I have something to confess. I will never, ever make a living as a baseball scout. How do I know? Because of David Haehnel.
David and I (weren't not really on a first-name basis) arrived at Aberdeen within weeks of each other. He was the Orioles' eighth-round pick out of the University of Illinois-Chicago, a thin 6'4" lefthander who was just a few weeks older than me. I was an unpaid fall intern, putting off the inevitabilities of the real world by hanging around a baseball stadium and doing whatever was asked of me and generally loving every minute of it. I only caught a few baseball games, as the season ended at the beginning of September and I'd come on board in late August. But from what I saw of David Haehnel (and heard from those around the team), I thought he was a star in the making.
David was the ace reliever of the IronBirds in his first stop in the minors at age 21. He'd blanked the opposition in 17 of his first 18 appearances and 23 of his first 25. A late season mini-slump bumped his ERA from 0.82 to a still-miniscule final figure of 1.69. He struck out at least one batter in 26 of his 28 games, and whiffed 14.7 per nine innings. From August 2nd through the 22nd, he factored in the decision in each of his eight appearances, winning two and saving six. To my untrained eyes, this guy could deal.
I lost track of the southpaw after we both left Ripken Stadium, but he seems to have avoided the sophomore jinx. Beginning at lower-A Delmarva, David barely broke a sweat, saving 16 games and tossing up a 0.79 ERA in 34 innings with a strikeout per inning. The O's gave him some stiffer competition, promoting him to higher-A Frederick. He was no longer called upon as a closer, but he still held his own with a 3.41 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 9.7 K/9 IP. But the road to the Show was about to get rocky.
Returning to Frederick to begin 2006, Haehnel was inexplicably converted to a starter. He hit the ground running, posting a 2.60 ERA in April, but couldn't maintain that momentum. He wound up leading the Keys with 11 losses against just two wins, racked up an awful 6.23 ERA, and walked two more batters per nine innings than he had in 2005, and his K/9 IP dropped by three. But the Baltimore brass apparently saw enough promise to bump him up to AA Bowie in 2007...either that, or the rest of the pitching in the organization was even worse. Thankfully, the ill-conceived starting experiment was over and David was back in the bullpen. But the spark was gone. His ERA was a lofty 6.00 even, and he was now walking an inexcusable six batters per nine innings. The Birds cut ties with the lefty after just three and a-half seasons in the minors.
Despite a functioning left arm and relative youth (25 at the start of the 2008 season), Haehnel did not catch on with any other MLB team in 2008. Instead, he found himself in the independent Northern League, toeing the rubber for the Kansas City T-Bones and rubbing elbows with such illustrious ex-major leaguers as Bo Hart and Ken Harvey.
Whether Haehnel just crumpled against more experienced hitters or the Orioles organization botched his development by yanking him out of a role that he had seemingly aced, it's hard to say. It's probably a combination of the two. At any rate, I wish he would have made it, so I could have said that I spotted that talent way back when.