Ryan Ludwick was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the second round of the 1999 draft, out of UNLV. He was considered to be an impressive power hitter, and he performed well in his pro debut, hitting .275/.348/.444 in 43 games for Modesto in the Cal League. He fanned 45 times in 171 at-bats, but otherwise his performance was quite strong for a guy jumping to the Cal League out of college. I gave him a Grade C in the 2000 book, which in retrospect looks much too low, though I did give him a positive review in the comment and noted that the grade was conservative.
Ludwick returned to Modesto in 2000, hitting .264/.359/.505 with 68 walks and 128 strikeouts in 493 at-bats. He got off to a very slow start, but improved greatly as the season progressed. Impressed with his power, I gave him a Grade B in the '01 book, but noted he would need some adjustment time at higher levels.
Promoted to Double-A Midland in 2001, Ludwick hit .269/.356/.503, then .228/.246/.333 in a 17 game trial in Triple-A. Once again he showed strong power, but his strikeout rate was still rather high and the batting average unimpressive for the Texas League. I gave him a Grade B- in the '02 book, writing that Ludwick could turn into an excellent slugger, but that there were risks about his batting average and OBP.
Ludwick was traded to the Rangers in January of 2002 as part of the Carlos Pena deal, then was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma where he hit .285/.370/.548 in 78 games. He also got into 23 games for the Rangers, hitting .235/.295/.346. A hip injury cost him playing time during the season, but overall he adjusted well to Triple-A and I kept his rating at Grade B- entering 2003.
2003 was split between Oklahoma (.303/.372/.558 in 81 games) and the Rangers, then Ludwick was traded to Cleveland and hit a solid .265/.306/.485 in 39 games, though his plate discipline was shaky. Injuries hampered him in 2004 and 2005 and he was unable to gain much consistency, struggling in his major league time though showing impressive flashes of power. He spent all of 2006 at Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers sytem, then he finally got another shot at playing time with the Cardinals in 2007.
As you know, he's currently having an excellent campaign with the Cardinals, hitting .292/.367/.575 with 33 homers thus far. A lot of people seem quite surprised by this, but it really isn't that far out of context. Indeed, in the 2003 book I wrote that Ludwick "could hit 30 homers someday" in a full season of major league play. His career didn't take off until now due to poorly-timed injuries and lack of committment from his previous clubs.
For the future, Ludwick is probably having his career season right now, and I don't expect him to be a .290+ hitter in most seasons, but the power will carry forward. Also note that he's an excellent defensive outfielder and a sound athlete, he's not just a one-dimensional slugger. This should help him avoid premature aging that often happens with "old player skill" types.