Per reader request, a Prospect Retro for Lance Berkman
Lance Berkman was drafted in the first round in 1997, 16th overall, out of Rice University. Scouts universally respected his ability to hit for average and get on base, but amazingly enough there were some who were uncertain how much power he would develop with the wooden bat. . .whether he'd be a 15-20 homer guy or a 30+ homer guy. Additionally, not everyone was sold on his ability to play the outfield, and the Astros had Jeff Bagwell at first base. The Houston braintrust believed that Berkman was athletic enough to play the outfield and that the position thing would not become a major issue. His bat certainly played well: he hit .293 with 12 homers in just 53 games for Kissimmee in the Florida State League after signing. He'd be a Grade B+ prospect at a minimum.
Berkman began '98 in Double-A, hitting .306/.424/.555 in 122 games for Jackson in the Texas League, hitting 34 doubles, 24 homers with 85 walks and 82 strikeouts in 425 at-bats. He hit well in a brief trial in Triple-A, hitting .271 with six homers in 17 games. I was very impressed with his numbers, and he looked great in person too. Scouts also felt he was making good progress defensively in the outfield. I gave him a Grade A- in the 1999 book. I rated him the Number 14 prospect in baseball.
Berkman spent most of 1999 in Triple-A, hitting .323/.425/.518 with 20 doubles in 64 games. A knee injury cost him a month of play, then he hit just .237/.321/.387 in 34 games for the Astros. I gave him a Grade B+ and he dropped to number 43 on my 2000 prospect list. In retrospect, I have no idea why I dropped him that low. It could have been because of the knee injury, but his Triple-A numbers were sound, and I don't really remember what my rationale was.
Berkman played in 114 games for the Astros in '00, hitting .297/.388/.561, then broke out with a superstar season in '01. His career is very much in line with his minor league production, lots of power, a good batting average, lots of walks, reasonable strikeout rate for a power hitter. There isn't anything really puzzling or unusual in his profile; his minor league record predicted exactly the kind of player he would become. I can't say this is a particularly interesting retro, but not everyone has a weird prospect background.
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The question now for Berkman: will his career last long enough at this level of productivity for him to become a Hall of Fame candidate? Your opinion?