Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Brett Lawrie latest struggling youngster
By David Schoenfield
The Toronto Blue Jays put third baseman Brett Lawrie on the disabled list with a sprained ankle. He's hitting .209/.268/.374, certainly a disappointment after his 43-game performance at the end of 2011 -- he hit .293/.373/.580 -- appeared to foretell a future star. Hit .273 a year ago, but with just 11 home runs and his walk rate dropped from 9.4 percent to 6.2 percent. This year, it's down a bit more to 5.9 percent.
For now, you can add Lawrie's name to the list of young players who were supposed to hit at the major league level but have struggled to do so:
--Eric Hosmer: Promising rookie season in 2011, but regression since, especially in the power department.
--Dustin Ackley: Ditto. Just sent down to Triple-A.
--Mike Moustakas: Hitting .178.
--Jesus Montero: Like his teammate Ackley, recently sent down to Triple-A after hitting .208/.264/.327.
--Justin Smoak: Drawing walks, but lacks power and ability to hit for average.
--Starlin Castro: He's not bad, but hasn't improved since his rookie season in 2010.
--Lonnie Chisenhall: Sent down to the minors after hitting .213.
Now, it's too early to completely write off any of these guys. Lawrie, Castro and Hosmer, for example, are just 23 years old. But you still have to raise a red flag when young players get worse and not better. Sometimes it takes time; Hosmer and Moustakas can certainly learn from Alex Gordon, their Royals teammate, who suffered two down years where he was returned to the minors, only to re-emerge and blossom in 2011. Domonic Brown of the Phillies, after some false starts the past two years, is starting to hit with some pop (11 home runs, although the OBP is still under .300).
Certainly, the success of young phenoms like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Giancarlo Stanton raises expectations for all players labeled as can't-miss prospects, but it's reminder to beware the hype.
In some cases, these guys probably just weren't as good as advertised. Montero, for example, just doesn't look like a major league hitter to me, is shockingly slow and basically has one tool, raw power, that doesn't show up enough yet in games. Brown has obvious holes in his swing and defensive game. Moustakas can't hit left-handers. The most important trait a hitter can have -- besides the raw talent, of course -- is the ability to control the strike zone. Lawrie, Moustakas, Montero, Chisenhall and Castro have all seen their development stall because of this. On the other hand, Mariners manager Eric Wedge blamed Ackley's struggles on being too patient (well, he directly blamed sabermetrics, not Ackley).
If there's a lesson, it's that hitting a baseball is a hard thing to do. We're always going to have failed prospects or guys who don't turn into stars. For example, the following players were top-20 hitting prospects on Baseball America's annual top 100:
2008: Colby Rasmus, Cameron Maybin, Travis Snider, Brandon Wood, Fernando Martinez
2003: Rocco Baldelli, Casey Kotchman, Jason Stokes
1998: Ben Grieve, Travis Lee, Chad Hermansen, Ruben Mateo
1993: Ray McDavid, David McCarty
The point: This happens. It's OK to fall in love with your prized prospects. Just be prepared to have your heart broken.