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Prospect Retro: Paul Konerko

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Per Reader Request, a Prospect Retro for Paul Konerko

Paul Konerko was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round in 1994, 13th overall, out of high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. A catcher when drafted, he hit .288/.380/.436 in 67 games for Yakima in the Northwest League, doing quite well against older competition. Scouts were certain that he would hit for power, but there was mixed opinion (leaning negative) about his defensive skills behind the plate. Given his draft status and solid early performance, he'd rate a Grade B or B+ prospect right off the bat.

Moved up to the advanced California League in '95, Konerko hit .277/.362/.455, with 21 doubles and 19 homers. His defense behind the plate remained marginal, and I wrote in the '96 book that Konerko should be moved to another position. I gave him a Grade B-, which in retrospect was at least a notch too low. Defensive problems aside, he did well in the Cal League at age 19. He should have been at least a Grade B.

Promoted to Double-A San Antonio in 1996, Konerko hit .300/.397/.543 with 29 homers, 72 walks, and 85 strikeouts in 470 at-bats. He also moved to first base, the Dodgers giving up on him as a catcher. Impressed by his numbers, and VERY impressed after watching him in person, I gave him the coveted and rare pure Grade A grade, rated as the number five prospect in all of baseball.

Up the ladder to Triple-A in 1998. Konerko had another excellent season, hitting .323/.407/.621 with 37 homers and 127 RBI for Albuquerque. Yes, it was the Pacific Coast League, and Albuquerque is a great place to hit, but his performance was strong no matter how you slice it. I especially liked 64 walks against just 61 strikeouts, excellent markers from a power hitter. Defense remained a question, as the Dodgers tried him out at third base. He was OK, but it was apparent that first would be his eventual destination. I gave him a Grade A once again.

Konerko started '98 in the Dodgers system, splitting time between the major league club and Albuquerque, not hitting well in his time in the Show (just .215/.272/.306 in 49 games). In July, he was traded to the Reds (along with fellow farmhand Dennys Reyes) to the Cincinnati Reds for reliever Jeff Shaw. He hit just .219 in 26 games for the Reds. It was ridiculous, but some people were already starting to call him a failed prospect, after 75 rough games in the majors. The Reds gave him up quickly, shipping him during the winter to the White Sox for Mike Cameron.

Konerko hit .294/.352/.511 in 142 games for the White Sox in 1999, and has been a big source of power for them ever since. His batting average has been somewhat erratic at times, but his power production continues to improve, and he is now one of the most dangerous home run hitters around. His walk rate, OBP, and overall OPS are on a nice upward trend the last two years. His major league numbers are very much in line with extrapolation from his minor league numbers.

Konerko turns 30 next March, and as an "old player skills" type guy, he may not age particularly well once he gets past 32 or so. It will be very, very interesting to see what kind of contract he can command on the free market. Anything beyond three years would seem quite risky to me.

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How long a contract would you be willing to give Konerko?