Career Profile: Torii Hunter

Per reader request, a Career Profile of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter. This is an example of a tools player who figured out what he was doing, though his development was not exactly linear.

 

Torii Kedar Hunter was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the first round in 1993, out of high school in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He was considered to be a prototypical raw tools outfielder: fast, strong, but inexperienced. He hit just .190 with a horrible 4/23 BB/K ratio in 28 games of rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League. I was working for Bill James at the time, and I remember telling him that the Twins had spent their top draft pick on a player who was unlikely to amount to much. I would have rated him a Grade C prospect at the time.

The next season, Hunter made major progress, hitting .293/.346/.439 in the Midwest League, very credible for a 19-year-old who had been so terrible in rookie ball. Although his plate discipline still left something to be desired, he did improve it, drawing 25 walks against 80 strikeouts in 335 at-bats. Retrospective grades are problematic, of course, but by my current criteria I would likely have raised his grade to B-. In the first edition of the Minor League Scouting Notebook,, my friend Eddie Epstein gave Hunter a Grade B-.

In 1995, Hunter struggled at times in the difficult Florida State League, hitting .246/.317/.348. Most of that was due to the park/league environment; Hunter actually continued to improve his strike zone judgment, drawing 38 walks against 77 strikeouts in 391 at-bats. He was also drawing raves for his defense in center field. With the bat, Hunter hammered fastballs, but had a lot of problems handling breaking stuff, according to his manager. I gave him a Grade C+ in my 1996 book, rating him as having "a tremendous ceiling but remains a risky bet".

In '96, Hunter moved up to Double-A, and found a balance between his sharp '94 numbers and his weak '95 production, hitting .263/.324/.401 in his first look at advanced pitching. He earned another Grade C+ from me; I remained intrigued with his physical potential, but concerned that he wouldn't reach it.

In '97, Hunter returned to Double-A. His production actually got worse: .231/.306/.338, but he did increase his walk rate, drawing 47 walks against 94 strikeouts. Despite this, I was getting ready to give up on him, and moved him to the back of the 1998 book. "Tools player," I wrote, "Had terrible year in Double-A. Great defensive outfielder." By this time he had slipped to a Grade C prospect.

But Hunter took a step forward in '98, hitting .282/.329/.438 in a third try in Double-A, then hitting .337/.349/.543 in a 26-game trial in Triple-A, granted the thin air in the PCL helped him. I bumped him back up to Grade C+ for the '99 book. In my book I noted that his power production had been disappointing, but that he was still young enough to get a lot better.

Hunter opened 1999 as the regular center fielder for the Twins, hitting .255/.309/.380, impressing with his trademark outstanding defense, but not hitting consistently well. He split 2000 between Triple-A and the Majors, then broke out with power by hitting 27 home runs in 2001.

His career line through age 34 is .275/.332/.471, OPS+108. His best offensive seasons were 2009 (21.6 Offensive RAA, 128 OPS+), 2002 (19.5 offensive RAA, 124 OPS+), and 2010 (15.7 offensive RAA, 124 OPS+), so two of his three seasons with the Angels have provided better offense than what he did in Minnesota most of the time. However, his defense was better when he was younger, and his two peak WAR seasons were 2002 (4.5) and 2001 (4.2) thanks to his glovework. He's won nine Gold Gloves. His career WAR to this point is 32.6, and he's been quite steady, his worst mark since 2000 being a 2.3 WAR back in '05.

Most similar players through age 34: Jermaine Dye, Raul Mondesi, George Hendrick, Ruben Sierra, Bobby Thomson, Larry Parrish, Joe Carter, Ellis Burks, Fred Lynn, and Luis Gonzalez. All very solid-to-excellent players, though short of Hall of Fame standards.

Torii Hunter is the prototype for why traditional scouts like taking chances on raw tools players. Through good coaching and hard work, he took his natural talent and turned it into on-the-field performance, even though it took him three years to master Double-A pitching. Of course, for every Torii Hunter there are several tools guys who don't make it.

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