Ryan Klesko, Circa 1991
Per Reader Request, a Prospect Retro for Ryan Klesko
Ryan Klesko was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the fifth round of the 1989 draft, out of high school in Westminster, California. Some teams preferred him as a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher, but the Braves liked his power bat. Klesko had no problems in his first exposure to pro pitching, hitting .404 with a .684 SLG in his first 17 games for the Gulf Coast League Braves. Promoted to Sumter in the Sally League, he hit .289 in 25 games, with just one homer, but that was still very impressive for a guy right out of high school. He controlled the strike zone well. At this point I would have given him something like a Grade B, with a "watch this guy, he's a big-time sleeper" warning.
Klesko began 1990 with Sumter again, and he destroyed the competition, hitting .368 with a .571 SLG in 63 games. He drew 31 walks with just 30 strikeouts in 231 at-bats. He even stole 13 bases. Promoted to Durham in the Class A Carolina League at mid-season, he held his own and hit .274 with 7 homers in 77 games, with a 32/53/.292 BB/K/AB. His overall production was impressive, but the thing that stands out from a sabermetric perspective is his ability to draw walks without striking out very often. I would have likely rated him a Grade B+ prospect heading into 1991.
Promoted to Double-A in 1991, Klesko hit .291 with 14 homers, 75 walks, and just 60 strikeouts in 419 at-bats, very good numbers for a 20-year-old at that level. Again, note the high walk rate combined with a low strikeout rate. Grade B+ at a minimum and, perhaps, Grade A-.
Up to Triple-A in 1992, Klesko hit just .251 but with 17 homers, 41 walks, and 72 strikeouts in 418 at-bats. On the surface his production may have been a tad disappointing, with a sharp decline in his walk rate, but his strikeouts remained under control, and for a 21-year-old in Triple-A he did quite well. He received 14 at-bats for the Braves late in the year and went 0-for-14 with five strikeouts, but overall you'd have to rate him a Grade B+ still due to his youth.
Klesko split '93 between Atlanta and Richmond, then received full time play in 1994. Although his outfield defense annoyed Braves fans, and he had enough problems against lefties to be confined to a platoon role at times, overall he has been a consistent source of power for Atlanta and San Diego. Now on the back end of the age curve and getting older, Klesko hasn't been a superstar, but he's had a good career as an effective power hitter. As noted, during his minor league career he was younger than his competition, produced decent power, and did a good job controlling the strike zone without striking out very much.
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