First-Round Woes: Tyler Colvin

With his recent promotion to the Majors, there have been a lot of questions being asked about the Cubs’ outfield prospect Tyler Colvin. The Clemson University product was originally selected by Chicago in the first round of the 2006 draft. He was chosen 13th overall, even though some teams did not have him in the mix for a Top 100 selection.

The Cubs organization thought enough of his athleticism to bypass other players such as Travis Snider (Toronto), Kyle Drabek (Philadelphia), Hank Conger (LAA), and Daniel Bard (Boston). But the club did not have second, third, or fourth round picks and it obviously felt he would not be there in the fifth round, where the club selected Jeff Samardzija.

Colvin’s early minor league numbers were OK on the surface but he did not excel in any one area. He hit for a respectable average in 2007 while splitting the year between high-A and double-A but it became clear that his approach was not going to work in the upper levels of the minors and the Majors.

That year, Colvin walked just 3.9% of the time in high-A (245 at-bats) and 2.0% in double-A (247 at-bats). His average remained OK, in part due to strong BABIPs of .356 and .342. Colvin was then left in double-A in 2008 to work on his game plan at the plate. He batted an uninspired .256/.312/.424 in 540 at-bats. His walk rate rose to 7.5%.

The organization demoted the now-24-year-old outfielder to high-A to begin 2009 to not only continue working on his approach but also to continue his rehab from elbow surgery, as one reader pointed out. Colvin hit just .250 with an OPS of .683 in 32 games, but the walk rate hit double digits for the first time in his career at 10.4%. He was then promoted to double-A (His third shot) for the remainder of the minor league season. He hit .300/.334/.524 with a walk rate of 5.0% in 307 at-bats.

It’s pretty clear that Colvin is what he is: A fringe starting outfielder with average usable power who doesn’t get on-base enough, and who has limited interest in stealing bases despite having above-average abilities on the base paths. He might luck into a few seasons where he’ll produce a solid batting average, but it probably won’t be the norm.

The Cubs took a gamble on Colvin in the 2006 draft, but it looks like a swing-and-a-miss as a No. 1 pick. That said, he could still be a useful MLB player… and he’d be getting better press if he had gone to the Cubs in the third or fourth round.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


21 Responses to “First-Round Woes: Tyler Colvin”

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  1. Jilly says:

    One little nit pick with your article. Colvin didn’t go to Daytona at the start of this year because the Cubs were unhappy with him. He had offseason elbow surgery, and so for the first month or so he could hit but couldn’t play the field, and Daytona is the highest Cubs affiliate with a DH so that’s why he went there.

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    • JD says:

      This isn’t entirely accurate. In the PCL (the league the Iowa Cubs are in), pitchers only hit if both teams playing are affiliated with NL teams AND both managers agree to have pitchers hit.

      If the Cubs had wanted him in AAA, they could have had him be the DH there.

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  2. Complainer says:

    I also have a “nit pick”. The article should have been titled Chicago Cubs Woes: Another bad draft pick. Just add Colvin to the list of garbage that the Cubs are collecting.

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    • Ted Lehman says:

      You haven’t been paying attention, I guess. The Cubs are putting together a pretty good farm system after some of their recent drafts. There are a lot of really strong players at the high-A and AA level.

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      • Mark says:

        Really? By the metrics I use the Cubs have a bottom five farm system. Think you might have to take off your Blue colored glasses there.

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      • RickStevens says:

        I don’t know what metrics you use, but they are wrong. The Cubs will have anywhere from 4-6 players on the top 100 list this year, with probably 8 in the top 150. They will be right in the middle of the pack, as far as farm systems go. Likely in the 14-18 range.

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  3. Matt B. says:

    and I thought Snider was impatient…

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  4. Mark says:

    Does anyone ever think Milton Bradley is correct in saying “Its no wonder they’ve lost for the past 100 years here”

    With junk like Colvin in the first round, I think Bradley is 100% correct in this situation. The Cubs are just a terrible team, with terrible fans.

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    • Josh says:

      Dude, shut up. You’re not furthering the conversation at all. And it’s tools like you who are quickly making Fangraphs unreadable. Take your attitude to YouTube or some other Internet sewer.

      BTW: I’m not even a Cubs fan.

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      • Mark says:

        Am I not allowed to state that Milton Bradley might be correct in saying that their is a culture of loosing with regards to the Cubs? With their Market size and following, they should be able to have a competitive team every single year, however for the past 100 years they have not. Instead they think that throwing countless dollars at players like Soriano and Bradley will magically fix them. It doesn’t work that way, teams now need to focus on building from the draft and through international scouting. Use your farm and lock up your home grown talent, much like the Yankees used to do, and much like the Indians and Braves did in the 90’s and the Rockies are doing currently. But if they keep wasting draft picks on people like Colvin, then Milton Bradley is going to be 100% correct for the next 100 years.

        And while their fans are very loyal to their team… they throw beer at the opposing teams players.

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  5. MichaelC says:

    The Cubs are starting to have a bit of history drafting guys who object to taking ball 4. Thinking Ryan Harvey/Josh Vitters especially here (hate to wish something bad on the guy, but ‘prospect duds 2010; Josh Vitters’ seems irresistibly approaching). Seems a kinda tools-blinded scouting staff…

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    • JD says:

      The strange thing about it is that Hendry has put together a team full of guys (Bradley, Fukudome, Lee, Soto) who are decent at taking a walk. So weird to see what appears to be a different philosophy in the minors.

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  6. Dude’s skinny. He’s listed at 6-3, 190 and already shows some power. Any chance he bulks up and clubs his way onto the MLB roster?

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    • joser says:

      A decade ago, before testing, it would be a near certainty. Now? There’s still a chance, but it’ll take a few years and I doubt Cubs fans are that patient.

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  7. Walter Guest says:

    It seems that plate discipline is near impossible to teach or learn. Look how the Giants have suffered this year when the problem was clear at the start of the season. I can think of very few who have learned it after reaching the majors. Ozzie Smith comes to mind. Lind of the Jays has gone from 5% BB lifetime to a 10% BB this year and become a 30+ homer guy. I wish someone would make a study of this. I would bet poor plate discipline in the minors dooms a player to mediocrity or no career at all. It might be a tipoff before drafting.

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    • joser says:

      How would “poor plate discipline in the minors” be “a tipoff before drafting”? They don’t get to the minors until after they’re drafted. Are you saying that by highschool a player is set as far as offensive approach is concerned and it’s already too late to change? I guess MLB needs to start a program to encourage plate discipline in little league (though I saw plenty of plate discipline in the LLWS).

      (BTW, check out Vlad Guerrero — his o-swing% was never good, and it’s gotten worse over time… and I think you’d agree he’s had a decent career.)

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      • JD says:

        Vladimir Guerrero doesn’t just swing at everything. He hits everything.

        There are very few guys who swing at everything AND hit everything (Vlad and Kung Fu Panda are the only two of this era who come to mind, and both of those guys actually walk a decent amount).

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      • joser says:

        But how many players stay in baseball while getting worse at O-swing as they age? Vlad’s even more of an outlier than he seems, but you only need one to refute the “doomed” assertion.

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  8. Walter Guest says:

    And then there were Roberto Clemente and Yogi Berra. When you can only name a few good hitters whith semi-poor plate discipline it makes my point. There were/are very few. There are very few who learn it after reaching the majors. I named two.

    It’s easy to check a college hitter for plate discipline pre-draft. They keep stats. High school also.

    All I’m saying is it would be an interesting research. My intuition tells me to stay away from free swingers because that’s a hard habit to break and the results are lousy.

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  9. Emel says:

    Great idea this, showing maturity in your response. I mean, her, awesome thoughts

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    I remember watching Cubs’ 1st round pick (89) Earl Cunningham play in Peoria (90), and this dude was just a strikeout MACHINE! … problem is, he was an outfielder not a pitcher.

    Drafted out of HS, 6’3 225 (in the days when 225 was BIG).

    107 BB’s v. 789 K’s. Yeah, he’s from the Shawon Dunston School of Hitting, only without the contact. *grin* Cunningham’s career ‘slash stats’ = .224/.283/.397

    The guy taken right before him? Frank Thomas, Cunningham’s statistical opposite.

    See, I linked [1] Cubs 1st round pick with [2] Lack of plate discipline.

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