Ben Sheets Prospect Retro
Ben Sheets was drafted in the first round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1999, out of Northeast Louisiana State University. The 10th overall pick in the draft, he was considered to be a very fine overall pitching prospect, with a good combination of stuff and polish. His pro debut was decent: 36 innings split between the Pioneer League and the California League, with a combined 40/16 K/BB and a 4.04 ERA. I gave him a Grade B in the 2000 book, a fairly conservative rating. B+ might have been more appropriate, but I was less aggressive about grading just-drafted players back then than I am now.
Sheets began 2000 for Double-A Huntsville, going 5-3, 1.88 in 13 starts. Promoted to Triple-A, he went 3-5, 2.87 in 13 starts, with a 59/31 K/BB. He was a hero in the Olympics that year, throwing a shutout in the gold medal game against Cuba. People immediately started rating him as one of the top rookies for 2001, projecting him to be a Rookie of the Year candidate and a pitcher certain to do well right away.
I was impressed with his stuff, certainly. . .92-95 MPH fastball, nasty curve, good changeup. But his component ratios didn't match the scouting reports or the ERA: his K/BB and K/IP were not very impressive in Triple-A. In the 2001 book, I wrote "I love Sheets' scouting profile, but I'm not 100 percent convinced that he will do well in the majors right away." All that said, I still gave him a Grade A rating, and ranked him as the top right-handed pitching prospect in the game. But I advised people that Sheets would probably have some adjustment problems to begin with.
He went 11-10 in 25 starts for the Brewers in 2001, but with a 4.76 ERA and allowing 166 hits in 151 innings. He improved slightly in '02 and '03, then took a huge step forward in '04 with a 2.70 ERA and an ungodly 264/32 K/BB. Injuries have slowed him the past two years, but when healthy he is a very valuable pitcher.
Sheets' minor league track record was solid, but not spectacular, at least not on a component basis. But despite my reputation as a stathead type, I don't judge players by statistics alone. I thought he was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball in 2001, even though his K/BB and K/IP weren't impressive in Triple-A. But at the same time, the not-great components did warn us that he would have some adjustments in the majors, and indeed he did. Scouting and stats, they go together. . .you need both to properly evaluate a player. Sheets is an excellent example of that.