“Prospects will break your heart.” All credit to Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus for that phrase, but in the wake of Kolbrin Vitek‘s retirement, I couldn’t find any one more fitting.
For anyone that missed it, Vitek, Boston’s first-round pick in 2010 has decided to call it quits following a sub-par playing career that was marred by a variety of injuries. Vitek’s retirement ends a career that never lived up the expectations that come with being a top-20 pick. Vitek joins 2006 draftee, Jason Place, as the only top picks of the Theo Epstein era to retire without ever breaking into the majors.
My point here is this: the draft is a roll of the dice, and in no way a sure thing. Okay, so that’s not a revolutionary concept by any stretch of the imagination but Vitek was one of the first prospects and 2010 one of the first drafts that I was heavily interested in. Watching him, not crash and burn but rather, slowly fade into obscurity was one of the worst things I have experienced as a fan. It just goes to show that the Major League Baseball first-year player draft is far from an exact science.
Vitek was a good choice at number 20, especially since it probably allowed the Red Sox to save some spare change to spend later on in the draft, a la the Kansas City Royal of 2013. And to that end, the Red Sox still walked out of that draft with Bryce Brentz, Anthony Ranaudo, Garin Cecchini, and Brandon Workman. Not a bad haul. But even so, losing out on that first-round selection has to hurt.
Consider that after Vitek was taken off the board, a handful of now-top prospects were selected, including Zach Lee, Christian Yelich, Taijuan Walker, and Nick Castellanos. Any of these players could have drastically altered the course of the Red Sox, with three of those four players having already broken into the Major Leagues. Alternatively, the two guys selected immediately after Vitek have a combined one game played at double-A.
Draft picks are nothing more than lottery tickets and a heck of a lot can go right or wrong. Don’t forget that 21 teams passed on Mike Trout before he landed with the Angels and became one of, if not the, best player of the 21st century. It’s all something of a guessing game, and Vitek seems to be one who was guessed wrong about. Okay, so maybe injuries don’t hit every player in the same way they did Vitek, but he never seemed able to live up to those lofty expectations, especially as he was exposed to double-A and his performance lagged behind his abilities and tools.
Maybe it’s unfair to label the third-baseman-turned-left-fielder as a bust since it was mostly injuries that cost him his chance, but I can’t help but feel like Boston missed on this one. Most of Theo’s first round selections (excepting his last draft, in 2011) have made it to the big leagues in some form or another, except for Vitek and Place.
It doesnt always work out for advanced, seasoned prospects, never mind guys taken fresh out of the draft, but it was sad to see Vitek go down the way he did. Though, the returns from the rest of that class are probably enough to lighten that blow. There’s no way to change it, that’s the nature of the beast, but it doesn’t make it any better when it doesn’t pan out.