Dan Uggla Prospect Retro
Dan Uggla was drafted by Arizona in the 11th round in 2001, from the University of Memphis. He performed well in college, hitting .379/.498/.790 with 18 homers, 42 walks, and 39 strikeouts in 214 at-bats in his draft season, but wasn't considered a hot prospect due to lack of size and tools. He hit .277/.341/.406 in 72 games for Yakima in the Northwest League after signing, OK but not excellent performance, and his plate discipline was rather mediocre with 20 walks against 52 strikeouts. I didn't rate short-season guys back then, but he would have been a Grade C, a successful college player who would likely need adjustment time at higher levels.
Uggla struggled in 2002, hitting .199/.291/.275 in 53 games in the Midwest League, and .226/.311/.337 in 54 games in the California League, obviously very substandard. At this point he wouldn't have been considered a prospect at all heading into 2003. He's fortunate he didn't get released.
'03 was better: he hit .290/.455/.504 with 23 homers and 24 steals for Lancaster in the Cal League. But it was Lancaster...everyone hits there. I had him rated as a Grade C in the 2004 book, noting that he had some pop in his bat and comparing him to Keith Ginter.
Uggla split 2004 between Lancaster (.336/.442/.600 in 37 games) and Double-A El Paso (.259/.302/.354 in 83 games). I saw him play in Double-A and he didn't look like much. . .not overly athletic, not working the count well, having big problems with breaking stuff. I didn't put him in the 2005 book as a result.. .I thought he was overmatched against Double-A pitching.
2005 saw him hit .297/.378/.502 for Double-A Tennessee, much better performance obviously than what he'd done in the Texas League.. He hit 21 homers, stole 15 bases, and showed adequate plate discipline. I gave him a Grade C in the 2006 book, noting that he had made adjustments and had good pop for a middle infielder. His defense wasn't highly-regarded, and given that he was 26 entering 2006 I saw no reason to think he would be especially interesting. I gave him another Grade C, noting that he had been selected by Florida in the Rule 5 draft and would "deserve a trial on a major league bench." I thought he could be a solid utility guy.
As you know, Uggla hit .282/.339/.480 his rookie year, and has continued to hammer the ball, averaging 30 homers over three seasons while posting a career .262/.341/.490 mark. Interestingly, this is some 40 OPS points better than his career minor league record of .276/.347/.443. Defensive metrics rate him as an average second baseman, which is just fine if you can hit like this.
So what explains it? Scouts have always loved Uggla's work ethic and saw him as a "gritty" type. His minor league performance was somewhat erratic, needing time to adjust to new levels, but once he did adjust he was productive. Nevertheless, in the majors he's exceeded what could have been expected based on his minor league record, and I don't have any real explanation for it. Lots of guys have great makeup; few exceed expectations like this.
His Sim Scores are weird, with a bunch of catchers showing up: Carlton Fisk, Mike Lieberthal, Johnny Romano, Ed Bailey, Jorge Posada, Jeff Kent, John Valentin, Al Rosen, Jody Davis, Tim Teufel being the Top 10. Throw the catchers out and that gives you infielders Kent, Valentin, Rosen, and Teufel. The only one of the infielders who was effective beyond age 32 was Kent, so it will be interesting to see how long Uggla can last at his current level of production.
He performed much worse in the second half last year (.286/.374/.605 pre-All Star, .226/.343/.396 post). Is that a bad omen for '09?