Florida's Rookie Hitters: Can They Avoid the Sophomore Slump?
Although the Marlins' young pitching received the bulk of the attention in 2006, they received some solid (and not-so-solid) performances from a collection of rookie players, led by Rule 5 pick Dan Uggla, who was stolen from Arizona, and Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirez. Other players to see significant playing time in Florida in 2006 included Reggie Abercrombie, Mike Jacobs, Josh Willingham and Jeremy Hermida.
If the Marlins hope to contend again in 2007, they will need repeat performances from Ramirez, Uggla and Willingham. They will also need Abercrombie, Jacobs and Hermida - arguably the most talented of all the young hitters - to improve significantly.
AVG OBA SLG BB% K% GB% BABIP HR/AB Dan Uggla .282 .339 .480 7.3 20.1 41.0 .315 27/611 Hanley Ramirez .292 .353 .480 8.1 20.2 43.8 .344 17/633 Mike Jacobs .262 .325 .473 8.8 22.4 39.6 .299 20/469 Josh Willingham .277 .356 .496 9.7 21.7 42.9 .308 26/502 Jeremy Hermida .251 .332 .368 9.7 22.8 44.8 .310 5/307 Reggie Abercrombie .212 .271 .333 6.6 30.6 54.1 .285 5/255
R/R | 5'11'' 200 | Born: 3/80 | Drafted: 11th - 2001 - college
Teams knew Uggla had offensive potential. But teams, such as his former employer in Arizona, did not think Uggla had the defensive skills to be a regular in the major leagues. Oops. Uggla proved to not only be an above-average offensive second baseman, but he was adequate at his position as well. Was Uggla's rookie season a fluke? Well, he hit .307/.365/.510 in the first half and .256/.311/.449 in the second half. He should be an above-average offensive force at second base during his career but I sense a sophomore slump.
2007 Forecast: .255/.322/.450
R/R | 6'3'' 195 | Born: 12/83 | Drafted: NDF - 2000 - NA
Ramirez has always been oozing with potential. While in the minors with the Red Sox, he would flash tools that screamed "Star!" but never on a consistent basis. As such, Boston saw fit to include him in the deal for starter Josh Beckett. Ramirez had one of those odd debuts where his major league numbers far exceeded his best minor league season:
AVG OBA SLG R SB BB/9 K/9 2006: .292 .353 .480 119 51 8.1% 20.2% 2005: .310 .364 .389 33 12 6.5% 14.8% (A+) 2005: .310 .360 .512 26 12 7.2% 18.7% (AA)
There have been questions in the past about Ramirez' attitude and he may end up being one of those players who plays better in the spotlight with all the perks that come from being a big leaguer.
2007 Forecast: .302/.346/.477
R/R | 6'3'' 220 | Born: 7/80 | Drafted: 23rd - 1999 - high school
Abercrombie saw significant time in the outfield for the Marlins in 2006, but the team wishes he had not. The Marlins spent this past off-season scouring for an inexperienced, veteran center-fielder, which is no surprise considering Abercrombie's less-than-stellar numbers. He hit .285 when he managed to put the ball in play, but he has shown little aptitude for making consistent contact. The team was so desperate that they signed Alex Sanchez (feel free to Google his checkered past) to a minor league deal. Eric Reed was another player the Marlins had hopes for in center field, but he has struggled with injuries and was left to rot on the bench early in the season and never got on track with the bat. Abercrombie should spend a good portion of the season in Triple-A.
2007 Forecast: .188/.235/.310
L/R | 6'2'' 200 | Born: 10/80 | Drafted: 38th - 1999 - junior college
Jacobs bust onto the scene in 2005 for the Mets by slugging 11 homers in 100 at-bats (9.8 HR%). Not surprisingly (hello Kevin Maas, Mitch Einertson), he was unable to duplicate those numbers in 2006 (3.8 HR%). One thing Jacobs needs to do is hit left-handers, especially if he wants to avoid the dreaded platoon.
Vs Right: .281 .345 .514 Vs Left: .182 .234 .295
The former catcher has the potential to be an average first baseman and his 2006 numbers were encouraging, but he will need to take another step forward in 2007. He has the potential to turn some of his 37 doubles into homers.
2007 Forecast: .248/.315/.455
L/R | 6'4'' 200 | Born: 1/84 | Drafted: 1st - 2002 - high school
As mentioned above, of all rookies on the team in 2006, Hermida appeared to be the one player poised to have an impact season. He was originally a first round pick in 2002 out of high school and flew through the minor leagues. Hermida displayed an outstanding eye in the minors, walking 111 times in 118 games in 2005. That skill did not show up nearly as consistently in the majors in 2006 but there is no reason to think it won't develop at that level. Hermida committed eight errors in 86 games in right field. I expect him to be significantly more successful in 2007 than Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur, whom he grew up playing against.
2007 Forecast: .282/.360/.477
R/R | 6'1'' 200 | Born: 2/79 | Drafted: 17th - 2000 - college
This former catcher has been knocking on the major league door for a few seasons and finally got the chance to prove himself last season. Willingham's versatility is a big plus, although he patrolled the outfield for most of last season. He has the potential to be a solid No. 5 hitter and was third on the team in homers last year. Willingham is also the oldest of the Marlins' youthful hitters and recently turned 28 despite his inexperience. As such, his ceiling probably isn't much higher than it was in 2006.
2007 Forecast: .265/.336/.470
*Career comps courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.