We'll never know what Mark Prior (l.) and Rick Ankiel could have become.
We'll never know what Mark Prior, left, or Rick Ankiel could have become. (Getty)

Injuries and all sorts of other off-the field issues have robbed baseball of far too many promising careers over the years. Potentially excellent careers have been cut short or otherwise interrupted, and we're left to wonder what could have been.

This post focuses on those players, the ones whose careers were sabotaged by injury or something else. Consider the All "What Could Have Been" Team a list of players I would have liked to see stay on the field and reach their potential. Here's the team:

CATCHER: Ben Petrick

Baseball America ranked Petrick as one of the top 100 prospects in baseball every year from 1997-2000, and he lived up to that billing by hitting .322/.406/.495 (107 OPS+) in 71 games with the Rockies from 1999-2000. He played in parts of five big-league seasons before retiring in 2004. Shortly after retiring, Petrick announced he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1999 and was no longer physically able to play despite receiving treatment and medication. He retired as a .257/.336/.448 (88 OPS+) hitter in 240 MLB games.

FIRST BASE: Nick Johnson

I can't write about Johnson without including his Double-A stats from 1999: .345/.525/.548 with 33 doubles, 14 home runs, 123 walks, 88 strikeouts and 37 (!) hit by pitches in 132 games. That's incredible. Unfortunately, Johnson missed the entire 2000 season with a wrist injury, and that was a harbinger of things to come. He had multiple wrist surgeries in his career -- he also suffered a freak broken leg when he crashed into an outfielder -- that limited him to only 680 of 1,620 possible games from 2003-12. Johnson called it quits after 2012 and retired with a .268/.399/.441 (123 OPS+) batting line.

SECOND BASE: Brian Roberts

This sort of feels like cheating, because Roberts was an excellent player for most of his career, hitting .288/.362/.430 (108 OPS+) while averaging 43 doubles and 34 steals per year from 2003-09. He was essentially done as an everyday player by age 31 though, as a series of injuries (including two severe concussions) forced him to miss 527 of 810 possible games from 2010-14. Had he stayed healthy, Roberts might have been able to play himself into borderline Hall of Famer territory.

SHORTSTOP: Troy Tulowitzki

Obviously Tulowitzki is still playing, but a litany of injuries have allowed him to play 130-plus games just three times in his eight full MLB seasons. He's appeared in only 264 of 486 games over the last three seasons. Tulowitzki has always been excellent when healthy -- he's a career .299/.373/.517 (125 OPS+) hitter -- but he's now 30 years old and missed a huge chunk of time to injury in the first half of his career. I don't think there's any doubt we'd be talking about him as a serious Hall of Fame candidate if he'd stayed on the field.

THIRD BASE: Eric Chavez

Fun fact: Chavez has the fourthest highest WAR among players who never played in an All-Star Game at 37.4. Only Tony Phillips (50.8), Tim Salmon (40.5) and Kirk Gibson (38.3) are ahead of him. Chavez was a bonafide star with the Athletics from 2000-04, hitting .280/.357/.513 (127 OPS+) while averaging 30 home runs per season and playing Gold Glove defense. Back, shoulder, neck and elbow injuries soon set in and ruined his career. Had he stayed healthy, Chavez's career might have looked a lot like Scott Rolen's.

LEFT FIELD: Josh Hamilton

Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 draft and Baseball America ranked him as one of the 35 best prospects in the game from 2000-03. Hamilton battled drug and alcohol addiction after turning pro and it nearly ended his career. He eventually got clean and made his MLB debut in 2007, at age 26. Hamilton was the 2010 AL MVP and he hit .304/.363/.549 (136 OPS+) with 27 home runs per year from 2007-12. Too bad we'll never know what he could have done in his early-20s or if he hadn't done so much damage to his body.

CENTER FIELD: Grady Sizemore

Sizemore was once one of the premier power-speed players in the game, putting up a stellar .281/.372/.496 (128 OPS+) batting line with an average of 27 homers, 29 steals and 6.2 WAR from 2005-08. Injuries, most notably knee injuries, all but ended his days as an effective big leaguer in 2010. Sizemore has played only 216 of 810 possible games from 2010-14, and even when he's been on the field, he's hit .226/.289/.367 (88 OPS+). He went from being a bonafide star to a non-factor in the span of about 18 months.

RIGHT FIELD: Rocco Baldelli

We're bending the rules a bit with the outfield. Baldelli, like Sizemore, was primarily a center fielder during his best years, but we'll stick him in right because he did see time there. Baldelli broke into the big leagues in 2003 and hit .285/.326/.425 (99 OPS+) with 27 homers and 44 steals from 2003-04, his age 21-22 seasons. Knee and elbow surgery forced him to miss the entire 2005 season and he was never able to stay healthy after that due to a muscular disorder. He played sparingly from 2006-10 and retired following the 2010 season at age 28.


Prior was so good, so fast. He was the second overall pick in the 2001 draft (Joe Mauer went first overall) and was in the Cubs rotation by the middle of the 2002 season. By 2003, he was an 18-game winner and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. Prior began having shoulder problems in 2004 and he was simply never the same after that. He last pitched in the show in 2006. Many blame the way Dusty Baker rode Prior down the stretch in 2003 -- he threw at least 116 pitches in nine of his final 10 starts (including the postseason) and 130+ pitches four times, all at age 22 -- for the injuries.


It's easy to forget just how good Ankiel was on the mound. Baseball America ranked him as the best prospect in all of baseball heading into the 2000 season, and that year he went 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA (134 ERA+) and 194 strikeouts in 175 innings as a 20-year-old. That's amazing. Ankiel fell apart in Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS against the Braves, walking six of 16 batters faced and uncorking five wild pitches. The wunderkind southpaw contracted The Thing, The Yips, Steve Blass Disease, whatever you want to call it. His pitching career was over by 2004 due to extreme control problems, though he did successfully reinvent himself as a power-hitting outfielder.

RELIEVER: Joel Zumaya

Nowadays just about every team has a guy in the bullpen who can throw 100 mph, but 10 years ago it was pretty rare. Zumaya struck out 97 in 83 1/3 relief innings as a rookie with the 2006 Tigers thanks to his triple-digit fastball, but he never threw more than 38 1/3 innings in a season after that because of injuries. Elbow, shoulder, you name it. He even hurt his wrist playing the video game Guitar Hero. Zumaya hasn't pitched since 2010 and he just turned 30 less than two weeks ago.