Much of my job revolves around prospects, from the time they first show up on the radar for the draft or the July 2 international deadline, through their time in the minors until they reach the majors and exhaust their rookie eligibility, at which point my attention turns to the next crop.
Most top-tier prospects succeed in their first year or two; some flame out quickly, get hurt or see some major flaw in their game exposed early on. But some top prospects take several years to become truly valuable big leaguers, whether due to lack of opportunity or the need for mechanical or approach adjustments. Look at Carlos Pena, who finally had a star-level season six years and four organizations after his major league debut, or Philip Humber, who broke out last year at 28 for his fourth organization after just 51 previous big league innings. With those examples and others in mind, here are six former top prospects who struggled in 2011 but in whose futures I still believe, plus one bonus name who broke out last year but still has potential.
Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta Braves
Heyward was my pick for the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year award that Buster Posey won, but Heyward's shoulder injury from that season caused him to alter his swing in a way that destroyed a good chunk of his offensive value in 2011. He started loading his hands higher and swinging more down at the ball than up through it, producing weaker ground balls and a lot of popups on balls he would otherwise have been able to drive. The good news, aside from the fact that he's just 22, is that his plate discipline remained strong, and early word from Atlanta camp is that he's made some adjustments to improve his mechanics. We'll see how that plays over the next month, but the physical ability and batting eye are still there to allow him to return to greatness this year.