Is Guyer the guy? (Revisited)

The Cubs have any number of prospects having fine seasons, and so their choice of minor-league player of the year, Brandon Guyer, is noteworthy. If you glance at this list of former recipients of this award, you will see names that are familiar to Cub fans–Burke, Hoffpauir, Soto, Patterson (Eric), Dopirak, Choi, Jackson (Nic), Patterson (Corey)–but only one name of a successful major leaguer. Will Guyer follow Soto to success, or will he follow the better trodden path to obscurity?

I predict success for Guyer, if for no other reason than that he won a close contest for the award among a strong contingent at the double-A level. The winner was Guyer, but there was a close second, as well as a close third and fourth. If not Guyer, it would have been Jackson. If not Jackson, Chirinos, if not Chirinos, Campana. Those were the four best position players at Tennessee, but not by any means the only Tennessee players with excellent seasons. You also had Thomas, Spencer, Lalli, Clevenger.

There were several excellent season-long performances in AAA, also, but I prefer to focus on AA, since that is the level where prospects go to be noticed. Triple-A candidates sometimes tend to be overripe, past optimum picking. Of the former players-of-the-year listed above, not a single one played in double A in the award season. Burke, both Pattersons, and Dopirak were coming out of low A ball when they won the award. All had problems at the next level. Nic Jackson had a fine year at high-A Daytona but never duplicated it. Hoffpauir was at the opposite end of prospecthood, a 28-year-old hitting machine at Iowa and a 29-year-old rookie with Chicago, with the thankless job of backing up Derrek Lee.

Soto was 24, the same age as Guyer, when things finally clicked for him at Iowa. He went from POY at Iowa to ROY in Chicago the following year. Choi was 23 in 2002 when he had his big year at Iowa and won the award, and he was ceded the first-base job in Chicago the following year. According to the analysis of career trajectories that I’m applying to Guyer and his cohort at Tennessee, success could have been predicted for Choi. If Choi didn’t make it, why should this crop of Tennesseeans be any luckier?

I would simply point out that none of them is a first baseman. None is defensively challenged. None is slow: three of the four are serious base stealers at the AA level. Gentle giant Choi was competing at first base, where the bar for hitting with power is at its absolute highest.

In general, beware of highly touted prospects who play first base. Many are called, few chosen.

The final version of the Hitting Prospects (2010) table below shows the intensity of the debate between Guyer, Jackson and Chirinos. The number in the Score column at the right is, like OPS, built on total bases and walks, but it adds stolen bases to total bases and bases on balls. In baseball, why should some bases be more important than others?

Guyer led the Southern League in slugging but Jackson uses all those bases on balls to edge him out in the table. Chirinos beats both of them in OPS but falls behind in base-stealing. Campana can’t steal enough extra bases–he was second in the league with 48–to approach the heavier-hitting top three. Canzler finished second in the league in home runs but doesn’t appear to be a viable candidate, defensively, at third, so he gets in line behind all the other wannabe first basemen/left fielders in the baseball world.

The real story to emerge from the minor-league campaign is that the Cubs needed a leadoff hitter and they now have Guyer, Campana and Jackson to choose from. Pity the opponent (the Jacksonville Suns, at the moment, in the Southern League championship series) that has to try to stop all three of them!

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