WASHINGTON DC - DECEMBER 15: Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo (L) introduces Jayson Werth #28 to the media on December 15 2010 at Nationals Park in Washington DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Per reader request, here is a career profile of Jayson Werth.
I wrote a Prospect Retro for Jayson Werth back in 2005. The prospect background section is still valid, of course.
Jayson Werth was drafted by the Orioles in the 1st round of the 1997 draft, out of high school in Chatham, Illinois. Assigned to rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League, he hit .295/.440/.398 in 32 games, drawing 22 walks with 22 strikeouts in 88 at-bats. He drew comparisons to Dale Murphy at the time: a young, power-hitting, athletic catcher with good speed. I noted in the '98 Minor League Scouting Notebook that many young catchers fail to develop, and that Murphy didn't blossom as a hitter until he gave up catching.
Werth moved up to full-season Delmarva in the Sally League in '98, hitting .265/.364/.387, with 21 steals. His plate discipline was reasonable, as he drew 50 walks in 460 plate appearances. I gave him a Grade B in the '99 book. He didn't make the top 50 prospects, but was close.
Werth split '99 between Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, hitting .305/.405/.394 at the first stop and .273/.367/.355 at the second. He also stole 23 bases. He continued to control the strike zone well, but his power wasn't developing, and he was having increasing problems with his throwing mechanics. He retained a Grade B rating. I thought his power would increase, and predicted improvement for him in '00.
I was wrong. Werth hit just .228/.361/.355 for Bowie in 2000. He did draw a lot of walks, boosting his OBP. But the power was still absent, and his defense deteriorated to the point that the Orioles gave up on him as a prospect, sending him to the Blue Jays in a fall trade for lefty John Bale. I dropped his rating to Grade C, and was concerned that this was a serious case of Young Catcher Stagnation Syndrome.
Werth turned things around in '01, hitting .285/.387/.489 for Double-A Tennessee, with 18 homers and 12 steals. The Blue Jays tinkered with his swing slightly, adding more loft. He even improved defensively, throwing out 38 percent of runners trying to steal. I bumped his grade up to B+, and at this point it looked like all he really had had needed was a change of scenery.
Moved up to Triple-A Syracuse in '02, Werth hit .257/.354/.445 with 18 homers and 24 steals. Although he had shown improvement with the glove in '01, the Jays moved him to the outfield for '02, based on the development of other players in the system. They also thought he was too tall to have a long career as a catcher. He retained a Grade B+ rating for me,
A wrist injury hampered Werth in '03. He hit just .237/.285/.441 in 64 games for Syracuse, and only .208 in 26 games for the Jays, struggling with unusually poor strike zone judgment, perhaps pressing to make up for the time lost to the injury. The Jays gave up on him, trading him to the Dodgers for Jason Frasor in the spring of '04. He played well in 89 games for the Dodgers last year, but has fallen back a bit this year, granted his playing time has not been consistent.
In the minors, Werth showed good plate discipline most of the time, and a major power spike at age 22, following the trade to Toronto. He looked like a future star at one point. Although that hasn't panned out, he should have a long career.
As you know, Werth has been excellent the last three years, producing power and speed, with WAR readings of 5.1, 4.9, and 5.0 (those are Fangraphs WAR), star-caliber performances and in line with what he was originally projected to do when he was young. When drafted he drew Dale Murphy comparisons due to his size, strength and speed. Like Werth, Murphy began as a catcher but moved to the outfield. Most people would say that Werth isn't as good as Murphy was, but check this out: Werth now has a career line of .272/.367/.481, a 121 OPS+. Murphy's career line: 265/.346/.469, with a 121 OPS+.
There is much more to player value than the slash line, of course, and Murphy had higher peak WAR values than Werth has had so far. He was also a two-time MVP and five-time All-Star, while Werth just has one All-Star nod on his mantle. But they are similar players in terms of style, and the scouts who saw this in Werth when he was a high school kid in Illinois got it right.
Murphy aged poorly after age 31 and it will be interesting to see if the same thing happens to Werth. If it does, the seven-year, $126 million contract he got this winter would be a disaster for the Nationals.