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.

American League

Melvin Mora
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 record recently.

Laynce Nix
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 wrong direction.

Greg Zaun
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 the 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.

Alex Sanchez
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...

Brandon Inge
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.

Juan Uribe
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.

David Dellucci
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.

Matt Lawton
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.

Jose Guillen
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.

National League

Matt Holliday
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.

Lyle Overbay
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 pace he's on.  That won't continue because Overbay won't continue to hit over .400 and slug over .700 with runners on base. 

Vinny Castilla
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.

Todd Hollandsworth
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 will continue.

Jack Wilson
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 Alou
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.

Royce Clayton
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.

Alex Cora
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.

Steve Finley
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.

Adrian Beltre

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.

Michael Barrett

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.