Prospect Retro: Eric Byrnes
Eric Byrnes was drafted in the eighth round by the Oakland Athletics in 1998, as a college senior out of UCLA. His tools never excited scouts: he was an OK athlete with a little bit of speed and a little bit of power, a good college track record, but exceptional makeup and instincts. He began his pro career by hitting .314/.378/.521 in 42 games in the Northwest League, followed by an outstanding .426/.504/.657 29-game stint for Visalia in the Cal League. I didn't put him in the 1999 book because space limitations imposed by STATS back in those days kept me from writing about most immediate draftees. But nowadays I'd probably give a similar player a Grade B-.
Byrnes began 1999 with Modesto in the Cal League, hitting .337/.433/.468 with 28 steals. Promoted to Double-A, he struggled in 43 games for Midland, hitting just .238/.316/.341. I gave him a Grade C+ in the book, noting that he had a tremendous work ethic but that his tools were marginal and that he'd struggled badly after moving to Double-A.
Returning to Midland in 2000, Byrnes figured something out and hit .301/.395/.471 with 21 steals in 67 games. Promoted to Triple-A, he continued to hit with a .333/.410/.547 mark with 12 steals. He went 3-for-10 in a brief trial with the Athletics. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2001 book, again noting the excellent work ethic and instincts, his good plate discipline, and his ability to steal bases without great running speed.
Byrnes spent most of 2001 with Triple-A Sacramento, hitting .289/.343/.499 with 20 homers and 25 steals in 100 games. He hit .237 in 19 games for Oakland. I moved him back to Grade C+ in the '02 book, rating him as someone who'd do a very good job as a fourth outfielder. "He could hit 15 homers in a full season and steal 15-20 bases" while hitting around .260 I wrote.
Byrnes split '02 between Sacramento and Oakland, hitting .245/.291/.426 in 90 games but just 94 at-bats for the Athletics. In '03 he received nearly regular playing time, hitting .263/.333/.459 with 12 homers and 10 steals. As his playing time has increased over the last few years in Oakland and now Arizona, his production has improved as well, pushing past 20 homers and continuing to improve his speed production.
Byrnes major league career: .268/.331/.456 with 109 steals and just 15 caught stealing in 796 games.
Byrnes minor league career: .310/.386/.488 with 114 steals and 33 caught stealing in 475 games.
Byrnes is one of my favorite players to watch. He runs well and has some power, but he plays with such a high level of energy and with such good instincts that he's gotten the absolute most out of his physical ability. Not bad for an eighth-round college senior pick, is it?