Prospect Retro: John Buck
John Buck was drafted in the seventh round by the Houston Astros in 1998, out of high school in Taylorsville, Utah. He was regarded as a promising but somewhat raw player who would need time to develop. His first two years were undistinguished at the short-season levels, but he started to get noticed after a nice 2000 campaign in the Midwest League, where he hit .282/.374/.444 and showed solid defensive skills. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2001 book and wrote that he was one of the better players that people had not heard much about.
Buck moved to Lexington in the Sally League in 2001, a lateral move from low-level A to low-level A, but at the time the Astros did not have an advanced A-ball club and he wasn't ready for Double-A. He had a very good year for Lexington, hitting .275/.345/.483 with 22 homers and throwing out 37 percent of basestealers. He also impressed observers with his work ethic and leadership abilities. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2002 book.
Moved up to Double-A in '02, Buck hit .263/.314/.422 with 12 homers. Although he played 120 games, he was injured most of the year, hampered by a painful hand injury that made it hard for him to hold his bat properly. He played through it but it definitely impacted his hitting. His plate discipline had deteriorated a bit, but the injury gave at least a plausible excuse for his drop in power production. He remained well-regarded defensively, not so much for his throwing (which was inhibited to some extent by a long release) but for his game-calling and field generalship. I gave him another Grade B+, cutting him some slack because of his willingness to play hurt.
Injuries were an even bigger problem in 2003: he was limited to 78 games for Triple-A New Orleans, breaking his hand completely. He hit just .255/.301/.358 and struggled with the strike zone against Triple-A pitching. I lowered his grade in the 2004 book to C+, concerned that the injuries were taking a toll on his game and that he was developing into another victim of Young Catcher Offensive Stagnation Syndrome.
Buck came out of the gate healthy in 2004 and hit .300/.368/.507 in 65 games for New Orleans, showing a quicker bat than in '02 and '03 and improved plate discipline. He was traded to the Royals at mid-season in the Carlos Beltran deal, and took over as KC's regular catcher. He's retained that role for three years now, proving to be an average defensive catcher. Offensively he's shown sparks of power, especially this year where he is on course for 20 homers, but he has struggled to keep his batting average over .240 and his on-base skills are weak.
Comps for John Buck:
Is he disappointing? He has not lived up to his early potential. He's clearly not a star and the Grade B+ ratings were too high. His defensive statistics in the majors have never matched his reputation for being a good gloveman. But you can do worse than a catcher capable of slugging .475, and until the Royals can develop another catcher he's a reasonable stopgap. I think he has it in him to have a season where he hits .270/.330/.500 or something, maybe next year during his age 27 season, but my bet is that he fades fast in his early 30s.