WTNYSeptember 15, 2004
Two You Know...
By Bryan Smith

On Monday, I grouped together a trio of young outfielders that were on similar courses. The three are probably right behind Delmon Young in outfield prospect rankings, likely with all three slotting in somewhere 2-5. Today, I want to look at a trio of second tier outfielders, from that Hermida/Francoeur 2002 draft.

Again, todays comparison features three similar players. Each are outfielders that started, but might not stay in centerfield. Two have been compared to Lenny Dykstra, and all tout fabulous discipline. Nick Swisher was the only outfielder chosen between Hermida and Francoeur, chosen from a college (Ohio State) better known for football than baseball. But, his talents drew praise from Michael Lewis in Moneyball:


Swisher is a rare point of agreement between Pauls computer and the internal compass of an old baseball guy. He has the raw athletic ability the scouts adore; but he also has the stats Billy and Paul have decided matter more than anything: hes proven he can hit, and hit with power; he drew more than his share of walks.

The second was Kenny Williams second choice in the 2002 draft, behind only the infamous Youve got to be f***ing kidding me choice of Royce Ring. Jeremy Reed was from a college (Long Beach State) better known for baseball than anything else. My 2003 Player of the Year has since switched organizations, and now plays for the Seattle Mariners.

And finally, we go on one more round to find the last. While the Horizon League isnt well known for prospects, but few dominate in the way Curtis Granderson did. His college, Univeristy of Illinois-Chicago, isnt really known for anything at all. But Granderson wasnt on the Horizon League level, so the Tigers made him the 15th outfielder chosen in the 2002 draft. Good move.

Today Ill compare and contrast the careers of Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Jeremy Reed, from their days in college to their recent September call-ups. None of the three will amass enough at-bats to graduate out of prospect status, so today will help define which will be ahead of the other in my next prospect rankings.

Part One: College Baseball

Unfortunately, the fabulous Baseball Cube (as well as the LBSU site) only carry Jeremy Reeds Junior 2002 season, so I dont have too much background info on him. I know that Reed spent his high school and college days in California, and would hit .336 in three seasons as a Dirtbag. He played on team USA in the summer of 2001, where he starred, leading the team with a .366 average.

Swisher, thanks to old Ohio State profile pages, comes with more biographical information. He is the son of Steve Swisher, a Major League catcher, and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He was three times named All-State in high school, and twice All-Conference as a running back/cornerback. At OSU, Swisher was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year after hitting .299 with ten home runs. His Sophomore Season, the switch-hitter would slug 15 home runs and bat .322 en route to his first All-Big Ten selection. He walked 60 times in 57 games, likely explaining Beanes interest.

As Juniors, the two had fairly similar seasons. Swisher hit .348/.470/.620 in 54 games, reaching base in all but one game. The year garnered his second All-Big Ten selection, and contained his first large stint of playing time in centerfield. Over in California, Reed was putting together a season worthy of an All-Big West selection. In 60 games, Jeremy hit .339/.433/.512, walking more than he struck out. Both teams were moderately successful, losing in the College World Series regionals.

And now I want to touch on Granderson, of whom I have the least biographical information at all. I can tell you that in his Junior season at UIC, he hit .480/.559/.755, with more walks than strikeouts and 17 steals. He was top three in the Horizon League in every imaginable category, and won their batting race by .076 points. The flames emphatically won the Horizon crown, winning by nearly 100 percentage points.

As seen by large differences in their ISOs, Swisher and Granderson showed considerably more power than their Californian counterpart. But, there is an explanation for that. Thanks to Boyd Nation, we can track the schedule strength the two universities faced that year, which may answer some questions. Long Beach State, which finished the year 21st in the nation, is ranked by Boyd as having had the 6th hardest schedule in 2002. Ohio State? Scroll down, down, down, and youll find the Buckeyes at 165. Keep scrolling, and youll find UIC at 229. To give a better understanding, thats roughly the difference between facing San Diego State in every game, Tennessee Tech, or Florida A&M.

While Ill acknowledge that Nick Swisher was a better prospect coming out of college, the difference was less than 43 picks apart. Reeds numbers had the misfortune of being the byproduct of a hard schedule in a hard stadium. Granderson had to be thought of the least of the three, despite insane rate statistics.

Part Two: Meeting Professional Baseball

Because of rather quick negotiations, these three players were able to get in another 210 at-bats in 2002, as professional players. Chicago sent Reed to the South Atlantic League, while Beanes prized prospect split the year between short-season baseball, and the California League. Its interesting that Swisher was not sent to low-A, like Reed, since Oaklands affiliate is the organizations only Midwest stop. But, the As took no middle ground, and kept Nick away from his roots. Granderson wasnt thought to be advanced enough for full-season ball, so the Tigers let him play the whole season in the NYPL.

Prospect evaluators will always tell you that a college player is supposed to beat up the short-season leagues, so to take their numbers with a grain of salt. Swisher played in 12 games for the Vancouver Canadians, and his .250/.433/.455 line made us wonder if on the opposite side, if we should worry when a player isnt a huge force. But, an .888 OPS aint bad, and was convincing enough for As upper management to challenge the 21-year-old with a promotion to the California League.

Instead it was Granderson destroying short-season baseball, over in the New York-Pennsylvania League. For the Oneota Tigers, Granderson hit .344/.417/.495 in 212 at-bats. His batting average was good for second in the league, and the UIC product was voted MVP. More importantly, Granderson also won the NYPL Stedler Award, given to the best prospect in the league. Finally, he had hit the prospect map, yet still too quiet for anyone to hear.

Before skipping over low-A, lets track Mr. Reeds progress. Jeremy spent his entire 57 game season with the Kannapolis Intimidators, posting solid if not intimidating numbers. Showing more an aptitude for contact and doubles than his college counterpart, Reed hit .319/.377/.448 in his 210 at-bats. Furthermore, Reed stole 17 bases in 22 attempts, displaying intelligence that Dirtbags normally come with. Overall it was considered a solid season for the second round choice, definitely worthy of a 2003 promotion.

Back to Swisher, who last time we checked was on a flight from Vancouver to Visalia. The California League proved troublesome for the first round choice, who kept up with his low average trend, hitting .240 in 183 at-bats. His 26 walks boosted his on-base percentage to a respectable .340, and a decent ISO (.159) kept his slugging right around .400. That season Swisher struck out 59 times in 62 games (total), showing a trend of many Ks that has yet to leave. Contact was the problem.

So, was it too early to call Reed the better prospect? Yes, since Swisher had played much of his season in the more advanced league despite less numbers. And where does Granderson fit in? Still last, as college players in the NYPL have certain expectations. Scouting reports declaring the Buckeye superior still held strong, and Swishers promise was enough to rank him higher.

Part Three: Splitting Time

And then came 2003. Reeds year last season was well documented, and worthy of my player of the year award. Jeremy began the year in the Carolina League, and earned a mid-season promotion after a .333/.431/.477 line and extensive hitting streak. While AA often is a wall challenging players and separating the real from the ordinary, Reed was unfazed by the Southern League. In 66 games, Reed hit an astounding .409/.474/.581 and was Birminghams best player. For the season, Jeremy walked 70 times versus only 36 strikeouts, and stole 45 bases. Reed had arrived in a way we hadnt seen before, and captured the hearts of sabermetric followers everywhere.

But, the same group of people didnt forget about Nick Swisher, their lost love. Swisher began the season where he had ended in 2002, and showed fabulous improvements. He posted the best average (.296) and slugging (.550) of his career, as well as a gaudy .418 on-base percentage. He was promoted to AA, where he repeated his actions of 2002, falling apart. Swishers line was slightly worse than it had been as a first-time California League hitter in 2002. He struck out 76 times in 76 Texas League games, while posting the worst OBP (.324) of his career.

Granderson didnt have the gaudy numbers of Reed or high praise like Swisher, not even gaining enough attention to land that promotion. Instead, the Tigers left Curtis to spend the full season, his first, in the Florida State League. He produced well, hitting .286/.365/.458 in just under 500 at-bats. He stole ten bases and had fifty extra-base hits, prompting Baseball Prospectus (2004) to write this about him:


Granderson answered the doubts that come with playing at a small-time college program [University of Illinois-Chicago] by holding his own in the Florida State League in his first full pro season. Asked to be a stopgap in center field, he played so well that the Tigers now think he can reach the majors without moving to a corner. Hes the sort of low-ceiling, tools-indifferent player that helps win ballgames by hitting the snot out of the ball for a few years in the majors.

Obviously the 2003 season saw Reed leapfrog Swisher and establish himself as the best prospect of the three. Swisher was probably slighted more for his AA problems than he should have been, but still well ahead of Granderson. Curtis was a nice story and a small prospect, but little more.

Part Four: To Infiniti And Beyond

UICs golden boy changed things this season, making his voice heard. With a 20-game stretch in August where the Tiger hit .452-10-30 (thanks Kevin), Granderson emerged as one of the games better outfield prospects. He missed my midseason top 100, mostly because on July 6, he was hitting .269! The late season surge gave him a line of .303/.407/.515 with 14 steals. But remember that Erie is a hitters paradise, with annual park factors around 1050.

Moving from AA to the AAA ranks, we find Reed and Swisher. Obviously the White Sox found Reeds numbers worthy of a promotion, but were unimpressed with the results. In Charlotte, Reed hit .275/.357/.420 as the White Sox gradually lost confidence in him. That, mixed with Joe Borchard having a successful season, led to Reeds inclusion in a deal to the Seattle Mariners. In the PCL Reed was back up to his old tricks, hitting .305/.366/.455. He stole 25 bases on the season, and struck out just 56 times in 509 at-bats. While its hard to say he will suffer a freefall on prospect lists, lets just say Baseball Prospectus wont have him at #2 this time around.

And finally, we have Nick Swishers best season to date. Swisher established himself for a true MVP candidate, hitting .269/.406/.537 for Sacramento. His power realization is huge for his prospect status, and speaks well for his Rookie of 2005 chances. Furthermore, you have to give Nick some props for topping 100 walks, as the last time I remember that in the minors, it was from Jack Cust. Basically, Swishers 2004 numbers speak to me as what his peak in the Majors could be, or at least what Beane dreams for late at night.

So, how do we rank them now? Well, its hard to say. Reed was in front so far before the season, but to me has regressed to a .290/.360/.440 type of player. An .800 OPS is nothing to be ashamed of, but it isnt fantastic for a corner outfielder. Granderson on the other hand, might not have to move to the corners. Im afraid to fully buy into his numbers, because they were so juiced by a 20-25 game stretch in a large hitters park. Actually, a see Curtis as a poor mans, faster Nick Swisher. So, Ill pony up: Swisher, Reed, Granderson, but this time separated by a lot less than 64 picks.

I want to conclude today talking about the future of these three. All three were given cups of coffee, though Grandersons only currently includes an 0/4 night on Monday. Reed cant boast much more, amassing two hits in nine at-bats, though both coming within his last four appearances. Leading the plate appearances stat is Nick Swisher, playing right field for the injured Jermaine Dye. And the young player, like he has in the past, is struggling making contact at a promoted level. But .207/.378/.483 aint bad, and I suspect PECOTA will like his chances in 2005.

2005 will surely bring a job for Swisher, as Dyes days in Oakland are fading. Hell be one of the primary frontrunners for the ROY, a race that I suspect will have more juice than this years version. Nook Logan and Alex Sanchez are acting as blocks for Granderson, unless he moves to a corner. My guess is Sanchez will be dealt, Logan given the Opening Day job, with Granderson getting summoned from AAA around when Grady Sizemore was brought up. Reed will wait to see who Bill Bavasi signs before leasing an apartment, but it very well may be in Seattle.

We knew Swisher from Moneyball. We knew Reed from 2003. Heres Curtis Granderson, speeding in on their tails. Check back in 5 years, because then Im pretty sure youll know all three.

Comments

Bryan, if Pie, Hermida and Francouer occupy three of the two to five top outfield prospect spots, who occupies the other?

Grady Sizemore? Franklin Gutierrez?

In fact, what does your top ten look like right now?

John--
Well obviously, Delmon is sitting in the top spot. Sizemore will probably have enough service time to place out of the rankings, but he'd probably be #3 if he did. I was referring to Lastings Milledge, who is probably sitting between Hermida and Pie in my mind. Oh, and of course Jason Kubel is in the top 5 (probably top 3), meaning Pie might even get kicked out.

So without Sizemore, I'll say Young, Kubel, Francoeur, Hermida, Milledge, Pie is my top 6 at this moment. Below them are a group that includes Gutierrez, Val Majewski, today's 3, Quentin and Conor Jackson. I should also mention Choo, Melky Cabrera, Brandon Moss, and the two Andersons (Josh and Brian) as top 15 guys.

It's a loaded group, but I'll stick with my top 6, with 12 relatively close after that. A top 20 would be a lot more feasible than 10 for the outfielders, but I'll save that for a rainy day.

That's great Brian, thanks.

Great job, Bryan. You've got the formula working perfectly now.

Keep it up.

You can usually find past college stats in Baseball America's almanacs... or doesn't Boyd Nation have some sort of stat archive?

good stuff.