In part three of this series on 21st century what-might-have-beens and what-never-weres, let’s take a look at a couple sluggers who are still playing and hoping to regain their former glory, as well as a couple others who flamed out just a few years after reaching the majors.
Yankees left fielder Miguel Andujar is currently on the 60-day disabled list, riding a .253/.284/.383 line in 45 games this season, and coming off two years in which he batted a combined .193 with a 30 OPS+ in 33 games.
Not quite what the Yankees were expecting after his 2018 rookie season. After a brief cup of coffee in 2017 wherein he had four hits, including two doubles, in seven at-bats, the then-third baseman smashed 27 home runs with 92 RBI in 144 games for New York the next year. He knocked 47 doubles, good for second in the American League, and slugged .527, good for seventh.
Finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Shohei Ohtani, Andujar looked poised to be a dominant one-two punch with fellow young infielder Gleyber Torres—who finished third in the ROY vote—for years to come.
As the days pass, that’s looking more and more unlikely, as Torres has struggled since his first two incredible seasons, as well.
But at least he had more than one good campaign.
Andujar, who began his professional career at 17 and was in the majors at 23, hasn’t even managed that.
And that’s despite his high pedigree. Major League Baseball and Baseball America both named him a top prospect going into 2018, as he hit .316 with 16 home runs and 82 RBI in 125 games—about half played at Triple A—the year before.
Even the experts seem to get it wrong a lot, don’t they?
Andujar might still rebound, of course. He’s only 26. But his current career trajectory is not a positive one.
The same year Andujar was tearing it up in New York, Daniel Palka was doing the same, though more quietly, with the White Sox.
The 26-year-old rookie cranked 27 home runs and had 67 RBI in 124 games in 2018, leading the club in big flies and finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.
Palka was a beast in the minor leagues, hitting 20-plus home runs three times, including 34 between two clubs in 2016. But he was more or less a pure-power hitter, offering little offensive skill outside of clobbering home runs. Sure, he had an aberration of a campaign in 2015, when he stole 24 bases in addition to his 29 dingers, but his minor league batting average and on-base percentage were just decent—nothing extraordinary.
That might explain why the White Sox were Palka’s third professional team. Drafted by Arizona in the 3rd round in 2013, he was traded to Minnesota in 2015 for catcher Chris Herrmann, then was selected off waivers by Chicago in 2017.
And by 2018, he was the White Sox top home run hitter. But his .240 average and .284 on-base percentage were not inspiring.
So after he began 2019 in an 0-for-32 skid—not getting his first hit until April 17—he was demoted to the minors, making only a couple return stops along the way. Chicago called him up in late June; he was 0-for-10, making him 1-for-45 on the year, and sent back down. A September promotion didn’t help much, as he began his third try by going 0-for-11.
That’s correct, Daniel Palka spent most of his 2019 season with 1 hit; by the time he managed his second, he was 1-for-56, a 0.018 batting average. From September 12 onward, he hit .267 in 30 at-bats, but still couldn’t bring his season mark to .100. He finished at .097.
On the bright side, he hit another 27 home runs in the minors.
And that is where he remains today. After a season in Korea in which he batted .209, Palka is toiling away in the Nationals system in 2021. With 16 home runs and a .283 average at Triple-A Rochester, he might earn a call up this year.
He sure wants to redeem himself.
There will be no redemption for Nolan Reimold, unfortunately. Another former top prospect, twice so-named by Baseball America, the former Orioles outfielder slugged his way through the low- and mid-minors. With Double-A Bowie in 2008, he had 25 home runs and 84 RBI; in his first taste of Triple-A the next year, he hit 9 home runs in 31 games for a .743 slugging percentage.
He was ready for Baltimore.
On May 14, he made his debut. On May 20, he slugged his first home run, an ultimately inconsequential shot off Yankees Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera. He finished the year with 15 dingers and 45 RBI in 104 games.
Though shades of his 2009 self cropped up later in his career, Reimold never stayed healthy enough or played enough to match his early potential. In 2011, he managed a 111 OPS+—just five points lower than his ’09 mark—but he played only 87 games and hit .247. In 2010, he hit .313 and slugged .627 … in just 67 at-bats.
From 2010 on, Reimond batted just .234 with 41 home runs and 129 RBI in 376 games. He last played for the independent Long Island Ducks in 2017.
Clint Robinson might be stretching the parameters of this piece, but since he did have an initial full season that was substantial better than the rest of his career, I threw him in here.
Robinson, was a minor league slugger who finished his career with 159 dingers on the farm, but his big league career was just 243 games over four seasons.
After a couple largely uneventful cups of coffee in 2012 and 2014, Robinson—already with his fifth major league organization and third big league team—latched on with the Nationals in 2015 … as a 30-year-old rookie.
And he did well for that 83-79, second place club. In 309 at-bats, he slashed .272/.358/.424 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI as the team’s top bench guy. But he was painfully slow-footed, stealing only 14 bases in his professional career and none at the major league level.
Such a player works with a perpetually short leash, and after another full season on Washington’s bench in which his batting mark fell to just .235 in 196 at-bats, he was sent packing.
But not away from the Nationals organization. They brought him back to play at Triple-A in 2017. And after 18 home runs and 74 RBI there, they sent him packing for good.
While major league success sometimes seems easy to achieve, it is exceedingly difficult to hold on to.
And for those who can’t keep it, well, they don’t end in Halls of Fame, they end up footnotes, profiled on some random guy’s blog.