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Not a Rookie: Corey Hart

Corey Hart was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2000, out of high school in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Drafted as a first baseman, he wasn't a hot prospect on draft day, but the Brewers liked his height (6-6), power potential, and athleticism. He held his own in rookie ball, hitting .287/.332/.366 in 216 at-bats for Ogden in the Pioneer League. That was back in the STATS days when I didn't put many short-season players in the book. Nowadays he'd get a Grade C "with higher potential" rating, pending additional data.

Hart returned to Ogden in 2001 and hit .340/.395/.542 with 11 homers and 14 steals in 262 at-bats. I did put him in the book in '02, giving him a Grade C rating, noting his strong performance, power potential, and unusual speed for a first baseman. I also noted that his plate discipline was erratic and that the Brewers didn't have a great track record at the time helping similar players develop.

After an impressive spring camp, Hart skipped low Class A and went directly to the California League in 2002. He hit .288/.356/.573 with 22 homers and 24 steals in 100 games for High Desert, then .266/.340/.362 in 28 games for Double-A Huntsville. The High Desert numbers were inflated by the environment, but he was just 20 years old, had skipped a level, and wasn't completely overmatched after being promoted to Double-A. His plate discipline needed work, but I gave him a Grade B, noting that "there is a lot to like here."

Hart spent all of 2003 at Huntsville, hitting .302/.340/.467. He hit just 13 homers, but knocked 40 doubles and stole 25 bases. His plate discipline was an issue with a 28/101/493 BB/K/AB ratio, but it didn't seem to hurt him much. He has an unusually compact swing for such a tall player. He played third base that year, as the Brewers were trying to figure out how to fit him into the future lineup, but I projected that he would end up in an outfield corner. I gave him another Grade B and rated him as the Number 42 hitting prospect in baseball.

2004 was a solid season: he hit .281/.342/.485 with 15 homers and 17 steals for Triple-A Indianapolis. He increased his walk rate significantly, and moved to the outfield full-time. I gave him yet another Grade B, writing that I didn't "think that Hart was going to be a star, but if he can maintain decent command of the strike zone, he should be a solid player." He just missed the Top 50.

A return engagement in Triple-A in 2005 resulted in a .308/.377/.536, 17 homer, 31 steal mark for Nashville. I gave him another Grade B, noting that Hart just needed a chance to play and he'd be a darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidate. As you know he finally got to play in '06 and '07, and indeed he's done quite well. Hart is a career .284/.339/.505 hitter at the major league level through 800 at-bats.

I expect this to continue. While I don't think he will ever be a walk machine, he doesn't need to be. He doesn't strike out that much for a guy with power, and I like his multi-skills. When Hart was just starting out he was compared to Richie Sexson due to his size and wingspan. I don't think Hart will produce the kind of home run power Sexson did at his peak, but Hart is faster and move valuable defensively, and he does have some untapped power upside. It's also possible he could stay where he is right now in the power department but add some additional batting average instead. Either way, I think Hart still has room for improvement, and given the fact that he's already very good as it is, he could end up having some outstanding seasons heading forward.

2008 Projections:

Shandler: .282/.334/.520
James: .297/.357/.534
ZIPS: .289/.353/.518
Weighted Mean PECOTA: .288/.358/.527
Me: .305/.362/.510.

I'll be a bit different on this one and go with a higher batting average and OBP but a bit less isolated power this year.

PECOTA really likes him. Comps include Sammy Sosa, Cliff Floyd, Joe Carter, Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield, Ron Gant, and Ellis Burks. The most negative comp is the second one, Wes Chamberlain. Top Sim Scores through age 25 are Bill Nicholson, Tommy Henrich, Ivan Calderon, Bobby Higginson, Jacque Jones, Jim Edmonds, Jon Nunnally, David Justice, and Larry Doby. Nunnally is the weakest player in the bunch. Both comparisons systems like what Hart is done and project him as a very solid player, even an excellent one.

Basically there is nothing not to like here. If Hart merely stays where he is right now, he'll be a very good player. If he improves in some way, boosting additional power, or adding more batting average and OBP, or both, he's a legitimate star. Some comparable players have ended up as Hall of Fame type talents. That's an observation, NOT a prediction, so don't go buying truckloads of Corey Hart cards. But it does show the direction some similar players have developed in.