Career Profile: Paul Konerko
Per reader request, here is a Career Profile for Chicago White Sox slugger Paul Konerko. He was a top minor league prospect and has had a fine career, but his development wasn't quite linear, struggling in his initial major league action.
Paul Konerko was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round in 1994, 13th overall, out of high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. A catcher when drafted, he hit .288/.380/.436 in 67 games for Yakima in the Northwest League, doing quite well against older competition. Scouts were certain that he would hit for power, but there was mixed opinion (leaning negative) about his defensive skills behind the plate. Given his draft status and solid early performance, he'd rate a Grade B or B+ prospect right off the bat.
Moved up to the advanced California League in '95, Konerko hit .277/.362/.455, with 21 doubles and 19 homers. His defense behind the plate remained marginal, and I wrote in the '96 book that Konerko should be moved to another position. I gave him a Grade B-, which in retrospect was at least a notch too low. Defensive problems aside, he did well in the Cal League at age 19. He should have been at least a Grade B, and nowadays I would have paid more attention to the age/competition factor, even with the question about defense.
Promoted to Double-A San Antonio in 1996, Konerko hit .300/.397/.543 with 29 homers, 72 walks, and 85 strikeouts in 470 at-bats. He also moved to first base, the Dodgers giving up on him as a catcher. Impressed by his numbers, and VERY impressed after watching him in person, I gave him the coveted and rare pure Grade A grade, rated as the Number Five prospect in all of baseball. I was convinced he was a top-notch slugger in the making.
Up the ladder to Triple-A in 1997. Konerko had another excellent season, hitting .323/.407/.621 with 37 homers and 127 RBI for Albuquerque. Yes, it was the Pacific Coast League, and Albuquerque is a great place to hit, but his performance was strong no matter how you slice it. I especially liked 64 walks against just 61 strikeouts, excellent markers from a power hitter. Defense remained a question, as the Dodgers tried him out at third base. He was OK at the hot corner, but it was apparent that first would be his eventual destination. I gave him a Grade A once again and had him ranked at Number Three.
Konerko started '98 in the Dodgers system, splitting time between the major league club and Albuquerque, not hitting well in his time in the Show (just .215/.272/.306 in 49 games). In July, he was traded to the Reds (along with fellow farmhand Dennys Reyes) to the Cincinnati Reds for reliever Jeff Shaw. He hit just .219 in 26 games for the Reds. It was ridiculous, but some people already started to call him a failed prospect, after 75 rough games in the majors. The Reds gave him up quickly, shipping him during the winter to the White Sox for Mike Cameron.
Konerko hit .294/.352/.511 in 142 games for the White Sox in 1999, and has been a big source of offense for them ever since, his power bat anchoring the lineup. His batting average has been erratic at times, but his only really bad year was 2003 (.234/.304/.399, 83 OPS+, limited to 137 games by injuries). Otherwise he's been consistently above-average as a hitter and at times excellent.
Peak seasons so far: 2005 (age 29, .283/.375/.534,136 OPS+, WAR 4.4), 2006 (age 30, .313/.381/.551, 134 OPS+, WAR 4.0) and 2010 (age 34, .312/.392/.584, 158 OPS+, WAR 4.2). Last season was his best with the bat, but his defense took a big step backward according to RAA, suppressing his WAR value beneath '05 and '06.
Konerko's overall major league numbers (.280/.356/.498, WAR 29.1, OPS+119) are in line with extrapolation from his minor league numbers. Konerko has an "old player" skill set centered on power and players like this often age poorly. However, he's shown no signs of it happening with the bat yet, having his best season hitting last year at age 34. On the other hand, the decline in his defense last year could be a marker of physical ageing that we'll have to watch.
Most Similar Players to this point in his career: Fred McGriff, Joe Adcock, Derrek Lee, Tino Martinez, Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash, Kent Hrbek, Frank Howard, Gil Hodges, and Boog Powell. No Hall of Famers, but everyone on the list was a highly-productive slugger.