Guys I Underrated, 1997 Edition
Here is a look at some players I underrated in the 1997 book.
Michael Barrett, C
Rated Grade C after hitting .238/.277/.342 in the Sally League at age 19. On his side: youth, athleticism, praise of scouts. On the negative: poor hitting overall, very low walk rate, no power. Barrett ran hot-and-cold as a prospect, playing well at times but not developing much consistency. He's not spectacular, but he's better than I thought he would be based on his '96 output. In this case, age-relative-to-league was his best marker.
Juan Encarnacion, OF
Rated Grade C after hitting .240/.290/.401 in the Florida State League at age 20. Good tools, good raw power, but horrid plate discipline (24/104 BB/K ratio in 499 at-bats) hurt his grade. Reportedly killed fastballs, but had major, major problems against breaking balls and changeups. The next season, he improved his strike zone judgment dramatically and hit .323 with 26 homers in Double-A. Erratic in the majors, but he's had a long career, and better than you'd expect given his '96 performance. Best markers were age-relative-to-league and good athleticism.
Eric Gagne, RHP
Rated Grade C+ after going 7-6, 3.28 with 131/43 K/BB ratio in 115 innings in the Sally League at age 20. The grade is a bit misleading, as I regarded Gagne as a sleeper and wrote that Gagne was "fairly anonymous, but he probably shouldn't be." Even considering that, a Grade C+ marker underrates him. My main concern here was injury: he had a lot of trouble staying healthy initially. In my own mind, I don't count this as underrated to the extent of the other guys in this report, since I did point out that he had sleeper potential.
Corey Koskie, 3B
Rated Grade C after hitting .260/.338/.420 with nine homers in the Florida State League at age 22. Power production marginal, and his place on the age curve was less than ideal, although being a Canadian meant that he had less experience as an amateur than a lot of players his age. Reports on his defense were mixed. The next season, he hit .286 with 23 homers in Double-A, along with a dramatic improvement in his strike zone judgment as well as improved defense.
Kevin Millar, 1B
Rated Grade C after hitting .318/.375/.500 in Double-A at the age of 24. He hit very well and had a very low strikeout rate for a power hitter, but scouts hated him, he wasn't very good with the glove, he wasn't athletic, and he was old for a prospect. Nevertheless, even considering all that, Grade C was too low; C+ or B- would have been more appropriate considering how well he hit in Double-A.
Kevin Millwood, RHP
Rated Grade C+ after going 6-9, 4.28 in 20 starts for Durham in the Carolina League, with a 139/58 K/BB in 149 innings at age 21. Component ratios were pretty good, but his ERA was somewhat high, and scouts complained about inconsistent command and occasional emotional immaturity on the mound. Millwood has been a better pitcher in the majors than he was in the minors. Career Minor League record: 27-32 with a 3.96 ERA. Career Major League record: 107-75 with a 3.76 ERA.
Jason Varitek, C
Rated Grade C after hitting .262/.350/.406 at age 23 in Double-A. Mediocre numbers, and he was repeating the league, something of a red flag. His defense was also regarded as a bit disappointing, and he certainly wasn't hitting with the authority expected of a big-time Scott Boras client. The Mariners gave up on him quickly enough, shipping him off to Boston, where he has emerged as a steady and very productive player. Career Major League record: .272 batting average with .456 slugging. Career Minor League record: .246 batting average with .399 SLG. Like Millwood, his major league career has been better than his minor league career.