Prospect of the Day: Jesus Guzman, 1B, San Diego Padres
What explains the unanticipated success of San Diego Padres rookie Jesus Guzman, and is it sustainable? As Rob Neyer pointed out last week in his article about unheralded rookies, Guzman was considered a journeyman pre-season and didn't rank on prospect lists. However, given a chance this year, he's been one of the most productive rookies in the National League, hitting .322/.373/.515, OPS+149, in 171 at-bats for the Padres so far.
Guzman was originally signed by the Seattle Mariners out of Venezuela back in 2000. He first came to attention by hitting .310/.393/.443 for Inland Empire in the California League in 2004 at age 20, but fell off the charts after two mediocre seasons for Double-A San Antonio in '05 and '06 (.258/.330/.393, .257/.335/.382). Keep in mind that San Antonio is a tough place to hit, and he was initially young for the Texas League.
Sent back to High-A High Desert in 2007, he hit .301/.370/.539 with 25 homers and 112 RBI, 50 walks and 85 strikeouts in 518 at-bats. But, well, it was High Desert; everyone hits there. The Mariners let him go and he signed as a free agent with the Oakland Athletics. He split '08 between three different levels, hitting .349/.404/.545 overall. He then went to the Venezuelan Winter League, where he hit .350 and set a league record for RBI. The Giants signed him as a free agent.
Guzman spent '09 and '10 with Triple-A Fresno, hitting .321/.379/.507 and .321/.376/.510, virtually identical. He went 5-for-20 in 12 games for the Giants, then was signed by the Padres as Triple-A insurance. He hit .332/.423/.529 in 244 at-bats for Tucson, and as mentioned above he's made a successful transition to the majors after being given a chance to substitute for the struggling rookie Anthony Rizzo.
It is easy to downplay Guzman's chances and point out the problems in his game. He's already 27 years old, and while he hit terrifically in Triple-A for three years, he did his damage in the pro-hitting Pacific Coast League. He doesn't draw a huge number of walks. His defense is dismal. But at the same time, he's kept his strikeouts under control, shows good contact rates for a hitter with power, and has bat speed to spare.
Although he's riding a hot streak right now and is at the stereotypical age 27 peak, I don't think this is all fluke; I think Guzman is a legitimately good hitter. The problem, as it has been for several years now, is finding a spot in the lineup. Guzman is taking full advantage of his opportunity, but while he provides great insurance and current production, Rizzo is still the long-term first baseman in San Diego. Guzman could help some teams as a 1B/DH/PH type, and if he finishes the season with a flourish, someone will give him another chance, even if it isn't with the Padres.