Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Genius of Theo Epstein

On November 25, 2002, the Boston Red Sox made history by hiring 28 year-old Theo Epstein as their general manager, making him the youngest GM in MLB history. Fast-forward 12 years to today, and now 40 year-old Theo Epstein has ended the Red Sox second longest World Series drought in MLB history with a World Series title in 2004. He then won one more in 2007, and he was also responsible for drafting or acquiring many of the players on the most recent 2013 World Series championship team. Theo Epstein killed the curse of the Bambino, and then added two more World Series titles on top of that. Now as President of Baseball Operations with the Chicago Cubs, Epstein is looking to end the Cubs' 106 year World Series drought and to finally kill the curse of the Billy Goat.

While I personally have an incredibly high opinion of Theo Epstein, I've noticed in my perusing of various blogs and articles on the internet that there are many Cubs fans who feel differently. The amount of hate directed towards Theo Epstein from Cubs fans that I've seen is absolutely appalling.

From this comment about how the Cubs are close to contention: "Bull...oney! The Theos are a long..long way from contending. I'd like to hear Mr. Cubs GM's answer to the question of when he believes the Cubs will win the World Series. I don't think he has an answer to that question other than you gotta be patient and that's pure bull. Seems full of contradictions. Why hype about the farm system which doesn't look that great to me then give serious thought...and money...to some over the hill free agent big name pitcher? What's a farm system for if you ain't got any pitchers there? Get real."

To this article about why Theo is a fraud: "When Theo Epstein took over the Cubs, he was billed as the savior of a franchise that hadn’t won a World Series in over 100 years. Cubs fans thought if this guy could break the curse of the Bambino, then there was no reason he couldn’t break the curse of the goat. But after just two years of the all-great and all-powerful Theo, the only goat is a gullible nation of Cubs fans... Theo and his boy-toy Jed Hoyer have been preaching patience and player development since they took over this sinking ship, but outside of Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz – where was all this player development in Beantown that the boy genius talks about? In some ways, I do get why Cubs fans bought into Theo Epstein. He’s smart, good looking, and talks a great game. Be he isn’t the ‘baseball genius’ that everybody thinks he is."

And finally, this gem: "I have no reservations in saying that Theo Epstein is the most overrated GM of all-time, having coasted his entire career off of a reputation that he built in 2003 and 2004."

Sometimes, reading opinions like that can be maddening. It's tough for me to empathize with others' negative opinions of the rebuild because it's obvious to me to see how incredibly bright the future of the Chicago Cubs is. While sometimes I am maddened by those comments, other times I feel like I do now, confused as to why so much hate is being slung in the direction of Theo Epstein. Before launching into a spiel about why Theo Epstein is in fact a baseball genius, let me quickly address why the the opinions of the writers above aren't grounded in fact and why they simply fail to capture the entire story.

Jose Fernandez is out for the year with Tommy John surgery
Comment 1: A GM giving a prediction for a World Series title is a death wish. If that GM doesn't make or win the World Series that year, the entire fan base will be calling for your neck. Also, if you, most intelligent comment writer, can't see the ludicrous talent the Cubs have marinading in their farm system, you need to reevaluate how you view a farm system. While there is a lack of high-profile, MLB-ready pitching, there's so much risk that those players will get injured (see Taijuan Walker, Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg). No one can say with certainty what those pitchers will be like when they return from injury, so at this stage in the rebuild, it's not as important as building overall farm system depth. The Cubs have quietly been adding a lot of pitching depth through trades (Jake Arrieta, Corey Black, Arodys Vizcaino, C.J. Edwards, Neil Ramirez), the draft (Jake Stinnett, Carson Sands, Justin Steele), and international free-agent signings (Jen-Ho Tseng). Don't question the Cubs farm system, because every expert unanimously agrees that they have the best system, even without a future ace.

David "Big Papi" Ortiz may be the greatest DH of all-time
Comment 2: Sir, the only 'goat' is whoever convinced you that Theo Epstein had a free ride to a World Series title. Outside of Jon Lester (an ace), Dustin Pedroia (ROY and MVP), and Clay Buchholz (most Wins in AL last year until he was injured), Epstein had acquired an additional slew of talent. He drafted Jonathon Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowry, Daniel Bard, Josh Reddick, and Wil Middlebrooks. His greatest acquisition, however, was his signing of Big Papi. Big Papi is arguably the greatest DH of all-time (Frank Thomas doesn't count, he played first base 44% of the time). Signing a player like Ortiz who had never been too successful up until that point epitomizes the genius of Theo Epstein. Ortiz went on to put up mammoth numbers that helped carry the Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years. 

Comment 3: I need to quote this again just so you can let it sink in: "I have no reservations in saying that Theo Epstein is the most overrated GM of all-time, having coasted his entire career off of a reputation that he built in 2003 and 2004." Yes, because acquiring the aforementioned talent to win World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 makes him overrated. No GM can 'coast' to a championship. If the author of the quote above truly believes he built his reputation in 2003-04 and coasted from there, how do you explain the 2007 title? Or the 2013 team, which consisted heavily of players that Theo assembled? Maybe you're bitter the Cubs didn't win a world series within 2 years of hiring him, but baseball requires more patience in a rebuild than almost any other sport. Just because the Heat could suddenly compete after signing Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, doesn't mean that signing 3 all-stars in baseball suddenly puts your team in a position to compete. Rebuilds in baseball take time. Rebuilds take patience. Just because you lack the patience for an MLB-length rebuild, doesn't mean that you need to call Theo Epstein 'the most overrated GM of all-time".

Phew, now that that's done, let's take a look at some of the brilliant things Theo has done for the Cubs, and let's try to justify the one not-so-great thing Theo has done (cough Edwin Jackson cough). For ease of reading (and a little bit so my writing can stay focused), I'm going to break up the elements of Theo's role as a GM in 3 sections: The Draft, Trades, and Free Agents (international and domestic).

The Draft

Theo Epstein's draft strategy for the past 3 years has been to draft the most polished positional player with the best intangibles in the first round, and then draft every possible high-upside pitching arm with the subsequent picks in the draft.

Via Mike Rosenbaum's article on Bleacher Report and originally from Baseball Reference, here's a chart that shows the pitching depth the Cubs have drafted in the last three yars:

Notable Pitching Prospects Drafted from 2012 to 2014
YearPlayerCurrent AgeCurrent Level
2012RHP Pierce Johnson23Double-A
2012RHP Paul Blackburn20Low-A
2012RHP Duane Underwood19Low-A
2013LHP Rob Zastryzny22High-A
2013RHP Tyler Skulina22Low-A
2013RHP Trey Masek22Short Season
2013RHP Trevor Clifton19Short Season
2014RHP Jake Stinnett22Rookie
2014LHP Carson Sands19Rookie
2014LHP Justin Steele18Rookie
2014RHP Dylan Cease18N/A
2014RHP James Norwood20Short Season
2014RHP Jordan Brink21Short Season

These players, taken in conjunction with Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber (taken in the first round of 2012-2014), make up a promising future for the Cubs.

This strategy is brilliant for a couple of reasons:

Mark Appel was the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft
1. So much can happen between getting drafted and playing in the big leagues, so a team should never spend their first round draft pick on a specific target because of need. Yes, the Cubs need pitching, but so did the Astros last year, and look at how great that turned out (see Mark Appel). Meanwhile, the Cubs last 4 first round picks (including Baez, but he was drafted before the Theo regime) have been terrorizing the minor leagues and look like bonafide future stars.

2. Pitchers get injured. Tommy John has already taken 39 players this year (most of whom are pitchers). Drafting 1 pitcher and putting all of your stock in him is a dangerous thing to do. The much safer option is to draft a bunch of young arms with potential in the later rounds in hopes that they pan out.

3. Mark Appel was taken in the 15th round out of high school. While he hasn't had a good pro career, he was the consensus #1 pick last year. This is the case for many pitchers who don't sign out of high school. Those players picked between rounds 5-20 who decline to go back to college typically end up being first round talents. When Kris Bryant graduated high school, the Blue Jays took him in the 18th round. See where he is now? Case in point, the first round pick should be spent on someone you can guarantee will be a star, which is what Theo has been doing. When Theo selected pitchers Carson Sands, Justin Steele, and Dylan Cease in the middle rounds, he was choosing high upside high school arms who had the potential to become top-10 draft picks after 3 years in college. For all intents and purposes, Theo drafted and signed 3 potential pitching studs for cheap. That's pretty brilliant.


Not much analysis is needed here to see that Epstein has brought in a copious amount of top-tier talent as well as general farm system depth by trading away veterans who did not have much value to the Cubs. Let's just recap some of the nutty trades Theo has been able to pull off:

1. Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Braves for Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino. 

Holy cow. Vizcaino is a former top prospect with an incredibly high ceiling whose career was slowed down by injury. The Cubs traded Paul Maholm, for a top prospect. Let that sink in.

2. Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto to Rangers for Christian Villaneuva and Kyle Hendricks.

While the Cubs did not receive any incredible talent in return, Villaneuva plays stellar defense with great doubles power while Hendricks looks to be a future middle-back of the rotation starter. Not bad for a 35 year-old pitcher and a washed up catcher.

Jake Arrieta has been unhittable as of late
3. Scott Feldman and Steve "The Cleaver" Clevenger (I may be the only one who calls him that) to the Orioles for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

When this trade was made, tears of joy were shed. I have always been such a fan of Arrieta, and Strop was a nice throw-in as well. With Samardzija gone, Arrieta has stepped up and looks like a genuine front-of-the-rotation starter while Strop continues to excel in the set-up role out of the bullpen. Needless to say, this was a great trade.

4. Matt Garza to the Rangers for C.J. Edwards, Mike Olt, Neil Ramirez, and Justin Grimm.

I repeat my sentiment from trade number 1: holy cow. Mike Olt, the original center piece of the deal, has not panned out, but no one blamed the Cubs for obtaining who many thought was to be a future star. Justin Grimm was viewed similarly to Jake Arrieta - a top prospect who's peripherals weren't in line with their actual production. While the Cubs have used Grimm exclusively in relief, he has been a solid contributor out of the bullpen. C.J. Edwards, despite injury, has been better than advertised, and looks like the future number 2 or 3 starter for the Cubs. And finally, the Player-To-Be-Named-Later, Neil Ramirez, has been one of the best PTBNL in recent memory despite the small sample size. Ramirez, too, had some injury issues that lowered his value to the Rangers. Once promoted to the Cubs, however, Ramirez has been incredible. I personally would love to see him moved to a starter role, because his wide arsenal of pitches would fit well there.

5. Alfonso Soriano and $10m to Yankees for Corey Black

Corey Black may be one of the most unknown prospects in the Cubs farm system, but just think of him as a more raw and more electric Neil Ramirez. His curveball (when located) is unhittable, and his fastball sits in the upper-90s. Even if Corey Black was awfulm most Cubs fan are in agreement that shipping out Soriano was long overdue.

6. Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Athletics for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily

Russell has 3 home runs in 11 games with the Smokies
The biggest trade of the Theo era might also have been the best for the Cubs. Jason Hammel signed with the Cubs for $6m last offseason. Because he was traded halfway through the year, he had been paid about $3m of that. Jeff Samardzija was not going to resign with the Cubs. He wanted too much money and the Cubs weren't willing to give it to him. If that's the case, why hold on to him? Hammel, a $3m journeyman starter, was having his best season of his career, and the Cubs traded him before his numbers could regress to his norm. Samardzija has no value to the Cubs as a player, because who cares if he pitches well if the Cubs aren't in a position to compete? While many Cubs fans are up in arms about the shipping out of 2 of the Cubs' best 3 pitchers, I'm ecstatic. Who cares if we win this year?

On the flip-side of that, Addison Russell is a top 5 prospect in all of baseball. Billy McKinney is top 100 (he was #2 in the A's system), and Dan Straily (former top prospect of the A's) has similar peripheral problems to Jake Arrieta, so he could end up being a great acquisition as well. Needless to say, the Cubs were looking ahead to 2016 with this trade, and they could not have acquired better prospects from anywhere else.

Free Agents

As far as free agent acquisitions go, the Cubs haven't really broken the bank on anybody. An Emilio Bonafacio here, a Wesley Wright there, the Cubs have been quietly amassing a legion of role players to flip at the deadline. Most of the aforementioned players were signed to short term deals by the Cubs and traded for prospects. Most people can agree that the Cubs thriftiness on the free agent front has saved the Cubs millions of dollars while getting them a countless number of prospects as well. However, there is one blight on the otherwise flawless record of Theo Epstein, and that blights name is Edwin Jackson.

Jackson has struggled his entire career, with a career 4.55 ERA
Edwin Jackson was Theo's Cubs equivalent of his signing of John Lackey while in Boston. The only justification I could have is that Jackson is an inning eater. Someone needs to pitch 150+ innings a year, and that's what Jackson has done every season of his career since 2007 (Fangraphs). His metrics have never been that good. He always walks a lot of people and gives up a lot of hits, but his safe, repeatable delivery keeps him injury free and on the mound deep into ball games. The problem of late of course is that Jackson has been so bad that he can't make it past the 5th inning. However, expect Edwin Jackson to start pitching a little better, as he has had an uncharacteristically bad year, and expect him to start gobbling up innings again.

Aside from these domestic free agent signings, Theo has been very aggressive and very successful with his international free agent signings. Last year, Theo inked the top two international free agents, outfielder Eloy Jimenez and shortstop Gleyber Torres. While most 16 year old free agent signings take a year or two to play in MLB-regulated leagues in the Dominican, Torres and Jimenez have been playing stateside with the Cubs affiliate in Boise this year, and they have been holding their own as 17 year-olds in rookie league hitting .211 and .255 respectively (Fangraphs). Expect these two to climb prospect rankings over the next few years, and look forward to their entrance to the majors in 2018.

Another pseudo-international signing is Cuban-defector Jorge Soler. Soler has been incredible, posting better numbers that Kris Bryant while at AA (read about that here). It's a very small sample size, yes, but still impressive nonetheless. Now that he's injury free, Soler has the look of a future all-star.

Jen-Ho Tseng has been the fastest rising Cubs prospect
The final international signing of importance is Taiwanese flame-throwing sensation Jen-Ho Tseng. The now 19 year-old Tseng has been absolutely shutting down opposing hitters in Class A Kane County. He has incredible poise and command of his arsenal for a 19 year-old, and he already has the look of a front-of-the-rotation stud. Originally listed outside of most everybody's top-20 prospect lists, Joel Reuter of Bleacher Report currently lists him at #9 in the Cubs' system. I personally have him listed at #14 on my list, but at the beginning of the year, he would have been nowhere near my top-20. Tseng has been dominate and will continue to rise through the minors and a brisk pace, assuming of course that he stays healthy. Needless to say, Epstein struck gold in this Taiwanese phenom.


I basically just summarized all of the acquisitions the Cubs made in the last 3 years under the Theo regime. Swinging pitchers like Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman for top prospects takes a manipulative genius, and that's exactly what Theo is. His thrifty handling of the Ricketts' money and his shrewd trading of MLB journeymen has placed the Cubs in an incredible position to compete for the next decade and beyond.

So next time you hear someone complain about Theo Epstein, just smile to yourself, because soon, very soon, the Cubs will have incredible talent playing in Wrigley Field on a daily basis.

And that's thanks to the genius of Theo Epstein.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why Albert Almora is the Cubs' Most Important Prospect

With the 6th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer selected Albert Almora as their first pick as members of the Chicago Cubs' front office. Almora, a 6'2" 172 lbs. center fielder out of Mater Academy Charter School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, was viewed as having incredible fielding instincts and ability, exceptional power for his small frame, and unparalleled leadership. In his third year of professional ball, Cubs fans are yet to see his 'exceptional power' come to fruition, but his incredible defensive ability and unparalleled leadership have been on display at every level he's played at. In a farm system brimming with unfathomable offensive talent, Almora's defensive and intangible leadership skills fill an expansive void that none of the Cubs' other top prospects can fill. Almora was only the 2nd high schooler drafted in the 2012 Draft (Byrun Buxton being the first), and he was also drafted before many other top prospects such as Joey Gallo, Lucas Giolito, and the Cubs' very own and recently acquired Addison Russell; however, Almora is more integral to his team's future success than any of those three are to theirs.

The weakest part of Almora's game is his offense, which is saying something considering the fact that the MLB grades Almora's hit tool as a 65, and his power as a 55. On a scale of 20-80, 50 is average, so this means that both elements of his game are above average, his hit tool specifically being well above average. He has an incredibly smooth swing that sprays line drives to all fields, and his power will only increase as he puts on more weight. He has always had success hitting the ball, which is why Almora was starting for his varsity high school team while in 8th grade. He had an incredibly successful high school career, finishing on a strong note by posting a .606 batting average his senior year.

While his hit tool and power are impressive and promising, his BB% is some cause for minor concern. Through his entire amateur career, Almora had never needed to walk before because his excellent bat control allowed him to put any pitch in play. Because of this, his walk rate for the 2014 season is only 3.2% according to Fangraphs. As the future lead-off man for the Chicago Cubs, he'll need to get that BB% much closer to 10%, but if that's the biggest hole in his offensive game, Almora will have a solid offensive career.

As I mentioned before, the Cubs' farm system is unanimously agreed upon as the best offensive farm system in all of baseball. While the implication with that statement is that the Cubs' minor league pitching is lacking, it's also important to realize that the Cubs' farm system lacks impact defensive talent.

In a time when so many scouts and fans are drooling over the offensive production of a certain Kris Bryant, his 75 grade power is at the center of every discussion about the Cubs' future. Seemingly missing from the conversation, however, is the 75 grade defense of Almora (MLB).

It's tough to quantify defensive ability with statistics. It's also tough to put up defensive numbers that impress someone, unless of course, you're throwing out runners from 300 feet away (see Yoenis Cespedes). However, Almora's career minor league .994 fielding percentage is incredibly impressive. If you give Almora a chance to make 100 plays, he will make 99 of them. But what's even more impressive is that he has had 1, and only 1, error each season of his professional career, giving him a grand total of 3 (Baseball Reference). He's only played 176 career games, so that's 3 errors in one full MLB season for all intents and purposes.

Carlos Gonzalez makes a diving catch in 2011
For comparison, Rockies outfielder and 3-time Gold Glove winner, Carlos Gonzalez, has a career fielding percentage of .984 (Baseball Reference). Gonzalez won his first Gold Glove in 2011 after only playing 61 games while making only one error. Through 86 games this year, Almora, too, has 1 error.

While offensive production in the minor leagues can be tainted and warped by any number of extraneous variables, fielding statistics stay extremely consistent. For example, Carlos Gonzalez's career minor league fielding percentage is .964 according to MLB.com. Gonzalez was an excellent fielder in the minors, and when he got to the majors, he got better. So what does that mean for Almora? A .994 fielding percentage is absolutely unfathomable and is the fielding percentage of a Gold Glover, yet Almora can still get better.

Almora is only 20 years old and he is playing defense on par with some of the greatest defensive center fielders of all time (courtesy of Baseball Reference):

If Almora's defensive numbers in the minors were to transition to and even potentially improve in the majors (which is totally reasonable to expect), he will find himself among the greatest defensive center fielders of all time.

Almora making an excellent diving catch for Kane County
Almora's defense makes him incredibly important to the future of the Cubs. When it comes to prospects, defense is the only certainty. There are plenty of "future all-stars" in the minors who can't hit a curve ball. There are plenty of "future aces" who blow out their arms. Barring injury, defense is the only tool that translates exceptionally between the minors and the big leagues, especially at the outfield position. To see a 20 year-old patrol the outfield like he does is truly something to behold. He always seems to do the right thing. His routes to fly balls are run perfectly, his throws are always deadly accurate, and he will never drop a fly ball. Albert Almora's defense is unparalleled by any other outfield prospect, and that makes his worth to the Cubs inestimable.

Now what would you say if I told you that there was one more element to his game that was more important to the Cubs, a tool even greater than his defense?

Well there is.

Albert Almora is a natural-born leader, the likes of which the Cubs have not seen since the days of Gary Matthews and Ryne Sandberg. He has obvious humility. The Sun Times reported him saying, "I’ve won everywhere I’ve been. And not because of me, but because of the teams I’m on. And I want to do that for the Cubs." Despite that humility, Epstein was incredibly impressed by his confidence, "He carried himself like a college kid. He had a real clear idea of his goals. He thought he was the best player in the draft and wanted to get his career started and prove that."

Almora hitting for the Team USA 18-U team.
While it's all fine and dandy to subjectively evaluate Almora's leadership and maturity based off of the quotes of those around him, nothing beats cold hard facts. One of those facts being that he was unanimously agreed upon as the leader of his 6 team USA teams. Yes, 6. Almora starred on the U-14 team when he was 13 and 14, the U-16 team when he was 15 and 16, and the U-18 team when he was 17 and 18. Almora set a record by playing on those 6 teams, but what's even more impressive is that he led every single one of them.

While he was quoted above as saying, "I've won everywhere I've been. And not because of me", a ton of it had to do with Almora. Like Michael Jordan made all of his teammates around him better, so too does Almora increase the competitive level and skill of all of those around him.

In 2016, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and possibly Jorge Soler will have a full year of MLB experience under their belts. Combine those 4 with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, and the Cubs have 6 probable all-stars. Add Albert Almora to that mix, and the Cubs just added an incredible defensive center fielder, a solid lead-off hitter, and a perfect leader for the Chicago Cubs.

The Yankees had Derek Jeter as a captain for over a decade, but soon...

The Cubs will have Albert Almora.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Did They Miss? Volume 1 - David Kelton

Corey Patterson. Josh Vitters. Felix Pie. The list of Cubs prospects who didn't meet our expectations is longer than the line to get into the bleachers at Wrigley Field on a sold-out Saturday (wait... Wrigley can sell out?). Long enough that a Google search of "Cubs prospect busts" turns up a whole slew of relevant articles. Many of these failed prospects come to mind easily, some don't. In this series, I'd like to go back and take a look at some of these familiar, and unfamiliar, prospect busts in Cubs history to try to pinpoint exactly why things didn't turn out as we planned. The guidelines for selection in this series will be players who once were in the Top 50 of Baseball America's top 100 prospects list, but obviously did not live up to expectations. With any luck, maybe this can inform our expectations for the current arsenal of top prospects we are eagerly awaiting at Wrigley Field.

And the first prospect in the series is.... David Kelton. Umm.... who? Well, see, back before there was Kris Bryant "guaranteed future Cubs All-Star third baseman", and before him Josh Vitters "guaranteed future Cubs All-Star third baseman", there was David Kelton "guaranteed future Cubs All-Star third baseman". 2001 me LOVED David Kelton. High round draft pick (2nd round), #45 prospect in all of baseball before 2002, the next savior of downtrodden Cubs baseball. Or at least, high school sophomore me was certain of it. Flash forward to today, and Kelton received all of 22 big league at bats in two short major league stints in his career, both as fill-ins for Sammy Sosa stupidity; first for the infamous suspension for corking his bat (but only for batting practice, of course), and secondly when he injured himself sneezing. While I was sure 2014 David Kelton would be fresh off his 9th or 10th All-Star game and the greatest Cub third baseman since Ron Santo, today he is the head baseball coach for LaGrange College in Georgia,. So, what happened?

Well, first of all, I may have been a bit overexcited. Kelton was never really Kris Bryant good. Back in 2008, The Hardball Times' Victor Wang analyzed the value provided by all the players who showed up in Baseball America's Top 100 prospects list from 1990 - 1999. He found that, of hitters ranked in the top 10, such as Bryant, about 15% turned into stars and only 10% busted; however, of hitters ranked 26 - 50, such as Kelton, only about 8% became stars and 35% busted. So maybe I was a bit too high on good old Davy's prospects. Still, that leaves around 65% of 26-50th ranked hitters to at least become contributors at the Major League level; so, what happened?

Kelton's minor league career peaked in 2001, when he slashed .313/.378/.549 (batting average / on-base percentage / slugging percentage) for Double-A West Tenn, garnering him the aforementioned top 100 prospects ranking. A telling sign of things to come, however, was that this happened over an injury shortened 58 games. Another warning sign was Kelton's .365 BABIP during that season, a fluky rate he never came within 37 points of again, besides a 50 game stint in the rookie league his first year. Tellingly, Kelton's 2001 batting average was also 30 points higher than any other in his career (hey, look at that! Mathematics making sense!), and his slash stats dropped to a still-respectable, but not top prospect worthy, .261/.332/.462 the following season. As a young 23-year old in AAA the following year, Kelton's stats held steady, but he could never build on his performance or capitalize on his Sosa-stupidity-related chances to make a splash in the big leagues. He eventually moved on from the Cubs, got a chance at Spring Training for the Braves in 2006, and retired to become the coach he is today.

So, how does this help us learn about our current prospects? Well, Kelton didn't have the strikeout problems that we worry about now with current top prospects Bryant and Javier Baez. It seems like we can get two things from Kelton's case; firstly, top 40 to 50 prospects are generally less exciting than we want them to be. Secondly, injuries stink. As mentioned before, Kelton's best season was injury shortened, and shoulder problems plagued him throughout his career. Eventually, he was forced to change positions to first base and the outfield, and one suspects his hitting ability was hampered as well. So, when everyone is freaking out today about how the Cubs have too many prospects for too few positions, remember the lesson of one David Kelton: injuries happen, and sometimes prospects just don't work out.