2005 Bowman Chrome Draft – 5 Just Missed Prospects
I have been blogging about baseball card prospects since this past June and I am humbled by the overwhelmingly positive responses I get from other collectors in this great industry who have put great stock into my various player and market analyses. I figure that before my head gets any fatter than it already is, I must set the record straight and expose some of the skeletons in my closet that I have accumulated over the years.
When the 2005 Bowman Draft and Chrome product came out, I was blown away by the depth of player quality on the list. As people were clammoring for Stephen Drew, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jered Weaver autos, I was stockpiling Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce , and Clay Buchholz cards.
Now, as recent history has shown, this move has paid dividends...and student loans...and a nice little family get-away to Ocean Shores, WA. While those few hits provided a fair financial windfall, there were also 5 prolific misses for me in this set that still haunt me every time I thumb through my prospects box. I have placed them in order from least to most painful.
Costanzo, out of Coastal Carolina College was touted by Beckett Baseball Monthly as being a David Wright clone. Tall, powerfully built, athletic, and adept at the hot corner, Costanzo seemed to be on the fast track to Philly. I purchased 20 card chrome lots like they were going out of style and thought that, at a buck each, I would soon be realizing exponential profits. In all of my excitement, I failed to give more notice to the fact that Costanzo strikes out---a lot. Over the past two seasons, Costanzo has punched out over 300 times, which has dipped his average into the .260-.270 range. Comparisons to David Wright were just silly. Wright is a perennial .300 hitter with 30/30 numbers and the face of the New York Mets franchise. Costanzo's career high for HR has been 27, is no threat on the basepaths, and is already with his 3rd franchise. Perhaps Costanzo will be a late bloomer who constructs a nice 5-7 season stretch in the major leagues, but I am disappointed with the overall rawness of his game and some rumblings of his reluctance to refine his approach. My one glint of optimism is that the Orioles organization has a very bright future and aging 3B Melvin Mora is not going to be a part of it much longer. With no other 3B in front of him, the window is open for Costanzo to step in, but at age 25, it won't be open for much longer.
John Drennen was a late 1st round pick by the Cleveland Indians in '05. Touted as a future power hitting CF, Drennen made the 2004 AFLAC All-American team with Cameron Maybin and Justin Upton. Drennen hit 17 HR his senior season and evoked comparisons to Brian Giles. Early in his minor league career, Drennen made national news by clubbing a HR off of Roger Clemens in a Low-A rehab game. I recall buying a huge lot of Drennens that included several refractors, Rookie Cup autos, and about 100 chrome cards. At the time, I thought I had received the steal of the century, though it has been Drennen that has stolen my joy. Last year, he repeated High-A Kinston and stunk it up hitting .239 with 3 HR and 39 RBI in 460 AB. He is still just 22 years old, though I hold little to no hope for him to figure things out.
Now we are starting to enter more painful territory. Clement was a serious overdraft by the Bill Bavasi-cursed M's organization as they let players like Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Jay Bruce, and many others pass to teams further down the list. True, Jeff was an All-American catcher at USC and has light tower power potential, though an injury-marred senior season dropped his mock draft status to a low 1st round pick. Regardless, I was seduced by the thought that he would be a perennial threat to hit 30 HR as the AL's version of Mike Piazza. Clement has performed well throughout the minor leagues and his late season audition with the M's in 2007 was promising, as he belted two long HR in late September to win ballgames. This season's performance with the M's was a different story. Clement has shown that he is severely overmatched by any pitch that has a bend to it and his play behind the plate is embarrassing. I have long maintained that he is best suited to be a 1B or DH, though the M's organization is adamant about keeping him as a catcher (perhaps this latest knee surgery will change their tune). Maybe it is the M's fan in me that believes that Clement can still fulfill his post draft potential, but his current performance as well as an increasing resemblance to a game of Operation (remember that one?) serve as tear drops to my flickering flame of hope.
Watching Lillibridge with the University of Washington, I saw a bursting bundle of energy reminiscent of fellow Pac-10 alum Dustin Pedroia. Lillibridge had incredible speed that he utilized at both SS and CF. Lillibridge split his first full season between Low-A Hickory and High-A Lynchburg hitting .304 with 13 HR 71 RBI 52 SB and 106 runs scored. These numbers made him a key prospect in the trade that sent Adam LaRoche from Atlanta to Pittsburgh. At this point, I thought Lillibridge was on the fast track to Turner Field, but a drop off in production at AA Mississippi followed by an even worse AAA season at Richmond leaves me with over 100 chrome Lillibridge cards (granted, I got each of them in the 20-30 cent range). Lillibridge's walk total from 2006 to 2007 was cut in half while his K totals remained the same. My gut tells me that he was polished enough to exploit less experienced pitching, but not talented enough to continue the same rate of success against more advanced players. This, alas, is the plight of many marginal college prospects who captivate your heart at lower levels and tear it out at higher ones. Lillibridge's future with the Braves is bleak. Yunel Escobar looks to be the real deal in Atlanta and there is way too much talent in the farm system (Jordan Schafer, Jason Heyward, Brandon Jones etc...) to hope for a regular outfield spot. Lillibridge seems destined to be a utility player rather than a catalytic lead-off hitter, and at age 25, his best tool, speed, is just a few years away from a tumultuous downturn.
The blend of size, athleticism, and plate discipline made the Arizona State alum an appetizing '05 1st round selection for the A's. Buck continued to show his high average, good plate discipline and budding power potential by hitting over .300 at each stop in his rapid ascention through the minor leagues. I wanted to jump on Buck's cards early as his low HR totals, but high 2B totals were a prime indicator that he would soon learn to effectively leverage his powerful 6-3 210 lb. frame into 20-25 HR per season. I snatched up his 2005 Topps Traded Chrome Autos at $6-8 each like candy and pretty soon had over 30 of them. Buck then had a stellar 2007 Spring Training and made the A's Opening Day lineup. I know what you are thinking...SELL NOW! Well, I sold a couple for $30.00 each, but was seduced by the notion that he could earn Rookie of the Year accolades, pushing that card into the $50-75 range. Sorry Michael Douglas, greed is NOT a good thing. Buck injured himself numerous times in '07 and the market for his cards bottomed out. '08 has been a carbon copy of '07 though his late season comeback leaves a smidgen of optimism for a future recovery. Buck will be 25 in '09, but with all of his nagging injuries, he may as well be 35. Regardless, I still love T-Buck and have an autographed..err...vested interest in his ability to produce just one healthy productive season.