Jesus Guzman – Over 11 years ago, in 2000, when Guzman was 16, he signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners. The Venezuelan wouldn’t see real minor league action until 2004, when he debuted at A+ ball. He acquitted himself quite well, going .310/.393/.443.
The following year he played entirely at AA ball. He was 21, but didn’t flash a ton of promise (.258/.330/.393). He also hit only nine homers and stole only six bases. What’s worse, he was caught stealing 11 times.
Not surprisingly, the Mariners made Guzman repeat AA in 2006. Now 22, he had to get his mojo going. Unfortunately, 2006 looked a lot like 2005: .257/.335/.382 with nine homers and seven steals (albeit he was only caught three times).
At 23, Guzman was going backward, as the Mariners kept him at A+ ball for the duration of 2007. He played well, but, at that age and repeating such a low level, the success was almost meaningless. On October 29, 2007, he was granted free agency.
He wouldn’t be a fish out of water for long, as Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics scooped him up on November 16. He spent the majority of his time at AA for the Athletics and played quite well: .364/.419/.560 with 14 homers. After 80 games at AA, the A’s promoted him to AAA, where things stalled out once again: .237/.281/.373.
Guzman again found himself a free agent on November 3, 2008. However, he wouldn’t wait long, as he signed a contract with the team across the bay just 15 days later. Guzman destroyed the ball in Spring Training for the Giants and showed much prowess as a 25-year-old in the Pacific Coast League (.321/.379/.507). He earned a quick cup of coffee with the Giants but didn’t do anything outstanding in just 20 plate appearances.
Unfortunately for Guzman, the Giants brought in a slew of veterans to clog the corners and he spent the entirety of 2010 in AAA (where he looked pretty good: .321/.376/.510).
Before 2011, with Brandon Belt on the way and Aubrey Huff inked to a two-year deal, Guzman was again granted free agency. But the Padres waited just 14 days to sign Guzman. If you are scoring at home, during his migration down the coast, Guzman never spent more than 18 days as a free agent after signing with the Mariners as a 16-year-old.
With Adrian Gonzalez gone and a couple of corner prospects in Kyle Blanks and Anthony Rizzo that were likely a bit away from the majors, the Padres started Guzman off in AAA in the Pacific Coast League. While it is a notorious hitter’s haven, you can’t doubt the success Guzman had: .332/.423/.529 with eight homers in 63 games.
Sure, he was repeating the league and he is now 27 years old, but dude could rake and deserved a shot. Well, on June 17, at Minnesota of all places, Guzman got the start. He went 2-4, but wouldn’t get full time duties for some time. However, by the end of June, in 30 plate appearances, Guzman had a .310/.333/.552 line.
Still splitting time throughout July, Guzman got better: going .345/.400/.636 in 60 plate appearances. And he hasn’t slowed down in August, getting a hit in 10 of 11 games he has appeared in.
I love the Jesus Guzman story. I love that I own him in a bunch of deep leagues and you should too. While he likely won’t maintain his .371 BABIP, his 20.9% line drive rate and 12.5% HR/FB rate aren’t flukes. He swings and misses a good chunk and doesn’t walk a lot, but his power is real and sustainable. I see no reason why he can’t finish with an average around .325, a sweet .355 OBP, and a nice .510 slugging percentage. At least five more homers seem like money in the bank. Buy the Guzman stats and buy the story, grab him now.
Dexter Fowler – Fowler, born four years and nine days after me, was a 14th round selection in the 2004 draft. He’d appear in 62 games in rookie ball in 2005 and look decent enough (.273/.357/.409) to earn a promotion the following season to A ball.
And Fowler shined (.296/.373/.462) with 43 steals albeit in 66 attempts (not the best success rate). Still, going into the following year, 2007, Fowler was rated the #48 best prospect. Unfortunately, Fowler suffered injuries to his right hand and appeared in just 65 games at A+ ball. He looked good, but took a step back to #74 in the prospect rankings.
However, that didn’t stop the Rockies from promoting him the following season. In 2008, in his first taste of AA, Fowler went .335/.431/.515 and earned his first espresso in the majors. He made his debut the same day he earned his call up and pinch ran in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Giants. Unfortunately, he was picked off first base.
Still, going into 2009, he was ranked the #15 best prospect and spent the majority of the season in the majors going .266/.363/.406 with 27 steals in 37 attempts. He posted a reasonable walk rate (12.9%) but his .351 BABIP was a tad dangerous (even though it was paired with a 21% line drive rate).
Clearly, it seemed like the groundwork was laid for a 2010 season full of stolen bases. Unfortunately, his walk rate dipped, his ground balls increased, his BABIP fell to .328 and his OBP dropped to .347. This resulted in just 13 steals in 21 attempts – a horrible ratio for a no-power guy.
Going into 2011, Fowler was an afterthought in a crowded and star-studded Rockies lineup. However, he has generated a .265/.366/.401 line (eerily similar to 2009). But if you check underneath the hood, while his line drive rate has increased slightly over the past two years, he is striking out more and his BABIP is .377. What’s worse, Fowler is just 8/16 in stolen base attempts.
Still, there is room for optimism. Over the last 30 days, Fowler has gone 30/92 with six steals and a .426 OBP. Sure, his BABIP over the last 28 days is .448, but you have to have skills to do that. Fowler is someone to keep an eye on down the stretch. If he can keep hitting line drives and figures out a way to steal successfully, Fowler could be a decent boon to your steals. In addition, I’d take this as an audition for your 2012 fantasy squad. I believe in Fowler long-term.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia – I’m about to tell you something I bet you didn’t know. Salty has the longest last name in the illustrious history of Major League Baseball. The inability to spell/pronounce his surname didn’t hinder his draft potential, as he was a first round selection by the Atlanta Braves in 2003, right out of high school.
He did some nice things, especially for a catcher, in his first two minor league seasons in rookie and A ball. However, he truly burst onto the scene in 2005, going .314/.394/.519 in A+ ball. Before 2006, he was the #18 ranked prospect. While he slipped a little in 2006 (hitting just .230/.353/.380) at AA, he was just 21 and, my oh my, look at that on base percentage – that’s tops.
Before 2007, he was the #36 ranked prospect. He said the hell with that ranking, I deserve a top slot. He murdered AA: .309/.404/.617 in 22 games. He earned his way onto a contending Braves team, where he would exhibit some chops: .284/.333/.411 in 47 games. He was 22 and a catcher. No wonder the Rangers coveted him (not to mention Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison). On July 31, he’d be traded along with the aforementioned trio to the Texas Rangers for Mark Texeira and Ron Mahay.
As an aside, that trade almost looks as bad as the Glenn Davis for Steve Finley-Curt Schilling-Pete Harnisch swap the Orioles did. It’s amazing that the Braves had enough minor league talent to not even skip a beat (for the most part) after that.
Back to Salty – he wouldn’t perform quite as well with the Rangers (.251/.290/.431) but his power increased and he finished with an impressive .266/.310/.422. We had our next Mike Piazza. Well, there’s a reason Mike Piazza has few equals. Salty would struggle with injuries and inconsistency in 2008, playing just 61 games in the majors. He finished with a .253/.352/.364 line, which isn’t horrible, but was aided by a .385 BABIP. The lack of power and skyrocketing K-rate (it was 32.3%) were definitely disconcerting.
Unfortunately, Salty continued his downward spiral in 2009. His walk rate plummeted, his Ks maintained and his BABIP normalized, resulting in a .223/.290/.371 line in 84 games. While his isolated power moved back toward his respectable 2007 number, he hit fewer line drives and fly balls and more ground balls – not a recipe for success when you run like a catcher and play in a hitter’s park.
Then, just two games into the 2010 season, Salty was put on the DL. When he was ready to come off, he found himself completely lost and in AAA. He struggled with the bat and with his throws back to the pitcher. The Red Sox swooped in with some cash and a few prospects and scooped Salty off the Rangers’ hands. Salty did nothing for the Red Sox in 2010 and it appeared Salty’s star had fizzled completely, especially after a rough start to 2011.
However, he has turned things around in Boston. After 266 plate appearances, he has a 28.8% K-rate (which is a huge improvement) and has traded ground balls for fly balls – a smart thing to do in Fenway Park. While his walk rate hasn’t gotten to the double digit promise that seemed all but certain a few years ago, his .317 OBP is nothing to sneeze at from a 26-year-old catcher with a .209 ISO and .462 slugging percentage.
There is absolutely nothing crazy about Salty’s season. It will likely be the building block to a long and successful career. However, there is one underlying problem with Salty’s career today: his splits. He owns a career .274/.343/.447 line against righties but a .209/.268/.334 line against lefties. He hasn’t been much better this year.
Still, the Red Sox are smart enough to ensure he sees most of his at bats against righties. As long as Salty continues to take advantage of his home ball park and takes a few small steps in his pitch recognition, he could be a prime backstop for the next several years. If we’re looking at the rest of the season, I could see him being a top 5-7 option down the stretch. Certainly, McCann, Mauer, Napoli, Martinez (although look at his splits), and Carlos Santana will be in the mix as well.