Prospect Retro: Ryan Sweeney


Prospect Retro: Ryan Sweeney

Per reader request, here is a prospect retro for Oakland Athletics outfielder Ryan Sweeney.

Ryan Sweeney was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the second round in 2003, out of high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Iowa high schools don't play a spring schedule, and his cold-weather background likely cost him the first round. Scouts rated him as a relatively refined hitter considering his lack of experience, citing good strike zone judgment, bat speed, and untapped (but substantial) power potential. He also had a good arm and ran well for a 6-4, 200 pounder. The Sox sent him to Bristol in the Appalachian League after he signed; he hit .313/.387/.448 in 19 games, then was moved up to Great Falls in the Pioneer League, where he hit .353/.389/.412 in 10 contests. I gave him a Grade B- in the '04 book, though I also pointed out that I am sometimes biased in favor of Midwesterners and Iowans.

The White Sox gave Sweeney an aggressive assignment for 2004: Winston-Salem in the Carolina League, at age 19. He held his own, hitting .283/.342/.379, not showing much power but making a lot of contact with a 40/65 BB/K in 515 at-bats. Scouts praised his hitting mechanics and zone command, but there were mixed opinions about when/if/how his power would develop, though of course he was young for the competition. He also grew an inch, listed at 6-5, 200. I gave him a Grade B, cutting him some slack for the lack of power due to his youth.

The Sox remained aggressive with him in '05, sticking him in Double-A, where he hit .298/.357/.371 for Birmingham, with just one homer but a 35/53 BB/K in 429 at-bats. The lack of power remained notable, but there was little change in his BB/K ratio despite playing Double-A at age 20. He also drew notice for improved outfield play in right. I gave him another Grade B, but was concerned that the White Sox were pushing him too rapidly and that it could short-circuit his development.

Still on the fast track, he moved up to Triple-A for 2006 at age 21. He hit .296/.350/.452, showing greater power with 13 homers and maintaining his excellent contact rates. He got into 18 games with the White Sox, hitting .229/.229/.229. Once again I gave him a Grade B, and was hopeful that the power would stick, though I saw him as a future 15-homer hitter, not a guy who could slug 30.

Sweeney remained in Triple-A for 2007 but was less effective, hitting .270/.348/.398. He hit .200/.265/.333 in 15 games for the Sox. Concerned about the performance slippage despite repeating the league, I lowered his rating to a Grade C+ in the '08 book. That might have been too aggressive: B- would have been a better rating in retrospect. He was traded to Oakland just before the book went to press.

Sweeney hit .286/.350/.383 in '08 for the Athletics, losing rookie status. Last year he improved slightly to .293/.348/.407.  He is off to a good start this year at .307/.350/.387, with a 103 OPS+ through 42 games. In his career he's a .287/.342/.397 hitter, 96 OPS+.  His right field defense is well-regarded.

Sweeney has proven he can hit for a good batting average in the majors as well as he did in the minors. He doesn't draw tons of walks, but he doesn't strike out much either. The question remains the same as it has always been: can he add additional power and emerge as a more traditional corner outfielder?

The jury is still out. He's still big and strong, and the fact that he makes such easy contact gives him a chance; many surprise-outburst type players have similar profiles at this age. But there are also plenty of examples of players who don't  develop the expected power.

Historical Comparisons:

Sim Scores through age 24:  Sam West, Coco Crisp, Rich Coggins, Alexis Rios, Terry Moore, Happy Felsch, Johnny Rucker, Bobby Bonilla, Derrick May, and Ken Landreaux.

PECOTA Comps: Matt Murton, Derrick May, Alex Ochoa, Magglio Ordonez, Jeff Abbott, Jacob Cruz, Pedro Valdes, Jeff Francouer, Juan Rivera, and Tommy Gregg. Garret Anderson is 11th.

There is some hope for more power here, as the Rios, Ordonez, and Anderson examples show.  Keep in mind that Sweeney is still just 25, two or three years away from his prime power window. My personal guess is that he will hit for more power eventually, but that my 2007 projection of 15-homer power at his peak is where he'll end up.

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