At what point does a prospect start to truly qualify as a bust?
Most times, I'd guess, it's when the hyped prospect reaches the majors and never gets off the schneid, or just doesn't pan out against huge expectations.
Other times, though, it happens far sooner -- and the light of Major League day is never even seen. Right now, Frederick Keys outfielder Billy Rowell is on the verge of being labeled as a flop. I hate to rag on a kid who's probably heard plenty in his own mind, and is being hard enough on himself most likely, but we have to face facts: One of the position prospects with upside in our system is Billy Rowell, and that upside is about to vanish.
The young man doesn't turn 21 until September, so that's a point in his favor. Still, anyone drafted ninth overall (2006) with talk of his "tremendous raw power" is expected to have hit by now. He hasn't. The 6'5" Rowell played shortstop in high school, moved to third base in the pros, and has since switched to outfield. New positions haven't helped. Injuries have plagued him. And he just hasn't produced.
This season, Rowell is hitting an anemic .240/.296/.404 through 56 games, with seven homers, 24 RBIs and 55 strikeouts in 208 at-bats. It's his second go-'round at Frederick (High-A) after hitting .248/.315/.368 in 111 games last season. As an 18-year old in the Sally League in 2007, he hit .273/.335/.426, which was decent given his age, but right then should have told us we had no phenom on our hands, but a work in progress.
The work has stopped progressing. That's the troublesome aspect.
Then-VP Mike Flanagan said of Rowell just after the pick in 2006, "We think a projection of two or three years and he'll be ready." He's obviously not going to meet that, and now it seems like total insanity.
The silver lining is this: Rowell has so lost his standing as one of the organization's best prospects that if pressure has played a part in his slow pro start, he should really just forget about it. I don't think anyone's really thinking about him other than, "Has he started hitting yet?" He's clearly not a blue-chipper, but that doesn't mean he can't still be a good player. Again: He's really young still.
Look at Brandon Snyder, a CC favorite who looked for all the world like a guy that would stall out and probably not ever really make it. Snyder battled some injuries, settled in at first base, and for a first baseman, his .776 OPS (Delmarva, 2000) and .848 OPS (Frederick, 2008) marks weren't tremendously encouraging.
What's he doing this season with Double-A Bowie? He's knocking the crap out of the ball: Snyder is hitting .343/.411/.605 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in 49 games for the Baysox. Now those? Those are first baseman numbers. Those are something to work with.
What I'm really saying is not that Billy Rowell is already a bust, or that he's doomed, or that it's time to flat-out forget him. What I'm saying is look at Snyder and hope that Rowell can find that groove. No matter how they turned out, everyone drafted in a spot like Rowell's had legitimate baseball talent -- all of them. There are lots of other factors that come into play, from injuries to ability to handle the pressure to just plain losing it sometimes.
Billy Rowell's got time to make this thing work. Maybe he never does. But it's not quittin' time just yet.