A week into his Major League career, Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig has set the baseball world on fire, making a highlight reel-worthy play seemingly in each game he’s played. The Cuban outfielder also happens to have posted a .464/.483/.964 across 28 at bats along with four homers and 10 RBIs.
It’s a small sample size, sure, but Puig looks more in line for long-term success than winding up alongside the likes of Kevin Maas and Shane Spencer – players who got called up to the Majors, make a big, immediate impact but quickly faded into obscurity. The Dodgers were convinced enough about Puig’s talent to ink him to a $42 million seven-year deal last year after he defected from Cuba.
Puig’s arrival has got us thinking about some other players in baseball over the last 25 years who’ve made a big splash … and then vanished just as quickly. Let’s call these guys, “The Kevin Maas All Stars.”
Kevin Maas: The first baseman was a sensation when called up by the Yankees in June of 1990. His 10 home runs from his first 72 at bats had New Yorkers thinking they’d found their next all-time great and began chiseling his plaque for Monument Park. It didn’t happen. Maas put together a fine first season, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting with 21 home runs and a .902 OPS in 79 games. In 1991 he struck out 128 times in 500 at bats, finishing with a .220 batting average. He was out of baseball following a brief stint with the 1995 Twins. Maas later went on to work in finance.
Shane Spencer: Spencer was almost Maas 2.0, except his explosion onto the New York baseball scene came in the month September when he hit 10 home runs for the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 games. Spencer, one of the guys who crossed the picket line in 1995, managed to hang around baseball until 2004 as a platoon outfielder. He is now a hitting instructor with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League.
Bob Hamelin: Portly? Check. Mullet? Check. Wire-rimmed glasses? Check. You could make a case ‘The Hammer’ was the most 1990s baseball player whoever existed. Before he became a nostalgia-infused punchline, Hamelin had one glorious summer in the sun during the strike-shortened 1994 season when he won AL Rookie of the Year (edging out Manny Ramirez, Rusty Greer and Jim Edmonds, no less). Hamelin slugged 24 homers in 1994 with an impressive .937 OPS. Hamelin played in parts of six seasons and his career OPS is a respectable .816, but apparently baseball didn’t have room for a 6-foot-1, 240-pound designated hitter who looked like Meatloaf. (Bonus fact: Hamelin was an absolute beast in the original Sega Genesis, “Triple Play Baseball.”)
Chris Shelton: The former Tiger has the misfortune of bearing a striking resemblance to Sloth from “The Goonies,” but for one month in 2006 Shelton was the best power-hitter in baseball. Shelton socked nine home runs in the Tigers’ first 13 games in April, setting numerous records in the process. By August he was sent to Toledo. Shelton bounced around a couple more seasons, but if there was ever a flash in the pan with the shortest shelf life in recent baseball history, it was him.
Mark Prior: Oh what a brilliant career it could have been for the big righty from USC. In his second season, at age 22, he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA striking out a whopping 245 batters in 211+ innings for the Cubs. He probably should have won the Cy Young award, but he lost out to Eric Gagne. Like the Cubs, it all came crashing down for Prior after the 2003 season, only he doesn’t have Steve Bartman to blame. Post-2003 Prior only made 57 more starts. He’s still not technically retired.
Warren Morris: A hero for LSU at the 1996 College World Series, Morris had a solid MLB debut in 1999 with the Pirates, hitting 15 homers with 73 RBIs. Not bad for a middle infielder. Problem is, he only hit 11 more round trippers in parts of the next four seasons and was out of the Majors after playing with the 119-loss Tigers in 2003.
Tuffy Rhodes: Karl Derrick Rhodes will always have a place in the annals of baseball trivia thanks to his one terrific Opening Day in April, 1994 when he blasted three home runs off Dwight Gooden. Fittingly, the Cubs lost that day and Gooden still earned the win despite Rhodes’ three homers. After that day Rhodes never did much of anything in the Majors to remember, although he name lives endures. (Granted if he didn’t have the unique nickname, he’d be all but forgotten.) Rhodes did carve out a nice career in Japan, hitting 474 homers in the Far East, except none of them were served up by Gooden.
Dontrelle Willis: It’s easy to snicker about a lot of guys on this list. With Willis, it’s more sadness than sarcasm. When he came up in 2003 with the Marlins it made you happy as a baseball fan. Maybe it was the crooked cap, or his prowess in the batter’s box or the fluky delivery, there was something about Willis that represented all that’s good in baseball. He won Rookie of the Year that season, finishing 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA. Willis was even better in 2005, coming in second in the NL Cy Young voting when he went 22-10 with an 2.63 ERA along with seven complete games and five shutouts. It all fell apart quickly. By 2007 his ERA was over 5.00 with the Marlins. In his first two (brief) stints with the Tigers he pitched to a 9.38 ERA followed by a 7.49 ERA. Willis stuck around until 2011 with the Reds but was a shell of the then 21-year-old kid who wowed baseball as a rookie.
Chris Hoiles: Diehard Orioles fans probably remember Hoiles’ 1993 season, when the catcher hit 29 homers and finished with an OPS of 1.001, good for a 6.8 WAR rating which was ninth-best in baseball that year. Those diehards, though, are probably the only ones who can vaguely recall it. Hoiles ended up with a steady, solid 10-year career in Baltimore, but never came close to what he did in 1993, which could be one of the more underrated seasons in recent baseball history.
Marcus Giles: Giles had one truly standout season for the Braves back in 2003 when he hit 21 homers with 69 RBIs along with an OPS of .917 playing second base. Reading between the lines, back then, those sort of things happened. (Cough, cough). Giles’ 2003 was good enough to even merit MVP votes. He only hit another 38 homers the next four years and was out of baseball after the 2007 season with San Diego.
Brady Anderson: Anderson’s 1996 season is one that future generations of baseball scientists will study, wondering how a middling outfielder could explode for 50 homers and 110 RBIs when he previous highs to that point in his career were 21 and 80. It doesn’t seem humanly possible. This one is a total mystery. The 90s, man.