Hitting Prospects on the Rebound

Last week’s look at pitching prospects revealed several pitchers who are playing well after a slow start. This week, I will look at four young hitters who have rebounded from early slumps. Some hitters need time to adjust to new leagues, while others make midseason changes to their approach to hitting that could result in long-term improvements. Each of these players’ reason for improvement may be different, but all of their cumulative statistics for the season may be misleading if you are trying to assess their future potential.

Van Pope

Atlanta Braves | 3B | DOB: 02/26/1984

Pope’s season totals are solid if not spectacular:

                AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
SEASON TOTAL   435 .262 .349 .434

His second half numbers suggest he could be the Braves’ top position prospect. Pope is making contact more consistently, and has already hit seven home runs during the month of August.

                AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
BEFORE MAY 1    90 .222 .300 .300
 SINCE MAY 1   345 .272 .360 .470

There are a lot of reasons to believe Pope could put up some huge numbers over the next two years. His bat has come alive during the second half of the season, and 29 of Pope’s 44 extra base hits have occurred away from his spacious home park. Now that Wilson Betemit and Andy Marte are out of the picture in Atlanta, Van Pope is next in line to succeed Chipper Jones as the Braves’ third baseman. Van Pope’s long-term obstacles include a poor contact rate against right-handed pitching and competition from Eric Campbell.

Carlos Gomez

New York Mets | OF | DOB: 12/04/1985

Carlos Gomez is often compared to Jose Reyes, both because of his exceptional speed and aggressive approach at the plate. He is only 20 years old, and is having a solid season for the Binghamton Mets:

                AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
SEASON TOTAL   403 .283 .351 .427

He’s been at his best after some early season struggles:

                AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
BEFORE MAY 1    88 .205 .301 .261
 SINCE MAY 1   315 .305 .365 .473

His slow start is understandable given his aggressive leap from the Single-A South Atlantic League to the Double-A Eastern League. Gomez did not really start to put up big numbers until July, when he batted over .400 and collected 15 extra-base hits. Since then, he has continued his above-average production at the plate, and has even started to get on base via base on balls more often. All of these developments should please Mets fans; Gomez could team up with Lastings Milledge and teenage prospect Fernando Martinez to form a young and exciting Mets outfield before the end of this decade.

Ryan Sweeney

Chicago White Sox | OF | DOB: 02/20/1985

Sweeney’s overall numbers don’t look bad …

                AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
SEASON TOTAL   437 .295 .350 .453

… but they might be masking a remarkable year of development for the 21-year-old outfielder. To asses his power development, let’s break down his isolated power (slugging percentage – batting average) by each month of the 2006 season:

APRIL  .084 
MAY    .109
JUNE   .134
JULY   .186

Sweeney has always been a good contact hitter and owns an arm made for right field, but he only hit one home run last year. Many scouts have anticipated improved power production from Sweeney, and it finally appears to be coming together for the 21-year-old outfielder. A lingering wrist injury may have had something to do with last year’s unimpressive power at the plate. Sweeney had wrist surgery last winter, and and his in-season power development is consistent with typical recovery patterns from wrist injuries. If he can stay healthy and maintain the kind of production as the plate he is demonstrating now, he could find a role in the Chicago outfield as soon as next summer.

Ryan Harvey

Chicago Cubs | OF | DOB: 08/30/1984

The sixth overall pick from the 2003 draft has put up mediocre numbers in the Florida State League this year:

                AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
SEASON TOTAL   459 .253 .293 .442

His cumulative statistics won’t look impressive at the end of the year, but his second-half surge is noteworthy. Harvey made some adjustments to his swing in July, and since then he has made contact more consistently and demonstrated much more power at the plate.

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                AB  AVG  OBP  SLG
BEFORE JULY 1  269 .204 .241 .331
 SINCE JULY 1  190 .321 .362 .616

I’m not convinced Harvey will continue to produce at this pace when he is promoted to the Southern League next year. Daytona is probably the best place to hit home runs in the pitcher-dominated Florida State League, and Harvey is hitting many home runs on the road. Still, this is clearly a step in the right direction for Harvey. He is finally hitting like the slugging right fielder the Cubs hope he can be at the major league level some day.

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