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Is Mike Stanton the next Brandon Wood?

1/28/2011

Word on the street is that the Marlins have called up power-hitting outfield prospect Mike Stanton, and fantasy owners everywhere are putting in their waiver claims. And with good reason: The kid has 21 home runs in a third of a season Double-A at the tender age of 20. Last year Stanton hit 29 homers between high Class A and Double-A, and the year before that he hit 39 jacks at low Class A. As far as power-hitting prospects go, he's about as good as it gets. Note that I wrote "about as good as it gets," because Stanton isn't perfect. And he has one major flaw that could prevent him from becoming a viable major leaguer.

In 238 plate appearances this year for Jacksonville, Stanton has struck out 53 times. That's 22 percent of the time. For his career he has struck out 26.7 percent of the time, so he has shown a bit of an improvement this year. However, that's still a heck of a lot of whiffs for a minor leaguer. As friend of TMI Kevin Goldstein Tweeted yesterday, "We can all get excited about Stanton being up, but I do fear his numbers are going to look like Rob Deer's for a while."

On the major league level, strikeouts for hitters tend to be overrated, and there are plenty of hitters who have remained productive despite racking up a ton of K's -- Jim Thome, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard among them. However, when evaluating prospects, strikeouts matter. Because if a guy has trouble making contact against minor league pitching, odds are they're going to have an even harder time squaring up big league arms. For example, Dunn has struck out in 26.5 percent of his plate appearances in the majors. But in the minors he fanned 18.2 percent of the time. The list below is the current top 10 in the majors in strikeouts, and the percentage of the time they fanned in the minors.

MINOR LEAGUE STRIKEOUT PERCENTAGE
Mark Reynolds, 23.1
Justin Upton, 19.7
David Wright, 18.0
Rickie Weeks, 18.7
Adam Dunn, 18.2
Carlos Pena 20.7
Matt Kemp, 18.5
Ryan Howard, 27.2
Austin Jackson, 21.1
Adam Lind, 16.8

These guys fan more than anyone than baseball, and with the exception of Howard, every one of them whiffed less frequently in the minors than Stanton. As Howard has proven, lots of K's in the minors are not prohibitive to success in the majors. However, it's certainly cause for concern. And we've seen many prospects in recent years flame out because their high minor league strikeout rate came back to bite them in the bigs. The most recent example is Brandon Wood, who provides a cautionary tale for those going gaga for Stanton. Wood made lots of noise in the prospect world when he hit 43 homers back in 2005. But he struck 23.3 percent of the time in the minors and his power has never translated while playing for the Angels. He has a .381 OPS for the Angels this year and has struck out in 30.2 percent of his big league plate appearances.

Before you get too excited about Stanton, keep Wood in mind.

Matt Meyers is an associate editor at ESPN The Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter here.