What goes up must come down. Conventional wisdom tells us that very few MLB players rise to stardom and stay there over a long period of time. Some put together breakthrough performances one year, possibly good enough to earn All-Star recognition or even a Cy Young Award. Some perform well enough for long enough to earn big contract extension.
Related: 10 MLB Players on the Rise in 2017
Nevertheless, true superstars are rare. Many players that build high expectations unfortunately often fall short, and even those that reach superstar status usually eventually regress. As we take a look at the upcoming 2017 MLB season, we explore 10 players that could be destined for disappointment.
(In alphabetical order)
Ian Desmond, 1B/OF, Colorado Rockies
2016 Key stats: .285/.335/.446, 22 HR, 86 RBI, 107 R, 21 SB
It might seem strange to peg a player that has an opportunity to play half his games at Coors Field for a disappointing season, but Desmond has raised the bar pretty high following an All-Star 2016 campaign.
The top offseason acquisition for the Rockies over the offseason, Desmond is expected to play first base for Colorado in 2017. It’s odd that the Rockies pursued Desmond for the job because has never played a major league game there. Of course, he had never played center field in the big leagues before signing with the Rangers last year, so there’s hope he’ll adjust. Still, the move was a head scratcher, and many fans and analysts chastised the club for signing Desmond to a five-year, $70 million contract.
Also, Desmond is expected to begin the season on the disabled list following a broken hand he suffered during spring training. The injury could cost Desmond the first month of the season, and hand injuries can be a nuisance all year.
Zack Greinke, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2016 Key stats: 13-7, 4.37 ERA, 26 GS, 158.2 IP, 134 K, 41 BB
Wait a minute... isn’t Greinke supposed to be a bounce-back candidate in 2017? After all, he's bona fide superstar despite coming off a 2016 campaign in which he posted his highest ERA since '05. He is only one year removed from a career-low 1.66 ERA in 2015.
However, Greinke suffered an oblique injury that cost him more than a month last year, and he was shut down prior to the end of the regular season with shoulder stiffness. There also has been concerns about the former Cy Young Award winner this spring. His velocity was down early in Cactus League games, and his fastball sat in the high 80s through the middle of March (Greinke averaged 90.7 miles per hour last year according to PITCHf/x data). On March 23, Greinke allowed a massive 465-foot home run to Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta. Though Arrieta is very good hitting pitcher, he’s still a pitcher.
Greinke is a pro’s pro and he has been one of the most dependable starters in the majors over the course of his 13-year big league career. Therefore, it’s important not to get too worked up over a couple of bumps in the road during spring training. Nevertheless, his relatively poor stats from 2016, coupled with the injuries that nagged him, the red flags from his early spring performance, and the fact he is 33 years old combine to make Greinke a pitcher to watch carefully this season.
Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets
2016 Key stats: 4-10, 4.86 ERA, 17 GS, 92.2 IP, 76 K, 25 BB
Like Zack Greinke, Harvey suffered through an uncharacteristically poor 2016 season. Harvey struck out just 18.9 percent of the hitters he faces – the lowest strikeout rate of his career by at least six percentage points – and posted a 6.2 percent walk rate that was his highest since 2012. He also was downright hittable, and allowed a career-high 10.8 hits per nine innings that was 3.4(!) hits higher than his previous worst season-long performance.
Also like Greinke, Harvey battled injury last season and was shut down prior to the postseason. In Harvey’s case, he didn’t pitch after July 4 due to thoracic outlet syndrome, which caused numbness in his fingers and required surgery. And (this is getting spooky now), like Greinke, Harvey began spring training with a slower than average fastball. Through his first four starts of the spring, during which he posted a 7.30 ERA over 12.1 innings, Harvey’s fastball sat in the low 90s.
The good news is that (unlike Greinke) Harvey hit 97 miles per hour on the gun in his fifth start – a solid five-inning performance – which indicates there isn’t a major concern in regards to his recovery. Nevertheless, Harvey has yet to make 30 starts in a season. His fastball velocity may be back, and his recovery may be coming along, but it’s tough to trust a pitcher that can’t stay healthy.
Jung Ho Kang, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
2016 Key stats: .255/.354/.513, 21 HR, 62 RBI, 45 R, 3 SB
The Pittsburgh Pirates are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 season, but they may have to do it without one of their most productive hitters. Kang, who has hit .273/.355/.483 with 36 home runs combined the last two seasons, was reportedly denied a visa to reenter the United States from his native South Korea in March. The decision is apparently tied to a DUI arrest in December. Kang is currently on the restricted list and it is unknown when (or if) he will be back in Pittsburgh.
If Kang can’t get back to the U.S., it would obviously be a disappointing development for the Bucs. The 29-year-old hit 21 home runs in just 318 at-bats in 2016 and had been projected to be the Opening Day third baseman this season. However, without any preparation during spring training Kang likely won’t be ready to contribute at the big league level immediately after his visa issue is over. Therefore, Kang’s production is likely to suffer whenever he hits the field this season – if he plays at all.
Eduardo Nunez, 3B, San Francisco Giants
2016 Key stats: .288/.325/.432, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 73 R, 40 SB
After spending the first six years of his major league career shuttling between the big leagues and Triple-A, or stuck in a utility role, Nunez finally put together a breakout season in 2016.
In 91 games with the Minnesota Twins to begin the season, Nunez hit .296/.325/.418 and set new career highs with 12 home runs, 47 RBIs and 27 stolen bases. Nunez was traded to San Francisco prior to the deadline, and played 50 games with the Giants, hitting .269/.327/.418 along the way and adding to his stats. Nunez played in 141 games total in 2016, which marked the first time he played more than 112 games in a season and just the second time he topped 90.
After seven years, Nunez finally enters a season with a starting job in hand. One might suspect the 29-year-old to thrive. However, Nunez had been unable to nail down a consistent role until now, and the Giants brought a host of veteran infielders to camp including Jimmy Rollins, Gordon Beckham and Aaron Hill, to compete with Conor Gillaspie and Kelby Tomlinson as backups. Anyone in the group is capable of contributing in the big leagues this season, which could push Nunez for playing time. Also, minor leaguer Christian Arroyo likely to push his way into the Giants' plans soon, which could push second baseman Joe Panik into the mix at third.
Rick Porcello, SP, Boston Red Sox
2016 Key stats: 22-4, 3.15 ERA, 33 GS, 223.0 IP, 189 K, 32 BB
Porcello was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball when he made his major league debut with the Tigers as a 20-year-old in 2009. Porcello pitched well, but not great, throughout his early 20s. Every time it appeared he was destined for stardom (such as when he posted a 3.43 ERA and an MLB-best three shutouts in 2014), he would seemingly take a step back (he followed that with a 4.92 ERA in 2015).
However, Porcello finally broke through last year in his second season with the Red Sox. The 28-year-old led the majors with 22 wins and posted a career-low 3.15 ERA, with a personal-best 21.2 percent strikeout rate and 3.6 percent walk rate, plus a major league-leading 5.91 strikeouts per walk. Porcello pitched in a career-high 223.0 innings, made 33 starts, and surrendered just 7.8 hits per nine innings. The performance earned Porcello the AL Cy Young Award.
And, while it appears Porcello finally turned the corner, there are a few reasons to be wary of expecting a repeat performance in 2017. First of all, Porcello’s 2016 results were dramatically different from what had been a very consistent set of previous performances. From 2009-15, Porcello posted a 4.39 ERA with a 4.04 FIP, 1.359 WHIP, 15.2 percent strikeout rate and 5.7 percent walk rate and he averaged 2.67 strikeouts per walk. He also allowed 10.1 hits per nine innings on average – never once surrendering fewer than 9.4 hits per nine. In those seven seasons, Porcello never had an ERA lower than 3.43 and only twice recorded an ERA under 4.00, and his FIP ranged from 3.53 to 4.77.
Porcello appears to be entering his prime, so there’s obviously reason to be optimistic he can maintain a high level of performance. But because 2016 was such an outlier compared to his previous results, there’s also plenty of reason to be skeptical.
Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Indians
2016 Key stats: .312/.362/.462, 11 HR, 76 RBI, 84 R, 22 SB
Ramirez broke out in a big way for the Indians in 2016, and in doing so earned himself a five-year, $26 million contract extension this spring. Ramirez posted career highs in every major statistical category last season and finished in top 20 (17th) in the voting for the AL MVP Award.
But, it’s important to note that 2016 was Ramirez’s first full big league season with the Indians. The 24-year-old hit just .219/.291/.340 with six home runs and 27 RBIs in 97 games in 2015, and had hit .239/.298/.346 with eight home runs and 44 RBIs in 180 career games before the 2016 season.
Ramirez hit the ball harder, and he was more aggressive in 2016 than he had been in his three previous major league stints. He has good raw power, good speed, and also has the ability to play multiple positions. In fact, Ramirez is likely to begin the 2017 season at second base while Jason Kipnis is on the shelf due to injury.
But, with all his tools, as well as the big new contract, Ramirez has more responsibility. After hitting towards the end of the lineup during the first two months of the 2016 season, he moved into the No. 5 and No. 6 spots for the majority of the year. With the need for both table-setters and run producers heading into the season, Ramirez has shuffled between the No. 2 and No. 3 spot in the lineup this spring, and has even hit leadoff. That’s quite a shift in expectations for a young player coming off his only good year.
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
2016 Key stats: .299/.376/.657, 20 HR, 42 RBI, 34 R, 1 SB
Sanchez exploded onto the national scene by hitting 20 home runs in just 53 games as a rookie in 2016. It was such an outstanding performance Sanchez finished as the runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting despite playing two-thirds of the season in the minors. Rightfully encouraged, the Yankees traded Brian McCann to Houston to clear the way for the 24-year-old Sanchez to take over the regular catching duties.
Sanchez has the tools to be a star, and he’s already shown his promise at the major league level, but it would be unreasonable to expect he can keep up such a dramatic home run pace. A regression in 2017 shouldn’t be a shock. After all, Sanchez hit only 10 home runs in 71 games in Triple-A last season and never hit more than 19 long balls in a full minor league season. He also struck out 24.9 percent of the time in the big leagues last season – a higher rate than he posted in any pro season dating back to 2010. That suggests, despite connecting for 20 home runs as a big leaguer, he’s still figuring out major league pitching.
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
2016 Key stats: .272/.341/.567, 27 HR, 72 RBI, 67 R, 8 SB
No player in Major League history had hit home runs in each of his first four games before Story did it to open the 2016 season. Story actually hit six in his first four games and had seven in his first six big league contests. It’s difficult for a rookie to make such an impact so early, but Story tallied 27 home runs before a late July thumb injury cut his season short.
As a shortstop for the Colorado Rockies, Story is obviously in an enviable position of playing the majority of his games at Coors Field. While that should be great for his overall production, and Story is talented, an explosive rookie campaign shot his expectations through the roof.
Also, Story was far from perfect. The 24-year-old struck out 31.3 percent of the time, which was the fifth most among major leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances last year. Also, a broken thumb is no joke. Story missed the final two months of the season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for the injury to impact his preparation for 2017.
Mark Trumbo, DH/OF, Baltimore Orioles
2016 Key stats: .256/.316/.533, 47 HR, 108 RBI, 94 R, 2 SB
Trumbo’s mega 2016 season didn’t necessarily come out of nowhere. The 31-year-old slugger put together a solid three-year stretch with the Angels from 2011-13 in which he hit at least 29 home runs and drove in 87 or more runs. That production caught the attention of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but after he was traded to the desert, Trumbo hit only 36 home runs with 125 RBIs in two seasons split between the D-Backs and Seattle Mariners.
After struggling for two seasons, Trumbo was a bit of an afterthought when he landed with the Orioles prior to the 2016 season. Nevertheless, he promptly led the major leagues with 47 home runs and set a career high with 108 RBIs.
Trumbo obviously has huge power, and has always hit the ball hard throughout his career, but he doesn’t have much else to offer. Trumbo has a .251 career batting average, which included two full seasons in which he hit .235 or worse. He also has a .303 career on-base percentage, and has fallen short of .300 in half his major league seasons to date. Trumbo also was horrible in the outfield last season, and despite his great offensive numbers managed to produce just a 1.6 WAR according to Baseball-Reference.
Given his up-and-down history, and the large jump to 47 home runs from a previous best of 34 in 2013, it’s logical to expect Trumbo to regress a bit in '17.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)