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We always hear a lot about prospects. “Oh, this guy will hit 35 homers a season in the major leagues…right now” or “Watch out for so-and-so, his changeup is a legitimate plus-plus pitch, and he can get major leaguers out,” scouts say. However, for every James Baldwin that gets hyped before flaming out, there’s a guy like Albert Pujols that comes out of nowhere and takes the world by storm. It’s nearly an impossible business to determine who is going to be the next superstar. To show how difficult a job that is, let’s take a look at Baseball America’s -- for those who don’t know, BA is the place for information on prospects -- top five prospects from 1990 until 2003 (since anything later is too early to gauge) and see how their careers panned out. (Go here to see all top 100 lists since 1990)

1. LHP Steve Avery / 2. RHP Ben McDonald / 3. 1B John Olerud / 4. OF Juan Gonzalez / 5. C Sandy Alomar Jr.

This was so long ago, that Sandy Alomar Jr. was still considered a prospect! That’s ancient. Anyway, the number one guy, Steve Avery, went on to have a few outstanding seasons as a starting pitcher at the highest level before succumbing to the disease known as “too many pitches, too early in his career.” Olerud was a serviceable first baseman for many seasons, well known for his defense. Juan Gonzalez is easily the best player listed and was one of the best hitters in the 1990’s. Alomar Jr. is similar to Olerud: good player to have around. As for McDonald, he posted only a 78-70 record at the highest level. One guy ranked way down there: Bernie Williams, at number 77.

1. RHP Todd Van Poppel / 2. SS Andujar Cedeno / 3. 1B Ryan Klesko / 4. SS Jose Offerman / 5. RHP Roger Sakeld

Van Poppel was highly considered as the next big thing coming out of high school in Texas. Not many high schoolers throw in the upper 90s to triple digits. Teams shied away from him due to signability concerns -- he really, really wanted to play for the University of Texas -- and, luckily for them, they did. He became nothing more than a middle man in bullpens across the major leagues. Cedeno hit .236 in his time in the majors. Klesko was a decent player for a few years, but is more of a platoon sort of guy. Offerman spent a few seasons as a role player off the bench, and Sakeld did not pitch for long at the major league level. I only have one question: Why didn’t they rank then-shortstop Chipper Jones, the number one pick the previous year, any higher than 49?

1. LHP Brien Taylor / 2. Van Poppel / 3. Sakeld / 4. Jones / 5. LHP Arthur Rhodes

Taylor was highly considered coming out of high school, but trouble off the field, including a fight the caused damage beyond repair to his pitching shoulder, kept him from making good on all that hype. BA finally rated Jones within their top five; sadly, they did the same for Rhodes, whose career has ended with him being nothing more than a left handed reliever. Jim Thome is ranked 51st here.

1. Jones / 2. Taylor / 3. OF Cliff Floyd / 4. C Carlos Delgado / 5. OF Tim Salmon

This was a very good year. Chipper became one of the better players in the major leagues in the late 1990’s, while Cliff Floyd became a very serviceable outfielder. Delgado moved from catcher to first base and has shown tremendous power numbers in the majors. Salmon was a key part for the Angels for many years. Bobby Abreu barely made the top 100, coming in at 95.

1. Floyd / 2. Jones / 3. OF Jeffrey Hammonds / 4. SS Alex Gonzalez / 5. Delgado

Hammonds put together a few decent seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, showing a little bit of pop. The big thing is that Gonzalez ranked ahead of another shortstop named Alex, this one coming out of Miami, Florida. His last name? Rodriguez. Shawn Green came in 28th.

1. SS Rodriguez / 2. OF Ruben Rivera / 3. Jones / 4. SS Derek Jeter / 5. OF Brian Hunter

A-Rod shot up to the top of the list, while another shortstop, Derek Jeter, joined him in the top five. Astros outfielder Brian Hunter, well, you’ve probably never heard of him, and for good reason. Here’s a name out of left field: Ruben Rivera. He came up, got a few ABs as a fourth outfielder, and soon stole Derek Jeter’s glove to sell on eBay. It’s hard to find the most surprising player, so you take your pick: Vlad Guerrero (85), Scott Rolen (91), or Chris Carpenter (100).

1. OF Andruw Jones / 2. RHP Paul Wilson / 3. Rivera / 4. OF Darin Erstad / 5. RHP Alan Benes

Andruw Jones came up that very season and hit two home runs against the New York Yankees in the World Series. Paul Wilson was one of three busts, the purported tremendous three as the future of the Mets’ starting rotation. The other two were Bill Pulsipher (number 12 on the 1995 list) and Jason Isringhausen (number 35 in 1995). Erstad had a couple of good seasons, won a World Series ring in 2002 with the Angels, and is currently hurting the White Sox more than he’s helping them. Alan Benes had a few good seasons as a pitcher, but nothing special. Miguel Tejada was number 88 that year.

1. Jones / 2. Guerrero / 3. RHP Kerry Wood / 4. RHP Matt White / 5. 1B Travis Lee

Vlad Guerrero joined Jones as two of the best future outfielders in the major leagues. Joining the list was fireballer Kerry Wood, who became the second-most injury prone player in the majors, falling just behind Mark Prior. I can’t find anything about Matt White. He either become a future billionaire because of a purchase of land, not because of extraordinary pitching prowess, or someone not even good enough to get Baseball Cube site. Travis Lee went down as a solid defensive first baseman who doesn’t provide any punch at the plate. Carlos Beltran (93) sure rose up out of nowhere.

1. OF Ben Grieve / 2. 1B Paul Konerko / 3. 3B Adrian Beltre / 4. Wood / 5. 3B Aramis Ramirez

Ben Grieve never was relevant again after his Rookie of the Year Award with the Oakland A’s. He was traded to the Devil Rays a few seasons later, and that was that. Konerko and Ramirez have become excellent run producers, while Beltre is a solid player. Lance Berkman (64) is probably the best player listed in the 1998 category.

1. OF JD Drew / 2. LHP Rick Ankiel / 3. 3B Eric Chavez / 4. LHP Bruce Chen / 5. RHP Brad Penny

JD Drew is a good player, when he’s on the field. Ankiel and Chen both had a couple of decent seasons, but never really amounted to much. Penny has been a very solid pitcher over the years, and Chavez is one of the better third baseman in the major leagues, despite his failing to meet expectations after being given that huge (relative to Oakland’s budget) contract. Vernon Wells (69) is way down there, but still rated decently.

1. Ankiel / 2. OF Pat Burrell / 3. OF Corey Patterson / 4. OF Wells / 5. 1B Nick Johnson

Pat Burrell is a solid ballplayer for the Phillies, even though he strikes out too much. Patterson just needed a change of scenery before becoming a solid outfielder. Nick Johnson is like Drew: too injury prone to say anything definitive yet about his career except that he’s prone to injuries. Jimmy Rollins (95) almost wasn’t even in the top 100.

1. OF Josh Hamilton / 2. Patterson / 3. RHP Josh Beckett / 4. Jon Rauch / 5. RHP Ben Sheets

Hamilton missed plenty of development time because of injuries, but he’s been solid recently with the Reds. Beckett has put together some fine starts, especially in the 2003 World Series, but he’s been plagued by injuries. Rauch, the tallest player ever in the major leagues, is a great setup guy in Washington now. Sheets falls under the same category as Beckett, only except he’s hindered by his short stature. Miguel Cabrera (91) was a shortstop in the Marlins’ system at this time.

1. Beckett / 2. RHP Mark Prior / 3. 3B Hank Blalock / 4. 3B Sean Burroughs / 5. 1B Carlos Pena

Mark Prior has become known for his injuries, even if they are of the freak variety. The other three guys had plenty of promise coming up through the minor leagues, but never fulfilled expectations. There remains hope for them, however. Erik Bedard (90), meanwhile, might be a future number 1 starter.

1. 3B Mark Teixeira / 2. OF Rocco Baldelli / 3. SS Jose Reyes / 4. C Joe Mauer / 5. RHP Jesse Foppert

They sure hit the nail on the head with Teixeira, the big third baseman out of Georgia Tech. He ultimately began hitting for huge power at the major league level. Baldelli is a solid player, while Reyes has become a superstar. Mauer’s the same. Jesse Foppert might as well be known as Jesse Floppert. A look down the list reveals Jeff Francoeur (95).

As you can see, BA correctly pointed out some prospects in the last 14 years, but a few guys in their top five, thought to be the best of the best, failed to make a name for themselves. This goes to show just how difficult it is to master the science of prospects. However, in recent years, they have had much better success, so maybe the statistics used to determine future success is improving. We’ll know in a few years.