Playoff Prospect Retro: Chone Figgins
Chone Figgins was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of the 1997 draft, out of high school in Brandon, Florida. He was drafted for his speed: he was really, really fast. There were doubts about his bat, and he was erratic on defense, but he was one of the fastest players available. He went to the Arizona Rookie League and hit .280/.386/.374, with 30 steals, showing off his speed as well as a willingness to draw walks and get on base. I'd give a similar player a Grade C+ nowadays.
Moved up the short-season Northwest League in 1998, Figgins hit .283/.345/.349 with 25 steals. He led the league in fielding percentage at shortstop, and showed great range and athleticism. I didn't give grades to short-season players back then, but I did put him in the 1999 book with a note that he could threaten to become a regular shortstop in three or four years. I'd probably have given him a Grade B-.
The Rockies jumped Figgins to the Carolina League in 1999, and it did not go well. He hit just .239/.306/.279, overmatched more often than not though he did steal 27 bases. He also made 45 errors. . .he went backwards in all phases of the game. I dropped him to Grade C, and at this point was wondering if he was more of a utility player or even Triple-A speed guy.
Perhaps realizing that they had pushed Figgins too quickly in '99, the Rockies returned him to Salem in 2000 and he did better, hitting .278/.358/.398 with 37 steals, as well as 26 doubles and 14 triples. They also moved him to second base, improving his defensive consistency. I gave him a Grade C in the '01 book, projecting him as a utility player.
Colorado moved Figgins to Double-A in 2001, and it didn't go well: he hit .220/.306/.310 with 27 steals in 86 games. At this point it looked like he wasn't going to ever hit much against advanced pitching. In July he was traded to the Angels in exchange for Kimera Bartee. The Angels sent him to Double-A Arkansas and the change of organization seemed to help him: he hit .268/.329/.384 in 39 games. He had settled down defensively and his speed was obvious, but I still doubted his bat. Grade C.
Figgins went to Triple-A Salt Lake in 2002 and hit .305/.364/.466 with 39 steals, and was used as a pinch-runner in the playoffs. I gave him a Grade C again, writing that Figgins niche was as "a utility infielder with speed and decent defensive ability. He'll knock a pitch in the gap occasionally, but would likely be overexposed if used as a regular for any length of time. He does have a bit of patience, but has been erratic as a hitter in the minors, hitting well at times and not so well at other times. I imagine the same will be true of his major league career." Grade C.
Figgins has turned out to be a lot better than that. Used as a semi-regular super-utility player and seeing action at many different positions, he's hit .290 or higher every season except for 2006. His career mark is now .293/.354/.400 with 204 steals. Compare this to his minor league mark: .274/.346/.385. He's outhit his minor league numbers by about 20 points.
Unlike many speed prospects, Figgins always showed decent strike zone judgment in the minors, even when he wasn't hitting that well. He's gotten physically strong enough that the pitchers have to respect that. Combine it with his speed and versatility, and he's become a very valuable player, better than I thought he'd be.