Everyone loves rookies and the promise of being the first guy to claim the next future star. The chance to grab an all-star caliber player off of waivers is ever enticing despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of rookies fail each year to reach their promise.
I’m going to break down three youngsters that I get questions about literally every day. I expect all of these players to have long and productive careers. Will that happen starting this month? Your guess is as good as mine there, so I’d caution you to avoid dropping established major league players to take a shot on guys that have scant big league work under their belt.
Brett Lawrie: .354-15-49-51-11 with a .1092 OPS in 223 ABs
Competition: Edwin Encarnacion, John McDonald, Jayson Nix
The world got a scare last night when Lawrie was hit by a pitch on his left wrist. Reports suggest that he will be fine, though it remains unclear if this will preclude him from being promoted on Friday as the rumor mill suggests (that seems highly unlikely now).
A youngster with only 51 games of experience above Double-A, Lawrie is a mere 21 years old. Though he had a solid season in 2010 at Double-A (.285-8-63-90-30), it was but not an otherworldly effort. Still, he was ranked as the 28th best prospect in baseball coming into the 2011 campaign, the skills were just too impressive to ignore, and he’s done nothing to dissuade anyone from that opinion with his blazing start to this season.
The PCL, and Las Vegas in particular, is a hitters haven. At the same time, you can’t write off the production of Lawrie because of that. As a scout recently quipped, when Lawrie swings the bat it is with ill intent. He has power, doesn’t strike out too frequently (17.9 percent K-rate), and when he gets on base he knows how to swipe a bad. To put it bluntly, there isn’t much the guy can’t do on offense.
A second baseman, Lawrie’s been shifted to third because of the anemic production of the Blue Jays’ third baseman (at one point last week Nix, McDonald and Encarnacion went 0-for-45). With little to block him from taking on a full-time role, it shouldn’t be long before Lawrie is lashing liners for the Blue Jays.
Dustin Ackley: .292-7-26-43-6, .875 OPS in 219 ABs
Competition: Jack Wilson, Adam Kennedy
The Arizona Fall League MVP, Ackley can hit, the problem is his glove. Don’t blame Ackley for that. An outfielder and first baseman in college, Ackley was shifted to second base by the Mariners. Ask scouts and they’ll tell you that he can make the routine play but that his defensive game, especially his work around the bag, needs a lot of work. They don’t question that he will get there, but the fact is he currently isn’t really anything more than, at best, an adequate defensive player.
Ackley has moderate pop, scouts think he could be 20 homer bat in the big leagues, but over his last 720 at-bats in the minors he’s managed to go deep only 14 times. He also has solid skills on the bases where he should be able to steal some bases, though again his production in that respect has been moderate (10 steals last season, six this year). What he does do well is get in base and he’s currently sporting a solid .400 OBP at Triple-A.
Chone Figgins continues to be in the teams plans at third, but he’s hitting .190 which means a guy like Ackley could really be used at the top of the Mariners’ order. The club is getting nothing from Wilson (.555 OPS in 101 ABs), and Kennedy isn’t an answer either at second base. It would appear that Ackley’s role to the majors is only blocked by his glove at this point.
Desmond Jennings: .267-8-23-37-9 with a .837 OPS in 191 ABs
Competition: Sam Fuld
The next Carl Crawford – or so he has been billed – Jennings came into 2011 as the 22nd ranked prospect according to Baseball America. Jennings undoubtedly owns elite wheels, and dreams of 40+ steals at the big league level seem like a plausible outcome one day. However, his minor league track record has been as much about starts as it has stops as he has constantly been injured.
In 2006 Jennings stole 32 bases in just 56 games.
In 2007 Jennings stole 45 bases in just 99 games.
In 2008 Jennings stole five bases in just 24 games.
In 2009 Jennings stole 52 bases in 132 games.
In 2010 Jennings stole 37 bases in just 109 games.
While the steal totals are certainly impressive, did you notice that three of the years he failed to appear in 100 games? This year he’s been healthy appearing in 50 games, but where have the steals gone (he has just nine thefts)? It doesn’t matter how fast you are if you can’t stay on the field.
In nearly 500 minor league games Jennings has hit .295 with a .382 OBP showing that he isn’t too shabby with the bat in his hands. At the same time, he’s only gone deep 37 times, though eight of those long balls have come this season.
The Rays need an infusion of speed and excitement with their club, two roles that Jennings seems ideally suited for. Unfortunately the financial situation in Tampa is such that they needed to delay Jennings arrival to the big leagues until this month so they could delay the start of his arbitration clock. B.J. Upton and Matt Joyce seem locked into the outfield, and with Johnny Damon the DH, all that stands between Jennings and significant playing time, other than the ever present pall of injury, is Sam Fuld who has hit .157 with a .434 OPS in the month of May.
By Ray Flowers