Prospect Retro: Ben Zobrist
Ben Zobrist was drafted by the Houston Astros in the sixth round in 2004, out of Dallas Baptist University. He was a very successful college player, leading Olivet Nazarene to the NAIA World Series in 2003 as a sophomore before transferring to Dallas Baptist for '04. Scouts liked his speed, strike zone judgment, and steady defense, but there was mixed opinion about his range at shortstop, which kept him out of the first five rounds. He played brilliantly in the New York-Penn League after signing, hitting .339/.438/.463 with 15 steals, winning the league batting title and showing strong plate discipline with a 43/31 BB/K ratio in 257 at-bats. I was very impressed with him, and gave him an aggressive Grade B in the 2005 book, looking at him as a major sleeper.
Zobrist began 2005 with Lexington in the Sally League, hitting .304/.415/.413 in 68 games with 16 steals. Promoted to Salem for the second half, he continued to rake in the Carolina League with a .333/.475/.496 mark. His plate discipline at both levels was strong, and there was little to quibble about with his bat, though scouts continued to doubt his range. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2006 book, writing that he looked like a fine prospect to me.
2006 began in Double-A, and he hit very well for Corpus Christi with a .327/.434/.473 mark in 83 games. On July 12th, he was traded to the Rays along with pitching prospect Mitch Talbot for Aubrey Huff. He ended up getting into 52 games in the majors, hitting just .224/.280..311, but considering that he was jumping to the majors with little high-level experience, he clearly deserved more chances.
As you know, he struggled with the bat again in 2007, hitting just .155 in 31 games, though he continued to show excellent plate discipline in Triple-A. He hit .253/.339/.505 in 62 games for the Rays last year, and is at .310/.420/.678 this year. In his minor league career, Zobrist is a .318/.429/.459 hitter in 364 games. In the majors, he's hit .245/.319/.452 in 652 at-bats, with 29 homers, 32 doubles, 15 steals, 71 walks, and 120 strikeouts. His overall batting average and OBP are still hungover from his '06 and '07 numbers, but in '07 and '08 he's hit a combined .280/.377/.586.
Zobrist has shown more power the last two years than expected. As we have detected in past reports on surprising players, one thing that stands out in his minor league record is excellent plate discipline....a high walk rate with a low strikeout rate.
Notable Shortstops drafted ahead of Ben Zobrist in 2004: