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When the Angels placed Bobby Abreu on waivers on April 27, I wondered if this would be the end of the line for one the most successful players in baseball history. Fortunately, or unfortunately if you watched Abreu leave three runners on base in two at bats on May 4, the Dodgers picked him up and immediately placed him on their major league roster.
In the interest of full disclosure, Bobby Abreu has always fascinated me. He never really looked like a great athlete (though he clearly is in great shape), he never looked like he was trying, and he never put up monster numbers, but at the end of nearly every season for 13 years he ended up with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. He drove in at least 100 eight times, scored 100 another eight, and went 30/30 twice. He was a great right fielder, but was notoriously allergic to walls, and stole bases whenever the pitcher was not paying enough attention. In the end, Bobby Abreu was a truly singular baseball player whose talents were never fully appreciated – unless you were playing fantasy baseball.
Bob Kelly Abreu was signed by the Houston Astros as an international free agent out of Venezuela in August 1990, just months after his 16th birthday. Assigned to the GCL Astros of the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, Abreu put up an amazing 301/358/372 line. While that line may not look amazing at first blush, had Abreu been born in the U.S., Puerto Rico, or Canada, Abreu would be about to start his senior year of High School, not playing professional baseball. In 1992, Abreu was assigned to the Astros’ full season A Level Southern Atlantic League affiliate, the Asheville Tourists. Abreu more than held his own, putting up a 292/375/402 line as the third youngest player in the Southern Atlantic League. Tough Abreu only hit eight home runs in 549 plate appearances, he displayed a mature approach by walking 63 times and hit 21 doubles. Baseball America took notice after the season, ranking Abreu the #95 prospect in all of baseball despite being 18 and having just completed his first full season of professional baseball.
In 1993, Abreu was sent to the High A Osceola Astros of the Florida State League where he put up a 283/352/430 line across 530 plate appearances. Abreu’s line for 1993 is, to say the least, fascinating. He hit 21 doubles, 17 triples (which lead the FSL, but the home park may have been a factor, as Abreu was one of six Oscola Astros who had at least six triples), and five home runs (down from eight in 1992). Abreu stole 10 bases, but was thrown out 14 times. Abreu walked 51 times (17th in the FSL out of 100 players with at least 149 PA), but struck out 90 times (tied for 9th most). Abreu was still viewed as a top prospect, but was not ranked by Baseball America in their top 100.
In 1994, Abreu broke out – putting up a great 303/368/530 line across 451 plate appearances for the Jackson Generals of the AA Texas League. Though his walks further decreased to 42, Abreu hit 25 doubles, 9 triples, and 16 home runs – finally appearing to realize his power potential. Abreu’s stock as a prospect was spiking, as Baseball America rated him the #52 prospect in baseball.
In 1995, Abreu spent the entire year playing for the Tucson Toros of the AAA Pacific Coast League, putting up a solid, if not spectacular, 304/395/516 line while hitting 24 doubles, 17 triples, and 10 home runs. He still got caught stealing too much (14 in 30 attempts), but there was significant offensive growth and actualization. Baseball America rated Abreu the #29 prospect in all of baseball (and immediately ahead of Jermaine Dye) with many prospect prognosticators praising his plate approach and defense, along with his power potential.
Despite the Astros’ mediocre outfield in 1996 (Brian Hunter, Derek Bell, and James Mouton had the most plate appearances, with significant playing time from Derrick May and John Cangelosi), Abreu returned to Tucson for another season in AAA. Abreu put up a 283/389/459 line, showing improved plate discipline (83 walks in 573 plate appearances) and a better approach to base running (24 stolen bases in 42 attempts), with 14 doubles, 16 triples, and 13 home runs. Abreu was called up to the Astros in September, putting up a 227/292/273 line across 24 PA. While the overall line does not look good, it is important to note that, at 22 years old, Abreu was one of the youngest players in the major leagues and, more importantly, 24 PA is such a tiny sample size that it is statistically insignificant. Unconcerned with the poor big league showing, Baseball America rated Abreu the #38 prospect in all of baseball after 1996, behind Eli Marrero.
In 1997, Abreu began the season with the Astros, appearing in 20 out of the Astros’ first 26 games, putting up a 271/386/457 line while primarily playing right field. Abreu struggled in May, and went on the disabled list on May 25 with a fractured right hand. Abreu was on the disabled list until July 3, when he returned to the Astros for almost two weeks, putting just seven plate appearances across five games. Abreu was sent down to the minors, where he put up a combined 262/329/379 in AA and AAA (the AA portion appears to be part of his rehab, but I cannot find game logs to confirm this). Abreu returned to the Astros on September 1, putting up a 294/333/471 line over 14 games to close out the season to finish with a 250/329/372 line at the major league level. All told, 1997 was not a successful year for Abreu. Despite spending most of the 1997 season with the Astros, he had not performed particularly well and missed significant time with an injury.
On November 18, 1997, Major League Baseball held an expansion draft in order to put major league players on the rosters of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Each team was allowed to protect a number of players, and the Astros decided to protect Richard Hidalgo instead of Abreu. With the 6th overall pick, the Devil Rays selected Abreu and, immediately after the draft, traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for Kevin Stocker. The Devil Rays GM, Chuck LaMar, wanted Stocker, who was known for his strong defense and complete lack of offensive ability, and was willing to give up the soon-to-be 24 year old Abreu for the soon-to-be 28 year old Stocker. The Phillies’ GM, Ed Wade, should be commended for this move. Though the 1998 Phillies would have to use Desi Relaford as their shortstop, Abreu would hit from day one (literally, he went 2/6 on Opening Day against the Mets) for the Phillies.
In 1998, Abreu put up an impressive 312/409/497 line (with 14 intentional walks), beginning his long and successful career. Abreu has put up an OPS+ of at least 104 in every season from 1998 through 2011, but has struggled so far in 2012. Playing without a position for the Angels, Abreu put up a 208/259/333 line in eight games before being released. The Dodgers picked up Abreu, with formerly-mustachioed Manager Don Mattingly stating that Abreu “gives [the Dodgers] a chance to be a little bit better.”
In the end, Bobby Abreu pretty much turned out to be the player he was projected to become, with a career 293/396/480 slash line (129 OPS+), with 284 home runs, 393 stolen bases, 2390 hits, 1414 runs, and 1330 RBI. Abreu’s ability to hit line drives and patience at the plate have been his calling card, racking up 558 doubles in his career, good for 25th all time and 2nd amongst active players (only 3 behind Todd Helton).
So is this the end for Abreu? At this point, Abreu has become a “lefty bat off the bench” who can occasionally play the outfield. While he has put up great career numbers, he lacks the “wow” factor that voters often require when voting someone into the Hall of Fame, and he was only elected to two All Star Games, awarded one Silver Slugger, and awarded one Gold Glove. This lack of awards, despite winning the 2005 Home Run Derby, will doom Abreu to being part of the Hall of Very Good – which is quite an accomplishment. Abreu is currently 98th with 9,703 career plate appearances – a place surrounded by Hall of Famers and legends, such as Ted Simmons (100), Willie McCovey (99), Julio Franco (97), and Richie Ashburn (96).
How will Abreu be remembered? As a very good player who put together a long, successful career in baseball and the fact that he has made in excess of $115 million in his career while flying under the radar.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.