Jermaine Dye finally bowed to the inevitable and retired last week. Let's review his career and see what he was like as a prospect.
Jermaine Dye was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 17th round of the 1993 draft, out of Cosumnes River Junior College. He was considered a prototypical "tools" player: fast, strong, great throwing arm, but rather raw. He hit .347/.393/.460 in 31 games in rookie ball (originally playing third base), then moved up to Danville in the Appy League and hit .277/.327/.426 in 25 games, moving to the outfield at that time. He showed some problems with the strike zone, but overall his debut was impressive. I'd rate a similar player as a Grade C+ "with higher potential" nowadays.
Dye played 135 games for Macon in the Sally League in 1994, hitting .298/.346/.472 with 41 doubles, 15 homers, 19 steals, and a 33/82/506 BB/K/AB ratio. He was starting to tap the power in his bat: note the large number of doubles. His walk rate was lower than ideal, but his strikeout rate was not out of bounds at all. I would probably have rated him as a Grade B prospect, maybe B+.
The Braves skipped Dye past high-A in 1995, sending him to Greenville in the Double-A Southern League. He hit .285/.329/.481 with 15 homers in 104 games. He stole just four bases and was already starting to slow down as a runner, but he continued to make refinements with his swing and boosted his power production slightly. Strike zone judgment was also still an issue, although again his strikeout rate was reasonable. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 1996 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook, ranking him as the Number 21 hitting prospect in baseball.
Dye spent most of 1996 with the Braves, hitting .281/.304/.459 in 98 games. His strike zone judgment was weak: he drew just 8 walks against 67 strikeouts in 292 at-bats. But overall his rookie season was a success, as his natural talent was such that he was able to keep his numbers up despite his relative lack of refinement.
In spring training 1997 Dye was traded to the Royals for Michael Tucker. He struggled in 1997 and 1998 for the Royals, having major problems controlling the strike zone. But he broke out in 1999 with a .294/.354/.526 season, leading to a 119 OPS+ and a 4.3 WAR. He finally got a handle on the strike zone, and this enabled him to unleash his full offensive potential.
Although hampered by injury problems at times, Dye was a regular major league outfielder for the next 11 years, hitting .274/.338/.488, OPS+111, career WAR 18.1. His peak seasons were 2000 (.321/.390/.561, 135 OPS+, WAR 4.3) and 2006 (.315/.385/.622, OPS+151, WAR 3.4). Although he remained an effective hitter to the end, his defense deteriorated massively as he got older. This resulted in some very ugly defensive RAA values, cutting into his overall usefulness and likely shortening his career.
Most Comparable Players: Greg Luzinski, Reggie Sanders, Tim Salmon, Carlos Lee, George Foster, Rocky Colavito, Fred Lynn, Roy Sievers, Shawn Green, and Joe Adcock. No bums in that bunch, but no HoF players either.
Dye is a good example of a tools player who gained the skills to make those tools meaningful. In his case, the development of even mediocre plate discipline was the key. It wasn't necessary for him to become a walk machine, but even a marginal improvement in the approach at the plate made a big difference.