Let's say you knew about a prospect before he even signed with a team. You soon followed him on Twitter and learned about his love for burritos and "The Walking Dead." You picked him up for your dynasty league team as he worked his way up through the minor league ranks. You regularly watched him on MiLB.tv while he soared up prospect lists at prominent publications. You maybe even saw him play in person along the way. You think you know everything about this player and what he's capable of doing, but the one variable nobody can predict with absolute certainty is how they will respond when they reach the majors.
If you are fortunate, this hypothetical player is someone like Kris Bryant or Carlos Correa. They reach the majors and establish themselves as stars in short order. More often than not, it doesn't work that way. Some players struggle before figuring it out, while others never figure it out at all. Progress often isn't a straight line, which makes it all the more confusing and frustrating for fantasy owners.
Below are eight players who were greeted with considerable hype in the early part of their respective careers, but have run into some hurdles, for whatever reason. The goal here is to examine which ones could be ready to make the next step in 2016.
Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers
There were some Pederson vs. Kris Bryant debates early last season, and it wasn't unreasonable. The young outfielder got off to a monster start by slugging 17 home runs with a .998 OPS through 53 games. He homered in five straight games at one point and made it to the finals in July's Home Run Derby before finding his way into the starting lineup for the All-Star Game. However, Pederson was already headed in the wrong direction by then. He hit just .177 over his final 98 games and lost playing time during the second half.
You have to like the patience and the power, but Pederson struck out in 29.1 percent of his plate appearances and didn't hit the ball with much authority as the year moved along. He's only going into his age-24 season, so there's reason to believe he can adjust, but his playing time could be at risk if the struggles continue. He'll have major boom or bust potential this year.
Brad Miller, SS/2B/OF, Rays
After showing some pop and speed in a small sample as a rookie in 2013, Miller was a trendy breakout pick two years ago. It's okay to admit you bought in. We're all friends here. Unfortunately, his stock quickly came crashing down to Earth after he disappointed with a .221/.288/.365 batting line in 2014. The 26-year-old didn't get nearly as much attention last season and batted .258/.329/.402 with 11 home runs and 13 steals.
Acquired by the Rays during the offseason, Miller is expected to compete for the starting shortstop job in the spring. At the very least, he could find himself in a platoon or utility role. While Miller burned fantasy owners in the past, keep in mind that he had an .803 OPS against right-handers last season. There could be some sneaky value here in 2016.
Kevin Gausman, SP, Orioles
Selected fourth overall in 2012, Gausman made a quick leap to the majors less than a year later, and most believed it was just a matter of time before he would emerge as a front-line starter. The talent is clearly there, but we're still waiting for everything to click into place.
Gausman posted a 4.25 ERA in 17 starts and eight relief appearances last season. The 25-year-old missed a little over a month during the first half with shoulder tendinitis, but he didn't have any issues the rest of the way, and his velocity was fine. While he had some trouble with the home run ball, he increased his ground ball and strikeout rates while showing better control. The hype on him has cooled, but it's still exciting to think what he could do if the Orioles finally just leave him alone in the rotation for a full season.
Avisail Garcia, OF, White Sox
Once a top prospect with the Tigers, Garcia was traded to the White Sox in July of 2013 in a high-profile deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston and Jose Iglesias to Detroit. The 24-year-old played well with Chicago down the stretch and went into 2014 with considerable hype, but he tore his labrum in April before making a surprise return late in the year. He entered last season with sleeper status, but regressed at the plate by batting just .257 with 13 home runs and a .675 OPS.
Garcia showed some flashes at times last season, but he also had some maddening lows. His plate discipline was inconsistent, and he still hits a lot of balls on the ground, so he has yet to take advantage of the launching pad that is U.S. Cellular Field. While Garcia won't be 25 until June, the White Sox could already be losing patience with him.
Rusney Castillo, OF, Red Sox
Nothing says expectations like a record $72.5 million contract. Following the likes of other Cuban defectors like Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu isn't easy, but Castillo showed enough down the stretch in 2014 to be a trendy breakout pick last year. We're still waiting for the payoff.
Castillo began last season in the minors after missing time with an oblique injury in the spring. The 28-year-old eventually joined the Red Sox in May but struggled in sporadic at-bats prior to being demoted in June. He returned again in late July and had some ups and downs, finishing with a disappointing .253/.288/.359 batting line to go along with five homers and four steals. The talent is still there, so the hope is that consistent playing time will allow him to adjust and unlock his potential. The contract looks like a bust right now, but Castillo is expected to be a regular in Boston's outfield to begin 2016.
Nathan Eovaldi, SP, Yankees
With Eovaldi's propensity for lighting up the radar gun, many have pegged him as a potential breakout pick for a couple of years now. This sentiment was louder than ever last spring after the right-hander was flipped from the Marlins to the Yankees, with some discussing him as the next Garrett Richards, but fantasy owners saw mixed results in 2015.
After posting a 5.12 ERA through his first 13 starts last season, Eovaldi relied more on his splitter and netted more strikeouts while posting a 3.43 ERA over his next 14 starts. Unfortunately, he went down with elbow inflammation in September and wasn't able to make it back before the end of the season. He'll be interesting if he can pick up from where he left off during the second half, but now his health clouds this picture.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers
When the Tigers gave Castellanos the starting third base job as a rookie in 2014, the hope was that he would do enough offensively to make up for his shaky defense. It hasn't worked out that way so far, as he owns a mediocre .708 OPS through his first 313 major league games. This includes a .677 OPS against right-handers, which isn't what you want from a regular.
Last year was a tale of two seasons for Castellanos, as he hit just .243 with six home runs and a .658 OPS during the first half before slugging nine home runs with an .800 OPS after the All-Star break. While his plate discipline didn't improve on the whole last year, he was more selective during the second half and got back to hitting line drives like he did during his rookie season. He's a work in progress, but there's optimism going into 2016.
Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS, Rangers
Once the consensus top prospect in the game, Profar made his major league debut in 2013 and hit .234 with a .644 OPS over 85 games. He was just 20 years old at that time, so those numbers didn't do anything to diminish his prospect status. Instead, a shoulder injury has created the uncertainty over his future.
Profar was shut down with a teres major muscle strain in the spring of 2014 and missed the entire season while attempting to rehab the injury, but soreness lingered, and he eventually had his labrum repaired last February. All has gone according to plan with his rehab, and he was able to participate in the Arizona Fall League as a designated hitter. The big question is how his shoulder will respond to throwing, so he remains a big risk, but this could be the last opportunity to buy low in keeper and dynasty formats. Even after missing essentially two full years, he's only going into his age-23 season.