Talk about a day late and a dollar short. The Astros history of one Jason Lane is filled with missed opportunities, mis-timing and just plain bad luck.
It's a shame, too, because I'm sure many of you had very high hopes for Lane after he destroyed the minor leagues. Think all the way back to the turn of the millenium, when Houston had young outfielders like Lance Berkman and Richard Hidalgo just graduating to the big leagues and a college guy like Jason Lane just destroying the minor leagues after being drafted in the sixth round of 1999.
Lane and Morgan Ensberg helped USC win a national title in 1999, as Lane was named an All-American. He also picked up the victory on the mound for the Trojans in the national championship game and hit a grand slam. Not too bad for the big outfielder from California.
He went on to hit 13 homers in the New York-Penn League for Auburn in 74 games after being drafted, adding 23 more home runs the next season for the Michigan Battle Cats (such a cool name!). That was nothing compared to his 2001 season at Double-A Round Rock. Lane may have been old for the level at 24, but he mashed to the tune of a .316/.407/.608 line with 38 home runs and 14 steals in 16 attempts.
That promptly put him on the prospect map, ranking as the No. 53 player on Baseball America's Top 100 list before the 2002 season. He saw most of his action that year in the minors, but did hit in a limited showing with the big league club, wearing No. 24 (which is why we're talking about him for Game No. 24).
Injuries slowed his 2003 campaign, but he again played most of it in the minors. He finally broke camp with the big league team in 2004, but only managed 153 plate appearances in 107 games behind an outfield of Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran. Oh, and a terrible Richard Hidalgo, who was still hanging around after signing that huge contract after 2000.
Lane just couldn't catch a break with his opportunities, not getting a chance at a full-time starting role in the majors until his Age 28 season in 2005, but he capitalized on it there. He hit 26 home runs with a line of .267/.316/.499, but absolutely tanked in the playoffs.
The former No. 53 prospect in baseball would be out of the majors two years later.
Lane's story is similar to that of Daryl Ward, who was another slugging outfielder who never got a shot because of the glut of guys in the outfield. After 1999, Houston had the following big-priced outfielders on the roster: Moises Alou, Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo, Craig Biggio.
Now, you could say that Lane could have broken through if he were talented enough. But, where do you fit him? Yeah, he could have played over Hidalgo, but that contract saved Richard for a long time. The Jeff Kent signing pushed Biggio to the outfield, but are the Astros really going to choose Lane over two future Hall of Famers?
No, the deck was pretty stacked until the 2005 season, when Kent left, Hidalgo wasn't Houston's problem and a spot suddenly opened up. Was it too late for Lane to capitalize on his potential? Had playing so little in 2003 and 2004 hurt his development cycle, or was he never destined to tap into that potential from college and the minors?
Those are the kinds of questions that haunt scouts all the time, I bet.
All I know is that without Chris Burke and Jason Lane, Houston doesn't make the World Series in 2005. They may not have developed or fulfilled their potential, but both of them will live on in Houston sports lore for that. Maybe that's enough.