The curse of high expectations

Big day for Betemit | ajc.com

The AJC now says that Wilson Betemit is likely to make the 25-man roster. Knowing the AJC, that means he’ll probably be traded this afternoon, but I wanted to expand upon my commentary on Betemit from yesterday and from my player analysis on him.

Wilson Betemit was labeled a hot prospect so many years ago that not everybody might remember why. It wasn’t performance, exactly. He was pretty good in Danville in 1999, but what made everyone really take notice was the revelation that he was actually sixteen months younger than his listed age. Betemit put up some high batting averages and showed some power in the low minors, and continued to advance. He played 47 games in Greenville in 2001 and hit .355, and the Braves thought he was close to ready, even calling him up in September.

He wasn’t ready. Betemit was terrible in Richmond in 2002, and lost much of his prospect sheen. He wasn’t much better in 2003, and lost the rest of it. So when he put up some pretty good numbers there last year, nobody cared.

Now, .278/.336/.466 doesn’t exactly leap out at you. But for a 22-year-old infielder in AAA, that’s not bad at all. To take a name at semi-random, when Mike Lowell was 22, he hit .282/.355/.413… in Greensboro of the South Atlantic League. Bret Boone hit .255/.357/.417 at age 22 in the Southern League. Jeff Kent hit .277/.358/.465 in the Florida State League. And so on.

Now, I’m not going to say that Wilson Betemit is going to be as good of a player as Boone, Kent, or Lowell. But compare him to a couple of players from the Braves’ system. Mark DeRosa was a pretty good utility infielder for awhile, and not someone labeled useless trade bait. DeRosa hit .296/.359/.425 in AAA — at age 26, on his third year at the level.

Baseball Prospectus, in this year’s annual, compares Betemit to Vinny Castilla. I’ve been critical of Vinny, but nobody doubts he’s a major league-level player. Vinny wasn’t even in organized baseball at 22. At 25, he hit .252/.291/.367 in Richmond.

I don’t think Wilson Betemit is going to be a star. But you don’t have to be a star to be a contributor. I think Betemit will likely wind up with a fairly long career at third base in the majors. Comparable active players would be Aaron Boone, David Bell, Joe Randa. That level of player. That’s not the sort of player who’s going to push Chipper aside or hold off Andy Marte, but it’s not a failure.

12 thoughts on “The curse of high expectations”

  1. Nice article, Mac. I hope the Braves see it your way too. Certainly he’s far too valuable to just release, and probably too valuable to trade for a relief pitcher from the Nationals. I would think that if anyone in baseball knows how to spin relief pitching straw into gold, it’s the Braves.

  2. I agree with you on every point Mac. I also beleive that the “prospect” label was the only reason he was in Richmond at 20. I felt then and now that the Braves did him a diservice by having him at AAA at that point. His development would, IMO, have been much more properly served by longer stretches at high A and AA.

  3. Of course, those numbers are even more valuable if you’re getting it from short. From the commentary, it sounds like he’s more comfortable at third. I’ve only seen a couple of games where he’s played short, and he looked okay — I don’t know if he would be a liability, but plugging him in at short would certainly fit the club’s needs.

  4. I guess I don’t get it. A .466 slugging percentage for a 22 year old infielder at AAA is very impressive. So why is the conclusion that he will end up as a Bell/Randa type, guys that never had that kind of success at that age? Just being conservative?

    Given his age and accomplishments, and normal development curve would bring him pretty darn close to All-Star level. It’s just won’t be for the Braves. Unless of course he follows the ‘Andruw Jones peak at age 23’ career path.

  5. Not a worst case scenario, but below the median. Betemit could be more, a .550 slugging type player, with a little luck. Something I cut from the article… You know how high I am on Andy Marte. But I think there’s at least a five percent chance, maybe higher, that Betemit will still have a better career.

    Betemit could easily make an All-Star team or two as a third baseman. Aaron Boone did. Chris Sabo was that level of player, maybe a shade better, he made three. Kelly Gruber made a couple. So did Brook Jacoby. That type of player.

  6. That makes sense. The few times I’ve seen him at short, he’s looked ok. It’s a shame he’ll probably never get a chance to play there at the major league level. I could see him having 110% of Jose Valentin’s career.

  7. Betemit looked really relaxed in yesterday’s game, and he was almost sauntering through some of the defensive plays. The look of a man who has been given news, one way or the other.

  8. There are rumor that the Phillies are talking to Jimmy Rollins about a long-term contract which Rollins could get a four-year deal worth up to $40 million. If Rollins can get $40M, Furcal will definitely be asking for more (how crazy…), and I dont think the Braves will go any higher than $8M per season.

    The most likely scenario, in my opinion, will be the Braves keeping Betemit as a backup midfielder this season and letting him and Orr compete for the starting SS position for the 2006 season. The loser of the battle will be the backup midfielder in 2006.

  9. Just want to clarify what I wanted to say. I mean its crazy that Rollins is getting $40M. I definitely think Furcal is a better player than Rollins.

  10. I’m not clear on how minor league options work. I know that Betemit is out of options with the Braves because of his previous service time, but if he’s traded would he have more options with the new team?

    I’m hopeful about his potential as a replacement for Furcal next year, but I just don’t know how he’ll develope on the bench. Especially it terms of plate discipline and other game skills.

  11. If two players who are out of options with their old teams are traded, they each get an extra option year with their new team.

  12. Agree, Mac. The early analogy was ARod. That’s a setup for failure when you don’t pan out to be ARod.

    Given he’s replacing such luminaries as Belliard, Ozzie Guillen and Jesse Garcia, he’s a huge asset and I hope we hold on to him rather than trade him for Jon Rauch.

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