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The Next Ryan Braun?

March 26 , 2010

After spending a couple of weeks with Stephen Strasburg this spring, Nyjer Morgan decided to nickname him, “Jesus.”  It seems nowadays like every organization, especially those in dire need of a savior, tout their young prospects as though they will one day absolutely be middle-of-the-order smashers with Ozzie’s skills at whatever positions they play or frontline aces in the Roy Halladay mold.  Consider these names: Dominic Brown, Justin Smoak, Buster Posey, Desmond Jennings, Brian Matusz, Yonder Alonso, Dustin Ackley, Aroldis Chapman, Jason Heyward, etc.  Any club in baseball would/should want any and all of these players.  Remember these names, however, Cameron Maybin, Alex Gordon, Brandon Wood, Delmon Young, Fernando Martinez, Homer Bailey, etc?  It’s easy to understand what drives such lofty expectations with young talent.  When was the last time the Yankees put a decent amount of stock into what any rookie might accomplish?  Joba does not count.  Desperate and poorly funded teams tend to spend a lot more time praying than those who can so easily write massive checks.  It’s almost as though the first mention of a talented player’s careful development and steady promotion leads to Ryan Braun-esque expectations.  Ryan Braun is obviously not on the second list nor do I truly think any player in the minors will one day be as good as Braun is now.  Justin Upton may grow into a similar type of player.  Maybe.  Of all the prospects mentioned, there are three who I think will be all-stars within 5 years.  The others are destined for mediocrity for one reason or another.  Strasburg is in a different class altogether.  He will be Josh Beckett.  We won’t consider him.

The three of interest are Buster Posey, Desmond Jennings, and Jason Heyward.  Why these three?  They walk and make contact.  Both Jennings and Heyward walked as many times as they fanned last season, and Posey was not far off.  These players all possess outstanding athleticism, but in baseball all that truly translates to when young is the ability to learn positions quickly in order to get to the big squad sooner.  Exceptional talent means something different in baseball.  This is not the NFL.  Morons who can run fast and jump high do not necessarily translate into all-stars.  Athleticism never hurts, but it only goes so far in understanding what to expect from rookies.  In 2007 the folks at Baseball America, right before Braun exploded onto the National League scene, ranked Cameron Maybin 20 places ahead of Ryan Braun.  How could they have missed by so much?  Simple.  Bad teams and bad scouts place way, way too much stock into athleticism.  Baseball America is certainly quite reputable, but they tend to see the game as it was and not so much as what it is and what it could be.  Would Cameron Maybin have a better NFL career than Ryan Braun? Likely.  So what?  Big fastballs and fast 60’s mean nothing in the minor leagues and the big leagues.  What does?  Baserunners.  Posey, Heyward, and Jennings already know how to do the most important thing in sports.  Getting on base.  Strasburg already knows how to prevent this.  His fastball/slider combo is dazzling, but the single aspect of his collegiate stats that stand out the most is his otherworldly K/BB ratio.  For baseball purposes, it may make more sense to simply consider it infinity and move on.  Sign them all up now.  Or wait if you have no interest in winning (Braves and Rays).  Either way, when these players do begin their big league careers (Posey’s dozen or so AB’s in September excluded) they will continue to do the things they did in the minors.  Play baseball with the realization that first base is the new plate.

I told a friend in lab today that I would talk a little about the Rangers in my next post since I’m living in Dallas now.  As I don’t want to give the impression that I have anything serious against Baseball America, I will make mention of the fact that they have given Texas the top organizational review for the second consecutive season.  They are absolutely right on in doing so.  Texas has talent in every position, and for the most part it tends to be young.  Their farm system is as stocked as any in the game except possibly Tampa.  All this being said, they are essentially a lineup of question marks.  I project it to look something like this whenever Ron Washington gets off the cocaine and moves Nelson Cruz up in the order.

  1. Julio Borbon
  2. Michael Young
  3. Josh Hamilton
  4. Vladimir Guerrero
  5. Ian Kinsler
  6. Nelson Cruz
  7. Chris Davis
  8. Elvis Andrus
  9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Taylor Teagarden

It should look like this:

  1. Michael Young
  2. Josh Hamilton
  3. Ian Kinsler
  4. Nelson Cruz
  5. Vladimir Guerrero
  6. Chris Davis
  7. Elvis Andrus
  8. Catcher
  9. Julio Borbon

There is injury risk top to bottom here, and not very many of these guys have truly demonstrated the ability to get on base all that frequently, but they have ungodly thump here and easily the best lineup in the AL West.  The rotation is worse, but why would a team build around arms in Arlington?  Even so, young guys like Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland possess considerable upside, and Martin Perez, likely the best pitching prospect the Rangers have had this decade, is not too far away from arrival.  These guys catch the ball very well, and the addition of Borbon in center will only prevent more runs.  The Mariners made a lot of improvements this winter, and the Angels are still the team to beat, but I personally think the West will be very tight, and I expect these three teams to be very active in the trading market in June and July.  I think the Rangers have a slight edge if everyone is healthy.  Maybe by a game or two.

I just want to give a shout to young Grinnellian rightfielder, Paden Roder.  His slashes right now read .440/.559/.840.  The Ivy League-bound senior has had quite a career for the Pioneers.  Let’s wish Paden and the other Pioneers a strong finish in Florida free of injuries and full of sun and W’s.

1 Comment

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