Corey Patterson. Josh Vitters. Felix Pie. The list of Cubs prospects who didn't meet our expectations is longer than the line to get into the bleachers at Wrigley Field on a sold-out Saturday (wait... Wrigley can sell out?). Long enough that a Google search of "Cubs prospect busts" turns up a whole slew of relevant articles. Many of these failed prospects come to mind easily, some don't. In this series, I'd like to go back and take a look at some of these familiar, and unfamiliar, prospect busts in Cubs history to try to pinpoint exactly why things didn't turn out as we planned. The guidelines for selection in this series will be players who once were in the Top 50 of Baseball America's top 100 prospects list, but obviously did not live up to expectations. With any luck, maybe this can inform our expectations for the current arsenal of top prospects we are eagerly awaiting at Wrigley Field.
Well, first of all, I may have been a bit overexcited. Kelton was never really Kris Bryant good. Back in 2008, The Hardball Times' Victor Wang analyzed the value provided by all the players who showed up in Baseball America's Top 100 prospects list from 1990 - 1999. He found that, of hitters ranked in the top 10, such as Bryant, about 15% turned into stars and only 10% busted; however, of hitters ranked 26 - 50, such as Kelton, only about 8% became stars and 35% busted. So maybe I was a bit too high on good old Davy's prospects. Still, that leaves around 65% of 26-50th ranked hitters to at least become contributors at the Major League level; so, what happened?
Kelton's minor league career peaked in 2001, when he slashed .313/.378/.549 (batting average / on-base percentage / slugging percentage) for Double-A West Tenn, garnering him the aforementioned top 100 prospects ranking. A telling sign of things to come, however, was that this happened over an injury shortened 58 games. Another warning sign was Kelton's .365 BABIP during that season, a fluky rate he never came within 37 points of again, besides a 50 game stint in the rookie league his first year. Tellingly, Kelton's 2001 batting average was also 30 points higher than any other in his career (hey, look at that! Mathematics making sense!), and his slash stats dropped to a still-respectable, but not top prospect worthy, .261/.332/.462 the following season. As a young 23-year old in AAA the following year, Kelton's stats held steady, but he could never build on his performance or capitalize on his Sosa-stupidity-related chances to make a splash in the big leagues. He eventually moved on from the Cubs, got a chance at Spring Training for the Braves in 2006, and retired to become the coach he is today.
So, how does this help us learn about our current prospects? Well, Kelton didn't have the strikeout problems that we worry about now with current top prospects Bryant and Javier Baez. It seems like we can get two things from Kelton's case; firstly, top 40 to 50 prospects are generally less exciting than we want them to be. Secondly, injuries stink. As mentioned before, Kelton's best season was injury shortened, and shoulder problems plagued him throughout his career. Eventually, he was forced to change positions to first base and the outfield, and one suspects his hitting ability was hampered as well. So, when everyone is freaking out today about how the Cubs have too many prospects for too few positions, remember the lesson of one David Kelton: injuries happen, and sometimes prospects just don't work out.