Tampa Bay's David Price shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
The young lefty made it look so easy in 2008. A phenom if ever there was one, he blazed out of the bullpen in Game 7 of the AL championship series, fanned J.D. Drew with the bases loaded and then finished off the Boston Red Sox.
Pitching in the World Series barely a month after his major league debut, Price seemed like everything scouts envisioned when the Rays made him the overall No. 1 draft pick a year earlier _ an ace in the making, certain to zoom even higher.
"I was living my dream," the 24-year-old said. "You never forget something like that."
Fast forward to 2010.
The 6-foot-6 Price remains a big part of Tampa Bay's future, though much of the buzz surrounding him has waned after an uneven season.
His path certainly emphasized there's no surefire strategy in one of baseball's most delicate arts _ developing young pitchers, especially prize prospects such as Price and the game's top newcomer, Stephen Strasburg.
The New York Yankees employed the so-called "Joba Rules" with reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever again Joba Chamberlain. The Yanks won the World Series, yet he's still trying to figure out where he fits in.
Rick Ankiel was a hotshot who made his big league debut with St. Louis in 1999 at age 20. He blew away batters the next year, that is, until he lost his control during the playoffs. These days, he's an outfielder with no mention of pitching in his future.
The Washington Nationals picked Strasburg at No. 1 last summer and rewarded him with a record $15.1 million contract. He was their best starter in spring training, but the Nats sent him to Double-A Harrisburg for more seasoning.
The Nats hope that once the 21-year-old right-hander is promoted to the majors, he'll be there for good.
"I'm not a believer that a player can come from amateur baseball and step right into the major leagues," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "I've seen terrific prospects attempt it and the failure rate is too great. This is a prized asset."
Price's rapid ascent hit a speed bump last year.
Tampa Bay left Price off the opening-day roster, largely because it wanted to limit the number of innings he pitched. He acknowledged he initially didn't handle returning to the minors well _ he'd shot up from Class A to the bigs in his first pro season, and thought he was there to stay.
"I was crushed," said Price, who was back in the majors by end of May, though it would take him another month to get his bearings. "That was my dream. I had it, I pitched in the World Series, and then I had it taken away."
The former Vanderbilt standout struggled with his command and lost four of his first seven decisions, and rebounded to go 7-3 with a 3.56 ERA over his last 12 outings. He finished at 10-7 with a 4.42 ERA in 23 starts for the Rays.
But despite leading the Rays in wins after the All-Star break, beating Roy Halladay twice and stopping CC Sabathia's bid for a 20th victory in his final start, Price felt the season was a letdown.
"The way last year went, it's not how I would draw it up. But I learned so much stuff. It's going to help me for the rest of my career," Price said.
The Rays won 84 games _ 13 fewer than the year before _ and finished third in the AL East behind the Yankees and Red Sox.
"Everybody expected to have so much success, and that's not what happened," he added. "People had bigger expectations for me, and I had even bigger ones for myself."
The Rays, however, feel their plan worked.
The objective was keep Price fresh, in hopes he'd be able to help the team down the stretch and into October. Problem was, a lot of things went wrong and the Rays didn't play meaningful games much beyond Labor Day.
"You look at every person in the bigs. Derek Jeter has had struggles. Alex Rodriguez has had struggles. Roy Halladay has had struggles," Price said. "That's what makes the great ones great. Whenever they do struggle, they bounce back. That's what I learned from last year, how to bounce back."
When he reported to spring training this year, he found fewer reporters hanging around his locker and embraced the solitude.
He quietly went about his business, with plans to build on the success he had over the last half of 2009.
"I think the legend lives, but it's been put a little more on the back burner," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"I mean that in a good way," the manager added. "A lot of the hoopla is gone from the World Series year. If he thinks he's back under the radar, I kind of like that, because I'd like him to just concentrate on the things he needs to get better at."
Tampa Bay has one of the most fertile farm systems in baseball. And since Andrew Friedman took over as executive vice president of baseball operations and hired Maddon in November 2005, the Rays have not been inclined to rush top prospects.
Two years ago, Evan Longoria was sent to the minors before being called up 11 games into the season. He wound up being selected an All-Star and being a major contributor in the run to the World Series.
It certainly wasn't that way during a decade of futility in which the team was known as the Devil Rays.
"One of the biggest problems we had when we got here was the entitlement program and scholarships," Maddon said.
"We took the entitlements and the scholarships away and made it more professional in a sense in regard to young people earning the right to be here. There was a time, with the Devil Rays, players just expected to be here after two good months of minor league baseball or a solid reputation. Now they know it's not true any more."
Not being a focal point, that's fine by Price. "It's been easier not being under that spotlight. I'm not going to lie," he said.
He's also OK with people asking him about his talent and seemingly limitless potential. He smiles, in fact.
"It didn't go anywhere," he said. "It's right here."
Tampa Bay's David Price shrugged his shoulders and smiled.