Results tagged ‘ Tampa Bay Devil Rays ’
Tampa Bay Rays second baseman/right fielder/shortstop Ben Zobrist has been one of the most productive, versatile, and underrated players in baseball over the past five seasons. It is amazing to see how the man called Zorilla went from a non-prospect to compiling nearly 26 WAR over the past four seasons.
Zobrist grew up in Eureka, Illinois and attended Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee, Illinois for three years where he pitched, and played shortstop and second base. In the summer after his Junior season, Zobrist played outfield for the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods League, where he was voted team MVP as he led his team to the Northwoods League Championship. At the end of the season, Zobrist was named a Small College All-American at second base. For his senior year, Zobrist attended Dallas Baptist University in Dallas, Texas, which has produced a number of baseball players, including Lew Ford and Freddy Sanchez, where he played shortstop.
Zobrist was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 6th round, 184th overall, of the 2004 draft, immediately in front of Cla Meredith. Zobrist signed quickly, as is common with college seniors who were not drafted in the first few rounds, and was assigned to the Tri-City Valley Cats of the short-season A New York-Penn League. Zobrist displayed a keen batting eye, solid contact rate, and enough range to stay at shortstop en route to a 339/438/463 season where he walked 43 times and struck out only 31 across 310 games. After the season, Zobrist was named to the short season A All-Star team, as Baseball America ranked Zobrist the #5 prospect in the New York-Penn League and the #16 prospect in the Astros organization.
For 2005, Zobrist opened the season with the Lexington Legends of the full season A South Atlantic League, where he continued to put up solid numbers, hitting 304/415/413 across 310 plate appearances before being promoted to the Salem Avalanche of the high A Carolina League, where he continued his torrid hitting, putting up a 333/475/496 line with 37 walks and 17 strikeouts. After the season, Baseball America ranked Zobrist as the #16 prospect in the Astros system and said that he has the “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Astros’ system.
For 2006, Zobrist was assigned to the AA Corpus Christi Hooks of the AA Texas League, where he continued to hit, putting up a 327/434/473 line before being dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with Mitch Talbot in exchange for Aubrey Huff and cash. As a show of respect for the prospect status of Zobrist and Talbot, ESPN referred to the Devil Rays’ newest acquisitions as “two minor league prospects” and did not refer to them by name until the fifth(!) paragraph. Zobrist played for the Durham Bulls of the AAA International League for the next two weeks, when he was called up by the Devil Rays to play shortstop. Zobrist appeared in 52 games, putting up a 224/260/311 line for the remainder of the season. After the season, Baseball America ranked Zobrist as having the “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Texas League, but did not rank him otherwise as he had exhausted his prospect eligibility when he lost his rookie status. Despite only playing 83 games for Corpus Christi, Zobrist was named to the Texas League All-Star team as its Utility player (the All Star at shortstop was Brandon Wood).
In 2007, Zobrist opened the season as the starting shortstop for the Devil Rays but struggled early, and was sent down to AAA Durham Bulls when he had a 159/156/222 line after the game on May 10. While in AAA, Zobrist hit 279/403/455 before being promoted to start the July 30 game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Zobrist played in most of the games until August 18, when he strained his right oblique, ending his season. Zobrist’s final line for the 2007 season while playing for the Devil Rays was a disaster, as his 155/184/206 line created an OPS+ of 4, one of the worst in the major leagues for all non-pitchers.
In 2008, Zobrist was slated to become the “super utility man” for the newly minted Tampa Bay Rays when he fractured the top of his left thumb, forcing him to miss the first month of the season. After a four-game rehab assignment for the Vero Beach Devil Rays, Zobrist returned to the Rays, playing inconsistently but hitting well enough to put up a 267/353/400 line through May 28. Zobrist was sent down to AAA Durham and promoted reliever Grant Balfour. Zobrist was only in the minor leagues for about a month, as he started the June 25 game against the Florida Marlins, going 2/6 with a home run. For the rest of the season, Zobrist hit 251/338/514 with 12 home runs, the most he hit on any level to that point (in fact, Zobrist’s previous high was eight total in 2007). Zobrist’s final line for 2008 was 253/339/505, good for an OPS+ of 120. By this point, many viewed Zobrist’s defense at shortstop as sub-par and his “super utility” role took hold, as Zobrist appeared in 35 games at shortstop, 14 in left field, eight at second base, five in center field, two in right field, one at third base, and two at DH.
In 2009, Zobrist’s “super utility” role continued, though he was primarily a second baseman and a right fielder, with as he appeared in 1,044 of his 1,209.1 innings (86.4%) at one of the two positions. Zobrist flourished in the rule, putting up a 297/405/543 line with 27 home runs and 17 stolen bases, being elected to his first MLB All-Star Game and placing eighth in the MVP vote, despite having a WAR higher than the winner, Joe Mauer (about 30% of Zobrist’s WAR was attributable to playing second base). Zobrist was also the Tampa Bay Rays player of the year.
After his breakout season, Zobrist and the Rays began negotiating a new contract. Though Zobrist was not yet eligible for arbitration, the Rays are well known for signing players to team-friendly extensions that guarantee financial security for players. In late April, Zobrist and the Rays agreed to a three year extension that left his 2010 salary at $438,100, but increased his salaries to $4.5 million in 2011, $4.5 million for 2012, and $5.5 million for 2013. The Rays also received a $7 million option for 2014 (with a $2.5 million buyout) and a $7.5 million option for 2015 (with a $500k buyout). Zobrist struggled out of the gate, putting up a 241/327/356 line in April, then a robust 352/400/514 line in May. Zobrist’s struggles continued as he put up a 177/294/293 line after the All-Star break en route to a 238/346/353 line for the season, with his batting average and home runs dipping significantly. Zobrist’s defensive flexibility – he played 371 innings at second base and 749.1 in right field out of his 1294.2 – kept his value high, as his 4.2 WAR was fueled nearly as much by his defense (1.4 dWAR) as his offense (2.5 oWAR).
Zobrist bounced back in 2011, putting up a 369/353/469 line while playing second base in 79% of his 1348 innings (not counting his time at DH) and right field the rest of his time playing.
In 2012, Zobrist has his to a similar line as 2011, putting up a 271/376/466 through September 26 while playing mostly right field (42% of innings). The interesting thing about Zobrist is that he shortstop for 26% of innings, a position he has not played for any extended period of time since 2008. Zobrist has been the Rays’ primary shortstop since August 9, during which he has hit exceptionally well, putting up a 311/378/518 line, well above his career 260/254/441 line.
But what should we expect from Zobrist going forward? Is he the 260/354/441 player his career line suggests? If he the 300/400/500 perennial All-Star that his recent play suggests? I think he is neither. I this he’s closer to the 269/369/457 line that he has put up from 2009-2012. Sure, Zobrist won’t be a Hall of Famer, but in an era with hyper-specialized bullpens, a player who can hit and play multiple positions that require real defensive ability has a lot of value. The Rays should be commended for trading for him and, possibly more importantly, being willing to give him time to develop.
When the Astros drafted Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa first overall, they picked the player with the most potential for impact – and most potential to become a complete bust – in the draft. A tremendous athlete, Correa has been lauded for his quick hands and potential at the plate, his grace and strong arm in the field, and his speed, Correa is a 6’3” shortstop approaching 200 pounds at age 17. Much of the commentary has focused on Correa’s potential and his age – Correa won’t turn 18 until September 22 (the same day as Tommy Lasorda will turn 85), which further underscores his potential for improvement, especially given the results of a groundbreaking study published by Rany Jazayerli at Baseball Prospectus.
After Correa signed quickly – and for under slot - there was a lot of buzz around whether the Astros picked the best available player, a player who would sign quickly for less than the maximum, or had hastily gone Matt Bush on the organization. Personally, I think it’s a great move. The Astros got a top flight talent at a premium position and saved some money to spread to other picks.
But I began to wonder out of the shortstops drafted out of high school in the first round of the major league draft:
- How many made it to the major leagues;
- Were successful major leaguers; and
- How many remained shortstops?
In order to answer these questions, I used MLB draft data from Baseball-Reference.com to pull all of the draft picks from 1990-2007 for the first two rounds. Here is the full data set via Google Docs (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AjuFn-ctXd3VdF9jQkVtMC03dE9TeENMYVg2SHZJOFE).
I filtered for:
- Listed position when being drafted, assuming the likelihood of a player moving TO shortstop was exceedingly low;
- Filtered for shortstop (as opposed to college players);
- Filtered for players drafted out of short stop; and
- Looked into only the first round (as second round picks would rarely be a prospect of the level of Correa).
Here’s what I found:
38 players fit the requirements, including:
- Successful picks (WAR over 15): Chipper Jones (1/1 Braves, 1990), Derek Jeter (1/6 Yankees, 1992), and Alex Rodriguez (1/1 Mariners, 1993);
- Good picks (WAR over 5): Pokey Reese (1/20 Reds, 1991), Michael Cuddyer (1/9 Twins, 1997), and Felipe Lopez (1/8, Blue Jays 1998);
- Interesting picks (for various reasons): Josh Booty (1/5 Marlins 1994) and Sergio Santos (1/27 Diamondbacks, 2002);
- Colossal flops: Brandon Wood (1/23 Angels, 2003) and Matt Bush (1/1 Padres, 2004); and
- Players whose places have yet to be determined: BJ Upton (1/2 Rays, 2002), Justin Upton (1/1 Diamondbacks, 2005), and Mike Moustakas (1/2 Royals, 2007) – though both Upton Brothers are already successful with WAR over 11.
As you may notice, the success rate is exceedingly low, with only a few players who are even potential hall of famers and almost as many players are colossal flops as good players. A total of 13 never made it to the major leagues in any capacity and five appearing in under 100 games.
- Chipper Jones: Basically a third baseman from the start of his major league, though he played a little time in left field and even less at short stop. What’s most amazing is was not even supposed to be the #1 pick – more on that here.
- Derek Jeter: A short stop from day one and has not played another defensive position in the major leagues (unless you count his games at DH). Not the greatest range but sure hands and makes it look good.
- Alex Rodriguez: Historic talent and historic centaur.
- Pokey Reese: Basically a defense-only player but, wow, could he pick it.
- Michael Cuddyer: According to Baseball-Reference.com, he has never played short stop in the major leagues, primarily a right fielder (731 games), first baseman (214 games), and a third baseman (214 games). Stopped playing shortstop after making 61(!) errors while playing for the Fort Wayne Wizards of the Midwest League at the age of 19.
- Felipe Lopez: One good offensive year (291/352/486 in 2005), but appeared in 1185 games across 11 major league seasons. He was a better hitter – and a worse fielder – than I realized.
- Josh Booty: After signing a contract reported to be worth $1.2 million, Booty struck out a lot and hit for some power. Gave up baseball after 1998 and went to LSU to be their starting quarterback before being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 6th round… and never appear in the NFL.
- Sergio Santos: Santos was a good prospect who never hit enough and made a lot of errors; then he became a relief pitcher and is laughing at all of us.
Players Whose Places Have Yet to be Determined:
- BJ Upton: Doesn’t walk, power is streaky, good center fielder. Looks like he will stall out in the “Good Pick” category.
- Justin Upton: The better of the Upton brothers (so far), could be a perennial MVP candidate and on pace to join the “Successful Pick” category.
- Mike Moustakas: Too little time to judge, but hitting 278/346/480 is a very good start.
So what does this mean?
Out of the 38, 13 (34%) never made it to the major leagues, 17 made it and had WAR below 5 (45%), for a total of 30/38 (79%). Of the successful ones, only Derek Jeter (98.6%), Felipe Lopez (53.5%), and Alex Rodriguez (51.5%) have primarily been shortstops. Pokey Reese primarily played second base with a fair amount of time at shortstop, Chipper Jones only appeared at shortstop more than six times once (38 in 1996), and Michael Cuddyer is the definition of a defensive tweener.
In short (pun intended), Carlos Correa is probably not going to reach his potential, but then again, neither are the rest of the first round picks, so the Astros made a great pick by grabbing for the stars because, frankly, you seem to have about as good of a chance of drafting Matt Bush with the #1 overall pick as picking Alex Rodriguez.
Also, because someone actually asked, here’s WAR for #1 overall picks that were drafted out of High School:
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
Last week I wrote about a number of big prospects who struggled early in their careers but went on to be successful, from Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt to Matt Wieters. But a prospect struggling might be a cause for alarm, as history is also littered with top prospects that got to the major leagues and failed miserably.
1. Brandon Wood. It seems that Brandon Wood fooled everyone. A top pick when drafted (#23) by the Angels, Wood impressed from the beginning, hitting 278/348/475 for the Provo Angels and 308/349/462 for the AZL Angels, both part of different Rookie Leagues. The following season, Wood hit 251/322/404 for the Angels’ A-level affiliate in Cedar Rapids, garnering Baseball America’s #83 prospect ranking. The following season, Wood absolutely destroyed the ball in High A Rancho Cucamonga, putting up a 321/383/672 line with 43 home runs and 51 doubles. Wood’s stock skyrocketed, especially after his (Warning: SSS) 19 plate appearance trial in AAA, putting up a 316/316/526 line. Wood was ranked #3 by Baseball America. After a 276/355/552 line in AA Arkansas in 2006, Wood was ranked the #8 prospect by Baseball America; then #16 after a 272/338/497 line in AAA. Wood’s struggles in the major leagues have been well documented. After hitting 200/224/327 with 43 strikeouts in 157 PA while playing both shortstop and third base in 2008, Wood was sent back down to AAA. Wood’s trials in the major leagues never seemed to get any better, including an amazingly bad 146/174/208 line in 2010 in 226 plate appearances that included 71 strikeouts with just six walks. Wood fooled everyone, including Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein:
Me on Brandon Wood in 2005: “He’s still going to get better,” San Jose manager Lenn Sakata said. “He looks like the next Cal Ripken to me.”—
Kevin Goldstein (@Kevin_Goldstein) March 12, 2012
2. Paul Wilson. Wilson had it all: A dominating career at Florida State, a lightning fastball, a dominating slider, and a 6’5″ 235 lb frame. Wilson was the #1 pick in the 1994 Rule IV draft and was immediately ranked the #16 prospect in baseball by Baseball America. After struggling in his brief audition in 1994, Wilson dominated in his first full season of professional ball, putting up a 2.17 ERA for AA Binghamton in 120.1 innings followed by a 2.85 ERA for AAA Norfolk over 66.1 innings. After the season, Wilson was ranked the #2 prospect in by Baseball America (behind Andruw Jones). Wilson spent most of 1996 with the Mets, putting up a 5.38 ERA (75 ERA+) across 149 innings. Wilson missed time while being on the DL with “tendinitis” in his shoulder, then came back to pitch the rest of the season before being diagnosed with a torn labrum and needing shoulder surgery. Wilson made a few appearances at the end of 1997 in the low levels of the minor leagues before struggling in 1998 in the upper levels. In the spring of 1999, Wilson had his elbow rebuilt and looked pretty good for the Mets’ AAA affiliate in 2000 before being dealt with Jason Tyner to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bubba Trammell and Rick White. Wilson looked great as the swingman for the Devil Rays, putting up a 3.35 ERA (148 ERA+) for the Rays. Over the next four seasons, Wilson put up a combined 4.67 ERA (92 ERA+) across 124 games (111 starts) for the Devil Rays and the Cincinnati Reds before struggling further in 2005 (7.77 ERA in 9 starts) and having surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff. Wilson retired early in 2006 after struggling in the minor leagues.
3. Joel Guzman. Joel Guzman serves as the ultimate cautionary tale whenever any team drafts or signs a big shortstop. For every Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, and Alfonso Soriano (laugh all you want, he was really good from 2002-2008), there are another 50 Joel Guzmans. Signed by the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic in 2001 for a then-record $2.25 million, Guzman played rookie ball at age 17 (hitting 245/329/370) and in A and High A at age 18 (hitting 241/271/387). Guzman’s breakout came in 2004, when he hit 307/349/550 for the High A Vero Beach Dodgers in 357 plate appearances, before putting up a 280/325/522 line for the Jacksonville Suns of the AA Southern League. Guzman’s prospect status jumped after 2004, Guzman’s age-19 season, being ranked #5 by Baseball America. In 2005, Guzman (then 20) put up a solid 287/351/475 line, again in AA. In 2005 Guzman, never a particularly good defensive player, made 25 errors in 99 games at shortstop and another four in 21 games at second base. Guzman was also getting absolutely huge, growing to 6’7″ and being (kindly) listed at 225 lbs, with his reported weight much higher. Despite his size, Guzman was still ranked the #26 prospect by Baseball America, which clearly still believed strongly in his bat. In 2006, Guzman was hitting 297/353/464 for the AA Las Vegas 51s before being dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with Sergio Pedroza for Julio Lugo. Guzman was assigned to AAA Durham, where he struggled, hitting 193/228/386. After that, Guzman never really put it all together, appearing in 24 games in the major leagues and putting up a 232/306/321 line while primarily playing third base. Guzman, plying in AA for the Baltimore Orioles, hit 279/344/519 in his age 25 season, but he will never amount to more than a very large cautionary tale, as is discussed in this article on TrueBlueLA.
4. Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens. Meulens had it all: size (6’4″, 200 lbs), power, and a truly amazing nickname. Unfortunately he also swung at everything and often missed, which, coupled with a complete inability to consistently field a baseball, doomed him. Muelens burst onto the prospect scene by hitting 285/376/510 at AAA Columbus, then being ranked the #30 prospect by Baseball America. Muelens got a long look at the major league level in 1991, putting up a 222/276/319 line with 97 strikeouts in plate appearances, primarily playing left field. For his major league career, Muelens hit 220/288/353 with 165 strikeouts in 549 plate appearances. Of course, Muelens is now the hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants, which may explain why the Giants are, as a team, hitting 260/320/380 as a team, good for the 12th highest OPS in the NL.
5. Dallas McPherson. Drafted in the second round out of the Citadel in 2001, McPherson was supposed to be a slugging third baseman, and exploded onto the scene in his second full season with a 308/404/606 line with 18 home runs in 77 games for Ranch Cucamonga and a 314/426/569 line with 5 home runs in 28 games for AA Arkansas in 2003. After the season Baseball America ranked McPherson the #33 prospect in baseball. McPherson began the season back in AA Arkansas, where he hit 321/404/660 in 68 games before being moved up to AA Salt lake, where he put up a 313/370/680 line in 67 games. Brought up for a cup of tea in September, McPherson hit 225/279/475. After the season, McPherson was rated the #12 prospect by Baseball America. In 2005, McPherson opened the season as the Angels’ starting 3B, putting up a weak 244/295/449 line (OPS+ of 96) and has bounced between the minor leagues and the major league ever since. A typical AAAA slugger, McPherson hit 42 home runs for AAA Albuquerque in 2008, but has only appeared in 62 games in the major leagues since the end of 2005.
6. Todd Van Poppel. Todd Van Poppel was the best prospect in the 1990 draft; Chipper Jones was the first overall pick in the 1990 draft (and the player in the 1990 draft who had the best career). With a fluid motion, a dynamite fastball, and an ideal 6’5″, 210 lb frame, Van Poppel widely viewed as the best pitching prospect in nearly a decade. Van Poppel dropped as far as he did in the draft because he committed to the University of Texas and used it as leverage to scare other teams off with record-setting bonus demands. After telling the Atlanta Braves not to draft him (they took Jones), the Oakland A’s drafted him and gave him a then-record $1.2 million major league contract. After being assigned to low A Southern Oregon, Van Poppel looked the part of the future ace, putting up a 1.12 ERA in five starts across 24 innings, striking out 32. Upon his promotion to full season A for three more starts, Van Poppel put up a 3.95 ERA across 13.2 innings while striking out 17. Van Poppel also walked ten batters, a fact that was largely ignored due to his strikeout numbers and projections. After being named the #1 prospect by Baseball America, Van Poppel was assigned to AA Huntsville, where he pitched generally well, putting up a 3.47 ERA in 24 starts across 132.1 innings while striking out 115 and walking 90. Van Poppel made one start for the A’s, pitching 4.2 innings, allowing seven hits, walking two, and striking out six, while allowing five runs. After the season, Van Poppel was ranked the #2 prospect in baseball (behind 1991 #1 pick, Brien Taylor). Sent to AAA for 1992, Van Poppel put up a 3.97 ERA in nine starts across 45.1 innings while striking out 29 and walking 35 for AAA Tacoma. 1992 was a lost year for Van Poppel, as he spent the bulk of the year on the DL. Despite the plunging strikeout to walk ratio, Baseball America ranked Van Poppel the #7 prospect in baseball, behind Chipper Jones, Taylor, Cliff Floyd, Carlos Delgado (then a catcher), Tim Salmon, and Wil Cordero. Splitting time in 1993 between AAA Tacoma and Oakland, Van Poppel put up a 5.83 ERA in AAA and a 5.04 ERA in the major leagues. From that point on, Van Popple struggled, putting up a career 5.58 ERA in the major leagues across 359 games with only 98 starts.
So, in short, your top prospect may never ever become what you had hoped so you should trade him for Adam Dunn. Right now.
Until next time, @HypeProspect.
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.
Earlier this week, Tim Beckham, the shortstop prospect for the Tampa Bay Rays was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball. Prior to this, Beckham has had an up-and-down ride that started with being the first overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Viewed as the best athlete with the best all-around set of tools who projected as a shortstop with power and speed, Beckham was taken first overall by the Tampa Bay Rays. Beckham signed for $6.15 million just two weeks after being picked and was assigned to the Princeton Rays, the Rays’ Rookie League affiliate in the Appalachian League. Beckham did not perform particularly well, putting up a 243/297/345 line and committing 13 errors in 171 chances at shortstop. Beckham also appeared in two games for the Hudson Valley Renegades (who play in the awesomely named Wappingers Falls, New York; where I once saw Peter Frampton play).
Nevertheless, prospect prognosticators were bullish on Beckham’s future. Baseball Prospectus‘ Kevin Goldstein ranked him #2 in the Rays system (behind David Price) and #15 overall (behind Giancarlo – then Mike – Stanton), and said that:
Beckham is the total package, and he’s drawn multiple comparisons to former MVP Barry Larkin. He has a good approach, excellent bat speed, projects for at least average power, and has plus speed. He’s a fluid defender with range, soft hands, and a strong arm.
Baseball America agreed, ranking Beckham #2 in the Rays system (again behind Price) and #28 overall (behind Matt LaPorta), and went even further, naming Beckham the “Best Hitter for Average” in the Rays system after the 2008 season.
Beckham was assigned to the A-level Bowling Green Hot Rods for the 2009 season and put up a 275/328/389 line while making 43 (!!!) errors at shortstop. Beckham was dinged accordingly, as Baseball America dropped him to the #6 prospect in the Rays organization and #67 prospect in all of baseball, though they did rate Beckham as having the “Best Infield Arm” in the Rays’ organization. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus dropped Beckham comparably, dropping him to #6 in the Rays system (taking him down from a 5-star to a 4-star prospect), stating that Beckham was “less refined than expected” and “far too aggressive at the plate.” Goldstein ranked Beckham #56 overall (between Dan Hudson and Scott Sizemore) in his Top 101.
In 2010, Beckham failed to impress for a third straight year, putting up a 256/346/359 line while playing for the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the High A Florida State League. While Beckham’s walk rate increased, causing an increase in OBP despite a drop in batting average, he struggled at bat and in the field, making 25 errors while playing shortstop. Though scouts still saw the tools, Beckham was failing to actualize and his prospect status was dropping precipitously. Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranked Beckham the #18 prospect in the Rays’ system and took him off the Top 101 entirely. Baseball America responded in a consistent manner, ranking Beckham #15 in the Rays system and not ranking him in their Top 100. Some pundits went even further, with Matthew Pouliot of NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk noting that Beckham has not excelled at any point, and that it is becoming less likely that he will play shortstop in the Major Leagues.
2011 started off poorly for Beckham, as the Rays made a deal with the Cubs in January, sending Matt Garza with Zach Rosscup and Fernando Perez to Chicago for Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld, and Brandon Guyer. Hak-Ju Lee, a Korean-born shortstop noted for his defensive prowess, was viewed as the shortstop of the future in the Rays organization as very little was expected from Beckham. Beckham was assigned to play for the Montgomery Biscuits of the AA Southern League, with Lee playing for the Charlotte Stone Crabs in High A. For the first time, Beckham produced, putting up a 275/339/395 line across 107 games while showing improved defense at shortstop (despite the 20 errors), earning an August promotion to the AAA Durham Bulls of the International League. Beckham showed impressive power and a complete lack of plate discipline while playing for the Bulls, putting up a 255/282/462 line. Tim Beckham as a prospect was back. Beckham was bumped up to the #7 prospect in the Rays’ system by Baseball America and #9 by Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. Jonathan Mayo of MLB showed faith in Beckham, ranking him the #91 overall prospect, stating that Beckham “[swung] a good bat across two levels,” the “power has started to come,” and he “made very good strides with his defense.”
Lee, however, was more impressive. After being ranked the #92 prospect by Baseball America and #65 overall by Baseball, Lee put up a robust 318/389/44 line over 97 games at Charlotte with scouts raving about his defense. When Beckham was promoted to AAA, Lee was promoted to AA, where he struggled with a 190/272/310 line across the final 24 games of the season. After the season, Lee was ranked the #44 prospect by Baseball America and #65 overall by Baseball Prospectus (additionally, ESPN’s Keith Law rated him #12 and MLB’s Jonathan Mayo rated him #46), putting him solidly on the upper echelon of prospects.
But what would this mean for Tim Beckham’s future? As it turned out, not a whole lot for the beginning of 2012. Beckham was sent back to AAA Durham and Lee was sent to AA Charlotte, with both struggling in the first few weeks, with Beckham putting up a putrid 204/290/278 line and Lee putting up a lackluster 243/306/333 line.
On Tuesday evening, Major League Baseball issued the following press release:
The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced today that Tampa Bay Rays Minor League shortstop Tim Beckham has received a 50-game suspension after a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program for a drug of abuse.
The suspension of Beckham, who is currently on the roster of the Triple-A Durham Bulls of the International League, will be effective immediately.
What does this mean for Beckham? The most important thing to mention is that this was not steroids or amphetamines, as Beckham was not taking a drug to improve his performance. The second thing to mention is that this is Beckham’s second time testing positive for marijuana (as was specifically identified in the Rays’ Press Release). In the Press Release, Beckham stated:
“I regret that my poor judgment resulted in me letting my teammates and the Tampa Bay Rays organization down. I take full responsibility for my actions and I will use this experience to refocus my commitment to baseball. I recognize that I am blessed to be able to play baseball for a living. I owe it to my teammates, my family, and to myself to respect the game and the responsibilities that go with playing it as a professional. I am sorry.”
Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said:
“We are very disappointed by Tim’s actions. Tim possesses great potential, and he must rededicate himself in order to become the person and player we know he can be.”
The actions taken by a team in this situation is often directly related to the player’s status and future. The options are:
(1) Nothing. Allow the player to serve the suspension and return to the team.
(2) Immediate release.
(3) Demote or otherwise punish the player.
What will happen to Tim Beckham? This isn’t a situation similar to the Pittsburgh Drug Trials in the 1980′s, and will not have any substantial impact on professional baseball, or any sport whatsoever. Judging from Beckham’s contrite commends and Friedman’s statement, the Rays will do nothing. Beckham will merely serve his suspension and return to his job as the starting shortstop for the Durham Bulls. A knee-jerk release or other punishment could further stunt Beckham’s development, something teams rarely do to players in which they have invested in excess of $6 million.
What will be Beckham’s future? Beckham has all of the tools to be either a shortstop in the Major Leagues, a tiny subset of all players at any level in the minors, and is still only 22 years old. While he may spend time as a shortstop in the Major Leagues, I believe Beckham will never be more than a decent second baseman with a little bit of power and a few stolen bases. His defense will never be much above average and he may only end up as a utility infielder – hardly the goal of a team picking #1 overall.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
Jose Bautista, or Joey Bats, as he is known on Twitter, has been one of the most dominant players in baseball during the past two years and, if you looked at him just 24 months ago, you would have seen a career replacement-level player with a poor batting average and a sudden spike in home runs. Bautista might be the best example of why you should not give up on a minor leaguer with potential, and why the Rule V draft can be incredibly disruptive to the development of a prospect. But how did Bautista get there?
After not being signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Bautista enrolled at Chipola Junior College in Florida, and performed well enough to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 19th pick of the 20th round (#599 overall) of the 2000 Rule IV draft as a draft and follow. Signed prior to the 2001 draft, Bautista was assigned to the Williamsport Crosscutters of the Short Season A New York Penn League, where he showed promise, putting up a 286/364/427 line while primarily playing third base. After the season, Baseball America ranked Bautista the #14 prospect in the Pirates’ system.
For 2002, Bautista played for the awesomely-named Hickory Crawdads of the A-level South Atlantic League, where he put up a 301/402/470 line with 26 doubles and 14 homers (tied for 8th with Robinson Cano and Shelley Duncan) while almost exclusively playing third base. Bautista’s prospect status remained on the rise, as he was ranked the #7 prospect in the Pirates’ system by Baseball America.
Bautista’s 2003 season was a lost season due to a right hand injury (caused by pulling a Kevin Brown and punching a garbage can out of frustration), putting up a 242/359/424 line for the Lynchburg Hillcats of the High-A Carolina League and 348/429/522 in seven rehab games for the Rookie Level GCL Pirates.
After the 2003 season, Bautista’s career trajectory took an abrupt jolt due to a massive mistake by the Pirates’ GM, Dave Littlefield. Despite having three open spots on the 40-man roster, the Pirates chose not to protect a number of prospects, including Pirates’ Minor League Player of the Year, Chris Shelton and Bautista. Even before the draft, a number of people within baseball were wondering what Littlefield was thinking, leaving so many players unprotected. In the Major League Phase of the Rule V Draft, the Detroit Tigers selected Shelton #1 overall, with Bautista going #6 overall to the Baltimore Orioles. Bautista was lauded for his high ceiling and athleticism, along with his solid play in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic. Now with the Orioles, Bautista was ranked their #12 prospect despite only appearing in 58 games in 2003.
The Major League Phase of the Rule V draft requires draftees to be kept on the Major League roster for the entire season, or they must be offered back to their original team for half of the initial $50,000 used to select the paper (AKA $25,000). If the original team declines, the new team may send the player down to the minors.
As a result, Bautista opened the 2004 season with the Baltimore Orioles, primarily acting as a pinch hitter and pinch runner, picking up spot starts while putting up a 273/333/273 line over 16 games (with only 12 plate appearances) before being put on waivers in early June. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected Bautista off of waivers on June 3. Bautista appeared in just 12 games with the Devil Rays over the course of the next three weeks before having his contract being purchased from the Devil Rays by the Kansas City Royals. With the Royals, Bautista appeared in 13 games before being dealt to the New York Mets for Justin Huber. Mets GM Jim Duquette, in his infinite wisdom, immediately turned around and packaged Bautista with Ty Wiggington and Matt Peterson for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger, errantly believing the Mets were still in playoff contention. Duquette also dealt top prospect Scott Kazmir with Jose Diaz to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bartolome Fortunado and Victor Zambrano, giving a generation of Mets fans a source of woe. Bautista remained with the Pirates for the rest of the season, appearing in 23 games and putting up a woeful 200/238/250 line.
Bautista’s final line for the 2004 season was 205/263/239 for four teams, though he was part of a fifth team for a hot minute. Despite all of this, Bautista was still viewed as a decent prospect, as Baseball America ranked him #12 in the Pirates system. The Pirates assigned Bautista to the AA Altoona Curve of the Eastern League, where Bautista absolutely crushed the ball, putting up a 283/364/503 line with 23 home runs across 117 games. Promoted to the AAA Indianapolis Indians of the International League on August 24, Bautista put up a 255/309/373 in 13 games. Given a September call up, Bautista put up a 143/226/179 line over 31 plate appearances during 11 games. After the season, Baseball America ranked Bautista the #5 prospect in the Pirates’ organization and the Pirates named him their minor league player of the year.
Bautista began 2006 in Indianapolis, but was called up to be the Pirates’ utility man in early May when Joe Randa was hurt. With Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth, the Pirates center field platoon, struggling, Bautista played a significant amount of center field en route to putting up a 235/335/420 line across 117 games. Bautista appeared in 57 games in center field, 33 games at third base, 25 games in right field, 6 in left field, and two at second base (the totals will not add up, as Bautista appeared in multiple positions during a game on more than one occasion).
In 2007, Bautista was the Pirates primary third baseman, putting up a 254/339/414 line across 142 games; 126 games at third base, 16 in right field, 5 in center field, and 2 in left field (totals will not add up again due to in-game positional changes). Bautista missed significant time in July 2007 after Chipper Jones spike lacerated his hand, forcing Bautista onto the DL.
In 2008, Bautista helped the Tigres del Lincy win the Caribbean Series, putting up a robust 250.385/600 line while playing center field, left field, and third base, tying Miguel Tejada and Roberto Saucedo for the Caribbean Series lead in home runs. Bautista opened the 2008 season as the starting third baseman for the Pirates, but failed to show much improvement, and was supplanted by Andy LaRoche in late July. Having put up a 242/325/404 line with the Pirates, Bautista was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later, which turned out to be Robinzon Diaz. Bautista closed out the year with 61 plate appearances for the Blue Jays, hitting a putrid 214/237/411.
Bautista opened the 2009 season platooning in left field with rookie Travis Snider and occasionally backing up Scott Rolen at third base. Bautista held a 234/356/355 line when the Blue Jays let the Chicago White Sox claim Alex Rios off waivers. Bautista played nearly every day for the rest of the season, putting up a 236/341/500 line with ten home runs. As the story goes, Vernon Wells told Bautista:
“You know what you should do. Think about starting as early as you can possibly imagine, so early that it seems ridiculous. And then start even earlier than that. What do you have to lose? If you look like a fool, you look like a fool. It’s just one game.”
That sudden power surge, with Bautista hitting six home runs in the final eight games of the season signaled that Bautista may have finally putting it all together.
Bautista opened the 2010 season as the Blue Jays’ right fielder and leadoff man, but when Fred Lewis was acquired, Bautista was moved back in the lineup. After a poor April (213/314/427), Bautista came alive in May and put up a 287/422/766 line with 12 home runs. Bautista had a poor June (179/324/369) and then came alive for the rest of the season, hitting 11 home runs in July, 12 in August, and 11 in September to lead the Major Leagues in home runs with 54 en route to a 260/378/617 season where he would also lead the majors in total bases with 351 (tied with Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez) while coming in fourth in MVP voting. Bautista was also elected to the All Star Game and was awarded the Silver Slugger.
After the season, Bautista signed a new contract with the Blue Jays for five years and $65 million guaranteed, with a club option worth $14 million for a sixth year (and a $1 million buyout). There was a lot of speculation in the off season if Bautista was the next big slugger who finally figured it out, or if Bautista was a player who had one nice season but would never be able to replicate the results. The Blue Jays clearly thought Bautista finally figured it out, but there were skeptics. Additionally, there were skeptics who felt that Bautista’s numbers were assisted by unnatural sources, such as steroids. As the debate raged between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Bautista remained steadfast in his denial: he had not used performance enhancing drugs.
Bautista used 2011 to silence his critics: he hit a robust 302/447/608 with 43 home runs (and 24 intentional walks), coming in third place in the MVP vote, making his second consecutive All Star Game, and being awarded his second Silver Slugger. But Bautista struggled with minor injuries in the second half of the season, as he only hit 257/419/477 after putting up a video game-like 334/468/702 in the first half.
In the 2011-2012 off season, the steroid rumors swirled again, with Bautista stating:
“I don’t mind it; it’s something that is not going to affect my focus and I’m not going to allow it to affect how I play my game. They are entitled to do whatever they want and test you as many times as they want. If I get picked to be tested a million times, that’s fine with me.”
So what happens from here? I think Bautista has a nice next few seasons, but I think we have seen the peak of Jose Bautista. Bautista is 31, an age when athletic performance declines, and has gotten off to a slow start so far in 2012, with a 181/320/313 line in the season’s first month. Even baseball writers have noted Bautista’s slow start with an implied belief that (a) Bautista is for real and (b) it’s merely a slump, such as Baseball Prospectus‘ Ben Lindberg:
Person who's probably pretty happy that Pujols isn't hitting: Jose Bautista, who isn't hitting much either.—
Ben Lindbergh (@ben_lindbergh) May 01, 2012
and FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi:
and Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein:
I think Bautista will bounce back with a solid season with 35+ home runs, a level he will maintain for the next few seasons. If Bautista hits 25 per year for each of the next four years – a very attainable level for someone who has his talent and #want, he could easily end up one of the top 200 home run hitters of all time (250 total would be 200th all time).
While Jose Bautista will never be elected to the Hall of Fame (unless he goes all Barry Bonds on us), it’s great to see him get a chance and succeed at the highest level after all he’s gone through – especially his horrific 2004.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.