking back, it’s hard to tell why, beyond the empty batting average. He had just an 80 adjusted OPS in that stretch, hitting two home runs, and he was no whiz at third base.
If we wanted a young third baseman to dream on that season, we should have looked west to watch 20-year-old Adrian Beltre with the Dodgers.
Veras gets the nod here over 2010 first-round pick Kolbrin Vitek, who hit 8 homers in four minor league seasons and never made it past Double A Portland.
Left field: Greg Blosser. The 16th pick in the 1989 draft, Blosser was a strapping power hitter who was supposed to be what Jim Thome became. But he struck out too much even in the low minors and hit .077 in cameos with the 1993 and ’94 Red Sox.
I’ll also hear you on Jeff Ledbetter, a record-setting slugger at Florida State and a first-round pick in 1982 who lost his pop when he had to trade in the aluminum bat for wood.
Center field: Rusney Castillo. He was touted to be the next Ron Gant when the Red Sox signed the Cuban defector to an absurd six-year, $72.5 million deal in 2014, and he got off to a nice start, but in 2015, it became apparent that we should have been calling him Rusney Can’t.
The circumstances of his contract have left him in baseball purgatory in Pawtucket, where he has a career .761 OPS and is now 32 years old.
Also: Jeff McNeely was supposed to be the next Ellis Burks, but he turned out to be the first Jeff McNeely.
Right field: Rick Asadoorian. He drew comparisons to a young Dwight Evans when the Red Sox took him out of Northbridge High with the 17th pick in 1999. But he spent just two uninspiring seasons in the organization before the Red Sox traded him to the Cardinals for pitcher Dustin Hermanson in December 2001.
Righthanded starter: Mike Brown. He was rated the Red Sox’ No. 1 prospect by Baseball America in 1983, and man, did he deserve it. In his first two seasons of pro ball (including a cameo with the big club in ’82) Brown went 24-10 with 261 strikeouts in 261 innings and a 1.83 ERA.He was supposed to be the Red Sox’ next ace before we even heard of Roger Clemens. He did not become the Red Sox next ace, going 12-18 with a 5.57 ERA over five partial seasons.
His greatest contribution might have been when he departed: He was part of the deal that brought postseason hero Dave Henderson from the Mariners in 1986.
Lefthanded starter: Trey Ball. I’ll presume most of you would go with Henry Owens and his 5.19 career ERA in this spot. But I’ll fight you — well, at least bicker passive-aggressively — on that.
The Red Sox spent the No. 7 pick in the 2013 draft on Ball, a high school lefthander from Indiana. I loathe spending high draft picks on high school pitchers; there’s just so much that can go wrong, and much of it did for Ball, who at last glance was trying to convert to a position player after putting up a 6.06 ERA in two seasons with the Sea Dogs.
Reliever: Craig Hansen. The hype surrounding Hansen when the Red Sox took the St. John’s hurler 26th overall in 2005 is unlike any I can recall for a Boston pitching prospect. The Red Sox fully bought into it, too, rushing him to the big leagues that season and stunting his development.
He was basically supposed to be what Jonathan Papelbon became, but, for a variety of reasons, it never came close to happening, and he finished his career with a 6.34 ERA. If you want to call him the biggest bust in Red Sox history, I’m not going to argue.