Prospect Retro: David Eckstein
We continue our series of World Series prospect retros with a look at David Eckstein of the Cardinals.
David Eckstein was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 19th round in 1997, from the University of Florida. I saw him play in college and was impressed with him; I picked him that year in my Minnesota Twins "Shadow Draft." He had been a starter for the Gators for three seasons, hitting over .300 every year with speed, on-base ability, and surprising pop for his size, but most scouts didn't like him much and considered him an organization player. He hit .301/.407/.426 in rookie ball, and I noted him as a draft sleeper.
Moved up to Sarasota in the Florida State League in '98, Eckstein hit .306/.428/.398 with 45 steals. He drew 87 walks against just 51 strikeouts, and impressed everyone who saw him with his feel for the game, although he still wasn't considered a hot prospect. I gave him a Grade C in the '99 book, noting that he was a sleeper prospect who should be watched and that he could make a lot of noise in '99.
He did just that, hitting .313/.440/.416 with 32 steals and 89 walks for Double-A Trenton. I gave him a Grade B- in the '00 book. Scouts finally admitted that Eckstein could hit. The complaint now was that he lacked the arm strength for shortstop, or the quickness for second base. He led the Eastern League in fielding percentage, but how do you quantify his range? I gave him a B-, praising his bat but admitting that I wasn't sure what to make of his glove.
Eckstein moved up to Triple-A in 2000. He slumped, hitting just .246 although he drew 60 walks with just 45 strikeouts. Word was that the Red Sox had altered his swing for some reason. . .why would anyone mess with his swing when he had a career average over .300 with a high on-base percentage was unclear. But alter it they did, and it screwed him up to the point that the Red Sox let him go on waivers. The Angels picked him up, sent him to Triple-A Edmonton, and told him to go back to his old style. He did, and in 15 games for Edmonton he hit .346/.485/.673. I gave him another Grade B-.
Eckstein hit .285/.355/.357 in 153 games for the Angels in 2001, emerging as their regular shortstop. It took scouts a long time to admit they were wrong about this guy, but they were. All hail David Eckstein. He may not be a tools guy, but he knows how to play baseball.