Veteran major league infielder Jason Bartlett retired earlier this month. A reader requested a Prospect Retrospective article for Bartlett, so let's review his career.
Jason Bartlett was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 13th round in 2001, from the University of Oklahoma. I saw him play in college and was not impressed with his bat. His glove looked solid enough, but I felt his eye for the strike zone was substandard and I wasn't impressed with his power potential. His college numbers weren't too hot (.282/.336/.411 for the Sooners, which was not very good considering the high-offense context of college baseball at the time). However, he was more effective in pro ball, hitting .300/.371/.408 with 12 steals for Eugene in the Northwest League after signing. I ranked him as a Grade C prospect entering 2002, writing that I was "still not convinced that he'll hit at higher levels" but noting that "his glovework is fine, so if he does hit, he'll advance quickly."
Bartlett began 2001 with Lake Elsinore in the High-A California League, hitting .250/.329/.331. Note the lack of power, but he did steal 24 bases in 29 attempts and played well defensively. He was traded to the Minnesota Twins in July for Brian Buchanan, then sent across the country to Fort Myers in the High-A Florida State League, where he hit .262/.341/.352 with 11 steals in 39 games. I had him as a Grade C.
Moved up to Double-A New Britain for 2003, he hit .296/.380/.425 with 31 doubles, eight homers, and 41 stolen bases with a 58/67 BB/K ratio in 548 at-bats. Reports on his defense remained positive and the combination of improved power with the speed raised his stock with me. I rated him as a Grade B- entering 2004.
A wrist injury limited Bartlett to 66 games in 2004 but he performed well in those games, hitting .332/.417/.475 for Triple-A Rochester. He got into eight games with the Twins, going 1-for-12. Defensive reports remained strong and the continually improved hitting with each promotion was very promising. I gave him a Grade B entering 2005, projecting Bartlett as "a .275-.285 hitter, with enough doubles, steals and defense to hold a regular job without trouble".
Bartlett split '05 between Triple-A and the majors, but seized control in '06 with a .309/.366/.383 season for the Twins. He played regularly for the Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, and San Diego Padres through 2011 until being dragged down by injuries. His best season was 2009 with the Rays (.320/.389/.490, OPS+ 132, WAR 5.3) but he was a solid regular for several years.
Overall, he hit .270/.336/.366, OPS+ 91, wRC+ 93 in 892 major league games, with 123 steals, posting a 17.0 career WAR, much of the value on defense. His list of Most Similar Players by Sim Score includes Bill Knickerbocker (a solid player from the 1930s), Pat Meares, Charlie Gelbert (another 30s guy), Kurt Stillwell, Bump Wills, Phil Rizzuto, and Dickie Thon. His career WAR value of 17.0 puts him in a similar range with Bud Harrelson (19.1), Danny Richardson (17.8), Tony Kubek (17.8), and David Eckstein (16.7).
Overall, Bartlett had a fine career that exceeded his draft position and early expectations, but was ultimately in keeping with what he showed once he reached Double-A.