Cliff Pennington – Pennington was the 21st overall selection in the 2005 draft by the Oakland Athletics. He started in A ball that year and looked pretty good over 69 games: .276/.364/.359. While the power wasn’t really there, he was only 21 and did manage 15 doubles in 334 plate appearances. He was also 25/31 in stolen base attempts, a nifty ratio.
Given the first round pedigree and moderate success, Baseball America rated him the #83 prospect before the 2006 season. Unfortunately, he got off to a slow start and suffered a leg injury, resulting in just 234 plate appearances. He would never appear on another Baseball America top 100 list.
Still, in the following season, he finally got a full season of minor league ball, appearing in 138 games across A+ and AA ball. The results weren’t good for the 23-year-old: .253/.348/.368 – but hey, the slugging percentage was higher than his OBP! At least Pennington showed an advanced approach at the plate, posting a walk rate north of 12% and not striking out a whole lot.
There was still potential in the shortstop given that approach and it appeared he made use of his tools in 2008. He started off in AA, posting a .260/.379/.314 line. The batting average and power were absent – however the near 16% walk rate showed that he had mastered that level of pitching. Pennington was promoted to AAA and would get 294 plate appearances and do some damage: .297/.426/.386. Across both levels he had 31 steals in 37 attempts. He earned a quick cup of coffee for his efforts and batted .242/.339/.293 in the majors. He held his own with an 11.1% walk rate and 15.4% K rate.
Still, he started 2009 in AAA and didn’t quite perform as well. His BABIP dropped from .338 in 2008 to .300 and his slash line followed (.264/.345/.367). Still he was walking and not striking out a lot, so the Athletics brought him to the majors.
He batted an impressive .279/.342/.418 in 229 plate appearances in 2009 – although the line was buoyed by a .342 BABIP that wasn’t supported by great contact (just an 18.5% line drive rate). He was also striking out a lot, not walking nearly as much as you would like and he wasn’t successful stealing. It was hard to see where Pennington’s value would come from if (when) that BABIP normalized.
In his first full year in the majors, 2010, Pennington’s BABIP normalized to .296 (even though he hit more line drives: 21.5%) and his slash line suffered. He hit just two more homers than he did in 2009 in nearly 350 more at bats. Still, he stole 29 bases and was caught just five times. The steals were nice, but their value was useless given his inability to get on base/hit for a good average. Still he wasn’t hitting a ton of ground balls (just 35.6%) and the line drive rate should have produced a slightly better BABIP.
The question remained whether Pennington could hit the ball well enough to be fantasy relevant. Well, he has a 24.9% line drive rate this year and an improved and sustainable BABIP at .316. He is hitting a not awful .265/.321/.367. Unfortunately, he is just 13/22 in stolen base attempts and has only eight homers.
However, he’s been damn good since July 15. It’s a small sample (56 games and 232 plate appearances), but he owns a .309/.371/.454 line. Of course he has a .376 BABIP during that time and the competition usually gets weaker as the season goes on.
This year has been a nice step forward for Pennington and he is entering his prime. You cannot bank on him to continue his second half trend going into next season. He hasn’t mastered the strike zone like you would expect and he still hits too many fly balls for his home ballpark. It would not surprise me if he finds his way inside the top 10 at his position next year and does have upside to the 5-7 range. So he’ll be a good gamble late in drafts – but is far too risky to count on in anything other than AL-only leagues. That said, I’m happily riding him down the stretch.
Nolan Reimold – A former standout at Bowling Green State University, Reimold was the 61st overall selection in the 2005 MLB Draft. He played pretty well in the minors in his initial stint (73 games): .285/.385/.551 with 15 homers across A- and A+.
He drew the attention of Baseball America and was rated the #99 prospect in baseball before the 2006 season. However his grasp on the top 100 would slip through his fingers after a somewhat poor season at A+. He struck out a good bit (21.2%), but still walked enough and hit for enough power to remain intriguing.
He played sparingly, but well in 2007 at AA. In just 50 games, he hit .306/.365/.565. The power was there, but he struck out a ton (23.2%) and had an inflated BABIP (.359). Still, he was the #91 prospect going into the 2008 season.
He spent the entire 2008 season in AA and looked good: .284/367/.501 and really cut down his Ks (14%). He earned his promotion to AAA in 2009. He wouldn’t be there long though – after 31 games and a .394/.485/.743 line, he made his way to the big league club. On May 20, against the hated New York Yankees, Reimold hit his first career homer – it happened to be off Mariano Rivera – pretty sweet. Then, seven days later, he hit a walk-off dinger in the 11th against the Blue Jays. Reimold finished the year with 15 HRs and a .279/.365/.466 line in 411 plate appearances.
Clearly, 2010 would be a 20-HR campaign with the RBIs to go with them. Unfortunately, Reimold battled injuries and inconsistency. He played just 39 games for the big league club and struggled to a .207/.282/.328 line. He struck out more, even though he swung and missed less. While his line drive rate dipped to 12% (from 14.4% the year before), his BABIP really dipped – all the way to .236. In addition, his HR/FB rate dropped to 8.3%. Either Reimold suddenly got terrible, or he was the victim of serious bad juju.
While he spent time in the minors in 2011, he has mostly returned to form in the majors. Clearly his .235/.324/.429 leave a lot to be desired but his ISO, HR/FB% and line drive rate are all in line with 2009. His average on balls in play is still a tad low, so there is room for optimism that he can improve the rest of the way and in 2012.
He is probably not viable in 10-team leagues next year. However, he should have enough mojo for every other kind of league – he could legitimately hit 20-30 HRs.