You can say a lot of things about Jim Bowden’s work as a general manager, lord knows…I have…but one thing you have to give him credit for was his ability to find diamonds in the rough.
Year after year he found somebody whose old team had given up on them to come in and surprise everyone. Livan Hernandez, Dimitri Young, and Adam Dunn come to mind. However, while these veterans thrived in Washington, at least for a season or two, it was the young players he brought in towards the end of his tenure that at one point had us really hopeful.
Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes. Two names, who if brought up around Natstown today, will draw either chuckles or dirty looks depending on which fan you spoke to. But at one time there was a cautious optimism that these two young players, who had once been elite prospects, would overcome their attitude problems and blossom as stars in Washington.
Despite the pairs inconsistent performances in 2008, Baseball Prospectus picked both of them as players they predicted to breakout in 2009. Here were their projections:
Elijah Dukes- Projected .278/.386/.486, 4 WARP, 54% Breakout Rate
Lastings Milledge- Projected .281/.352/ .442, 3.3 WARP, 43% Breakout Rate
Given the negative thoughts that many Nats fans have for these two now, it’s hard to remember that many once thought these two were the future of the clubs outfield. But the fact of the matter is that while the two had their off the field critics, few felt the they wouldn’t be able to succeed on the diamond.
Fast-forward just two seasons, and these players are not only not on the Nationals roster, but neither of them are on any roster for an MLB team. Following some clubhouse issues, Milledge was traded to Pittsburgh for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. The next spring, unable to find any team to take on his baggage, the Nationals flat-out cut Elijah Dukes.
Milledge, just 25, became the youngest free-agent in baseball when the Pirates non-tendered him this December. In 2010 he hit .277/.332/.380 for the Pirates in 113 games, however no team has even offered him a minor league contract this Winter.
Dukes, just 26, also has been unable to sign with a team since being cut by the Nationals in spring of 2010. He spent the season playing in the Atlantic League for the Newark Bears.
In just two years these players have gone from building blocks of a franchise to unsignable. This tells us two things.
- Never under-estimate the importance of character – Both of these players had the physical tools to be outstanding MLB players. Unfortunately both of them had personality flaws that kept them from not only functioning on a big league team, but also from fulfilling their potential.
- Be careful not to over-estimate the talent of prospects – I’ve spoke on this earlier this winter (Re: Michael Burgess) but baseball fans have a tendency to overrate the potential of young players. Each year 10 players are ranked by Baseball America as a one of the team’s best prospects, but that does not mean that they are destined for stardom…or even mediocrity for that matter. The bottom line is that a lot goes into becoming an above average major league player. Yes…talent is part of it, but so is character, the drive to work and get better, intelligence, and luck.
Nationals Trade Justin Maxwell
The Washington Nationals traded outfielder Justin Maxwell to the New York Yankees for minor league reliever Adam Olbrychowski.
Olbrychowski, 24, posted a 3.90 ERA in 67 innings in between Class A and Double-A last year in the Yankees organization.
Maxwell, 27, hit just .144/.305/.288 for the Nationals last season, but countered that with a strong Triple-A showing of .287/.390/439 with 16 stolen bases.