May 23rd. It's a cloudy and cool Friday night in Wilmington Delaware. Frawley Stadium sits just miles from the Delaware River on Shipyard Road.The 6,500 seat stadium is one of the main attractions in the riverside Delaware town. The city nicknamed "A Place to Be Somebody" has many potential somebodies.The gates open at Frawley and the fans fill in. They come to see players like Bubba Starling, Hunter Dozier, Raul Mondesi, and Sean Manaea on most nights. High profile prospects who put bodies in the seats on a Friday and Saturday night. Guys who give fans the possibility to say "I saw him before he was in the majors" and cherish their promotional t-shirts signed by their favorite player or the silly give away bobble-heads.
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The game suffers its normal ebb and flow. The Blue Rocks opponent Frederick scores first, then Wilmington scores , then Frederick does again to make it 2-1 in their favor. In the 9th inning the Blue Rocks tie the game. No runs cross the plate in the top of the 10th and the home town club has a chance to send the fans home happy with one swing of the bat. After three walks and two outs, up comes the Blue Rocks final hope for the inning. Bases loaded. Two outs. A lean second baseman wearing the number 6 walks up to the plate trying to be the hero. He works the count to 2-1 and awaits the next pitch from the big hurler on the mound, trying to take this moment of glory away. It's a fastball near the heart of the plate. The batter swings...
Kenny Diekroeger was a somebody once... and important too. Lately though he's only a shell of the former prospect he once was seen as. On this Friday night Diekroeger would enter the batters box hitting .129/.238/.157. Struggling at the plate in a league that he's seen briefly before, the results have been the same at every level. Kenny hasn't hit above .210 at any level. This isn't the player right now that scouts saw in 2009.
Diekroeger was once in consideration for the first overall pick. He dominated the 2008 Area Code Games and was named the best athlete at the event after being given an 85 SPARQ rating. Kenny was a SS with a very good bat. He didn't have the best actions at short and most speculated a move to second or the outfield. Scouts applauded his work ethic and he graduated High School with a 4.0 GPA. In his junior year he hit nearly .465.
Diekroeger was offered a four year scholarship to Stanford, a school just two miles down the road from his High School. Diekroeger was very intent on attending Stanford and he made it clear before being drafted. Despite his talent, his words moved him down the draft board due to signability concerns. Couple his high regard for the college experience and a knee injury he suffered in early May that kept him out for the remainder of the season, Diekroeger had many possibilities for what team would grab him come early June. He supposedly told scouts:
"Unless I'm a top-round pick and offered a big bonus, I won't even consider it. I really want to go to Stanford."
Kenny would last until the second round to the Rays and they would reportedly offer him a bonus of $2,000,000 to break his bind to Stanford. He decided to honor his decision to the Cardinals and would go into his freshman season as one of the best college prospects in the nation, majoring in Management and Engineering.
As a Freshman Cardinal Diekroeger would go on to hit .356/.391/.491 while playing third base and pick up First Team All-Freshman honors, First Team Pac-10 honors, and be named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. If he were draft eligible as a freshman Diekroeger would easily have been in contention for first overall if Bryce Harper didn't exist.
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During the summer Kenny would play in the New England Collegiate League and be named as the circuits best pro prospect after hitting .324/.354/.446 in 139 at-bats. His success in the summer league would lead him to be named a First Team Preseason All American.This would likely be Diekroeger's peak as a prospect.
In his sophomore season Diekroeger would struggle as the NCAA would introduce their BBCOR bats. He would amass a .292/.351/.365 line with just eight doubles, two home runs, and only steal two bases. He would make 56 starts at SS for the Cardinals and appeared to ward off any thoughts that he couldn't handle the position for the time being. Diekroeger would sit out of summer league baseball and instead work on his strength and conditioning.
In September, Baseball America would name him the 18th best draft prospect for the upcoming 2012 draft the next year saying
An X-factor after a disappointing spring and not playing this summer, but the tools are still there.
As he entered his first draft eligible season, Diekroeger would "only" be named on the Preseason Second Team Academic All American team as his final collegiate award. Another tough season would befall him as he hit .275/.341/.374 and came into the season in a position battle with Lonnie Kaupilla at short and Alex Blandino at third. He would go on to split time between the SS and second.
In February of 2012 BA ranked him as the 29th best draft prospect, but by May the same site would list him at 118th.
He’ll likely move to second as a pro, and some scouts say he’ll end up as a utility player because his versatility is more valuable than his pure offensive or defensive skill. A team that believes he still has offensive upside will take him in the first five rounds, but he won’t see another $2 million bonus offer.
In less than 8 months, Diekroeger had fallen 100 spots.
The Royals would draft him 133rd overall in the fourth round at pick number 5 and he would sign over-slot for a $500,000 bonus and report to Burlington, the Royals Low-Rookie affiliate.
Kenny would start out strong in his pro debut hitting .282/.315/.529 with six home runs in just his first 20 games including a nine game span where he hit .375/.405/.700 with four home runs. He would struggle the remainder of the season going .154/.248/.248 over his final 32 games of the season to end the year hitting .208/.275/.366.
More of the same would follow for Diekroeger over his next few seasons as he would put up lines of .142/.201/.174 in Lexington, .207/.232/.306 in his debut in Wilmington, and .129/.238/.157 entering tonight.
"And oh man...why was the world so hard? Why were there so many spokes hungry for your fingers? So many gears eager to grab for your guts?"
Tonight Diekroeger would single in the 2nd, strike out swinging in the 4th, ground out in the 7th, and then walk in the 9th. His next appearance would see him come up with the bases loaded in the 10th; ready to be the hero. Ready to be the prospect that he once was.
Diekroeger doesn't regret turning down the $2,000,000 nor the experience he had at Stanford.
"If I had to make the same decision of whether to sign out of high school or go to college, given all of the experiences I went through and my experience at Stanford, I would make the same decision...I was really happy the last three years. I learned a lot, I met a lot of great people, so yeah, I would do it all over again. The experience I had at Stanford, you could argue that you can't really put a number on it or assign a value to it....Going to college, from a maturity standpoint, makes such a big difference. Regardless of how the baseball goes, I just think it's something that everybody should do.
Some say the BBCOR bats are what hurt him in college. Others say the Stanford Swing is what doomed him. Ultimately things sometimes just don't work out that well. Diekroeger isn't the only Stanford alumni struggling to do well in pro baseball nor the only highly touted high schooler either. Baseball is hard, and the road of failed prospects is long, well traveled, and worn down. Diekroeger is still important. Somewhere inside that man is the player that scouts saw in 2009. Players just don't lose their ability, but at times they will struggle and most will lose their luster.
"It's a cash and carry world. Sometimes you pay a little. Mostly it's a lot. Sometimes, it's everything you have."
Kenny Diekroeger would hit Matt Price's 2-1 pitch into left field and single home the winning run tonight.