May 03, 2010

I recently sat through a pretty bad '90s movie called Virtuosity, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Seeing Washington play an ex-cop in a sci-fi action film wasn't the surprising part. At the time, he had finished films like Malcolm X and Philadelphia so I figured he was in the mood for a lighter role.

Crowe, on the other hand, was just beginning his American movie career. He plays SID 6.7, a virtual reality villain who manages to escape into the real world. I was shocked to see one of the greatest actors of our time dancing to the Bee Gees in a purple suit, eating glass to avoid virtually bleeding to death (not red blood but blue ooze, of course) and spouting terrible lines like "I'm a fifty terrabyte, self-evolving, neural network, double backflip off the high platform. I'm not a swan dive."

After this low-budget disaster, how did Crowe ever land a serious role? Thankfully, he survived Virtuosity and went on give us several great films like A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator and a far better performance with Washington in American Gangster.

Crowe's career path got me thinking about baseball greats with similar humble beginnings. The list is surprisingly long. Did you know Mickey Mantle batted .267 with 13 HR in his '51 rookie year? Or that Sandy Koufax was a mediocre 36-40 with a 4.11 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP in his first six seasons, including a whopping 17 wild pitches in '58? How about Mike Schmidt batting .178 with 136 strikeouts in his '73 rookie season?

Apparently, greatness took some time to develop.

The lesson to be learned here is we shouldn't give up on certain people. In fantasy leagues, we gush over the hot prospect that is tearing up the minors but we quickly forget about them if they struggle out of the gate. We want instant results for immediate points.

In the spirit of patience, here is a list of some former can't-miss prospects that are now falling under the radar. I wouldn't load up your entire roster with these potential stars (you can't wait around forever) but grabbing a few from the waiver wire or as trade throw-ins could pay off soon:

A major cog in the Dontrelle Willis-Miguel Cabrera to Detroit trade of '07, Maybin is largely getting ignored after a sub-par '09 rookie season (.250 BA, .318 OBP). He's just 23 and capable of big things at the top of Florida's lineup.

Maybe I sound like an old-school scout when I say "he just looks like a ballplayer," and maybe I have a man crush on him, but I want Jones on all my fantasy teams. I'm looking past his second-half swoon in '09 (.222, 7 HR, 23 RBI) and his rocky '10 start (.241, 3 HR, 6 RBI) and strongly hoping he'll improve on his plate discipline (3 BB/25 K).

Clement has the kind of resume you'd expect from a top catching prospect: Little League World Series, national high-school homerun record, U.S. National Team and third overall draft pick in '05. However, he has struggled in the majors so far (.221, 10 HR, 31 RBI in 321 PA) and Pittsburgh is using him only at first base since acquiring him from Seattle. The talent is still here, it just needs more time to develop.

Young was the first overall pick in the '03 draft but maturity issues have dogged him early in his career, prompting Tampa Bay to trade him to Minnesota in '07. Only 24, Young has proven he can hit major league pitching (.288 BA in five seasons) but he needs to develop his power stroke (.417 SLG) to have a bigger fantasy impact.

Scherzer received a lot of hype after overpowering batters in Arizona's farm system and he had decent success in his '08 rookie season (3.05 ERA, 1.232 WHIP, 10.6 K/9). But he has since struggled with his command and was traded to Detroit for the more-seasoned pitcher Edwin Jackson. Now in the hitter-friendly American League, Scherzer's stats are down (4.23 ERA, 1.373 WHIP, 6.5 K/9) but he still has the stuff to turn it around.

Wilson started six games as a rookie in '05 and it wasn't pretty (0-5, 12.05 ERA, .441 opponent BA). He was stuck in the bullpen until Texas gave him another shot in the rotation this season and so far he's been impressive (2-1, 1.71 ERA, .218 opponent BA in five starts). He's a sleeper candidate in all leagues.

Let me close by sneaking in the cheesiest line of Virtuosity, courtesy of Denzel: "Game Over."

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