Prospect Retro: Chase Utley
Chase Utley was drafted by the Phillies in the first round in 2000, out of UCLA. He hit .307 with a .444 SLG in his first 40 games of pro ball, for Batavia in the New York-Penn League. Everyone thought he would hit, but there were doubts about his defense. I gave him a Grade B in the '01 Minor League Scouting Notebook.
His first full season was disappointing. Utley hit just .257/.324/.422 in 122 games for Class A Clearwater in the Florida State League. He hit 25 doubles and 16 homers, but his walk rate was mediocre, and he got into a bad habit of trying too hard to pull everything and hit for power. On the positive side, he improved his glovework at second base. I dropped his grade to B- heading into '02.
Utley skipped Double-A, moving directly to Triple-A in '02 and hitting .263/.335/.461 with 39 doubles and 17 homers for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He spent much of the season at third base and did OK defensively. Utley hit a large number of doubles, and it looked like he was developing more power, but less batting average and OBP, than expected. I kept his grade at B-.
2003 was split between Scranton and Philadelphia. He hit .323/.390/.517 in Triple-A, and .239/.322/.373 in 43 games of major league action. There was some disappointment with his major league performance, but adjustment problems are not unusual. He spent most of '04 with the Phillies, hitting .266 with 13 homers in 94 games. 2005 has been his big breakout season: .291/.376/.540, with 39 doubles, 28 homers, 105 RBI.
Utley did OK in the minors, but he really didn't combine batting average/OBP and power until his second run in Triple-A, and it took him a full season in the majors before he looked truly comfortable. He's improved his strike zone judgment, and has been able to blend the "pull for power" approach with opposite field contact.