David Zancanaro – 1992 Upper Deck

November 28, 2010

“TINSTAAPP”

Let’s resume our discussion of ‘pitching prospects, shall we?

If you are a baseball fan of some seasoning (but not all that much – I’m not talking about watching Steve Dalkowski pitch, bub…) you remember the much ballyhooed ‘Four Aces’ that Oakland selected in the 1990 draft.

They were: Todd Van Poppel (the big prize), Kirk Dressendorfer (the next Roger Clemens, from Texas), Don Peters, and Mr. Zancanaro.

Van Poppel was such the prize he was signed to a major league contract (which turned out to be a huge drawback for him), whilst the others were ‘fast tracked’. It was thought that this bunch would replace Stewart, Welch, and the others and form the next generation of Oakland starters into the mid-to-late 90’s and maintain Oakland’s place as an elite AL team.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

You know about Van Poppel. His problem was not injury, but the fact that he HAD to go up to the minors in a shortened time frame otherwise be lost to waivers thanks to the fact he signed an MLB contract out of the gate. Any time the A’s sent him down, they had to use an option.(If I can find a Van Poppel card, I will have more on him…including the fact that he holds one of the most dubious records in baseball history.)

Dressendorfer did make it to the majors at the beginning of 1991. But the coaches at UT – Austin had a nasty habit of abusing pitcher’s arms, and Dressendorfer was one of their victims. He made seven starts, was sent down, got crushed at Tacoma and was shut down. He pitched 36 2/3 the next three seasons in the low, low minors and then spent 1995 and 1996 in the minors as a reliever (or in the case of 1995 – a guy who started the game and then left  after an inning or two to get guaranteed work in) and really never recaptured any of his past glory. After a short stint in Albuquerque, he was done.

Peters had a great start in short-season ball in 1990, and pitched in Huntsville in 1991. His 4-11, 5.00 slate wasn’t great, but he was a 21-year old pitching in AA and coming from a small college in Illinois. However, the next stat line on his ledger was 1995 as a member of the Giants organization. He missed two seasons with injuries and then sat out another. He sat out 1996, and then signed with the Diamondbacks as they were allowed to build up their minor league system before starting their MLB club. He struggled at AA and AAA and finished his career pitching for Yuma in an independent league in 2000.

Zancanaro did OK in short-season ball in 1990 and also was in Huntsville in 1991. (Van Poppel also did the bulk of his pitching there – so three of the “Four Aces” entertained the families of the NASA base there during the summer of 1991.) He did OK, especially considering the rest of the team was pretty rotten. He was promoted to Tacoma in 1992 and continued his bad luck with a 2-11 record despite a 4.26 ERA.

Then, nothing until 1995, when he was rehabbing down in Class A, starting 16 games but pitching just 32 2/3 innings. He seemingly was recovered, and started out the next season in Modesto. But any hopes of being on of the “Four Aces” to actually pay off died a death back in Huntsville with a 5.61 ERA and peripheral stats that said he was throwing meatballs.

Still, he perservered, pitching in the Padres, Yankees, Cubs and Cardinals organization, hoping to justify his long-ago lofty status. But 32-year old pitchers with a 5.99 ERA in AAA don’t usually get to pitch at age 33.

About the card – it looks kind of creepy. It HAS to be retouched, either that or Oakland didn’t put logos on its workout jerseys in minor league camp. He looks more like a model for a uniform company than a pitcher.

It was not the fault of Zancanaro that he had such lofty expectations. He pitched at UCLA and had high expectations for success, sure, but he didn’t ask to be put on the Baseball America cover holding an ace from an oversize deck of cards. He certainly didn’t ask to get hurt. But that’s baseball – again there  are no guarantees.

The “Four Aces”, and all of the shenanigans around Brien Taylor threw some cold water on the notion of ‘sure thing’ prospects for a while. But we fans have short memories, and they Strasburg hype was much like the Van Poppel hype. However, at least the Nats had the sense to shut Strasburg down before there was more serious injury. And Strasburg was bright enough to not pitch when he had discomfort.

I wonder if that ever occurred to Zancanaro? Or did he just decide to ‘gut it out?’

The A’s slumped in the 90’s, but did rebound and rebounded with pitching. But it was guys like Hudson, Mulder and Zito that got them back to prominence. And in the year 2000, in Game Five of the ALDS, a time where Zancanaro could have been an established ‘ace’ – the A’s hopes rested on the right arm of…

Gil Heredia.

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