4. Austin Kearns, Nationals
Kearns, 26, has yet to fulfill the expectations generated when Cincinnati picked him in the first round of the 1998 draft. Injuries and weight problems contributed to his overall lack of production with the Reds. Then GM Wayne Krivsky traded him to Washington, and Kearns was in a funk because he missed his buddy Adam Dunn.
Kearns generates more impassioned argument than any player on this list. Some talent evaluators remain intrigued by Kearns and think he's still a candidate to bust out. The analysts at Baseball Prospectus regard Kearns as a modern-day Dwight Evans, albeit with less of a throwing arm.
Kearns' detractors, conversely, dismiss him as a tease and a moody player. One executive called him "very overrated," while another observed, "Every time I see him, I think of the word 'underachiever.' "
On the plus side, Kearns is a fundamentally sound outfielder who takes good routes to the ball and habitually throws to the right base. You won't find him jogging out ground balls, either. But as a hitter, he has a long swing and can be vulnerable to off-speed stuff and pitches in on the hands.
Kearns is signed to a three-year, $17.5 million contract with a $10 million club option for 2010. At that point, the Nationals will either have to let him walk or commit to him as a long-term building block.