Every fantasy owner has their personal list of prospects that they follow throughout the season, waiting to pounce on them should they be called up. Sure, everyone had guys like Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, and Buster Posey on their list, but there is always a few fringe prospects that could be of interest that no one else is thinking about. For me, one of those guys is Tony Gwynn, Jr. Following the 2006 season, in which he hit .300/.360/.396 with 30 steals in Triple-A, I was hooked. I liked him more for his name value than his production, but was interested in following his development nonetheless.
During 249 MLB games scattered across four seasons, Gwynn has been unimpressive. He has posted a career line of .261/.331/.326, good (bad?) enough for a wOBA of .298 and a wRC+ of 85. However, his career 9.2% walk rate is a plus, as is his 23% career line drive rate.
In 607 minor league games, Gwynn stole 151 bases in 205 tries (73.6% success rate). In 249 games in the majors, Gwynn has stolen 25 bases in 35 tries, coming in at a lower 71.4% success rate. A stolen base rate dropping once a player hits the big time is to be expected, due to veteran pitchers who can keep runners honest and catchers with better arms behind the plate. The big problem is that he is not being given the green light enough, and is on pace to attempt approximately half the steals he did in the minors over the same period of games.
Even though Gwynn has consistently hit below league average, his defense will keep him around in the big leagues. Both the FANS and CHONE have Gwynn at 5 runs below replacement level at the plate in 2010, yet both have him as a 2 WAR player. The CHONE projections have him with less than 500 plate appearances, so they are not inflated by unlikely playing time.
Talking to people that know the Padres far better than I do, it sounds like Gwynn will be given every opportunity to take the center field job. I’m still skeptical, but if he can get ample playing time, a .270 average with 15 steals is not out of the question, and will provide some value in NL-only and deep leagues.
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