In baseball, a sophomore slump, also referred to as a sophomore jinx is when a player fails to live up to the standards set by their rookie season. Injury or lack of adjustments can be reasons to blame for the “slump.”
“Just because I had a good rookie season doesn’t mean I’m going to rest on my laurels. Hopefully I can avoid the sophomore slump."
- Eric Hinske, 2002 AL Rookie of the Year
Todd Ortega of the Houston Barons was the near udnanimous choice for the Western Conference Most Outstanding Rookie Award last season. Pittsburgh hurler Mark Bowden edged out Indiana’s Eduardo Flores and Cleveland’s John Phinney in a tight race for the same award in the Eastern Conference. All these players were highly touted prospects and didn’t disappoint in their debut campaigns.
Will these players repeat their successful debut seasons? Nobody knows. It’s one of the biggest fears of fans, owners and General Managers alike: that a standout rookie won’t be able to maintain performance after their debut season and will instead falter and fade slowly off the radar. Or worse yet, crash mightily into oblivion and find themselves out of baseball.
We decided to do a little research in the NBL archives and tried to identify who had the worst sophomore slumps. We limited the search to the nominees in the “Most Outstanding Rookie Award” category in the award voting for all previous seasons. We identified five players who stood out the most. There were a handful of others players who could have easily been included on this list.
So, without further ado, here are our five arguably biggest sophomore slumps so far in the history of the NBL:
5. Nobuharu “Bucky” Yoshida – Los Angeles Knights, 2021
Japanese phenom Yoshida inked a $220 million 7 year deal with the LA Knights prior to the 2020 season and went on to earn the 2020 Most Outstanding Rookie Award in the Western Conference after posting an 11-6 record with a 3.40 ERA and an incredible 243 strikeouts.
But the sophomore slump struck in his second season where he went 9-16 with a 4.42 ERA. He still managed to fan 259 batters though. “Bucky” rebounded in 2022 after being traded to Boston where he posted a 13-8 record which included a 3.32 ERA and a league leading 285 strikeouts.
4. Cal “Great One” Nicholas – Denver Grizzlies, 2018
Nicholas splashed onto the scene in 2017 going 21-6 despite posting a slightly inflated 4.53 ERA. He finished 3rd in the Western Conference Most Outstanding Rookie Award.
The 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft followed up his rookie campaign with a modest 12-7 record but he allowed almost a run more per start. We’re not saying this wasn’t a successful season. But it is a far cry from the 21 victories he achieved the season prior. Last season, Nicholas posted a career best 3.77 ERA while going 14-10.
3. Justin Ward – Indiana Redbirds, 2019
The Crimson Tide alum was drafted by San Francisco in 2014 and was subsequently traded to Indiana the following year. He made his NBL debut with the Redbirds in 2018 where he went on to earn the Eastern Conference Most Outstanding Rookie Award after batting an impressive .285 hitting 21 HR’s and driving in 75 RBI’s with a .932 OPS.
He followed up his rookie season with a disappointing sophomore slump batting just .240 while hitting 17 HR’s and adding 63 RBI’s with a .761 OPS. Ward did break out of the the slump batting .272 in 2020 and .266 in 2021 which included a career high 38 bombs and 103 RBI’s however he posted a career low .224 average last season.
2. Scott Foster – St. Louis Royals, 2019
Foster’s 2018 rookie season was one for the books. The 26 year old hit .331 with 25 HR’s and 104 RBI’s. This included a .907 OPS. He finished 2nd in the Western Conference Most Outstanding Rookie Award to Bryan Phillips who’s numbers this season were unworldly.
2019 was not so kind to Foster. He batted a dismal .235 while hitting 18 HR’s and adding 68 RBI’s with a .666 OPS capping off one of the league’s worst sophomore slumps. He regressed further over the next few seasons after battling injury, however returned in 2022 to post a career high 28 HR’s. But average wise, Foster has yet to come close to his rookie season.
1. Bryan Phillips – Arizona Rattlers, 2019
Phillips was drafted by Carolina in 2014 but was released in 2016 and signed a minor league contract with Arizona. After just two seasons at AA and AAA, Phillips cracked the Rattlers lineup in 2017 appearing in 15 games and hitting an impressive .362. He made the club out of spring training the following season and arguably put up one of the best offensive single seasons in the history of the league. Appearing in 144 games, Phillips hit .334 with 57 HR’s and a ridiculous 170 RBI’s. This included a .683 SLG% and a 1.033 OPS. His 170 RBI was a league record until Archie Dominey drove in 176 in 2021.
But 2019 came and so did the sophomore slump as it did for Scott Foster and Justin Ward. In his second season, Phillips appeared in 122 games and batted just .252 hitting 25 HR’s and adding a meager 69 RBI’s. This included a .470 SLG% and a .749 OPS.
He spent the next two seasons at AAA where he put up impressive numbers but was unable to crack the Rattlers lineup. He was traded to Boston in 2021 and appeared in 82 games in 2022 batting .200 and hitting just 4 HR’s. He was released at the end of the season and as of this writing he is a member of the Sarasota Gladiators in the rookie league for the New York Titans.
As with any list, there are also a few worth noting. In staying with the theme, our first subject is, first baseman, Francisco Amaya of the Detroit Bombers.
Francisco was voted to 2nd place in the Most Outstanding Rookie Award in 2015. He put up decent numbers, with a .254 batting average, 30 HRs, 78 RBIs, and had an OPS of .863. He saw 410 at bats that year. But with his second season, he saw more playing time, and that saw his numbers drop more than probably expected. In 2016 for the Bombers, he hit .211, with 4 fewer HRs, and 6 less RBIs, but saw almost 100 more at bats, and had .729 OPS.
But his very next season he hit .273, with the same number of HRs (26), and had 100 RBIs, and a more improved .819 OPS. He also saw an increase of plate time with 21 more times to take some cuts.
Overall he ended up with a lifetime average of .249, and only played 5 years in the majors before spending the rest of his time in the minors. As of this writing, he is playing with the Toronto Reptiles AAA club.
Our next selection is a pitcher who had a rather nice rookie year, but then had a pine tar beating the next season. He is Anthony Foster of the Philadelphia Patriots.
Anthony’s first season was pretty good for a 25 year old hurler. He came in and pitched 133.1 innings, had a 10-7 record, with a 2.90 ERA, and 1.23 WHIP. Not bad for a guy in his first campaign. But in 2018, he didn’t have the continued success one who had pinned their hopes on a promising rookie with room to grow. He had a rough year posting a 4.73 ERA, going 6-4 in almost half the innings 78.0, and saw the WHIP rise slightly with a 1.40.
But before Philly would throw in the towel, they took him aside, and with patience and instruction, got Anthony back on track to where he posted a 2.71 ERA, dropped that WHIP to 1.02, and went back to 133.0 innings. He raised his record to 7-4, with 4 saves.
Anthony however did not last that much longer in the big leagues. He had 2 more seasons with the Patriots, and both of them ended in much worse shape that he did during his sophomore year. He is still playing in the minors for the El Paso Prairie Thunder AA, and is currently a relief pitcher for them.
Our next pick is showed a lot of promise to a team that need it from this centerfielder, and that is Jorge Martinez of the Baltimore Captains.
Jorge had an excellent first season with batting a .275 average, and hitting 29 HRs, and stealing 34 bases, while posting 73 RBIs, .868 OPS, and had a WAR of 1.8. He had 447 at bats, and saw a large amount of playing time for Baltimore. Yet as this article knows, his second season didn’t turn out as well as his first.
In 2019 Jorge had 568 at bats, which meant way more playing time, yet only yielded a .225 average, and posting a -1.4 WAR. His OPS dropped to .720, and his RBIs dipped by 10, and he hit 2 less HRs. Not the most incredible drop in power numbers but losing that much average to produce a negative WAR is not always a sign of good things to come, which they didn’t.
In 2020 he hit for .210, but played half the time. Jorge did rebound in 2021, posting a career high of .280 average, and a .889 OPS, and did it with only 411 chances at the plate, but still never did pan out after that. He hit for .246 career in the NBL, and is currently a free agent.
The next player, plays in the northwest, and had a nice rookie campaign in 2019. He had quite the drop in his second year, which is why we have selected Chris McAbee of the Boston Braves.
Chris started his rookie year at the age of 27 in 2019, and Boston couldn’t have been more thrilled. He saw lots of playing time appearing 602 times at the plate, and dropping 35 bombs, bringing home 135 RBIs, and hitting for .274 average, with .842 OPS. Chris was voted second in the Most Outstanding Rookie category for 2019, and as a first baseman, he was ready to add to his success from year one.
In 2020, Chris had succumbed to the sophomore slump. He batted .234 average, with 573 at bats, but knocked in 10 less HRs, and posted almost 40 fewer RBIs (84), while seeing his .OPS drop to .709. His WAR plummeted to a -2.5.
But the next two years Chris worked hard to get back to his old form, and in 2022 he hit a career high of .281, and an OPS of .869, but with just 395 plate appearances. He still plays for Boston, and as of this year, he is hitting .211 in just 142 at bats.
And finally our last selection has had a probably one of the worst first year success, second year blow ups for a pitcher from our research that is still playing, and he is Logan George of the Philadelphia Patriots.
Logan had dreams of success in the NBL, and in 2020, he seemed poised to cash in on them when in his rookie season, he posted a 3.65 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP, and had a 9-10 record. Throwing in 162.2 innings, with 108 Ks, might not the best from a rookie, but based on scouts and projections, he had a high ceiling if he could put it all together at the right time, he could have been a star.
Much to Logan’s chagrin, this was not to pass. In 2021, Logan just had one heck of a breakdown. His ERA ballooned to 6.18, with a 1.57 WHIP, and went 5-12 in 150.0 innings. He struck more batters out with 125Ks, but just never found his groove that year, as batters teed off on him like a pitching machine.
But again this is where Philadelphia seems to excel, and with coaching, and patience again, they got Logan to bring his ERA down to 4.65, which isn’t terrible in an offensive heavy league. Logan still plays for the Patriots, and is current posting a 4.82 ERA, with 39 Ks, in 56.0 innings.
And there you have it dear readers, an NBL insider view to the dreaded sophomore slump. With as of this writing and the Amateur draft going on, we can all hope that their sophomore years are much better than it was for the men above.
Last Updated (Thursday, 06 October 2016 11:01)
Off-season Spending Sprees
Friday, 16 September 2016 14:11 | Written by Adam Annis-Brown
Game Date: February 18th, 2023
New York Titans, SP Javier Espinoza (pictured above) $250 million total for 10 years – At $25 million a year for 10 years, Espinoza’s expectations to exceed immediately are high. As his compatriot Pedro Padilla, Espinoza hails from Cuba and the lefty brings extraordinary upside potential to the table. Espinoza dominated the Cuban league from an early age and is still young at 25 years of age as he enters the NBL. Possessing four above average pitches, Espinoza hits the mid-90’s on the gun and relies on a mix of off-speed pitches to continually fool his opponents. He uses is dominating curve to finish off opposing batters with regularity. Scouts are not all sold on Espinoza, however. Seeing him as an unproven talent, many will want to see results before anointing him a perennial Most Outstanding Pitcher contender. With both Espinoza and Koike anchoring their rotation, however, the Titans and their fans have a lot to be excited about heading into 2023.
Last Updated (Friday, 16 September 2016 14:18)
International Amateurs Making Waves
Tuesday, 22 March 2016 21:55 | Written by Adam Annis-Brown
During the 2020 off-season, the NBL and its owners agreed to open up International Complexes throughout the country to support the burgeoning international talent pool.
As amateurs begin to trickle into team’s complexes, there are several players who stand out in this year’s amateur finds:
Game Date: May 3rd, 2021
Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2016 22:04)
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