Love that uniform
Nostalgia Prospect Retro: Ron Kittle
Our third Nostalgia Prospect Report is for Ron Kittle, 1983 American League Rookie of the Year.
Ron Kittle was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. Not drafted out of high school, he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent in 1977 at the age of 19. Assigned to the Pioneer League, he hit .250 with a .490 SLG in 34 games for Lethbridge. His power potential was interesting but he wasn't considered a hot prospect. Kittle was injured and had to have spinal fusion surgery in 1978, leading to his release by the Dodgers.
The White Sox picked up Kittle as a free agent in 1979, after a tryout camp. He split the season between Appleton in the Midwest League and Knoxville in Double-A, combining for 8 homers in 88 games. At this point, he wasn't a very interesting prospect at all. That started to change in 1980, when Kittle returned to Appleton and hit .316 with a .589 SLG and 12 homers in 61 games. But he was repeating the league at age 22; he'd rate a Grade C prospect at this point.
Kittle moved up to the Double-A Eastern League in 1981 and had an outstanding season, hitting .326 with 40 homers and 103 RBI for Glens Falls. He didn't have a lot of defensive value, but his power would be enough to get him a C+ or B- rating. He followed that up with a 50-homer, 144-RBI, .345 season for Triple-A Edmonton in 1982. Yes, the thin air and small parks of the PCL helped, but 50 homers is 50 homers.
The White Sox gave the 25-year-old Kittle a job as an outfielder/DH in 1983. He was awful with the glove, making nine errors in left field with a substantially below average range factor. But his power was impressive: he hit just .250, but knocked 35 homers (third in the league) and drove in 100 runs. Remember, this was 1983; these numbers were very impressive back then. He also led the American League in home runs per at-bat. Aside from his dismal glove, his main weakness was contact: he fanned 150 times in 145 games, and he didn't draw enough walks to make up for it, just 39 free passes leading to a weak .314 OBP. But the home runs were exciting and he was named Rookie of the Year.
He hit 32 homers in 139 games in 1984, but the league caught up with him in other ways, learning that he'd chase breaking balls and changeups outside the strike zone. He hit just .215 with a .295 OBP, and his OPS was exactly league average. He followed that up with a 26-homer, .230 season in 1985, limited by injuries to just 116 games. The White Sox had soured on him by this point, due to his defense, his strikeouts, and his low batting average. He was traded to the Yankees in 1986, and spent the next five years bouncing around the American League (playing for the Yankees, the Indians, the White Sox again, and the Orioles), seeing action mostly as a platoon DH. His best campaign was when he hit .302.378/.556 (OPS +163) in 160 at-bats as a platoon player for the White Sox in 1989. His career was over in 1992 at age 34.
Kittle finished with a career .239/.306/.473 line in 843 games, hitting 176 homers.
The perfect representation of the one-dimensional slugger, Kittle had one real skill: the ability to hit home runs. Comparable Players to Kittle:
An active comp would be Russ Branyan.
So far we've done three Nostalgia Prospect Retros. I chose Davis, Brunansky, and Kittle for a reason: they were all righthanded-hitting outfielders who came to the majors in the early 1980s, but they had very different spots along the "tools continuum." If you draw a line to represent a "tools continuum," you'd have Davis on the extreme toolsy end, possessing power, speed, and defense, Brunansky somewhere in the middle, and Kittle on the other end with only one real tool (power). Note that their spot on the continuum also corresponds to how long each player was useful as a regular. Kittle stopped seeing regular action and was reduced to a supporting role at age 28. Brunansky lasted until his early 30s, and Davis (despite a series of major injuries) had a strong season as a regular at age 36.