Today’s question is about those guys we thought would be the next big thing but, for whatever reason, weren’t. The players we thought would be stars but ended up average Joes. Or, perhaps, somewhat less-than-average Joes.
In this I’m not looking for the tragic cases of stars cut down in their youth by tragedy or sickness or, perhaps, even guys who had major injuries before they were able to make The Leap. I mean, sure, if you want to include those, that’s fine, but I’m thinking more here about guys who just never lived up to expectations, whether those expectations were informed and reasonable or not.
A lot of these might be guys who were just coming up when you were a kid. Back when you didn’t quite understand what made for a can’t-miss prospect and what didn’t. Or at least the people telling you that guy would be great didn’t understand it. That’s certainly the case for me. My guy: Kevin Coffman.
Kevin Coffman was an 11th round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 1983 out of Austin, Texas. Eleventh rounders aren’t exactly comers, but if you followed the Braves from, oh, 1985-87 — which is when I got into that team — things were pretty bad on the big club. The pitching was particularly bad. In 1986 club had the second-worst staff in the National League and the 1987 club was dead last in runs allowed. There was a kid down on the farm in 1986 and most most of 1987 named Glavine who turned out to be something — and the Braves traded for a fella named Smoltz in the middle of the ’87 campaign who might could be something — but if you watched WTBS broadcasts at the time they only wanted to talk about Kevin Coffman. He was referred to, often, as the Great Pitching Hope for the Atlanta Braves.
Looking back at his minor league stats — to which one didn’t have easy access back in the day — makes me wonder why, exactly, that was considered to be that guy. He was shelled in a half-season of rookie ball as an 18 year-old and, while he showed good durability as he made it up the ladder between 1984-86, he was no great shakes at all. He walked everyone. He didn’t strike out enough guys to make all of those walks look like one of those “if he could just harness his stuff. . .” kinds of guys. He was totally pedestrian.
Yet the Braves broadcasters always talked about Coffman like he was gonna be a big deal. All I can think is that he looked the part of a good young pitcher. Tallish and lean. He was from Texas too, and Texan pitchers put an image in a person’s head. He threw moderately hard for the time if I remember correctly, but nothing approaching the velocity that one would need to raise anyone’s eyebrows today. And, as I said, it’s not like that translated into big strikeout totals. All I can think is that some scouts — maybe the ones who recommended he be drafted and were thus continuing to try to sell their choice — let slip to the WTBS guys that he was going to be good. But I really have no idea.
I do know, though, that he pitched five garbage time games in September 1987, looking bad in the first three and pretty decent in the last couple. The last one was against an NL West champion Giants team on October 2, after they had clinched. Roger Craig made a lot of substitutions in that game. They were getting ready for the NLCS. In 1988 Coffman got 18 games — 11 starts — and was clearly overmatched. That September the Braves gave up and traded him to the Cubs for Jody Davis. Coffman would spend 1989 in the minors and get shelled in eight appearances for Chicago in 1990 and that was that. The Internet tells me that Jody Davis is alive and well, but I have a mental image of him literally decomposing on the field in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium over the next two years. Catching takes a toll, friends.
I don’t blame Coffman, of course. He made the bigs and that’s a big deal. He no doubt tried his best. He didn’t make any promises to me about how good he’d be. He didn’t owe me a thing. It’s just a situation in which I, as a tween and teenaged kid was told he’d be great and he wasn’t. It happens. But I still think about him a lot.
Who’s that guy for you?