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It’s prospect season! I saw Keith Law has his top 100 prospects out now, with Jeter Downs and Tristan Casas the only Red Sox players to crack the top 100. The Rays have a ton of guys in there, including number-one overall Wander Franco, which might bode well for what Chaim Bloom is trying to do here. With all of this prospect content and the Red Sox’ determination to rebuild the farm system, it made me wonder: Who is the best Red Sox prospect that never made it? For some reason I always think of Wilton Veras, but I know there were better prospects than him that didn’t pan out. But who? – Rob D.
Oh, man. This might be an impossible question to answer, so let’s set some parameters. First, let’s keep it to the draft era (1965 until now), just because we have more information in this age. I suppose there could have been some hot shot in 1933 who contracted whooping cough or something and was never quite the same, but I don’t know who that would be.
I imagine a lot of old timers would say Harry Agganis, a phenomenal athlete and football star at Boston University who signed as a bonus baby with the Sox in 1953, and a year later was their starting first baseman. Agganis, as most know, died of a pulmonary embolism in June 1955 at age 26. He hit .261 in his brief major league career. I wouldn’t include him on this list. He made it, fast, and was nowhere near a bust. He just met with some tragic circumstances.
So who is it? Well, I have a couple of helpful resources here. Back in 2014, I put together a six-part (33,000-word) project ranking the top 50 Red Sox prospects of the draft era. It was based on a lot of factors – what was said about them in Sox media guides when they were coming through the system, Peter Gammons’s write-ups in the Globe columns (he was the first to cover the minors extensively, and what a treat it was to go back and read all of that stuff), the players’ production level in the minors, with much weight given to those that put up big numbers at a very young age.
That project can be found here. Jim Rice was No. 1, but Dwight Evans had a heck of a case. My only regret is not listing then-Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts at No. 50. It would have been fitting.
The other resource I have is a list of Baseball America’s annual Top 10 prospects for every team from 1983 until now. I love having this handy. If you want to know who the No. 8 prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers was in 1991, I can tell you: Pedro Martinez. He panned out.
I included a couple of busts on my top 50 list six years ago because, even though they didn’t make it, the buzz they generated and the stats they put up in the minors often warranted the platitudes they received on their way up. Among them were shortstop Juan Bustabad (never trust a prospect with bust in his last name), outfielder Gus Burgess, and first baseman Otis Foster. Bustabad made frequent appearances in Gammons’s columns, but he never got an at-bat in the majors. He’s a candidate for the best prospect that never made it, though perhaps he never should have been considered a major prospect at all given his .635 OPS in Single A.
The Baseball America top-10s are even more helpful. Here are a few Red Sox prospects that at one time or another were ranked No. 1 in the organization: pitcher Mike Brown (1983), shortstop Rey Quinonez (1985 and ’86; Ellis Burks was No. 2 in the latter year), third baseman Scott Cooper (1989-90), Frankie Rodriguez (1995); Donnie Sadler (1996); and Brian Rose (1998).
Those are just the No. 1 prospects and doesn’t include the guys like Veras, Phil Plantier, or Sam Horn, players that flamed out after early success in the majors.
Taking all of this into consideration, I’m going to say the biggest bust was Sadler, just because the year he was rated No. 1 as a shortstop, the Sox’ No. 2 prospect was another shortstop who apparently wasn’t considered his equal: Nomar Garciaparra. As we all know, Nomar was better.
So my choice is Sadler, a 5-foot-8-inch guy with burning speed who couldn’t stop trying to be a home-run hitter. But what does everyone else think. Who was the biggest prospect bust in Red Sox history? I’ll hear you in the comments. There sure are plenty to choose from.