Nine promising big leaguers

July 20, 2009

One of the great things about prospecting is determining what you think a player will become. While it can be challenging to evaluate minor leaguers, time in the majors shows a player’s true talent. The players below have all had less than three years of major league experience, with varied success, and have shown signs of promise.

Justin Upton – Since he was drafted in 2005, everyone has expected Upton and his fantastic skills to generate results. In his first two years in the big leagues, he labored through the typical ups and downs of a young player, fighting inconsistency, injury and lapses in concentration. This season though, Upton has emerged as the stud everyone expected him to be, posting a .239 isolated power, a 10.2% walk rate, and .383 wOBA, and earning an appearance in the All-Star game. It should be noted that he still has a high strikeout rate (25.1%), but Justin Upton is well on his way to a historic career.

Clayton Kershaw – Another 21-year-old with limitless upside, Kershaw went through similar peaks and valleys as Upton in his early tastes of the major leagues, mixing flashes of greatness with rough patches. While he struggled with consistency early this season, Kershaw holds front-of-the-rotation promise. His 13.8% walk rate is concerning, but Kershaw’s 23.9% strikeout rate and 3.39 FIP are outstanding. If he can harness his command, Kershaw will become a dominant starter.

Ben Zobrist – Never touted as a star, Zobrist caught the baseball world by surprise last season when he hit 12 home runs in just 227 plate appearances. With most people passing his success off as a fluke, he has come out and hit even more this season (17 so far). Zobrist has also drawn walks at a spectacular rate (16.6%). Paring this ability with his power (.296 IsoP this season), Zobrist has shown that he is here to stay. While he likely won’t sustain his current production, he could easily remain an above-average player.

Jay Bruce – Dissimilar from Zobrist, Bruce was at or near the top of every prospect list heading into the 2008 season and was expected to instantly become an average or better big league. He didn’t quite set the world on fire in his first season (.330 wOBA), but he performed extremely well for a 21-year-old. At first glance, some might say he was having – out now with a broken wrist – a disappointing sophomore campaign (.306 wOBA). A deeper look shows that he has improved his walk rate (from 7.3% to 9.0%), strikeout rate (down from 24.3% to 18.9%, and IsoP (from .199 to .234) from last year. His .202 BABIP is down 0.96 points from 2008 – he was a .350-.400+ BABIP guy in the minors. We feel comfortable assuming that he will at least produce a .250 BABIP in 2010. Expect his vital stats to follow suit. Bruce is still a future middle-of-the-order hitter.

Joba Chamberlain – In his first full season as a starting pitcher, Joba has been a disappointment. He has yet to discover his bullpen magic as a starting pitcher. Take into account that he has lost three miles per hour off of his “power” fastball since his shoulder injury last season, and his 8.3% drop in strikeout rate, and the great Joba Chamberlain looks much more ordinary. While a return of his fastball velocity could make him an elite starter, Chamberlain may only be average with his current arsenal of pitches.

Geovany Soto – Coming off a wildly successful Rookie of the Year campaign, Soto set the bar high in 2008. And many people expected him to pick up right where he left off. Unfortunately he hasn’t. Soto’s power numbers are down significantly (.166 IsoP this year, .219 last year). But he has walked more and struck out less this season, and he currently has a .263 BABIP. Soto was getting back to being a top catcher before his recent oblique strain landed him on the disabled list. Despite his first-half struggles, he remains one of the top catchers in the game.

Joey Votto – While Soto won the NL Rookie of the Year award last season, a case was made for Votto to take the award. A line-drive machine, Votto has improved on his numbers from last season, drawing more walks and hitting for more power. While he spent some time on the disabled list this year (dizziness), Votto has really taken his game up a notch in his second full season (.365 ’08 wOBA vs. .423 in 2009).

Adam Jones – The centerpiece of the trade that landed Erik Bedard in Seattle, Jones has been a highly regarded prospect for some time. He turned in a passable rookie season last year, posting a .309 wOBA while playing great center field defense. Jones has improved across the board at the plate this season, walking more, striking out less and hitting for more power than last season. The 23-year-old is an above-average big leaguer who still has room to improve, too.

Adam Lind – Lind has burst onto the scene this year, his third with 300 or more MLB plate appearances. While his strikeout rate is virtually identical to last year, the separators this year have been his improvements in hitting for power and walk rate. He has 10 more home runs this season than last in nearly the same number of games. Add to this his walk rate, which has doubled since last season, and you have yourself a very promising young player.

Discussion Question: Which of the players above are least likely to live up to the hype that surrounds them?

(Respond here.)


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