Today, when teams discuss trades, prospects have inflated value based on what they MIGHT achieve according to scouts and also because they will be relatively cheap and under team control for several years to come. But prospects often don’t turn out to be big stars; some don’t make the major leagues at all. Even the greatest prospects fail more often than they succeed.
When a player already makes the big leagues at a young age and shows signs of being able to hold his own against major league competition while still a teenager or barely in his 20’s, it’s reason to get excited. The future seems unlimited and especially for a losing team as the Mets certainly were in their early years, fans begin to envision great things and a bright future for years to come.
The Mets’ very first great prospect was clearly Ed Kranepool who was signed out of James Monroe High School in the Bronx where he had broken Hank Greenberg’s home run records. In the days before the amateur draft, the Mets gave Ed an $80,000 bonus in 1962 with all the fanfare you’d associate with a #1 Draft Pick today. Kranepool was quickly brought up to the big leagues that same season after a brief and successful stint in the New York-Penn League. Although hardly ready at the age of 17, Ed was penciled in as the first baseman of the future and got a shot at the regular job the following year after Marv Throneberry was released. While Ed is remembered fondly as one of the heroes of 1969 and a solid contributor as a pinch-hitter for many years to come, without a doubt, he was a disappointment in terms of the expectations the organization and the fans had for him.
Ed was slow-footed and never hit more than 16 home runs in any season. Although he looked like he could be a .300 hitter and even got off to red-hot starts a couple of years, you could basically count on Ed to hit in the .260 range. It wasn’t long before the banner “Is Ed Kranepool Over The Hill ?” made its appearance at Shea Stadium. The Mets certainly wanted him to succeed, but bringing in players like Dick Stuart was a pretty good sign that the team realized that Kranepool would never be the player they expected. Ed was even put up in the 1968 expansion draft , still just 24 years old, and wasn’t taken by either Montreal or San Diego before the Mets pulled him back after a few rounds. I know there are still lots of Kranepool fans out there and certainly his career was considerably longer and more successful than many other players but he didn’t come close to what we all thought his “potential” was.
In 1964, a powerful outfielder recently signed out of the University of Maryland made a remarkable splash in spring training. Ron Swoboda displayed prodigious power and for all the world looked like the future cleanup hitter for the Mets for years to come. He was so impressive that despite no minor league experience, the Mets started him in AAA Buffalo. He was a little overmatched at the plate and his fielding was atrocious so the Mets sent him to AA Williamsport. Swoboda’s season statistics at AA and AAA were extremely impressive for a player with no previous professional experience – a combined 17 home runs, 72 rbi’s and a .271 average. At the time, baseball rules dictated that first-year pros had to be carried on the major league roster the following year or be subject to a waiver claim, so Swoboda’s presence on the 1965 Mets was much anticipated.
And Swoboda started off red-hot in 1965, giving fans hope that here was a player who could hit about 40 home runs and drive in 85 to 100 runs every year. His poor defense would get better with experience as would his .228 batting average which he compiled in 1965. As for his 19 round trippers, that was just the beginning. Well, Ron never came close to even hitting 19 home runs in a season again and after 6 disappointing years with the Mets (1969 heroics aside), was traded away and never really achieved major league success.
Of course, both had their great moments with the Mets, but as prospects, neither measured up to the potential everyone thought they had. Would the Mets have even thought about trading either in their first two years ? Highly unlikely. It’s something to think abut when the Mets or any other team call their prospects untouchable even in prospective deals for established big league players. Great prospects don’t always become great ballplayers.