Prospect Retro: Scott Podsednik
Here is a guy I was totally wrong about.
Scott Podsednik was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the third round in 1994, out of high school in Texas. He went to the Gulf Coast League and hit just .227 as a rookie. He did steal 18 bases and draw 41 walks in 211 games, but otherwise he was not very impressive. At this point, he'd rate as a Grade C prospect.
Moved up to short-season Hudson Valley in '95, he hit .266 with 20 steals in 65 games. But he hit all of three doubles, which gave him a putrid SLG of .278. He was fast, but running was the only thing he could do. Grade C, if you'd consider him much of a prospect at all. At the end of the '95 season, the Rangers traded him to the Marlins.
Florida jumped him aggressively in 1996, sending him all the way to the Florida State League. He hit .261 with 20 steals in 108 games, but posted a slugging percentage of just .295. Again, he was fast and would take a walk, but his complete lack of power was a serious concern. Grade C.
In '97, the Marlins actually dropped him down a level, sending him to Kane County in the Midwest League. He hit .277 with 28 steals, but for the first time he showed a touch of power, hitting 23 doubles and three homers for a .352 SLG. He continued to control the strike zone well, drawing 60 walks. However, this improvement came after dropping a league, so he'd retain a Grade C rating.
Podsednik returned to the Texas system in '98, being selected in the December '97 Rule 5 draft. They sent him to Charlotte in the Florida State League, where he hit .285 with 26 steals in 81 games, his season cut short by injury. Further injuries limited him to just 42 games in 1999, and 49 games in 2000, most of them spent at the Double-A level, where he hit a combined .211. At this point, he'd be only a marginal Grade C prospect, a guy with a good track record of speed at the lower levels, but no proven ability to handle the Double-A level.
Podsednik became a free agent and signed with the Mariners in 2001. He got into 66 games for Triple-A Tacoma, and had his best professional season thus far, hitting .290 with 12 steals and a .409 SLG. He got a cup-of-coffee with the Mariners, going 1-for-6. I remember at the time being asked if he had any potential as a regular, a notion I dismissed with a derisive snort.
He finally had a season of complete health in 2002, hitting .279/.347/.525 with 35 steals in 125 games at Tacoma. But he was 26 years old. At this point there was absolutely no reason to think he would be anything but a Quadruple-A journeyman player, perhaps a useful bench guy, but not someone to count on for regular playing time. The Mariners had a similar view, sticking him on waivers at the end of the '02 season. He was claimed by Milwaukee.
Podsednik forced his way into a regular job during spring training of 2003. At the time I thought there was no way he could hold it, but hold it he did, hitting .314 with 43 steals and earning Rookie of the Year honors from The Sporting News, Topps, Baseball Digest, and Players Choice. He stole 70 bases in 2004 and hit 12 homers, though his batting average dropped to .244 and his OBP collapsed more than 60 points. Traded to Chicago, he's had a fine debut in the American League.
Podsednik has flaws. His power comes and goes. Although he steals bases in bunches, he also gets caught stealing more often than he should. His walk rate is only adequate, making his OBP very dependent on his batting average. But even with these flaws, he has become a much better player than his minor league career indicated.
How sustainable is his success? His list of comps is instructive:
Guys with good speed but erratic track records from year to year.