The goal of this post is NOT to guess this mystery prospect from the past (some of you will guess him soon enough anyway), but to see his career through fresh eyes, so that we can learn a bit from his career path. We will focus on his career as a hitter.
Hindsight is 20-20, but what if we looked at each year as if we didn't know the end of the story?
The draft: this player is drafted in the fourth round as a third baseman. He is a college player 21 years old, nearly 22. Baseball America says he has "raw power."
First year: short season A ball: 7 doubles, 1 HR, 11 BB, 35 K, 222 AB, with a .212/.251/.266 slash line.
A poor start - no power and no patience. At least the strikeouts are not out of control.
Comparisons to players today: our Tri-City guys don't look too bad in comparison, and most of them were drafted well after the fourth round. One example: 3rd baseman Matt Duffy (20 doubles, 2 HR, 15 BB, 41 K, 235 AB, .298/.370/.417) has similar BB and K numbers, but the power and average are notably higher.
Second year: between A and high A (as a 22 year-old), the mystery player's results were 25 doubles, 14 HR, 25 BB, 79 K, 479 AB, .261/.298/.401.
The expected power appeared - quite a jump from year 1. Strikeouts were still decent, but the walk rate showed little improvement. That kept his Runs Created rate at below average in both leagues (in the 80's, with 100 as league average). The Astros promoted him midyear despite the lack of dominance. As a 22 year-old, he did not have a lot of time to linger at the lower levels.
Comparisons to players today: Adam Bailey was another guy who showed little power his first year but then rebounded his second year (22 HR, 22 doubles, with .288/.326/.476) and has a similar BB/K ratio at 25/87 in 489 AB. Mike Kvasnicka is at the same stage of his career and shows more patience than our mystery player (44 BB, 100 K, 446 AB) but has not developed HR power to accompany his doubles tendency (28 2B, 3 HR, .269/.339/.370). Which player would you take going forward? Is power or patience more easily developed?
Third year: between AA and AAA our 23 year-old mystery player had 26 doubles, 13 HR, 25 BB, 86 K, .299/338/.455 in 431 AB.
Numbers don't look that different from the year before, but he saw a major BABIP (batting average for balls in play) increase in AA before falling again in AAA. The patience is still not improving.
Comparisons to players today: how about Jake Goebbert, also in his third year and with time in AA and AAA? Jake's numbers are .292/.356/.442, with 24 doubles, 12 HR, 41 BB, 77 K, in 455 AB. Goebbert's numbers are slightly better, though as a corner outfielder, he has a higher standard to reach. Where would you rank Goebbert as a prospect in the Astros' system? Somewhere in the 20's or 30's? Well, our mystery player after his third year was ranked #5 by BP and BA, and #8 by John Sickels. That reflects some of the improvement in the Astros' system since then.
Fourth year and beyond: the numbers stay very consistent (moderate power, manageable strikeouts, low walks), with a high point at age 25 of 1/3 of a year in AAA and 2/3 of a year in the majors. Yes, we are talking about Chris Johnson. He is the mystery player.
1) The power did not appear for CJ the first season but kicked in consistently after that. No need to panic when college players don't hit for power right away.
2) The strikeouts were kept under control. Does this contribute to being able to move up levels and maintain performance (since he was never obviously overmatched)?
3) But the patience at the plate never developed. At least in CJ's case, he has not been able to "learn" this skill.
4) As a college draftee, CJ had to advance through the system fairly quickly to be able to hit the majors by age 24/25. If a college guys stalls, he will find himself as a non-prospect pretty quickly (since most true prospects will hit the majors before they turn 26).
5) CJ never dominated at a level (the closest was 1/3 of a season in AAA at age 25), even though he was around average age or higher at the different levels. This suggested that he would not be a potent hitter long-term in the majors.
6) His minor league numbers gave a pretty good indicator of what type of hitter he would become - decent power but low OBP's. His overall numbers fluctuate primarily when his BABIP goes up and down.
Obviously, one player's career path has little predictive power for other players' journeys, but as a thought-experiment, this exercise gave us a look at a few current players from a different perspective.