Not a Rookie: Chris Iannetta
Chris Iannetta was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round in 2004, from the University of North Carolina. He was considered a very solid defensive catcher, though not a spectacular one. Questions about how his bat would transition to pro ball kept him out of the first three rounds, but his initial exposure was successful: .314/.454/.496 in 36 games for Asheville in the Sally League. Note that he skipped short-season ball and went directly to full-season Class A and thrived. I pointed him out as a sleeper in the 2005 book and gave him a Grade B-.
Moved up to Modesto in 2005, Iannetta hit .276/.381/.490 in 74 games, then .233/.329/.417 in 19 games for Double-A Tulsa. His defense got a bit better and scouts gave him high marks in that regard, projecting him as major league ready with the glove at that point. Offensively his best attribute was strong plate discipline. I gave him another Grade B- in the 2006 book, projecting that he would be a .250-.260 hitter in the majors, with enough walks and power to be of use along with his glove.
2006 was a great year. He started off with a .321/.418/.622 mark in 44 games for Tulsa, hitting 11 homers. Then he hit .351/.447/.510 in 47 games for Triple-A Colorado Springs. A .260/.370/.399 21-game audition in Colorado rounded things out. He continued to show good plate discipline, but the spike in power in Double-A really stood out. I gave him a Grade B+ and ranked him as the top catching prospect in baseball, 25th overall on the hitters list.
Um, that didn't work out too well.
Iannetta opened 2007 as the regular catcher, but a 3-for-25 start, a virus that sapped his strength, and better play by Yorvit Torrealba cost him the starting job. He got sent back to the minors in July. Iannetta returned in August and hit .320 the rest of the way, but word from Rockies camp for 2008 is that he is not guaranteed any playing time this year and may get sent back to Triple-A.
So what happened here? Basically he got off to a slow start, lost confidence, started to press, got sick, and lost his job when the other guy didn't have those problems. He came back and played well down the stretch, so he's hardly a lost cause. Also note the interesting home/road split: .179/.275/.263 in Colorado, .255/.379/.431 on the road. Quite a difference. Was he pressing in front of the home crowd, trying to impress everyone?
Basically, if they let Iannetta play, I think he will bounce back just fine. That said, I did overrate him to some extent last year, and I think the Grade B+ was a notch too high. I should have had him at Grade B. I think I overreacted to the gaudy numbers at Tulsa. In retrospect, I think my earlier assessment of Iannetta back in 2006 was the right one: he's a .250-.260 hitter (neutral park) in the majors, with enough walks for a nice OBP, some power, and solid glovework. Not a star, but a solid guy.