With the emergence of Aristides Aquino as the Reds right fielder of the future, I thought it would be altogether fitting and appropriate to do an article on five “can’t miss” Reds in the modern era (1956 to present) who didn’t quite work out.

Not that this is going to happen to Aquino. He’s hanging tough. I hope he’s the Reds right fielder for the next several years.

But we all know that young phenoms tend to fizzle out. Especially Reds fans.

There’s not a lot to choose from in the 1960s. Billy McCool comes to mind as he was a pretty good lefthanded relief pitcher that faded away quickly. Gene Locklear was a hitting machine for the Indianapolis Indians but there wasn’t any room on the roster for him in Cincinnati during the era of the Big Red Machine. He was eventually traded to San Diego. Ditto for Dave Revering, a power hitting first baseman traded originally to Oakland for for Vida Blue and cash (but negated by Bowie Kuhn in an outrageous move) and then sent to San Diego in a trade for Fred Norman.

But here’s five who made my list.

Jack Armstrong

The All-American Boy started the 1990 season on fire, streaking to an 8-1 record. He not only made the NL All-Star team, he started and pitched three scoreless innings. But the Reds righthander slumped in August and September and was moved to the bullpen. He did a nice job pitching in relief during Game 2 of the 1990 World Series, in which the Reds swept Oakland but he was pretty much a non-factor after that. A first round draft pick by the Reds, Armstrong went 12-9 with a 3.42 ERA in 1990. He pitched one more season with the Reds and his career was finished after he suffered torn rotator cuff in 1994.

Mike LaCoss

Like Armstrong, LaCoss started the 1979 season on fire, going 9-0 to start the season. Like Armstrong, he made the All-Star team. Like Armstrong, he faded as the season went on. The tall, lanky righthander finished the 1979 season with a 14-8 record and after two lackluster seasons post-1979, the Reds released him.  His career record was 98-103 career with a 4.02 ERA.

Nick Esasky

This power-hitting third baseman was going to be a key in the Reds rebuild in 1982. A first-round draft choice, Esasky showed promise and twice hit more than 20 homer runs for the Reds. Tall and powerful, Esasky had a decent season after his call up from Indy. The Reds even took a photo of Esasky, sitting in the red seats at Riverfront Stadium, preparing for him to start hitting home runs in those seats. It never worked out. Esasky suffered from vertigo (stemming from an ear infection.) was moved to first base and was eventually traded to Atlanta. His best season came with Boston in 1989 when he hit .277 and hit 30 home runs and drove in 108 runs. Overall, he had a decent career, just not with the Reds.

Gary Redus

This swift outfielder was another key component in the 1982 rebuild. A 15th round pick by the Reds, Redus dominated in the Rookie League (Billings) for the Reds hitting .462 with 17 homers and 62 RBI in just 253 at bats. But Redus was 21, which was two years older than the average player in that League. He was incredibly fast and could hit for some power and was an outfielder. He went on to have a decent major league career, mostly with Pittsburgh. What hurt Redus with the Reds was winning a home run contest. Those were just starting in that time era and while Redus won one, it led to bad habits at the plate. He focused on home runs and forgot about his tremendous speed. In his 12-year career, Redus batted ,246 and hit 90 home runs. His best years were with the Pirates– not with Cincinnati.

Paul Householder

This switch-hitting rightfielder was the designated player to replace Ken Griffey. Then General Manager Dick Wagner loved this guy. It never worked out. Householder was the starting rightfielder on Opening Day for the Reds in 1982. His career spanned seven years with four teams and he was a career .236 hitter. A 2nd round draft pick for the Reds, Householder’s best season in Cincy was in 1983 when he batted .255 before being traded to St. Louis for pitcher John Stupor.

Honorable Mentions

Jeremy Sowers, Chris Gruler, Ryan Wagner (all first round draft picks and all pitchers). Between arm injuries and ineffectiveness, none panned out.  This is why I cringed when the Reds drafted Hunter Greene. A great talent , yes. But the Face of the Reds? I hope he proves me wrong and can come back from his injury.

68 Responses

  1. Steve Schoenbaechler

    This is why I just hope our young studs keep a good head on their shoulders, don’t get too caught up in the limelight, etc. As far as I am concerned, even with Aquino, in a young stud’s first season, if any success, that’s luck. Prove it a second time. If so, then you are good. If not, then you were a “one hit wonder”.

    Good players will have their streaks. Great players will have longer great streaks. The best players can get out of any slumps they get in. They can make adjustments to their game to keep making them great, till their body simply says no more.

  2. Wallyum

    Nick Esasky was blocked at first by a player/manager chasing a ghost. Put him at first and leave him along and enjoy the 30 home run/100 RBI seasons. The Red Sox clearly saw it and the Braves likely would have if Vertigo hadn’t reared its head.

    • Mason Red

      The Reds gave Esasky every opportunity. It had nothing to do with Pete Rose.

    • Bill Stacy

      Actually he was sitting behind Bench initially but nice try?

  3. Doug Gray

    Weird to include Jeremy Sowers, who never signed with the Reds, or Chris Gruler, who injured his shoulder before ever making the Major Leagues.

    • Satchmo

      One of the first rules in leadership: praise in public, criticize in private.

      Think about it.

  4. Doc

    Pitching injuries today are different, in that they are more effectively treatable, and there is a growing list of effective careers after injury. That said, Greene may or may not be one of them, but the Reds also could use a shortstop, and a repaired UCL should not inhibit Greene becoming one.

    • Droslovinia

      Yes, because having a “closer” with double-digit losses is nowhere near as harmful as not having a SS win the triple crown!

  5. JB WV

    Alex Trevino deserves a mention. Supposedly the heir to JB, he never materialized.

    • David

      Trevino came over from the Mets. You may be thinking of Dave Van Gorder?

      • Jim Walker

        My recollection is that Treviño did get billed as the Bench replacement after or as VanGorder was flaming out.

  6. Bob

    “Gene Locklear was a hitting machine for the Indianapolis Indians but there wasn’t any room on the roster for him in Cincinnati during the era of the Big Red Machine. He was eventually traded to San Diego. Ditto for Dave Revering, a power hitting first baseman traded originally to Oakland for for Vida Blue and cash (but negated by Bowie Kuhn in an outrageous move) and then sent to San Diego in a trade for Fred Norman.”

    It was Locklear who went to San Diego for Norman, not Revering.

    Revering eventually did go to the A’s — for pitcher Doug Bair.

  7. Mark Moore

    I distinctly remember Householder’s jersey reading “USEHOLD” because (at least at that time for a while) they couldn’t put all the letters on it.

    I also am skeptical about Greene until we actually see him play consistently at some position without significant injury.

    • RojoBenjy

      Remember the cheesy local commercials with Householder? I can’t find any video of them on the web, though.

  8. Bob

    “Ditto for Dave Revering, a power hitting first baseman traded originally to Oakland for for Vida Blue and cash (but negated by Bowie Kuhn in an outrageous move) and then sent to San Diego in a trade for Fred Norman.”

    CORRECTION: Locklear, not Revering, went to San Diego for Norman. Revering eventually went to the A’s for pitcher Doug Bair

  9. RojoBenjy

    Kal Daniels was another disappointment. And Kurt Stillwell.

    I’m rooting for Aquino to rock it out for years to come.

    Did Sowers even sign with the Reds?

    • Jim Walker

      I think Stillwell falls into the category of a decent career but not with the Reds. The Reds faced a choice between him and Barry Larkin and for once at least made the correct choice.

      Daniels messed up a knee just before they learned how to fix them without pretty much ruining them for professional sports. He logged 16.9 bWAR in a 6 season career. Not shabby at all.

      • RojoBenjy

        Funny how my memory puts Daniels in the disappointment category. I’m sure it’s my bias in this case.

        I’m glad we kept Larkin.

      • Jim Walker

        Maybe the thing with Kal was that he was well on the way to living up to the hype when he got derailed??

    • Big Ed

      Sowers was a Louisville guy who IIRC was drafted by the Reds in the first round out of high school under Jim Bowden. For budgetary reasons, apparently, the Reds only made a half-hearted effort to sign him.

      He went to Vanderbilt and was drafted after his junior year by Cleveland, and had an short and uneventful career.

      I saw him pitch once in high school and was underwhelmed, because he just wasn’t throwing very hard. I never understood his allure.

    • RedNat

      Daniels had some good years with the reds. there were times it was really hard to get him out.

  10. David

    Dave Revering eventually went to the A’s for Doug Bair. Freddie Norman came to the Reds in ‘73 and was part of the Big Red Machine

  11. Big Ed

    Wayne Simpson should be Number 1 on this list.

    Frankly, though, we ought to evaluate hitters and pitchers differently on flaming out. Pitchers are much more likely to have career-busting injuries, like Simpson or Mark Fydrich. Hitters flame out differently, when the league discovers their holes. The Reds don’t (yet) have any real good examples, like Joe Charboneau or Kevin Maas.

    • Doug Gray

      Austin Kearns. Though, like the pitchers, his shoulder injury derailed his career. Not that he had a bad career, of course, but with what his first year looked like in the Major Leagues….. he had true MVP caliber numbers. Then his shoulder blew up and he was known as a good defender.

      • Big Ed

        Yes. A big lug on the Braves (Ray King, maybe) fell on his short on a play at the plate, and he was never the same. Shoulder injuries are one thing that can derail a hitter, as it has Scott Schebler.

      • Robert Meyer

        I have an Austin Kearns autographed rookie card, if any one wants it.

      • Curt

        I seem to recall Kearns getting hit in the head or even the face by a very nasty pitch that practically killed him. When he came back from that, it seemed like his confidence at the plate was never the same. He was better all around than Dunn for a spell. I’ve got a graded 10 chrome rookie card for him and Dunn. ha!

    • Daytonnati

      I was scanning the list waiting to see if Wayne Simpson was going to mentioned. If not, he would be my first choice. 14-1 as a rookie. The Reds’ “Bob Gibson”. Alas …

      • Irishmike

        Wayne Simpson was at the top of my list. An absolute stud who was just wild enough to scare most batters. He was an amazing rookie and better than any of those listed! Look it up says an old wise man.

  12. Pete

    None of the position players are really comparable to AA because none had such a tremendous streak in their carers, let alone at the beginning. Jack Armstrong and Mike LaCoss although pitchers, are possible comps To sustain a streak like this for nearly a month to begin a career is very special.. I try to think of comps and Chris Shelton comes to mind but it’s not the same magnitude. If he carries on through September, you have to like his chances of being the real deal but still not set in stone. Sure is fun to follow and he’s a Red!

    • Jim Walker

      I think Simpson who someone mentioned in the comments above might stand the test of being a pitching version of AA.

      • Pete

        The two that got away: Wayne Simpson and Greg Cook. How unfortunate.

      • Jim Walker

        Pete, Yeah and for all they’ve accomplished medically with the hinge joints over the last 40-50 years, relatively speaking we are still in the dark ages in many ways with shoulders.

    • Mason Red

      None may have had the streak of AA but they got far more attention while in the minors. AA came out of nowhere. Most of the players who have been mentioned here were all considered to be can’t miss future stars. The group of Esasky/Redus/Householder were billed as the foundation for the next BRM. Their failure is something the Reds really never recovered from.

  13. RedNat

    I would add Eddie Milner to that 1982 squad of disappointments. that 1982 team was so intriguing to me . they had a ton of talent and veteran leadership and it amazes me we lost 100 games that year. I remember it seems we were competitive in nearly every game but a play here or a play there would doom us. that season reminds me a lot of this season to be honest.

    • JBWV

      If I remember correctly Milner missed a big chunk of that season with an injury. When Redus was mentioned I immediately thought of Eddie; they seemed like guys to build around.

    • Vancouver Dave

      Good recollection, RedNat. All I remember from those years is misery. But I looked it up and you’re right: the 1982 reds were 61-101 but had a Pythagorean projected record of 67-95. Not a huge difference, but it’s something. The reds are 63-70, under-performing, according to Pythagoras, by 5 games. So what did the ’83 team do? They still came in last, but they improved by 13 games. If the 2020 Reds improve by 13 games, . . .

  14. Shchi Cossack

    It happens. A hot-shot prospect blows thru the minor leagues, hits the major leagues with fanfare and short term results then disappears.

    Your list of comps reflects two distinct predispositions to such a path…pitchers and injuries. I do not see a real comp for Aquino and I don’t recall a real comp for Aquino that failed miserably. I will take that yet another step and include VanMeter along with Aquino. The data quoted includes results from 5/31/19 thru current, after VanMeter began to receive regular playing time. Aquino is a mistake hitter with a severe fly ball swing (133 FB%+) and a propensity to chase pitches (141 Soft%+), but he ‘punishes’ mistakes (252 ISO+). VanMeter is a line drive machine (139 LD%+) with consistent hard contact (132 Hard%+).

    Aquino represents the higher ceiling with higher risk. If pitchers refuse to feed him mistakes, at the risk of regularly walking him, then we will find out quickly if Aquino has the plate discipline, pitch recognition and patience to double down and call their bluff. If he can and does, the hitters behind Aquino in the lineup simply have to do their job. If not, then we will be talking abut the brief meteor that flashed across the MLB sky.

    VanMeter represents that consistent force in the lineup that the Reds are desperately missing. His groundball (91 GB%+) and flyball (88 FB%+) rates reduce double play opportunities and popups, but he can hit the ball as far as anyone if when he does elevate contact. This creates a doubles machine along with good speed, intelligent base running and good plate discipline. This creates a profile of a solid contributor with a higher floor but lower ceiling. Even during his recent August swoon, VanMeter maintains a similar profile with a .237 AVG and .29It happens. A hot-shot prospect blows thru the minor leagues, hits the major leagues with fanfare and short term results then disappears.

    Your list of comps reflects two distinct predispositions to such a path…pitchers and injuries. I do not see a real comp for Aquino and I don’t recall a real comp for Aquino that failed miserably. I will take that yet another step and include VanMeter along with Aquino. The data quoted includes results from 5/31/19 thru current, after VanMeter began to receive regular playing time. Aquino is a mistake hitter with a severe fly ball swing (133 FB%+) and a propensity to chase pitches (141 Soft%+), but he ‘punishes’ mistakes (252 ISO+). VanMeter is a line drive machine (139 LD%+) with consistent hard contact (132 Hard%+).

    Aquino represents the higher ceiling with higher risk. If pitchers refuse to feed him mistakes, at the risk of regularly walking him, then we will find out quickly if Aquino has the plate discipline, pitch recognition and patience to double down and call their bluff. If he can and does, the hitters behind Aquino in the lineup simply have to do their job. If not, then we will be talking abut the brief meteor that flashed across the MLB sky.

    VanMeter represents that consistent force in the lineup that the Reds are desperately missing. His groundball (91 GB%+) and flyball (88 FB%+) rates reduce double play opportunities and popups, but he can hit the ball as far as anyone if when he does elevate contact. This creates a doubles machine along with good speed, intelligent base running and good plate discipline. This creates a profile of a solid contributor with a higher floor but lower ceiling. Even with his August swoon, VanMeter maintains a similar hard line-drive profile but with just a .230 AVG and .300 BABIP but a .290 wOBA.

    • Rob

      Paul Householder was my favorite player as a kid, and it’s worth mentioning that he caught Hepatitis at a Reds function before the 83 season, and lost all his strength. He then lost his job in the Pete Rose era, and had a decent year in Milwaukee until Robin Yount got hurt and could no longer play SS, moved to the OF.

    • Jim Walker

      Householder was talked really big, sky is the limit big, but never had a run a MLB. For the younger set, he was a switch hitter and a few oversold commentators may have murmured “Mantle potential” a couple of times before the reality set in.

      I saw Gary Redus play a number of times at AAA (Reds affiliate was Indy at the time; and I lived near the Ohio/ Indiana border near an I70 exit. Indy was closer, quicker than Riverfront and cheaper). He surely looked like a real deal at AAA. he could hit, hit for power and run. He finished 4th in NL RoY in 1983 but never really followed up or grew at the MLB level. I’ve always wondered about him because, he was head and shoulders the best I saw during the period I was going to AAA games in Indy,

      • Mike Kelsch

        Redus definitely had some serious flashes and potential. I seem to remember Redus had some type of conflict with Rose when he was brought back to manage. I’m not sure if that hastened his going to the Pirates or if it was the emerging younger players like Davis, Daniels, and even Tracy Jones that made him dispensable.

      • Jim Walker

        MIke,
        I started to say I recalled some dissonance with the org which might have been a factor with Redus but dropped it because I couldn’t remember what.

        I was a bit tied in with Indy back then because I had lived there for several years in the mid 70’s. When I came back to Ohio I still bought the Sunday Indy Star and listened to a couple of the Indy radio stations regularly . My recollection per this was that the deal with Redus actually started when he was still at AAA; but, like I said the memory isn’t totally defined.

      • Matt Esberger

        I kind of view Redus & Milner as stopgates at time. Both were in mid to late 20’s when they made debuts and Milner seemed to be more of a utility player that became a regular when Cedeno was hurt and Hurdle not planning out in 82 & 83

  15. MK

    Ty Howington another first round pick that fizzled. Include Boxberger, Alonso and Grandall are others.

    • Doug Gray

      None of those guys should be included, though. Howington never made it to the Majors. The other three had a handful of games with the Reds combined, and all three were future All-Stars.

  16. KELLY GREEN

    Anyone remember Santo Alcala? 11-4 his rookie year in 1976…3 complete games, 1 shutout. Out of baseball by 1978.

  17. KELLY GREEN

    And Pat Zachary too! However, he did have a much longer career, but never came close to what he did his rookie season in ’76.
    14-7
    2.74 ERA
    204 IP/170 H
    Only gave up 8 HR’s!

  18. Optimist

    Don’t recall the buzz about LaCoss, but do about Pastore and Berenyi. Also forgot what an extended career LaCoss had – basically 12 years as a league average pitcher – 1700 ip – sounds like Leake!

  19. Matt Esberger

    What about Rob Dibble? Had 2 & 1/2 outstanding seasons (88-90) to began career and was okay to good in 91-92 than imploded. I want to say shoulder injury ended his career but seemed to lose the strike zone before his surgeries.

    Pat Pacillo P high draft pick in 80’s that never developed
    Jeff Jones OF Hit like 40 HRs in minors in 82 and started in RF on opening day 83
    Brandon Larson 3B was suppose to be a cornerstone of early 2000’s but was hurt more than Tyler Eifert

    • Irishmike

      Anyone who watched Dibble could see he was a shoulder injury waiting to happen. He had a very violent delivery and did not use his lower leg strength. His speed depended solely on his shoulder. Shame !

  20. Michael E

    Most listed above were hyped up players that were never phenoms in any sense (well maybe HS or college phenoms, but those are a dime a dozen).

    True phenoms that flamed out are not that many. The hyped-up, never-were types are many times more of course, but it was just marketing or a few articles that had you excited, not actual MLB or even AAA production in most cases.

    As for the hyped, but never phenoms, I remember many of those listed. Householder especially stands out as my dad and I grew to hate him (not personally, but as a useless player) when I was a kid. I remember Pacillo, Berenyi, Scudder, Van Gorder, Stillwell, Mottola (picked just before Jeter…sigh).

    How about Jay Tibbs? I saw the duel between him and Dwight Gooden (1985 I think, I rarely get to see Reds in Cincy) which Reds won 2-1. He quickly went from really promising to get-him-out-of-here really quickly.

    Tracy Jones? His rookie year and minor stats stoked excitement and then… faded away quickly.

    • Michael E

      …oh and Brandon Larson, never a Reds Phenom, but a college 40 HR phenom that busted in grandiose fashion. A case of falling in love with one stat and ignoring scouting reports and peripheral numbers. Waste of a 1st round pick.

      • Jim Walker

        Didn’t Larson win AAA player of the year more than once? A true 4A guy I guess.

  21. Lee

    I agree with Big Ed, Wayne Simpson should be at the top of the pitching list.
    He made the All-Star team too his rookie year of 1970. To correct his earlier quoted stat, he started 13-1, if I’m not mistaken that was his record at the break, ended up 14-3. Never the same after injury not diagnosed soon enough.

  22. ToBeDetermined

    John
    I see a particular theme here – 1982.

    you know it wasn’t a particularly good year for me personally either. So, let’s just not bring it up any more.

  23. Kasey Rutherford

    Willie Green? The Reds waited and waited for Willie to make an impact. He had potential.

    • Jim Walker

      Yep, Willie was another one of those strange situations. I just checked him in Fangraphs; and, he had a run of 3 consecutive seasons (1996-98) of 300+ PAs and wRC+ of 109, 112, 112. Two of those 3 years, his K rate was even under 20%. Then he fell off the wagon again and was gone after the 2000 season. Except for his final season, those 3 decent years were the only times he got as many as 300 PA’s in season. Careers are strange things.

  24. VaRedsFan

    Jose Peraza – Lead the Reds in hits 1 year…demoted the next year.

  25. Steven Bacci

    I would add Chris Sabo. Nothing but a one season wonder

    • Michael E

      More like a four year wonder, he panned out and was a significant piece to them winning the WS in 1990 and sweeping the vaunted As. He didn’t last past his peak though, a short career, but hardly a one-year wonder. He started a bit late at 26 and declined rapidly after 30.

      I just watched the four games against Oakland a week or so back, Sabo had a poker face, but man the camera caught him a few times looking steamed. He was one of my favorite Reds of my lifetime. Eric Davis, Chris Sabo and Barry Larkin. I really liked Keith Mitchell and Greg Vaughn too, even though they weren’t long with the Reds. Of course Bench, Morgan, Rose, etc, but they were when I was too young to really remember much about them.

  26. RedFuture

    Even more egregious might be some of the players that they thought were washouts and traded them away in horrendous trades. For example Charlie Liebrandt: traded for Bob Tufts who never made another MLB appearance after trade and very few but poor ones before the trade. Charlie went on to 140-111 career.