Over My Head
After a column on under-achieving hitters, what better follow-up than a
column on the many over-achieving hitters and their prospects for the
rest of the season.
A number of people have asked me about Melvin Mora and all I can do is
shrug. There's nothing in his minor league record that says he
can do any of the things he's doing. Yet, before his knee injury
last year, he was doing the same thing. At the All-Star break he
had 13 homers and was hitting .349.
His minor league record says he's a .275-ish hitter with low-teens
homer power. Apparently, Mora hasn't looked at his minor league
Nix showed good power in the minors, so the fact that he's on pace for
nearly 30 homers is only surprising because it's happening in his first
full season. The average is considerably above expectation,
especially considering his poor walk to strikeout ratio, which has
never been good. So it's not much a stretch to say that Nix is
due for a drop-off in production. However, Rudy Jaramillo is an
incredible hitting coach, so if anyone can prevent Nix from crashing
hard in the second half, it's him.
Michael Young and Hank Blalock
Young is currently hitting .340 with 8 homers and 33 RBI. Sound
familiar? That's because last year he pulled into the Break with
a .321 average, 9 homers and 42 RBI. He still hit a respectable
.289 with 5 homers and 30 RBI after the break, but Michael Young is not
the second coming of Rogers Hornsby. He's striking out less, but
that's not much of a reason not to expect a repeat performance in the
second half. The same is true for Hank Blalock who hit .323 in
the first half last year, .272 in the second. He did hit a
few more homers, but doubles, walks and strikeouts all trended in the
What is it about journeyman catchers when they come to Toronto? Last
year, Greg Myers, who's career average was .256 and hadn't hit over
.270 for a season since 1996, hit .307 with a career best shattering 15
homers. Before him, minor league journeyman Tom Wilson hit nearly
70 points better than his best with 6 more homers. And before him
Darrin Fletcher went from a catcher who averaged .269 with 12 homers
previous 5 years, to one who averaged almost .300 with 16 homers a
season. Now it's Greg Zaun's turn. Normally I'd say a guy
with a career average of .252 can't continue to hit .457. But
he's a journeyman catcher and this is Toronto.
If only someone could get Alex Sanchez to take advantage of his
speed. Here's a guy who once stole 92 bases in a season, and from
1997 to 2000 averaged 65 a season in the minors. The problem was
that he didn't get on base enough to use the speed. When Sanchez
discovered the joys of bunting, the problem was solved. He
already has more than 20 bunt hits this season; subtract them, and you
have the hitter that projected in the preseason. Add them back
in, and you have a dangerous lead-off man, despite the lack of
walks. Now if they can only get him to be more careful about
reading the pitchers so he doesn't get caught stealing so often...
Inge and his woeful batting average have been the brunt of too many
jokes, so it's nice to see him get a measure of redemption.
However, it's still just two months into the season, and even in his
best minor league seasons, he graded out to a .260-ish hitter.
He's not doing anything this year that's radically new to change the
pattern so expect a return to the norm over the next several months and
Inge getting less and less media attention.
Uribe is doing something that might be unprecedented. Not only is
he hitting better than he ever did in the minors, but he's doing it
better than he ever did in the minors or majors while playing in
Colorado. The fact that he's hitting almost 90 points higher this
year than he did in three years in the thin air of Denver should be a
strong indication that he's due for a dramatic plummet very soon.
Parachutes are recommended.
The mistake often made in evaluating Dellucci is in looking at the
totals, rather than his opportunities. In 2001, he hit a career
best 10 home runs, followed by 7 in 2002. Not great, but not bad
when you consider that was done in 217 and 229 at bats,
respectively. He has a .302 career minor league average and is
playing in a park that's favorable to hitters. If Brian Jordan is
out for the season, Dellucci should get at least 400 at bats. His
best production this season is probably behind him, but he's not going
to fall off the table in the second half.
I'm sure a lot of people are thinking that Lawton is on such a fluke
run right now that he's bound to come back down. That may be true
but it's not necessarily so. Back before he was mis-labeled as
injury prone he was pretty much on the same projection as Torii Hunter
at the same age, except with a much better eye for balls and strikes
than Hunter. Remember that for most of 2002, he played with not
only a completely torn rotator cuff but also with a cyst on his
collarbone and a
dislocated shoulder that had healed improperly. Think that won't
affect your swing? He's probably not a 30/30 guy, but 25/25 is
realistic, as is a .300 average.
The thing that many people don't remember about Guillen is that when he
was in the minors, he was compared to Andruw Jones and Vladimir
Guerrero. No, he was never ranked above them, but he was in the
conversation. The Pirates rushed him to the majors and he's had
to learn things the hard way: facing major league pitchers. The
talent never really was in question. It was a matter of him
finally understanding how pitchers were going to attack him.
Apparently, he's figured it out.
Holliday is a large guy (6'4", 235), so it's not surprising that he has
power. But there is nothing in his minor league record that
indicates a guy capable of hitting 30 homers this season (his current
pace). In fact, he's topped 12 home runs in a season just once in
his 6 year professional career. I suspect he'll cool down
substantially in the next month or two.
For his minor league career, Overbay hit .342, so his batting average
thus far isn't a complete surprise, although it will calm down a bit as
the season progresses. That minor league record was compiled
against competition 2 and 3 years younger than Overbay, and while his
21 homer pace is achievable, something in the mid teens is more in line
with what he's done before. What is a surprise is the 141 RBI
he's on. That won't continue because Overbay won't continue to
hit over .400 and slug over .700 with runners on base.
Castilla is on pace for 50 homers this season. He has averaged 19
homers per season the last 5 years, although it should be noted that
the last year he was in Colorado he hit 33 homers. Perhaps
Castilla's game is perfectly suited for hitting at Coors. That
would explain why he's hitting .371 and slugging .773 at home and just
.222 with .481 slugging on the road. And perhaps he's just off to a hot
start and his 36-year old body will start to show it's age in the next
couple of months.
The former rookie of the year is pushing for playing time by slugging 6
homers in just 63 at bats and batting .333. However, a good
portion of the damage he's doing is as a pinch hitter, where he's
hitting .538 and slugging 1.154. That's not his OPS; that's his
slugging percentage. That said, he's been uncharacteristically
discerning at the plate this season, walking twice his career rate and
improving his strikeout rate by more than a third. Given that
he's 31 and been playing in the majors since 1995, it seems unlikely
that if he does force his way into regular play that either of those
He's hitting .357 and on pace for 15 homers. One of the
ESPN columnist quoted a scout who said that Wilson has always had a
great swing that that this kind of production was just a matter of
time. He might be right. While he's never been young for
the level he was playing at until he reached the majors, Wilson's age
versus competition has never been an issue. The power is a bit
surprising, but his career average in the minors is .318 and his
slugging was .450. So while he's off to a good start, it may be
in large part sustainable.
Moises is having a nice rebound year after struggling with nagging
injuries the last two. He's a bit old for setting a career high
in homers - his previous high was 38 and he's on pace for 41 - but it
wouldn't be unprecedented. There have been several surprising
years from star hitters after age 35 so this could be one to ride out
rather than trade away.
Clayton is no stranger to double digit home runs: he's topped 11 homers
in a season 3 times in the last six years. So his 17-homer pace
isn't all that unbelievable, considering that he's playing half his
games at Coors. The .308 average is surprising coming from a guy
who's career average is .257 and who's topped .280 just twice in his
14-year career. There's nothing in his walk or strikeout
rates that indicate an improved selectivity, but the fact that he's
playing at Coors, where he's hitting .343, may mean he can stay closer
to .300 than he's ever done before. More likely is a drop to
something slightly above his career average.
Even though he's way ahead of his career best rate for home runs and
triples, Cora isn't substantially ahead of his career rate for extra
base hits. Much of the homer and triple power will likely revert
back to doubles and all will be well with the world again. The
most unnerving aspect of Cora's season so far is that he's tripled his
walk rate from last year. However, he showed this discerning an
eye in 2002 when he posted a career best on base percentage of .371,
albeit in only 284 plate appearances. A career .272 hitter in the
minors, Cora won't likely continue hitting as well as he is now, but
given his performance in 2002, this year might not be an aberration.
Like Castilla, Finley is displaying some incredibly surprising
power. Currently tied for the major league lead in homers, his
pace puts him at 47 for the season. He's topped 30 just twice in
his previous 15 years, so a jump over 40 seems unlikely, especially at
age 39 and in a line-up that has only one other legitimate power
threat: Luis Gonzales. Fat pitches to drive will become more
scarce as opposing pitchers will opt to take their chances against the
Cintrons, Katas and Hammocks of the D-back order.
If someone predicted four years ago that Beltre would be on pace to hit
40 homers this year, no one would have noticed. He was a studly
young hitter frequently compared to other hitters who made their major
league debuts while they were still in their teens like Andruw Jones,
Ken Griffey Jr and Alex Rodriguez. But a botched appendectomy
operation in 2001 and an arduous healing process slowed him to the
point where it appeared that he would never realize his
potential. However, the signs were there that the potential still
existed: his second half numbers over the last 2 years show a hitter
capable of hitting around .275 with 30-35 homers which isn't too far
off what he's on pace to do this year. The one warning sign is
that his walk/strikeout rate is nowhere close to what it was in the
minors, so there may still be some nasty slumps ahead.
Like Beltre, Barrett elicited high praise as a prospect. After
hitting .320 with 19 homers as a 21-year old prospect in AA, some even
went so far as to compare him to Scott Rolen. While the
comparison falls short, Barrett has far more talent than he's shown at
the major league level. Part of the problem was due to being
jerked back and forth from catcher to third base and back again for the
first 3 years in Montreal. Last year after a new contract, he
began pressing after a slow start, a problem further compounded by a
number of nagging injuries. Now healthy and in a better
situation, there's no reason why he can't continue to realize his
potential. The offensive numbers are probably on the high side,
but there's no indication there will or should be a significant
drop-off this year.