Prospect Smackdown: Felix Pie vs. Andre Ethier
BACKGROUND and INTANGIBLES
Pie: Felix Pie was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, at the tender age of 16. Considered one of the toolsiest players to come out of the Dominican in some time, he hit .321 in rookie ball at the age of 17. Although injuries have been a problem, particularly last year when he was limited to just 59 games by severe ankle bruise, he has performed well at each level despite being young for his competition. He has already developed a reputation for playing well in the clutch, although he's also shown some tendency to coast in non-clutch situations, relying a bit too much on his natural talent. This is a normal thing for players his age and is not expected to be a long-term issue.
Ethier: Ethier was drafted by Oakland in the second round in 2003, out of Arizona State University. Well-known to scouts due to his regular play for a high-level college program, he was considered somewhat emotional when he first turned pro, getting down on himself too quickly when things went badly. He has shown more confidence over the last year and a half, and has always shown a strong work ethic, working to correct the flaws in his game. Blocked in Oakland, he was traded to the Dodgers this past off-season.
Advantage: Both Pie and Ethier have intriguing, albeit very different, baseball backgrounds, Pie as a Dominican tools hound and Ethier as a polished collegian. Neither has a perfect "intangible" reputation, Pie lacking concentration at times and Ethier lacking confidence, though in both cases the problems have reportedly subsided. Ethier's work ethic stands out at this point.
PHYSICALITY and TOOLS
Pie: Pie was born February 8, 1985. He is listed at 6-2, 175 pounds, and is a lefthanded hitter and thrower. He is an exceptional athlete, certainly the best in the Cubs system and one of the best in the minor leagues. He possesses plus power potential, plus speed, and an arm strong enough for right field. At this point, his swing is more of a line drive stroke, although his power production is gradually increasing. He does well against fastballs, but has a bad habit of chasing pitches outside the strike zone. He makes hard contact against some of these pitches, helping him keep his batting average high despite his weak strike zone judgment. But this may not hold up against better pitching. Despite his speed, he needs to improve his baserunning technique and his outfield routes, but both should improve with experience.
Ethier: Ethier was born April 10, 1982. He is listed at 6-3, 195 pounds, a lefthanded hitter but a righthanded thrower. Ethier is a good athlete, with average running speed, average strength, and a good arm. He is fundamentally sound on both offense and defense, making few mistakes. His command of the strike zone is good, and he has a swing that produces line drives in bunches, with gap-to-gap power. He drove the ball more frequently for power last year, and has maintained that production so far this season. He makes adjustments and has no major weaknesses as a hitter, handling fastballs and breaking stuff well. He doesn't swing at pitches outside the strike zone very often.
Advantage: Ethier is decent when it comes to tools, but Pie is one of the best in the game. Advantage: Pie.
Pie: Pie came into 2006 with a career mark of .298/.357/.462. His power has been increasing, his SLG marks going from .388 to .448 to .554 over the last three years. His walk rate is well below average, making his OBP highly-dependent on his batting average. That's OK if he's hitting above .300, but not so much if he drops below .280. His strikeout rate is higher than ideal, but not terrible. He needs to improve his stolen base success ratio.
Ethier: Ethier came into 2006 with a career mark of .312/.382/.455. He showed consistent home run power for the first time last year, hitting 18 homers with a .497 SLG, although it is true that this was the Texas League. His walk rate isn't as impressive as it was in college, but he keeps his strikeout rate down, and so far he hasn't had problems adjusting to new levels of pitching.
Pie: Pie has always been one of the youngest players in his leagues, and at age 21 he still has plenty of development time left.
Ethier: At age 24, Ethier is much further down the development track, and has less time left to improve his game.
I rate Ethier as having slight advantages in intangibles and performance, with Pie having the advantage in tools and projection. I picked these two guys to profile because of, not in spite of, their differences. Both are tearing up Triple-A. Because of his youth, Pie is the superior prospect, but he also comes with greater risk than Ethier since he lacks polish, and the Cubs don't exactly have a strong track record helping guys like this develop.