Prospects or Suspects? (Part Two)
In Part One of Prospects or Suspects? we profiled four players – Daniel Bard, Jay Bruce, Jamie D'Antona, and Mike Hessman – who are enjoying outstanding starts to their 2008 campaigns. Today, we are going to take a look at another foursome. However, unlike yesterday's piece, these youngsters are experiencing highly disappointing seasons to date.
Matt Antonelli, Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider, and Neil Walker are featured in Part Two. Can they recover and maintain their top prospect rankings or is it time to rethink their status and longer-term potential? Between yesterday and today, eight players on eight different teams. Some of them are progressing, while others are regressing.
Let's take a closer look at Antonelli, Rasmus, Snider, and Walker to determine if the change in direction is temporary or more permanent.
G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG 37 140 27 6 2 3 26 25 .193 .325 .329
Drafted as a third baseman out of Wake Forest in the first round of the 2006 draft, Antonelli was converted to a second baseman last season. A line drive hitter, the 6-foot, 200-pounder's bat plays better at his newer position. The power that Antonelli displayed in 2007 appears to be an aberration as he rarely, if ever, hit home runs in college, in the Cape Cod League, in his professional debut in 2006, or in the Arizona Fall League last year. The 23-year-old excels at recognizing pitches and making contact, making him a classic #2 hitter if he can maintain his walk rate and improve his batting average toward his career mark of .280. Look for Antonelli to do just that as his BABIP (.214) is unlikely to remain this low for long.
With San Diego second baseman Tadahito Iguchi signed to just a one-year deal, Antonelli is the favorite to earn the everyday job for 2008. He is definitely more prospect than suspect but expectations need to be toned down as it is becoming painfully obvious that his power surge in 2007 was more of a fluke than not.
Whether Rasmus went down with a bad attitude or not is tough to say, but he has strugggled from the get go and his numbers have been getting increasingly worse by the week. To wit, he is in the midst of an 0-for-19 skid with 7 strikeouts and is now "hitting" .133/.194/.200 in May. His overall numbers leave a lot to be desired with only his HR and BB rates showing any signs of hope.
G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG 44 165 30 3 0 6 21 38 .182 .270 .309
Is it time to give up on Rasmus? No, not by any means. A five-tool player who projects as a 20 HR/20 SB type in the majors, his résumé includes leading his high school team to a national championship, being taken 28th overall in the First-Year Player Draft, a Futures Game, Minor League All-Star, Team USA, and universally ranking among the top ten prospects in baseball (with a #3 ranking on our list of best 21-year-olds in February). Furthermore, his BABIP is only .198 so it is quite possible that he has been hitting in tough luck thus far, perhaps adding to his problems.
Although Rasmus has hit .300 just once in his minor league career, he accomplished this feat in the Midwest League, one of the most difficult hitting environments in professional baseball, in 2006 as a 19-year-old. His .885 OPS compared to a league-wide average of .690. The kid can play. Time is on his side, as well as the organization's. With Rick Ankiel (.285/.370/.483), Chris Duncan (.255/.365/.406), Ryan Ludwick (.350/.427/.772), and Skip Schumaker (.287/.353/.389) performing well at the big league level, there is no need whatsoever to rush Rasmus at this point. Let him develop his skills, regain his confidence, and see what he can do with a full year of AAA under his belt.
A first round pick out of Jackson HS (Mill Creek, WA) in 2006, Snider's combined stats are as follows:
G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG 42 152 36 7 0 8 23 60 .237 .341 .441
Snider is young for his level and should put up good numbers just like he did in 2006 and 2007 when he impressed scouts and analysts alike by hitting for average and extra-base power. However, there are a few items that raise questions. At 5-11, 245, Snider's body is a negative. Secondly, he has only DH'd this year. Thirdly, Travis has had a prospensity to strike out more often than one would like for somebody who has been labeled – by myself no less – as one of the best pure hitters in the minors.
A prospect for sure but someone whose value will be tied to his hitting prowess and little else. Think of Snider as a lefthanded-hitting Billy Butler, and I don't think you will go wrong.
G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG 41 150 32 8 4 5 9 30 .213 .258 .420
A former catcher, Walker has been playing third base full time since the beginning of 2007. However, he has never hit anywhere close to his hype. Call me skeptical, but the former first round draft pick has produced an .800 OPS only once at nine different stops (with the Altoona Curve of the Eastern League last season). His career OPS (.754) is less than 5% better than the league OPS (.720). Sure, he is only 22, but the 6-foot-3, 217-pound switch-hitter lacks patience at the plate, doesn't run particularly well, and has been prone to making errors in the field since moving to the hot corner.
I'm going to go out on a limb and call the Pittsburgh native no more than a decent – rather than a top – prospect. While he should play in the majors for a number of years, I will be surprised if he ever becomes a star.