In this, the fourth installment of this series, I expanded the definition of ‘great’ first full seasons to include those that were at the very least promising. Let’s take a look at some more players from the past 20 or so years who started off well, but never quite lived up to what we expected.
Former Brewers first baseman Jason Rogers’ ascension to the major leagues took a while, as he didn’t debut until he was 26 or play his first (nearly) full campaign until he was 27. The 2010 32nd-round draft pick hit .301 at Single-A in 2012, but by then he was already 24; likewise, his 22 home runs at Double-A the next year don’t look so impressive, as he was older than the average player in his league.
But the production followed him wherever he went. In his first try at Triple-A in 2014, he hit .316 with 11 home runs and 39 RBI in 57 games. The Brewers promoted him in September, but he had just one hit in eight at-bats.
Though he began 2015 with Milwaukee, he hit just .236 through June 30. The Brewers sent him to the minors for more Triple-A experience but he proved he was experienced enough—in 33 games with Colorado Springs, Rogers slashed .344/.449/.607 with 8 home runs and 24 RBI in 33 games. The production could not be denied, so Milwaukee called him back up in August.
And that month was also rough, as he hit just .235 in 17 at-bats. But an otherworldly September in which he slashed .435/.500/.630 with 2 home runs, 9 RBI and 20 hits in 46 ABs saved his season … and his batting line. On the back of that killer run, he hit .296/.367/.441 in 169 at-bats over 86 games that year.
With his stock high, the Brewers traded him to Pittsburgh for outfielder Keon Broxton and minor league pitcher Trey Supak in the offseason. The change of scenery wasn’t to his benefit.
With his first hit a triple, his 2016 campaign started off promising—but from that point on, he hit .045 in 22 at-bats. He spent most of the season at Triple-A, where he hit just .263. Partway through the next year, the Pirates released him so he could play in Japan. He hit .283 with 7 home runs and 32 RBI in 49 games there.
But his performance drew no major league interest. He joined the independent ranks in 2018, 2019 and 2021, and even spent time in Australia, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Now 33, he hit .295 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI for the indy Gastonia Honey Hunters this season.
Like Rogers, former Marlins pitcher Chuck Smith was an old rookie—a really old rookie, as he debuted at 30 years of age.
Undrafted out of Indiana State University, he was signed by the Astros and began the snaillike trudge up the minor league ranks. Through 1995, he had pitched just 6 innings above Single-A; that year, he was 10-10 with a 2.69 ERA, but was also nearly 3.5 years older than the average player in his league. He was in the White Sox system by that point, having been taken in the Rule V Draft.
He reached Triple-A for the first time in 1996—for a single game—then went 0-3, 8.81 at that level in 1997. Chicago ditched him and he spent most of 1998 in indy ball, with a couple games in Taiwan and a handful in Mexico. Texas signed him for depth in 1999—when he was 29 years old—and kept him at Triple-A through the beginning of 2000.
To fill out a pitching staff that included, at that point, uninspiring names like A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Reid Cornelius and Jesus Sanchez, the Marlins traded for him on June 9 in exchange for outfielder Brant Brown.
By June 13, he was starting for Florida and through July 5, he had a 2.76 ERA in 5 starts. He finished the season by going 5-2 with a 2.71 ERA through his final 9 games. On the year, he was 6-6 with a 3.23 ERA in 19 starts; in 122 2/3 innings, he had 118 strikeouts and allowed just 6 home runs. The Marlins were 64-98 in 1999—in part because of Smith’s great pitching, they were able to improve to 79 victories in 2000. He tied Juan Pierre and Lance Berkman for sixth place in Rookie of the Year voting.
And he began 2001 equally well, tossing 8 innings of one run ball in his first start on May 6 and carrying a 3-0, 2.83 line through his first 35 innings. From that point forward, however, his mark was 5.94; on the year, he was 5-5 with a 4.70 ERA in 15 starts. That was his final big league season.
The Rockies purchased him in March 2002, then he bounced around Triple-A for a few years before playing in Korea in 2005 and Taiwan again in 2006 to wrap up his career.
Though technically still active, relief pitcher Robert Stock has yet to live up to the promise he exhibited with San Diego as a 28-year-old rookie in 2018.
Like Rogers and Smith, his trek to the majors was long and winding. Drafted as a catcher by the Cardinals in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft, ahead of DJ LeMahieu and Patrick Corbin, Stock struggled at the dish in A-ball and converted to pitching. It didn’t save him—he was released by St. Louis in December 2014 and signed with Pittsburgh.
After a poor year between three teams in their system, he was let go and joined the indy ranks, where he had a 2.85 ERA and 11.0 K/9 IP ratio in 52 relief appearances for the New Jersey Jackals. The Reds signed him for 2017 but kept him in their organization for just a year.
San Diego gave Stock a shot, inking him to a contract for 2018. Now in his tenth professional season, he reached Triple-A for the first time, but he wasn’t in the minors long—the Padres promoted him and on June 24, he made his big league debut.
Though he initially had a rough go of it—he surrendered 4 earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in his 5th appearance—the hurler settled down and posted a 1.50 ERA in 27 games the rest of the way; in 36 innings, he allowed just 26 hits and had 32 strikeouts. On the year, he had a 2.50 ERA and 155 ERA+ in 32 appearances. Both marks were among the best on that 66-96 team.
But he fell apart soon after. In 10 relief appearances in 2019, he had a 10.13 ERA; in 2020, his mark was 4.73 with Boston. And this year, he has posted an 0-2 record and 8.00 ERA in 3 starts between the Cubs and Mets.
And as he is currently on the 60-day injured list with hamstring issues, that might be it for Stock. His chances of returning this season are slim and whether any team takes a flier on him in 2022 is up in the air—though unlikely.
In the three years since his excellent, though abbreviated, campaign with San Diego, he has pitched for four teams and gone 1-3 with a 7.36 ERA in 23 games (3 starts). In 33 innings, he’s allowed 27 walks, 40 hits and 5 home runs. Not very inspiring.
But, then again, what do you expect. Stock, and Rogers and Smith, beat the odds by reaching the major leagues at their advanced ages. Then they beat the odds by having unexpectedly excellent seasons.
They all wilted as quickly as they bloomed. You can beat the odds only so much.