Brooks Kieschnick – 1994 Upper Deck

December 22, 2010

Oh, Yeah, He WAS A Top Prospect

As I got back into the card game this year, I saw some of the rookies that Topps had given rookie cards to. Now, of any sport, baseball is a total crap-shoot. You just don’t know how players will react to each level, from rookie ball to the big leagues.

Some, of course, were no brainers (Heyward, Bumgarner) and some, well, look silly now (Brent Dlugach anyone?) but the prospect game can make everyone look like total aces or total idiots, even in the same year.

Brooks Kiseschnick was going to be the ‘real deal’. He was the 10th overall pick in the 1993 draft, played well in AA in 1994 and played quite well in Iowa in 1995. An .865 OPS for a 23-year old in the old American Association was nothing to sneeze at.

He made the club out of spring training in 1996. He was on his way.

No wait, this is the Cubs, and they had a preponderance of outfielders that weren’t totally horrid. In fact, their OF was pretty decent in 1995 (Luis Gonzalez, Brian McRae and Sammy Sosa with good contributions from Ozzie Timmons and Scott Bullett off the bench – all with OPS+ over 100). There was no need to rush Kieschnick, but there he was, on the opening day roster.

And he sat. For two weeks, all he did was pinch hit. Then he was sent down. And yes, he slumped down there in Iowa. But if you were young, did everything you were asked, and made the club out of the spring, and then was just pinch hitting before getting sent down, you’d probably be a funk too.

Even in September, when the Cubs were hapless and there was no need to play Gonzo or McRae or heck, Sosa every day, Brooks started just four games. Still, when given the chance, he was a masher. He didn’t get the chance.

This is why the Cubs are the Cubs.

In 1997, Timmons and Bullet played their way off the team, and Kieschnick again made the opening day roster. This time, he got more playing time. He started 13 of the first 16 games and at the end of April was hitting .295 with a .523 SLG.

In May, he slumped. Who doesn’t slump? By May his average was down to .200, and the Cubs sent him down. By this time, McRae and Sosa weren’t playing well (Sosa did hit 36 home runs, but his OPS+ was just 99) and other youngsters like Doug Glanville and Brant Brown had nowhere near the potential that Kieschnick did.

He got a September callup, and made only four starts again. The Cubs, it seemed, had already moved on. But while his batting average was down in Iowa, he had power. He could be quite useful.

He would try to be useful for the Devil Rays, though. Kieschnick was taken in the expansion draft. Then he got hurt, and spent 1998 in rehab assignments.

An expansion team should have a slot open for a young-ish power hitter, right? No, Bubba Trammel was enough, so while they had room for a Dave Martinez and Paul Sorrento and a Herb Perry and a Quinton McCracken and a  Terrell Lowery and a Randy Winn that had an OPS+ of 71 and was 9 for 18 in stealing bases, Brooks was sent to the minors, then LOANED to the Angels’ AAA team. That’s never a good sign.

At age 27, he was consigned  to a life as a AAAA player, even though he never got a real chance. So why not just let it rip?

His slugging percentages from 2000 – 2002: .527 / .508 / .540. His total major league at bats from 2000-2002? 58, with the Reds in 2000 and the Rockies in 2001.

But something was cooking in Charlotte in 2002. He went to Spring Training with Cleveland and was cut and the White Sox signed him for AAA in May. Kieschnick was a dual threat in college, and so, with nothing else to lose, became a P/DH that year. He slugged .540 and compiled a nifty 2.59 ERA with a 3/1 K/W ratio.

Milwaukee signed him in 2003, and gave him a chance to make the team. He was sent down initially, but came back up in May to stay. He was an excellent PH / DH / LF hitting .300 with seven homers. As a pitcher, he was a work in progress – a 5.26 ERA. But it wasn’t a bad debut and it’s not like the Brewers had any hot prospects burning up the organization.

He pitched much better in 2004, but was beset by arm woes and had two stretches on the DL. He pitched in AAA in 2005 for the Astros, was battered around, and that was it. He still could hit, though, and you just wonder what would have happened if the Cubs weren’t the Cubs, and he didn’t get hurt in 1998 and then the Devil Rays weren’t acting like the Cubs-South. Both teams thought speed was the key, and later realized that guys like Glanville and McCracken can’t put nearly the runs on the board with their legs as Kieschnick could have with his bat.

Some teams are of the mindset where they don’t care about tomorrow. That can work for the Yankees, but the Giants tried that philosophy and it wasn’t until they got some youth in there (Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Sanchez, Posey, Sandoval) that they started to turn the corner. Some teams are perennials about promises, mostly false hopes, but promises nonetheless.

That tortured paragraph is to set up this great Rick Nelson video, from his Stone Canyon Band days:

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