LotW: Progress


There are many thing to look at when evaluating prospects. While raw stats are a very useful tool, they don’t always tell the whole story. There are very few stats that will indicate a player’s ceiling, for example. How good a player can become is a major part of their evaluation as a prospect. Others, such as evaluating a player’s age relative to their competition, are a little easier to figure out.

One that can get very easily overlooked is progress. Almost every player that enters the minor leagues has something they need to work on. Some guys manage to improve in that area and advance, and others never make the adjustments. All too often, that improvement is hard to spot when studying a stat sheet. But when we can spot a guy who made the adjustments and improved his game, that guy needs to be recognized. Sometimes, that guy gets a Line of the Week.

This week’s Minor League Line of the Week goes to Michael Burgess. That’s right, I’m giving an award that centers on stat lines to guy who is hitting .228 on the season. Even crazier than that, I’m saying I think this guy just might be the Cubs right fielder of future.

One look at Burgess’s numbers, and you see both the promise and the problem. As a twenty two year old lefty outfielder in High-A Daytona, he has hit 14 home runs and has a slugging percentage of .422. As he gets older and stronger, we can imagine Burgess hitting 30+ HR a season for the Cubs. We can imagine summer days with the wind blowing out in which he hits three homers in one afternoon. We can, in short, imagine Michael Burgess as the best power bat to play right field in Wrigley since Sammy went home early. That is a lot of promise.

But we can also see the problem. His 88 strikeouts are good for a strikeout rate 26%. That isn’t terrible for a slugger, but it isn’t great for a guy this low in the minors, either. We can see his batting average is under .230, and that his season on base percentage is only .329. Put it all together, and we have a guy who swings hard and misses a lot. He doesn’t work the count as well as he could, doesn’t make as much contact as he needs to, and is not likely to reach the majors until he makes some changes.

He gets this Line of the Week because it appears he has made those changes.

Before the Florida State League All-Star Break, Burgess was hitting .190 with an OBP of .296 and was slugging just .375. He had only 33 walks to balance his 65 strikeouts, and his strike out rate was 30%.

After the All-Star Break, he is hitting .297 with an OBP of .388 and is slugging .508. He has 17 walks to go with his 23 strikeouts, and has cut his strikeout rate down to 19.5%.

His numbers for July are even stronger. .314/.412/.547 with 13 walks and 14 strikeouts, good for a strikeout rate of 16.3%.

When I look at those numbers, I see a guy who has made significant adjustments. At the start of the season, he couldn’t hit his weight. Now he is pushing for a promotion to Tennessee. The most incredible number is his drop in his strikeout rate. He has dropped it by about a third between the first and second halves, and his rate in July is about half his rate before the All-Star Break. That is too large of a change over too long a period of time to be a statistical fluke. Burgess has made the adjustments, and he could be about to step onto the fast track to Wrigley.

So let’s assume he gets his chance in Double A later this year or to start next season and he continues to show the same patience and selectivity there. Let’s say in about 100 ABs at Tennessee he keeps his slugging percentage around .500, his strike out rate no higher than 20%, and he walks about as often as he strikes out. If that happens, he will be the Cubs’ starting right fielder by the end of 2012.

One stat that seems to translate well through the minors and into the majors is patience. If a guy does well drawing walks and avoiding strikeouts in the minors, then once he has adjusted to the big leagues he will probably continue to draw walks and avoid strikeouts. That is why Josh Vitters is both fascinating and frustrating. If Michael Burgess has in fact found his patience and learned to be more selective at the plate, then he has a very bright future ahead of him. He has managed to convince me, at any rate, and I now have him penciled in on the Cubs 2013 roster.

I now see the Cubs’ Outfield of the Future like this:
LF – Brett Jackson (25 steals, 20+ HR)
CF – Matthew Szczur (45 steals)
RF – Michael Burgess (30+ HR)

Tyler Colvin and Jae-Hoon Ha are waiting in the wings if any of those three don’t make it, and Reggie Golden is lurking in the very low minors.