Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. The year was 1994; Nirvana was unplugged, OJ was on trial, Forrest went running, and the PlayStation began robbing children of the outdoor pleasures of yesteryear. For the Kansas City Royals, 1994 was known as the year of “The Hammer”. Bob Hamelin emerged as one of the game’s most promising First Baseman. Hamelin slashed .282/.388/.599 and hit 24 home runs in 101 games to win Rookie of the Year honors and establish himself as a name to watch for years to come.
After being selected in the second round of the 1988 draft, Hamelin quickly established himself as a true power source, hitting 17 HR in just 70 games in A Ball. He followed that up by hitting 16 HR in just 68 games at AA in 1989. But after the 1989 season the star began to dim for “The Hammer”. From 1990-1992 Hamelin played in just 200 games while posting a mere 24 home runs. Prior to this three-year stretch he was considered a Top-40 prospect by Baseball America, but by 1992 he was off the Baseball America radar. After a stellar 1993 season in AAA, Hamelin earned a late season call-up, and by 1994 Hamelin, at age 26, was the Opening Day DH.
Meanwhile over in Cleveland, the Indians quickly established themselves as the class of baseball. With solid pitching and a great lineup, the Indians managed to win 100 games in the strike-shortened season. One of the many bright spots in their lineup was Jim Thome. Thome had broken in with the Indians 3 seasons prior. In fact, Thome had reached Rookie status in 1992 and had played in 47 games in 1993. Between those parts of three seasons, Thome managed to hit just .244 with 10 home runs with an OPS of .720 in 114 games. During his Minor League career Thome managed a solid AVG, but his power hadn’t yet really developed. The tempered expectations were erased in 1993 as Thome managed 25 home runs, with a .332 AVG and an OPS of 1.026 before earning an August promotion.
So why the player comp? In many ways Thome and Hamelin were similar players. Both emerged as young, up-and-coming power sources in the Minor Leagues. Those numbers ultimately translated to the major league level for both. The paths they took, however, were completely different. By his rookie season Hamelin had become the power source of the pair with a solid batting average. For Thome his first three attempts at major league success resulted in lackluster numbers. Finally in his fourth season those Minor League numbers at last translated. After the ROY season of 1994, Hamelin played in only 380 games the next four seasons, hit a mere .235, and averaged just 10 HR a season over that span. After a sluggish start to his career, Thome would ultimately settle into a Hall Of Fame caliber career.
Fantasy baseball rankings can be volatile from year to year. Attempting to do any type of long-term ranking is just setting yourself up to look foolish. If we went back in time 21 years ago Bob Hamelin would be on our radar. His MLB success, though limited, would have been enough equity to overlook his Minor League struggles from 90-92. His MLB success would have made his advanced age (26) tolerable. What about Thome? Where would his struggles place him? In 1995 it wouldn’t have had as much affect as it does now. Believe it or not, at one point in time MLB success wasn’t immediate, nor was it expected. So despite a good track record of Minor League success for Thome, many perspective owners would focus solely on the in season struggles and ultimately allow Thome and all that success slip away well below market value.
Each and every year these types of scenarios play out on draft day. This year will be no different. Here are some potential rebound values along with potential draft day reaches, with a focus on Dynasty formats.
AJ Reed – These body types tend to age poorly. At 23, Reed has quite a way to go before this should be a concern. Coming into the 2015 season Reed had an NFBC ADP of 25th among 1B and 296 overall. He appeared in 45 games, earning 141 plate appearances, managing three home runs and a disappointing .532 OPS. I still tend to look at the three minor league seasons where he established a solid walk total, a manageable strikeout rate, a respectable batting average and a true 25-30 home run threat. Most importantly, the path to playing time and a prime lineup spot runs through the likes of Miguel Gonzalez and Tyler White. This will be your one and only chance to 1B slum for the services of AJ Reed.
Tommy Joseph – Any Ben Paulsen owners in the room from this past season? Owning Ben Paulsen in 2016 was ____________. I’ll tally the results later, but any expletive is coming in at 3/2 as the morning line favorite. Joseph produced impressive Minor League numbers in 2010 and 2011 while in the Giants system. Since coming to Philadelphia his best stretch happened at the major league level last season when Joseph managed 21 home runs and a .257 AVG over 347 plate appearances.
For your prototypical home run hitter his K rate appears to be tolerable. However, thus far, he has failed to improve his walk numbers with any consistency. Additional concerns can be found in batted ball profile as well. Joseph’s 45.1 FB%, paired with a 21% K rate and a HR/FB rate below 20% could lead to a sub .240 average without some fortune along the way. Two seasons ago a .240 average with power was palatable, but with the influx of home runs to the player pool last season the hit in batting average isn’t worth it, assuming the market remains stable.
Justin Bour – This will be a great example of how one’s most recent results have more value than track record in some cases. In principal Bour and Joseph are the same type of player. Both offer power and have posted average results that do not harm you. While I am down on Joseph, I like the potential value in Bour. Unlike Joseph, Bour has a lengthy track record of power, posting six straight seasons of double-digit home runs between A ball and the majors. Bour’s plate discipline combined with Batted Ball profile makes his batting average potential feel more like a steady skill set and less volatile than Joseph. Playing time could also be a factor as well. While Bour will get rest vs. LHP, Joseph could also be susceptible to lost at bats vs RHP given last season’s struggles.
Greg Bird – After missing the entirety of the 2016 season, Bird should have value come draft day. He wasn’t a top-level prospect, so any potential excitement is based entirely on what Bird accomplished during the final months of 2015. Overall, his Minor League numbers support what was accomplished. Bird has managed 20 home runs or more from 2013-2015, across four levels of baseball. Much like Bour, Bird has established solid walk totals, although Bird’s K% more closely resembles that of Joseph’s. I don’t feel as though Bird is as safe as Bour, but I also don’t see the downside possessed by Joseph. My intrigue with Bird is the home ballpark. Bird is a left-handed, fly ball pull hitter playing home games at Yankee Stadium. While a particular home advantage has yet to play out for Bird thus far, over the next five years a solid advantage should begin to surface.
Bob Hamelin and Jim Thome both found success at the Major League level. For Hamelin the wait was minimal, but it was also a short stay. Jim Thome’s route to success had a couple of detours, but at the end of the day the talent shined through. The story that should be emphasized is that there is no one particular path to stardom. I value the numbers derived from a track record of success or failures. I value controllable skill sets and improvements in problem areas. Others may value “doing it when it matters” and the final results. Ultimately there are so many components that go into someone’s success or failure. It is the unknown components that make this evaluation process not only difficult but a pleasure to attempt.
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