The progression of a minor league player is rarely an uninterrupted straight line to the majors. Instead, players plateau at some level along the way. Even those few who make the majors usually experience a plateau or even a regression along their way. This week, I'm looking at some players who were either on some top ten lists prior to this season or hyped as possible risers but, instead, had seasons in which they plateaued or regressed. Note that while some of these guys probably have maxed out their talent, it's likely that at least one of those mentioned will recover in 2010 and continue onwards and upwards.
John Shelby: Treybone made just about all the top ten lists before this season. A usual criticism was that he needed to develop more patience. He did that, bringing his BB rate up to 10.3% while also cutting the strikeouts a bit. However, he stopped getting hits and saw his power drop. It's possible that this was simply a matter of bad luck - his BABIP was .276, well below his career average (and league average). Of course, it may also be that AA pitching is too much for him. The speed is still impressive (30 for 39 in SBs) and the potential positional versatility is a plus - however, you have to hit some to make the majors. And more flyballs in Birmingham is not the way to do it.
Jon Link: The lack of a September call-up for this member of the 40-man roster is telling. I previewed Link before the season and pointed out that while he strikes out a good amount, he also walks a good amount. Literally, nothing changed this season at Charlotte from last season at Birmingham as he had identical 2.44 K/BB ratios. While the 10.5 K/9 is sexy, you just can't walk that many guys and expect to be successful in the majors. The scouting reports remain encouraging but, at some point, you have to match with performance.
Jon Gilmore: This Jon has been a whole lot of projection without a whole lot of substance. A piece in the Vazquez trade, scouts gush about his athleticism. The evolution to a baseball player, however, hasn't happened. He did have a very encouraging finish to the season in August and September and a recent scouting report still raves about the potential. But .274/.322/.361 overall in Kannapolis isn't much about which to write home. At 21 - and probably returning to low A for part of a third season - he'll need to produce next season to avoid the bust label.
Steven Upchurch: An overslot signing out of the 12th round in 2008, Upchurch had a solid pro debut at Bristol last season: 30.1 IP, 23 H, 10 BB, 28 K. After being assigned a return engagement there, he seemed to expect a promotion to Kannapolis in short order. That never came because the 19 year old had a terrible season: 66 IP, 94 H, 17 BB, 42 K. There's nothing to suggest injury but he certainly became very hittable. As he turns 20 today, he's got plenty of time to correct whatever the problems may be.
Brian Omogrosso: He had the talent, he could just never stay healthy. He put together a pretty good season for Birmingham and earned a promotion to Charlotte. After four ineffective relief outings, he hit the disabled list and we later learned he had a torn labrum. It's probably a career-ender, especially considering his injury history and age.
Gregory Infante: This is for you, rdf8585, who chided me in my season preview for not including Infante. He started well enough for Kannapolis. However, after a midseason promotion to the Dash, he started walking people and stopped striking them out. Then he hit the DL twice, reportedly with some blister issues - though one suspects there may be something else going on. He'll be 23 next season so I guess I can consider him for my 2010 preview.