Nine players made their 2010 debut yesterday — seven appearing in the big leagues for the first time — on the first day of roster expansion. By WPA standards, four positively contributed to their team, and five negatively contributed in their debuts. Here is my take on the positive contributors; I will write up the negative contributors in the afternoon today.
Brandon Allen, 1B/LF, Age 24, Arizona Diamondbacks.
Debut: +.229 WPA. The only of today’s eight players to have a previous big league career, Allen made his 2010 debut in left field. He had a bloop single to left in the third, and then a bloop fly-out to left in the fifth. In the seventh inning, Allen pulled a hanging slider to right field 419 feet for a grand slam. In the field, Allen made a nice catch against the fence in the fourth, one of four put-outs on the day.
2010 Minor League Season: .261/.405/.528 (.407 wOBA) in 469 PA at Triple-A.
Thoughts on Future: I have to say, more impressive than the grand slam yesterday was Allen’s catch of a slicing Chase Headley fly ball. This makes it all the more likely his 2011 season will be in the Major Leagues, as he’s going to offer the Diamondbacks solid enough play at first base or in left field. At the plate, he’s more than ready. Allen posted a 17.7 BB% this year, which more than makes up for his problems with contact. You can expect both his ISO and BB% to come down next year, but both should still be above league average. Allen is going to have a nice, long big league career; the White Sox must be kicking themselves for trading away Paul Konerko‘s successor at first base.
Darren Ford, CF, Age 24, San Francisco Giants.
Debut: +.214 WPA. Pinch ran for Mike Fontenot at first base in the 8th. Reached second on Tim Lincecum sacrifice. Bolted for third base when an Ubaldo Jimenez pitch hit the dirt, drawing a late throw from Miguel Olivo that went to left field. Ford scored the winning run on the play.
2010 Minor League Season: .251/.315/.365 (.313 wOBA) in 516 PA at Double-A. 37-52 SB/ATT.
Thoughts on Future: With a fairly hot Rockies team three games back, and a great pitcher’s duel brewing between Jimenez and Lincecum, Ford played the role of Dave Roberts in a huge moment. Despite the dissimilarities in their games, Roberts’s late-starting big league career, including 5 seasons with more than 400 plate appearances, would be a decent-enough outcome for Ford. Ford is already an all-world defender in center field, certainly a good baserunner, but his offense lags behind. Ford cut his strikeout rate to a career low this year, but it was met with a career-low walk rate, which had previously been his lone strength as a hitter. Most likely, he’s a fifth outfielder, but given his defensive abilities, his offense doesn’t need to be quite as good as most prospects.
Danny Espinosa, SS/2B, Age 23, Washington Nationals.
Debut: +.004 WPA. Espinosa was credited for a double in his first big league plate appearance, but it was mostly because the hometown official scorer didn’t want to give Donnie Murphy an error. To his credit, Espinosa turned a one-base error into a two-base error with good speed. Espinosa grounded out to second in the 8th, and didn’t record a play in the field.
2010 Minor League Season: .268/.337/.464 over two levels. Hit .259/.332/.461 (.356 wOBA) in 434 PA at Double-A, hit .295/.349/.463 (.345 wOBA) in 108 PA at Triple-A. 25-36 SB/ATT.
Thoughts on Future: I really like Danny Espinosa, because he’s the rare prospect that could stick at shortstop and post good patience and power numbers. But then again, it sure seems like the Nationals are going to stick him at second base, and his patience wasn’t good (7.5 BB%) this season. Both of these alter his prospect rating, and definitely knock him down a notch. Espinosa is also a player that’s going to have to win over an old-school manager, as it’s hard to forecast him ever hitting above .275 with strikeout rates in the mid-twenties.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Age 22, Milwaukee Brewers.
Debut: +.001 WPA. One inning, three batters faced, 11 pitches thrown, 7 for strikes. Was 95-98 mph with 7 fastballs, and threw 4 curveballs at 78-79 mph. Allowed groundball single to Miguel Cairo, induced double play grounder from Paul Janish, and groundball out from Ryan Hanigan.
2010 Minor League Season: 2.23 ERA in 24 appearances spread between the Midwest (5 G), Florida State (8 G) and Southern (11 G) Leagues. Ratios between three levels: 5.0 H/9, 0.00 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 12.0 K/9.
Thoughts on Future: We know that his next suspension will be the end of his professional baseball career, so that is noteworthy. With that said, Jeffress was by all accounts a good citizen during his 2010 season, and he made real strides on the diamond. Once a pure arm strength guy, Jeffress flashed a really good curveball yesterday that drew hilariously weak contact from Janish and Hanigan. With that pitch reaching true plus status, and his over-the-top arm angle still producing big velocity, Jeffress profiles as a Major League closer. His blend of strikeouts and groundballs should lead to some real success in that role.