On Friday, Jason Heyward was named Baseball America’s 2009 Minor League Player of the Year. At 19 just years old, the Braves 1st round pick in 2007, started the year in Advanced-A and wound up in AAA. He hit an impressive 0.323/.408/.555 with 17 HR, 10 SB, 51 BB, and 51 SO on the year. To read the Baseball America post, click here. I offer my congratulations to Heyward for his excellent season, and to the Braves for drafting such a wonderful talent.
While reading Matt Winklejohn’s BA article, I was drawn to the list of previous Minor League Players of the Year from 1981 to 2008. In 2006, Gordon hit 0.325/.427/.588 with 29 HR, 22 SB, 72 BB, and 113 SO for Wichita and won the Minor League POY award for his excellent season. While he hasn’t lived up to the “franchise savior” label, he hasn’t been a bust for the Royals and I believe the future is still bright. Based on the list of past Minor League POYs, Alex Gordon will experience far more success in the majors than he has to date.
Below is a more expanded list of those previous winners.
1B/OF-Mike Marshall (1981): Hit 0.270/.321/.446 with 148 HR. He had a productive 11 year ML career with a solid 114 OPS+. Marshall made the All-Star team in 1984 and finished 14th in MVP voting the following season. He played 9 seasons for the Dodgers before bouncing around between the Red Sox, Mets, and Angels at the end of his career.
OF/DH-Ron Kittle (1982): Had a 10 year ML career spent primarily with the White Sox, although he also played for the Orioles, Yankees, and Indians. After a cup of coffee in 1982, Kittle burst on to the scene in 1983 to be named an All-Star and the AL Rookie of the Year. He hit 114 HR in his first 4 seasons, but finished with only 176 in his career. Kittle sports a solid 110 career OPS+ and a career slash line of 0.239/.306/.473.
RHP-Dwight Gooden (1983): His 1985 season was mythical. 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 0.965 WHIP, 3.88 SO/BB, and 228 ERA+ led him to the NL Cy Young Award and a 4th place finish in the MVP voting. In addition to winning the Cy, he was the NL ROY in 1984, made 4 All-Star teams, finished in the top 7 of Cy Young voting 5 times, and received MVP votes in 3 different season. All told he pitched for the Yankees, Indians, Rays, and Astros, but his greatest success came as a member of the Mets. In 16 seasons he amassed a record of 194-112 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.256 WHIP, 2.40 SO/BB, 7.4 SO/9 and a 111 ERA+.
RHP-Mike Bielecki (1984): 14 seasons were spread among the Pirates, Cubs, Braves, Indians, and Angels. Bielecki compiled a 70-73 record with a 4.18 ERA, 1.407 WHIP, 1.58 SO/BB and an ERA + of 95.
OF-Jose Canseco (1985): Jose hit 0.266/.353/.515 with 462 HR, 200 SB, and an OPS+ of 132 in 17 ML seasons. Canseco donned the threads of the Athletics, Rangers, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox, and Blue Jays. He proved to be a walking pharmacy and complete knucklehead every stop along his career. Sadly his talent as a baseball player was surpassed by his ego. Despite winning the 1986 AL ROY, 1988 AL MVP, and being named to 6 All-Star teams, one cannot help but wonder what kind of player Canseco could have been with a healthy dose of humility.
IF/OF-Gregg Jefferies (1986 & 1987): He played 14 seasons with the Mets, Royals, Cardinals, Phillies, Angels, and Tigers. In his career Jefferies hit 0.289/.344/.421 with 126 HR, 196 SB, and an OPS+ of 107. He was named to the All-Star team and received MVP votes in both 1993 and 1994.
RHP-Tom Gordon (1988): Flash has seen 21 seasons and 8 franchises. He was a member of the still proud Royals for his first 8 years before playing with the Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, White Sox, Yankees, Phillies, and Diamondbacks. He has amassed a record of 138-126 to go along with a 3.96 ERA, 1.360 WHIP, 1.97 SO/BB, 158 SV and an ERA+ of 113.
C-Sandy Alomar (1989): He played for 7 teams; Indians, White Sox, Padres, Mets, Rockies, Dodgers, and Rangers in his 20 year ML career. Along the way he hit 0.273/.309/.406 with an OPS+ of 86. He won the 1990 AL Rookie of the Year Award as well as a Gold Glove. He also made 6 All-Star teams and received a few MVP votes in 1997.
1B-Frank Thomas (1990): 19 ML seasons, 5 All-Star teams, 2 MVP awards and another 9 seasons that he received MVP votes reflect the fact that The Big Hurt will be enshrined in the HOF someday. For his career, he hit 0.301/.419/.555 with 495 doubles, 521 HR, and an OPS + of 156 with the White Sox, Blue Jays, and Athletics. No player in MLB was more feared with a bat in his hand than Thomas from 1990-1997.
OF-Derek Bell (1991): In 11 seasons, Bell played for the Blue Jays, Padres, Astros, Mets, and Pirates. He hit 0.276/.336/.421 with 134 HR, 170 SB, and an OPS+ of 99.
OF-Tim Salmon (1992): 14 seasons, all with the Angels, saw Salmon hit 0.282/.385/.498 with 299 HR and an OPS+ of 128. He won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1993 and received MVP votes in 3 seasons, but never made an All-Star team.
OF-Manny Ramirez (1993): After 17 seasons with the Indians, Red Sox, and Dodgers, Ramirez is still a force at the plate. 2,192 games into his career he has hit 0.314/.412/.592 with 527 doubles, 545 HR, and an OPS+ of 155. Steroids or not Manny is a hell of a talent who clearly loves playing the game. I look forward to the day he is on the HOF ballot to see how the voters are going to deal with Manny being Manny. That said, it doesn’t appear that he’s going to hang it up anytime soon.
SS-Derek Jeter (1994): 15 seasons with the Yankees, and there is no doubt that Jeter is HOF bound. He has always been terribly overrated when it comes to his defensive ability, but he is deserving of all the praise when it comes to his work at the plate. Jeter has hit 0.317/.387/.459 with 223 HR, 301 SB, and a career OPS+ of 121 all while playing in New York as the face of the Yankees. He is the epitome of a professional baseball player. He probably should have moved off SS when A-Rod came to New York, but outside of that it is hard to criticize Jeter in anyway. I hate the Yankees, but I have a healthy dose of respect for Derek.
OF-Andruw Jones (1995 & 1996): The 32 year old Jones has played 14 ML seasons with the Braves, Dodgers, and Rangers. Despite being relatively young, the end is very near for Andruw. When he retires, he’ll have won 11 Gold Glove Awards, made 5 All-Star Teams, and received MVP votes in 5 seasons. Jones has hit 0.258/.338/.489 with 388 HR and a career OPS+ of 111. Based on his defensive ability, a HOF case can be made for Andruw but he wouldn’t get my vote. In my opinion, he has spent a majority of his career as one of the more overrated players in baseball. Once he retires and people look at his career statistics they are going probably be “disappointed” with what they find. Whether or not he ever gets inducted into the HOF, he has had a excellent career. Jones still has pop in his bat, but the rest of his skills have clearly eroded and he’s not doing himself any favors by hanging on.
1B-Paul Konerko (1997): He’s in his 13th ML season and it is easy to forget that he started his career with the Dodgers. He played in 55 games for Los Angeles and another 26 for Cincinnati before finding a home with the White Sox. Konerko has hit 0.278/.352/.491 with 324 HR and an OPS+ of 116. He’s just 33 years old and is turning in a season extremely close to his career numbers. In 2009 he has a slash line of 0.280/.349/.494 good for an OPS+ of 114.
3B-Eric Chavez (1998): In 12 seasons with Oakland he has hit 0.268/.345/.482 with 229 HR and has a career OPS+ of 116. Injuries have taken their toll on Chavez the last several seasons and his career might be coming to a premature conclusion. Still it was a career that saw 4 straight seasons of 29 or more HR and from 2001-2006 he won 6 straight Gold Glove Awards. If Gordon’s career winds up similar to that of Chavez, it would be a huge plus for the Royals organization.
LHP/OF-Rick Ankiel (1999): At age 19 he made his ML debut and had an ERA+ of 141 in 33 IP. Ankiel finished the 2000 season with a 134 ERA+ and his star was burning brightly. Then the wheels came off in the playoffs and his control completely vanished. He returned to the mound in 2001 to pitch 24.0 innings, but he walked 25 and had a 7.12 ERA to go with his 61 ERA+. Impressively, Ankiel made his way back to the majors as an outfielder and posted an OPS+ of 120 in 2007 and an OPS+ of 119 in 2008. This season he has fallen off with an OPS+ of just 79, but considering what he has gone through since the day he threw his 1st ML pitch, it is hard to not be impressed.
RHP-Jon Rauch (2000): He has spent most of his 7 seasons coming out of the bullpen and the Twins are already his 4th ML team. Rauch’s career numbers; 3.87 ERA, 1.236 WHIP, 2.55 SO/BB, and 112 ERA+ are far better than I expected to find. At worst he is a servicable bullpen arm, and at 30 years old there is little reason to expect much more than that. Still relievers are a strange breed who can stick in the bigs into their late 30s with ease, so there is plenty of story left for Rauch to write.
RHP-Josh Beckett (2001): It’s hard to believe that Beckett is already finishing up his 9th ML season. In that time he has gone 104-68 with a 3.78 ERA, 1.213 WHIP, 3.11 SO/BB and 117 ERA+. He has incredible stuff, and comes with incredible hype, but the results have yet to live up to either. I’d rather have Jon Lester any day of the week, but I wouldn’t complain if Beckett miraculously arrived to pitch for the Royals next season. If only Dayton Moore could find someone like Josh to complement Zack.
OF-Rocco Baldelli (2002): Injuries have taken their toll on what was once a very promising career, but Rocco has still managed to hit 0.279/.324/.446 with an OPS+ of 102 in 6 ML seasons. He is just 27 and is still capable of having a long and productive career if he can stay off the DL.
C-Joe Mauer (2003): The 26 year old is finishing up his 6th ML season and already has a HOF caliber 0.325/.404/.482 slash line as a catcher. Throw in the fact he is a deserving Gold Glove Award winner, has thrown out base stealers at a 38% clip, and you have a complete stud. His career OPS+ of 136 is excellent behind the plate, but is 175 OPS+ this season is incredible. Mauer is living proof that scouts know what they are talking about when they say that power is the last tool to develop. He will be a member of the Minnesota Twins through at least another long-term contract. You can take that to the bank.
LHP-Jeff Francis (2004): Has 5 ML seasons under his belt with a 4.74 ERA, 1.438 WHIP, 2.03 SO/BB with an ERA+ of 101. Has missed all of 2009 due to injury.
OF-Delmon Young (2005): Turns 24 years old tomorrow and has already spent parts of 4 seasons in the majors. He has hit 0.287/.319/.408 with an OPS+ of 94. The batting average is there, but the power has not materialized yet. The emergence of Mauer’s power should give pause to the people ready to write Young off. Delmon, like Gordon, has been far from a bust in his young career, but the lofty expectations overshadow his on-field performance.
3B-Alex Gordon (2006): Has a career OPS+ of 96 thus far.
OF-Jay Bruce (2007): Made his ML debut for the Reds in 2008 and hit 0.254/.314/.453 with a 96 OPS+. After a respectable rookie season, Bruce has hit 0.207/.283/.441 with an OPS+ of 85. 2009 has been a disappointment but he is just 22 years old.
C-Matt Wieters (2008): Hitting 0.267/.316/.370 with an OPS+ of 78 in his first ML season for the Orioles.
What does this all tell us about the future of Alex Gordon, Jason Heyward, Matt Wieters, Jay Bruce, or Delmon Young? First, if history is any indication, they will have, at least, a 10 year career as a ML player. Second, we can reasonably expect that their his career OPS+ will be around league average or better. It is interesting to note that of all the players listed above only Derek Bell (OPS+ 99) and Sandy Alomar (OPS +86) did not have a career OPS+ greater than 100. In defense of Alomar, as a catcher, his worth went far behind his ability at the plate. Among the pitchers, only Mike Bielecki (95) had an ERA+ less than 100.