Rule 3: Watch the all-around, not the individual events
Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas is not a prospect for the Dodgers, but she does represent one of our rules for prospect mining. You see, she won the gold medal in the all-around competition, but failed to win any of the individual events. Why does that matter?
Well, we all know that chicks (and non-chicks) dig the long ball. Or some folks become enamored with on-base percentage. Or some other statistic that somehow becomes the “be-all, end-all” of analysis. It turns out that’s a good way to get fixated on guys who aren’t likely to have long-term MLB success.
Of course, you don’t ignore a guy with a bunch of homers (or walks, or whatever), but my research has found that virtually all successful MLB hitters demonstrate (in the minors, by age 23) both the ability to hit the ball with authority (“production”) and the ability to hold their own in the mano-a-mano with the pitcher (“plate skills”).
One way to ponder this is to consider the unique nature of baseball. Unlike other sports, the “defense” holds the ball and initiates the action (the pitcher, obviously). There is no quarterback or point guard to put the ball into play on the offense’s terms.
The hitter, then, is in the unusual situation of playing “offense” and “defense” at the same time. He must simultaneously “defend” against what the pitcher is trying to do while also generate offense by imposing his will on the ball.
Needless to say, there are a host of different combinations of how this can work … from Mark Reynolds relying almost entirely on home runs and walks, to Jose Reyes slapping the ball around and hardly ever striking out. But the common thread is that a hitter needs both a way to produce and a way to defend himself against the pitcher’s goal of getting him out.
It is quite common, then, to find guys who excel in one area but don’t have the “all-around” ability to make it, long-term, in the majors. But when you find the guys who can do it all (draw walks, avoid strikeouts, be selective at the plate and hit the ball with authority … Hello! Prince Fielder), then you’ve found your prospect gold.