Looking back at the 2006 MLB draft, I’m still not sure what to think. Luke Hochevar, the #1 pick, has been a huge disappointment, and the #2 pick, Greg Reynolds, has barely been better than average. Other head-scratchers in the top 10 picks include Brad Lincoln (underwent elbow surgery this year), and Drew Stubbs (hasn’t been horrible, but definitely hasn’t been top-10 quality). So it’s easy to look at the 2006 draft and be a little disappointed, especially when you consider the 2005 draft when we saw Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Cameron Maybin all go in the top 10. But if you look just a little bit closer at the 2006 draft class, you’ll see that it wasn’t all that bad. Besides the previously mentioned top-10 duds, we also saw Evan Longoria go #3, Andrew Miller at #6, Clayton Kershaw at #7, Billy Rowell at #9, and Tim Lincecum at #10. So really, 2006 wasn’t as bad as it might have seen and I think our opinion of that draft as collectors will only go up over the next couple of years. One of the main reasons I haven’t given up hope on the 2006 draft class is Evan Longoria. In a draft class that has so far been well known for its’ pitchers, the success of the 2006 draft in terms of big hitters will largely depend on him.
In 2 short seasons and just 733 at-bats, Longoria has terrorized minor league pitching by hitting 44 HRs, and posting a stat line of .388/.546/.934. Listed at 6′ 2″ and 180 lbs, Longoria seems to have plenty of room to add some bulk to his frame and increase those power numbers. He’s also done very well defensively and seems to be a good fit at third base. Going into Spring Training, he ranks among the top 3 hitting prospects in all of baseball, right up there with Jay Bruce and Colby Rasmus. If all goes well, Longoria could compete for time on the major league club in 2008 and should be a well established starter by 2009. So, with all this hype, what can we really expect from Longoria during his major league career and where does he fit in with Bruce and Rasmus? If we want to accurately look into the future, we must first look into the past:
Usually, I like to look at raw stats, but since Longoria has played at 5 different levels in his 2 year career, I think it’s best to look at trends and percentages to get an idea of what kind of hitter he is. Looking at these numbers, the K% seems high but that’s not unusual for a young power hitter. By comparison, Jay Bruce and Colby Rasmus have a K% of 25.4% and 22.9% respectively. Longoria’s BB% is also about average for a young slugger. Rasmus comes in at 12.4% and Bruce is at 9.8%. When we combine K% and BB% for each of these three players, we can see that 33% of their total at-bats result in either a walk or a strikeout. To be more accurate, I’ll just post their totals:
In order for a power hitter to post big power numbers, he must minimize the number of at-bats that do not result in making contact with the ball. Though walk rates and strike out rates directly effect on-base percentage and can tell us a lot about a hitters’ patience and plate discipline, for this article I am only interested in these totals because they allow us to see that all three hitters are putting the ball in play at about the same rate and are “losing” virtually the same number of at-bats to walks and strikeouts. That means that the numbers each of these players puts up will almost completely depend on what happens after they make contact. So let’s get to the good stuff and see how they stack up against one another.
Before analyzing these stats, it is important to note the age differences between each of these players.
Since Bruce was a year younger at AA ball than the other 2 guys and his XBH% is higher, I think it would be fair to adjust his HR% to be about the same as Longoria, which would bump his ISO up as well. With that in mind, who would you rank higher? I think Rasmus probably comes in at #3, but what about Bruce and Longoria? Bruce is younger with similar power numbers, but he strikes out more and has a lower walk rate, but he’s listed as being a little bit bigger than Longoria, so he might develop more power. Then again, Rasmus might have the luxury of hitting in the same line-up as Albert Pujols, and Bruce might be hitting behind (or ahead of) Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., and that will affect their numbers as well. We also have to take into consideration park factors for both their minor league careers and their future major league home parks. After adjusting for park factors, Bruce comes out slightly ahead, but it’s not a significant difference. Any rankings of these three hitters at this point is primarily based off of opinion, so just go with the one you like. Personally, I would put Longoria at #1 since he’s a more developed hitter in terms of his plate approach, and then I would put Bruce at #2 because of his power numbers, and finally Rasmus at #3. That’s just my opinion though.
Regardless of what their current rankings are, let’s spend some time looking at some comparable players and come up with some basic projections.
Each of the above hitters posted a HR% of 4.4% or higher, and with the exception of Ryan Howard played through AA ball between the ages of 20 and 22. Longoria matches up well with Billy Butler and Prince Fielder in terms of K% and BB%, and if you consider the age difference at AA ball, their HR%’s are fairly comparable as well. Jay Bruce matches up well with Chris Young (and maybe Ryan Howard to an extent), while Rasmus is a bit of a mix between Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. It’s a nice group of hitters to fit in with, so I think we can realistically expect great things from Longoria, Bruce and Rasmus.
If you look at the numbers posted in the majors by the above players at the age of 22, you’ll see that most of them hit about 20-25 HRs, with a batting average in the high .200’s. If Longoria gets called up in 2008, I would expect him to put up similar numbers, and consequently his card prices will probably drop by about 50%. If you’re considering buying any of his cards at this point, I would wait until fall of 2008 and then I would stock up and buy as many as I could afford. The same approach should be used for Bruce and Rasmus. By 25 years old, all three players will likely be good for 30+ HRs a year, with batting averages close to .300 or higher. At least one of them will break the 40 HR mark within the next 3 years, and that of course would be a good time to sell a few cards. I think Bruce and Longoria could both hit 40 HRs several times before the age of 30.
Bill James recently said that there is more young talent in baseball right now then there has been in decades and possibly the history of the game, and I tend to agree. With guys like Longoria, Bruce and Rasmus coming up through the ranks, it will only get better, and don’t forget that we haven’t even looked at others like Justin Upton, Delmon Young, or Cameron Maybin. Great young players make card collecting a very exciting hobby (and often very expensive), so don’t miss out!