Career Profile: Ryan Braun
For reasons which are depressing to discuss, Ryan Braun has been in the news lately. This seems like a good time to review his background and career.
Ryan Braun was a highly-respected high school shortstop in the Los Angeles area, but wasn't drafted in 2002 due to his strong commitment to the University of Miami. He had a stellar freshman year for the Hurricanes in 2003, hitting .364/.435/.665 with 17 homers and 13 steals in 62 games, being named Freshman of the Year by Baseball America. Although limited by injuries to 45 games in 2004, he continued to hit well with a .335/.439/.606 mark.
Healthy and now playing third base as a junior in '05, he hit .388/.471/.726 with 18 homers, 23 steals, 33 walks, and just 39 strikeouts in 219 at-bats. Drafted fifth-overall, he earned a bonus of $2,450,000. His career got off to a rousing start with a .352/.393/.632 debut in 47 games split between Helena in the Pioneer League and West Virginia in the Sally League. There were a few quibbles about his swing mechanics and his defense was rough, but the performance was undeniable and I gave him a strong Grade B+ in the '06 book.
Braun hit a less-than-expected .274/.346/.438 in 59 games for Brevard County in the Florida State League in the first half of '06, but he got hot after a mid-season promotion to Double-A, where he hit .303/.367/.589 with 15 homers and 12 steals. His plate discipline was occasionally spotty, but his bat speed was excellent and I projected him as ".280-.300 hitter with 25-30 homers in a full season; he could exceed that in his best years." The main worry at this point was his defense at third base, where he showed range and arm strength but simply made too many errors. I gave him a Grade A- and ranked him as the Number Six hitting prospect in baseball in the 2007 book.
Braun hit .342/.418/.701 in 34 games for Triple-A Nashville in 2007, earning his way to the majors where he hit .324/.370/.634 in 113 games. You know the rest of the story. Things didn't work out at third base, but he's been a superb offensive player, averaging 32 homers per season with a career line of .312/.371/.563. He hits for power, hits for average, steals bases, and has developed very solid plate discipline.
Despite his defensive limits, WAR loves him, giving him a 25.2 career mark already with strong marks each year (3.1, 5.0, 4.9, 4.4, and an outstanding 7.8 in '11). He's a four-time All Star already, and as you know he was National League MVP last season. Sim Scores bring up the following comps through age 27: Chick Hafey, Fred Lynn, Manny Ramirez, Dick Allen, Billy Williams, Jim Thome, Raul Mondesi, Chipper Jones, Shawn Green, and Mark Teixeira. There are two Hall of Famers on that list and at two others who will get there.
As for other issues, I don't see anything suspicious in his performance last year: it looks like a classic age 27 peak to me, and the season is not out of context with the rest of his career. As far as I'm concerned, the controversy is closed. Other people disagree of course, and 2012 will be a challenge for him: Braun will be under the microscope, but my guess is that he'll be extremely motivated to prove that there was nothing hinky about '11. Expect another terrific year.