Prospect Retrospective: Curtis Granderson
One of my favorite major league players is outfielder Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees. Part of the reason I like him is the unusual path he took as a prospect. Fire up the wayback machine and let's take a look.
An outfielder at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Granderson had a terrific season in 2002, hitting .483/.552/.763 with nine homers, 17 steals in 17 attempts, and a 32/24 BB/K ratio in 207 at-bats. He ranked second in the NCAA hitting race, but despite his performance, he didn't get a huge helping of praise from scouts. Many saw his tools as only mediocre and felt he was a tweener, so he lasted until the third round in the draft.
I saw him play in college and was very impressed, and felt his tools were quite solid and were being underrated. He hit .344/.417/.495 in 212 at-bats in the New York-Penn League. I gave him a Grade B in the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, writing "I think he's going to be one of the better players coming out of the '02 class."
Granderson played for Lakeland in the High-A Florida State League in 2003, hitting .286/.365/.458 with 11 homers, 49 walks, and 91 strikeouts in 476 at-bats. That may not look that hot, but his OPS was one of the best marks in the league at +22 percent. Scouting reports were muted, though...again, talk of mediocre tools. He didn't appear on the league Top 20 prospects list for Baseball America, and nobody really seemed impressed with him. I lowered his grade slightly to a Grade B- and wrote that he could be a "good fourth outfielder or possibly a decent though not spectacular starter." Even that assessment was considered optimistic, although in retrospect I pulled my punches too much with him and should have been more enthusiastic.
Promoted to Double-A Erie for 2004, Granderson had an excellent year, hitting .303/.407/.515 with 21 homers, 14 steals, 80 walks, and 95 strikeouts in 462 at-bats. He saw action for the Tigers late in the year, going 6-for-25 (.240) with a double and triple. Although it looked like his Double-A numbers were way above his High-A marks, in context they really weren't: his OPS was +23 percent, almost exactly what it was the previous year.
However, with the surface numbers looking better, all of a sudden people started rating his tools more enthusiastically. They also praised his work ethic, leadership abilities, and intellect. He looked like the same guy to me, the same guy I saw in college with solid tools and a great approach. Other than simply maturing physically, I don't think Granderson changed much. He didn't gain loads of bat speed or completely turn into someone different. It was the perception around him that changed.
I had him as a Grade B again entering 2005. I thought he might struggle at first in the majors, but wrote that he had the intellect and confidence to adjust if he was given the chance to do so. That didn't really happen; he played well in Triple-A (.290/.359/.515) and didn't have a lot of difficulty in 47 major league games, hitting .272/.314/.494. In 2006 he played 159 games for the Tigers, and he's been a regular ever since.
Granderson has a career WAR of 32.5 currently. His defense isn't as good as it was when he first reached the majors, but his power has really blossomed. He's traded strikeouts for home runs, and his platoon splits have been pretty sharp throughout his career (.279/.362/.525 against RHP, but just .227/.294/.404 against lefties), but overall Granderson turned into much more than a mediocre tool tweener.