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Spring Training Coverage: Edmonds’ Upside

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to attend a Milwaukee Brewers vs. Cincinnati Reds spring training game with Dave Allen, Dave Cameron, Brian Joura, David Appelman, and Matt Klaassen. The Brewers sent their B-team to Goodyear Park, leaving us with a riveting match up featuring such icons as Jody Gerut, Kentrail Davis, Chris Narveson, Laynce Nix, Carson Cistulli All-Star Juan Francisco, and 6’8” giant Logan Ondrusek.

The most recognizable figure at the park in a Brewers uniform just may have been Jim Edmonds, in Brewers camp as a non-roster invitee. Edmonds went 2-3 on Thursday, with a couple of decent-but-not-greatly hit balls and two catches on fly balls directly at him. The 2-3 day at the plate moved Edmonds to .364 on the spring season, and at that rate, Edmonds would have a good shot at the Brewers fifth outfield spot, over such players as Joe Inglett and Norris Hopper.

How productive can Edmonds actually be? He took all of 2009 off and wasn’t that productive in either 2007 or 2008. CHONE projects him to be near replacement level, with a terrible bat and average glove in a corner spot. Some players can handle a year off – Gabe Kapler, for example, came back after a year of managing in A-ball to put up 1.8 wins in only 229 PAs.

We know that Edmonds could quite easily end up below replacement level. What’s his ceiling, though? In 2008, he was pretty productive with the bat, putting up a 115 wRC+ in 400 PAs, all despite a career low (and by a country mile) BABIP of .249. His HR/FB rate returned to near his career average of 20%, as in 2007 it had dropped to 9%, another career low by another wide margin.

A drop to a -15 UZR in 2008 at the age of 38 wasn’t particularly surprising, and expecting Edmonds to be an average or even passable center fielder after a year off wouldn’t be fair. He probably fits as a slightly below average corner outfielder at this time. Still, given what appears to be terrible luck on fly balls Edmonds in 2007 and on balls in play overall in 2008, there is some upside here.

Of course, the key word in the previous sentence is “appears.” With aging players, it’s possible that they just can’t get fly balls over the fence any more, or they just can’t hit the ball consistently hard enough to drop them in for hits. In Edmonds’ case, we can’t say for sure if it was the effects of aging or if it was simply random variation in batted balls. If it is random variation, we could see Edmonds hit well above average, making him a roughly league average player off the bench. That’s his absolute upside, but as a non-roster invitee, you can’t ask for much more if you’re the Milwaukee Brewers, and it will be very interesting to watch Edmonds’ progression this spring.