With the recent release of the (now outdated) Fangraphs Top 15 and Baseball America Top 10 prospects lists, ranking season is upon us once again. Prospecting, along with most other things in baseball, brings with it both hope and heartbreak. The Blue Jays have seen their share of both over the past half-decade, and over the next few weeks I will take a look at some of the biggest disappointments from that time. Last week we covered Russ Adams and Dustin McGowan. Today we'll remember David Purcey and Curtis Thigpen.
Before we dig right in, I'd like to make a few notes about how I came up with these names: first, not all players in this series could really be classified as a 'bust' or a failure, since most of them did at least have (or are likely to have) a career in the majors. Secondly, I only considered players who ranked as top five prospects in the organization according to Baseball America at least once since 2005, and were taken in the first 40 picks of the draft (this week's exception to my own rule is Curtis Thigpen, who was drafted 57th overall). Lastly, I do recognize that a large number of Jays fans have followed these players since they were drafted. If that's you, you can read the following to dampen your day and laugh at me: a relatively new fan who is just beginning to understand the pain of prospect disappointment.
David Purcey was drafted 16th overall by the Blue Jays in 2004. The Texas native played college baseball for the University of Oklahoma, and he signed with the Blue Jays for a bonus of $1.6 million. He ranked as the Blue Jays' 5th best prospect coming out of the 2004 season. 2005 was his first full year pitching in the Blue Jays organization, and he spent most of it in A+ Dunedin (he also pitched 43 innings in AA New Hampshire). His combined ERA that year was a not-glittering-but-also-not-terrible 3.41, and it looked as though he was off to a decent start in his professional career. His performance in 2005 was good enough to earn him a ranking as the Blue Jays' #3 prospect, behind Dustin McGowan and Ricky Romero.
2006, though, did not go so well. Purcey split time between New Hampshire and AAA Syracuse that year, posting an ERA above 5 in both leagues. He had a decent strikeout rate (around 19%) but showed major control issues: his walk rates (10.6% in AA and 15.7% in AAA) were truly awful, and as a result he spent the entire 2007 season in AA, pitching only 62 innings due to surgery to remove a cyst in his arm. The improvement in his numbers in those innings was encouraging, though: his K% increased to over 20, and his walk rate went way down to 6%.
Purcey made his major league debut with the Blue Jays in April 2008, after being called up due to an injury to reliever Brian Wolfe. He went 4.1 innings, allowing only one run on two hits. However, he also walked seven batters, showing signs of what was to come. He returned to AAA and was called up once again in July, staying with the Blue Jays for the rest of the 2008 season. He pitched 65 innings and posted an ERA+ of 77 during his rookie season. His strikeout rate remained above average at 20.1%, but his walk rate began to climb back to where it was in 2006, reaching 10% by the end of the season.
Purcey earned a spot in the starting rotation coming out of spring training in 2009, but was demoted to AAA after being quite terrible in five starts with the Blue Jays. Unfortunately for David, a full season in AAA didn't fix whatever ailed him, as his control issues continued in Syracuse and never really got any better.
Purcey rejoined the Blue Jays in May 2010, pitching out of the bullpen. He had a decent ERA of 3.71 and an ERA+ of 114, and had a valuable season (according to fWAR), providing 0.3 wins above replacement for the Blue Jays in 34 innings.
On April 18, 2011, exactly three years after making his major league debut, Purcey was traded to the Oakland Athletics for Danny Farquhar. A month later he was flipped to the Tigers for Scott Sizemore, and was subsequently designated for assignment in August. He signed a minor league deal with the Phillies in December 2011 and spent the 2012 season pitching for AAA Lehigh Valley.
David Purcey is a textbook case of a pitcher who never sorted out his command and control issues. I'll remember him most for his big feet.
Curtis Thigpen was drafted out of college by the Blue Jays (I am sensing a theme here) in the 2nd round (57th overall) of the 2004 draft. He was given a signing bonus of $625,000 and began his professional career in 2004 with the Auburn Doubledays. He batted .301 with an OPS of .908 in 196 plate appearances that season.
He split time between low A Lansing and New Hampshire in 2005, hitting .286/.380/.417 over the full season. This was good enough to earn him a spot on BA's top 10 Blue Jays prospects list, where he came in at number nine, just ahead of Vince Perkins. In 2006 Thigpen played 87 games in AA, posting a line of .259/.370/.421, with a wRC+ of 128. He was promoted to AAA at the end of the season, playing in 13 games for the Syracuse Chiefs.
Heading into the 2007 season, Thigpen was ranked the fifth best Blue Jays prospect, and by this time was touted as "the catcher of the future." He played in 50 games at Syracuse to start the season, and was called up to join the Blue Jays in early June. His first game was on June 6, against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He went 1-4 with a single. Over the rest of the season (110 plate appearances) he hit a depressingly awful .238/.294/.287, with a wRC+ of 55. He was worth -0.4 rWAR in his 2007 stint with the Blue Jays.
He spent most of the 2008 season in Syracuse, and was awful there too, batting .222/.267/.310 in 96 games and was 46% worse than the league average in doing so. He saw very little time in the majors in 2008 (21 plate appearances in 10 games) and he has not appeared in an MLB game since.
In March 2009 he was traded to the Oakland Athletics (I guess the A's like ex-Blue Jay prospects) for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The Athletics released him in 2010, and he now works as an agent and lives in Austin, Texas.
That's it for this week's masochistic trip down memory lane. Join me again next week for more depressing tales of prospect fails!