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Not a Rookie: Mike Napoli

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Not a Rookie: Mike Napoli

Mike Napoli was drafted by the Angels in the 17th round in 2000, out of high school in Pembroke Pines, Florida. He didn't play much in rookie ball, hitting .231/.400/.308 in just 10 games for Butte in the Pioneer League. He wasn't on my radar as a prospect at that point, being your basic generic late-round high school pick who might or might not develop into something.

Moved up to Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League in 2001, he hit .232/.341/.406 in 43 games, showing good strike zone judgment and flashes of power, but also striking out well over once a game. I saw him play one game for Cedar Rapids but he didn't make much of an impression and he didn't make the 2002 book. In retrospect, he'd rate a Grade C at that point.

Napoli returned to Cedar Rapids in 2002 and got to play full time, hitting .251/.362/.392. I didn't put him in the 2003 book, and he didn't get into the Baseball America book either. Again, his best attribute was strike zone judgment and power potential, but he hadn't fully tapped into it yet. Still Grade C.

Promoted to Rancho Cucamonga in 2003, Napoli hit .267/.364/.412 but was limited to just 47 games by a torn labrum, obviously not a pleasant injury for a catcher. Again, he didn't make the book. His overall production was very similar to what he'd done in '02 once the difference in hitting environment was accounted for. So what we have here was a catcher with good strike zone judgment, physically strong, but with no genuine increase in production and a possibly bad shoulder. Grade C.

Napoli got healthy in 2004 and had a terrific year in the California League, hitting .282/.393/.539 with 29 homers, 118 RBI, and 88 walks. The labrum injury did cost him arm strength, and he was erratic about blocking balls, but Cal League scouts said he called a good game and had leadership ability. Granted he was repeating the league, and there were doubts about his long swing and ability to make contact against better pitching due to 166 strikeouts. I finally put him in the book with a Grade C+ rating, writing that he was probably a .240 hitter against better pitching, but that I expected the power to carry forward.

Moved up to Double-A Arkansas in 2005, Napoli hit just .237 and struck out 140 times in 131 games, but slammed 31 homers and drew 88 walks. Some scouts panned his defense, others said he was average. I gave him another Grade C+, and wrote that Napoli was like a cross "between (Matt) LeCroy, Mickey Tettleton, and Rob Deer."

Napoli was expected to play second fiddle to Jeff Mathis as the catcher of the future for the Angels. But Mathis hasn't hit well, and Napoli was the one who ended up playing 99 games for the Angels in '06 and 75 in '07. His major league totals so far: .236/.356/.450 with 26 homers, 84 walks, and 153 strikeouts in 487 at-bats. His playing time was limited by injuries last year, but I think this is his true level of performance.

2008 projections

Shandler: .250/.347/.449
James: .238/.352/.464
ZIPS: .227/.339/.417
Me: .241/.349/.450

A wide variation there. For once Shandler is the most optimistic on the batting average side. ZIPS is the most pessimistic overall, while I'm somewhere in the middle.

In the long run, I think the Mickey Tettleton comp holds up well: Tettleton was a career .241/.369/.449 hitter, granted the offensive context wasn't as favorable back then, giving him an OPS+ of 121 on his career compared to 109 so far for Napoli. But their skills are similar (high walks, high strikeouts, low batting average) and Napoli at age 26 is ahead of where Tettleton was at the same age. If he can stay healthy and continue to develop his skill set, Napoli will be very useful.