When I was 11 years old, I was watching the 5 o'clock local news when Karen Kornacki announced that night the Royals would be starting Stan Clarke, just up from Omaha. Up flashed Clarke's minor league numbers with Kornacki explaining that Clarke was among the league leaders in wins in the American Association. I was just getting into baseball, and the Royals had captivated my interest that year with an exciting pennant race. I was excited at the prospect of possibly seeing the next great pitcher make his Royals debut. Could he be the next Mark Gubicza? The next Bret Saberhagen? The greatest pitcher in franchise history?
I begged my mother to take me to the game that night, and I was surprised when she actually took me out to the game. Unfortunately, what Karen Kornacki failed to tell me was that Clarke was 28-years old and on his third organization, after having been released by the Mariners last winter. I did not quite understand that while there were prospects in the minor leagues, there were also guys on minor league rosters that were simply there to give the prospects someone to play with. That was Stan Clarke. Clarke, predictably, was lit up. He ended his Royals career with two games and a 15.43 ERA.
When I was older, the Royals began to fall upon hard times. They stressed building from within, especially with the pitching staff. With the seventh pick in the 1997 draft, they took a pitcher out of the University of Pacific who had - and I still contend to this day - the best curveball I have ever seen. That thing just fell off the table. His name was Dan Reichert, and by age 23, he was in the big leagues with a 108 ERA+ in 153 big league innings.
He also led the league in wild pitches and walked nearly as many as he struck out. Reichert also had diabetes, which means he had to be very careful about his health and conditioning. Dan Reichert instead enjoyed the night life. Dan Reichert, who had so much potential he was drafted ahead of Michael Cuddyer, Jon Garland, and Lance Berkman was finished in the big leagues by age 26.
In 2002 I was at a Royals game in late September, once rosters had expanded and minor leaguers had been called up. A young infielder was fooled on a pitch, but was able to keep his hands back enough to drive the ball to the fence for a double. It was one of the most amazing displays of wrist control I had seen on a player. Later in that game, he popped it up, a routine play where most big leaguers would barely bother strolling out of the batter's box. This kid busted his butt and was nearly at second base by the time the ball was caught. I was impressed by his hustle and thought the kid has potential.
That infielder was Angel Berroa, and he would win Rookie of the Year the next year. It would be the only season where he would be a league average hitter. Berroa signed a long contract-extension and go on to be one of the worst hitters in franchise history. The Royals would get rid of him before his contract was up.
One night in December of 2012, I went to bed disgusted that the Royals had made a colossally stupid deal. They had sent the best hitting prospect in baseball to the Tampa Bay Rays and a package of very good prospects for a very good, but not elite starting pitcher in James Shields, and a terrible starting pitcher signed to a long-term deal in Wade Davis. Shields was good, but I didn't feel like the team was that close to being competitive to need Shields' services, and Davis actually seemed to have negative value. Some called Davis "the key" to the deal, but that seemed like wishful thinking.
The rest, as you know, is history. The Royals won a pennant with Shields, and Davis, who became an All-Star reliever, got the last out of the Royals first championship in 30 years. I was wrong about a Royals player, but happily so.
Mark Quinn, Dee Brown, Justin Huber all seemed like sure things at one time. On the flip side, Joe Randa, Raul Ibanez, Lorenzo Cain all proved to be much better than I ever thought.
This article isn't to show just how little I know about baseball, but to show how wrong we can be in our predictions. Professional scouts and executive make wrong projections all the time, fans will have a much higher error rate. Some of these things aren't really even predictable - Mark Quinn, for example, was a great talent with a two-cent head. But one of the things we love about sports is that just when we think we know what will happen next, the unpredictable will happen.
What Royals player were you high on that ended up failing? Who were you skeptical about that ended up exceeding your expectations?