Not a Rookie: Travis Buck
Travis Buck was a supplemental first round pick in 2005, out of Arizona State. He was excellent in his pro debut, making a quick adjustment to the Midwest League and hitting .341/.427/.472 in 32 games for Kane County. Scouts greatly respected his quick bat and polish at the plate, although questions about how much home run power he was going to show kept him out of the straight first round. I gave him a Grade B in the 2006 book, impressed by what I saw out of him in college and by his easy adjustment to pro competition. I (and a lot of other people) compared him to Andre Ethier, another former Arizona State outfielder who the Athletics had just traded to the Dodgers.
Buck began 2006 in Class A, hitting .349/.400/.603 in 34 games for Stockton in the California League. Promoted to Double-A, he hit .302/.376/.472 in 50 games. Injuries were an issue and he missed much of the season due to a hernia. But he hit great when healthy, again showing few adjustment problems against good pitching. As before, the main question was power development. How many homers would he hit? I wrote that "Buck has a good chance to be a .300 hitter at the major league level, but whether that's .300/.370/.500 or .300/.370/.430 remains to be seen." I gave him another Grade B.
Buck spent most of 2007 in the majors, hitting .288/.377/.474 in 82 games, dogged by hamstring and elbow injuries. His numbers were very much in line with expectation, and I think he will continue to hit like this as long as the injuries don't start wearing him down. Buck actually outperformed Ethier's 2006 rookie season...Ethier hit .308/.365/.477 for the Dodgers, but that worked out to an OPS+ of 113. Buck's .288/.377/.474 mark resulted in an OPS+ of 130.
The question that Oakland fans want the answer to: how much power? Will Buck start launching more homers in time? The whole "doubles become homers as a player gets older" thing is a nice rule of thumb, but it's much more of a tendency rather than an Iron Law of Prospecting. Buck's 2007 line, pro-rated out to 162 games, would result in 43 doubles, 10 triples, and 14 homers. Oakland fans have seen a lot more of him than I have, but from what I've seen I do think some of those doubles are going to become homers. I don't think he will be a 30-homer guy, but I suspect he will hit 20 or so in his peak seasons, while maintaining the .280-.300 average and the fine OBP.
Short-term projections for 2008 are all very similar:
Longer-term, I see Buck as being very similar to players such as Mike Greenwell, Rusty Greer, Raul Ibanez (with an earlier start to his good seasons), or Paul O'Neill. That's my take.