Prospect Retro: Jack Cust
Jack Cust was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round in 1997, 30th overall, out of high school in Somerville, New Jersey. His bat was considered to be excellent, but doubts about his poor outfield defense, speed, and lack of athleticism kept him from going earlier in the round. He hit .306/.447/.488 in 35 games in the Arizona Rookie League, drawing 31 walks in just 121 at-bats. I didn't give just-drafted players letter grades back then, but a similar player would get a Grade B or B- from me nowadays.
Cust was assigned to Lethbridge in the Pioneer League in 1998, hitting .345/.530/.601 with an incredible 86 walks in 73 games, 223 at-bats. His strikeout rate was also high, but his combination of power and plate discipline was special. He even managed to steal 15 bases, but no one expected that to continue at higher levels, and his defense was still panned. I didn't give him a grade in the 1999 book due to lack of full-season experience, but nowadays would have given him a Grade B or maybe B+.
The Diamondbacks assigned Cust to High Desert in 1999 at the age of 20. He hit .334/.450/.651 with 32 homers, 96 walks, but 145 strikeouts in 455 at-bats. He was young for the level, and led the California League in both OPS and secondary average, but of course it was High Desert, which is like hitting on the moon, and scouts continued to worry about the strikeouts and defense. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2000 book, buying into his power/patience combination.
Moved up to Double-A El Paso in 2000, Cust hit .293/.440/.526 with 20 homers, 117 walks, and 150 strikeouts in 447 at-bats. El Paso helped him, but again I liked the patience/power combination and was willing to overlook his other flaws, giving him another Grade B+ and comparing him to Jim Thome as a hitter. I also wrote that he was an "atrocious defensive outfielder" (based on personal experience of seeing him play for El Paso) and would best fit as a DH.
Cust continued up the ladder to Triple-A in 2001, hitting .278/.415/.525 with 27 homers and 102 walks, but 160 strikeouts, in 442 at-bats for Tucson. He got into three games with Arizona, going 1-for-2 with a walk. His batting average was rather disappointing considering the Tucson context, but again the power and walks stood out. I gave him another Grade B+ in the 2002 book, though a lot of scouts were still skeptical about him. The Diamondbacks traded him to the Rockies in January '02 for reliever Mike Myers.
2002 was somewhat disappointing: he hit .265/.407/.524 with 23 homers and 83 walks in just 359 at-bats for Triple-A Colorado Springs, but just .169/.295/.246 in 35 games for the Rockies, 65 at-bats resulting in 32 strikeouts. Scouts complained that Cust was too passive, too patient, and let too many hittable pitches go by. Complaints about his defensive continued, and many scouts were already writing him off as a Quadruple-A slugger. I retained faith, giving him a Grade B in the 2003 book. I wrote "Cust is certainly young enough to adjust. . .but it won't happen automatically, and there may be more bumpy times ahead before he figures it all out."
The Rockies gave up on him in the spring of 2003, sending him to Baltimore for Chris Richard. He hit .285/.422/.426 in 97 games at Triple-A Ottawa, then showed what he could do with a .260/.357/.521 mark in 27 games for the Orioles and exceeding rookie qualifications. According to the Mitchell Report, Cust admitted to a teammate that he tried steroids sometime during his tenure at Ottawa
Despite hitting well for the Orioles in '03, he ended up repeating Triple-A in '04, hitting just .235/.358/.433. Cust attributed his poor performance to a philosophical disagreement with Orioles coaches, saying that the Orioles ordered him to be more aggressive and that he wasn't comfortable with this mandated approach. Granted free agency, he signed with Oakland for '05.
The Athletics let him play the way he wanted to play, and the result was a .257/.402/.438 mark with 19 homers and 115 walks, but 153 strikeouts, in 479 at-bats for Triple-A Sacramento in 2005. He wasn't promoted to the majors, and by this time at age 26 his chances were fading. Even statheads were giving up on him. Signed by the Padres as a free agent for 2006, he hit .293/.467/.549 with 143 walks and 124 strikeouts, with 30 homers, for Triple-A Portland. Note the improvement in his strikeout rate. He got off to a fast start at Portland in 2007, hitting .300/.430/.725 in 25 games, then was traded back to Oakland, where he finally got a chance to play in the majors consistently.
Cust is a career .242/.385/.472 hitter in the majors, with 252 walks and 437 strikeouts in 359 games. This is very much what you would expect given his minor league record: a low batting average but a high OBP due to all the walks. His very high strikeout rate annoys traditionalists, and his glove is pretty awful, but he is useful if deployed properly.
PECOTA comps: Jim Thome, Jason Thompson, Ken Phelps, Erubiel Durazo, Mickey Tettleton, Randy Milligan, Carlos Pena, Pat Burrell, Tony Solaita, Bernie Carbo. Sim Score comps: Sam Horn, Jason Lane, Bob Hamelin, Marcus Thames, Don Lenhart, Brian Hunter the slugger, Brant Brown, Carmen Castillo, Marv Throneberry, Dusty Rhodes.