Corner Bats from the 2008 Draft
There were seven "infield corner" bats drafted in the first round in 2008, one (Eric Hosmer) from high school and six (Pedro Alvarez, Yonder Alonso, Brett Wallace, David Cooper, Ike Davis, and Allan Dykstra) from the college ranks. All were regarded as polished and capable of advancing quickly, though Dykstra was considered a stretch in the first round by most. Let's take a look and see how they did in their first full seasons.
Pedro Alvarez: The second overall pick, Vanderbilt product Alvarez got off to a slow start at Lynchburg in the Carolina League for the Pirates, but turned things on after the first month and hit .247/.342/.486 overall, earning a promotion to Double-A at mid-season. He was blistering after that, hitting .333/.419/.590, finishing the season with a combined .288/.378/.535 mark, 27 homers, 32 doubles, 71 walks, and 129 strikeouts in 465 at-bats. He handled lefties well at the Double-A level (.324/.360/.451), and his defense at third base came out as average according to Minor League Splits.com. There's still some doubt about where he'll end up defensively, and his strikeout rate is rather high, but he draws plenty of walks and overall I think he answered a lot of questions in the second half, firmly establishing himself as an elite offensive prospect.
Eric Hosmer: The third overall pick out of high school in Plantation, Florida, Hosmer was supposed to be a very advanced high school hitter with plus power, excellent strike zone judgment, and the ability to advance rapidly through the farm system. He did show the solid plate discipline in the Midwest League, with a 44/68 BB/K in 280 at-bats, but he hit just .254/.352/.382 overall with very disappointing power. The Royals moved him up to the Carolina League for the last month of the season, for some reason, and he hit just .206/.280/.299 for Wilmington, including .143/.208/.204 in 14 home games. I commented on how he looked at Burlington earlier in the year, his swing sometimes looked quick and smooth and other times appeared mechanical and slow. Hosmer apparently had vision problems most of the year, and had Lasik surgery in late August to correct the issue. Given his youth, it is too early to conclude that this was a busted draft pick, but he has a lot to prove next year.
Yonder Alonso: The seventh overall pick last year out of the University of Miami, Cincinnati prospect Alonso was considered a very advanced college hitter with power and superb strike zone judgment. The main question revolved around his ability to handle left-handed pitching. He split the season between Class A Sarasota (.303/.383/.497) and Double-A Carolina (.295/.372/.457), though he was limited to 84 games by a broken hamate. The platoon splits are still an issue: he hit a combined .307/.382/.502 against right-handed pitching, but just .222/.329/.317 against southpaws. He hit nine homers in 295 at-bats, perhaps less than expected, but also knocked 24 doubles and showed a very sharp eye with 41 walks, 46 strikeouts. I think the home runs will come assuming that the hamate injury heals properly, as that sort of injury can hamper power development. I'm not sure if he'll ever hit lefties, though.
Justin Smoak: Smoak was the 11th overall pick in the draft, from the University of South Carolina. I thought this was a great bargain for the Rangers; I loved his bat and had him ranked ahead of all college hitters except Alvarez and Buster Posey before the draft. He got off to a great start at Double-A Frisco, hitting .328/.449/.481 with 39 walks and just 35 strikeouts in 183 at-bats. However, he strained an oblique muscle in June, and while he came back quickly he wasn't the same afterward. The Rangers promoted him aggressively to Triple-A Oklahoma City where he hit .244/.363/.360 in 54 games, continuing to show good plate discipline but lacking power. Overall he hit .290/.410/.443 with 12 homers, 75 walks, and 81 strikeouts in 386 at-bats. I still like Smoak a lot, and suspect that the oblique hampered his performance much of the summer. He retained command of the strike zone even when struggling. However, hopes that he would be ready in 2010 have to be tempered; he'll need more Triple-A time.
Brett Wallace: The 13th overall pick out of Arizona State, Wallace hit .281/.403/.438 for Springfield in the Double-A Texas League in 32 games, then .293/.346/.423 for Memphis in the Triple-A PCL in 62 games. Traded to Oakland in the Matt Holliday deal, he hit .302/.365/.505 for Sacramento in 44 games, giving him a combined line of .293/.367/.455. His plate discipline was a bit weaker than advertised with 47 walks against 116 strikeouts in 532 at-bats, but overall it is hard to fault his performance in Triple-A just one year out of college. Like Pedro Alvarez, Wallace rated as average statistically at third base according to Minor League Splits, though most scouts expect he'll wind up at first base in the long run.
David Cooper: Toronto made David Cooper the 17th overall pick in '08, from the University of California. He was considered another polished bat with good plate discipline and average power for a first baseman. He hit .333/.399/.502 in his pro debut at the A-ball level, but was unable to duplicate this for Double-A New Hampshire, hitting .258/.340/.389. He showed a little more power in the second half (.427 SLG) than in the first (.363), but in general it was a disappointing season. He did show decent plate discipline with 59 walks in 473 at-bats, but pre-season hopes that he could help early in 2010 appear misplaced and he'll need a good dose of Triple-A. He had a sharp platoon split (.611 OPS vs. lefties, .772 against normal people).
Ike Davis: The 22nd overall pick out of Arizona State, Davis was supposed to be less polished than college teammate Wallace, but more athletic and with better physical projection. Mets fans were frightened when Davis hit just .256/.326/.316 with zero homers in his 58-game pro debut in the New York-Penn League, but he erased those doubts in 2009 with a strong campaign. He hit .288/.376/.486 in 59 games for St. Lucie in the Florida State League, then .309/.386/.565 in 55 games for Binghamton in the Double-A Eastern League, combining for a .298/.381/.524 mark with 20 homers, 31 doubles, 57 walks, and 112 strikeouts in 429 at-bats. He has work to do against lefties, hitting just .242/.301/.371 against them this year compared to .323/.414/.586 against right-handers. Other than that, his season was very strong and he should be ready to help sometime next year.
Allan Dykstra: Drafted 23rd overall by the Padres out of Wake Forest, Dykstra was the only one of the first round corner hitters considered to be an overdraft by most experts. He also had a health issue with a degenerative hip condition that reduced his signing bonus, though so far durability on the field hasn't been a problem. Unfortunately, performance was: he hit just .226/.397/.375 at Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. He also drew an amazing 104 walks, giving him a very high OBP despite his poor batting average. His power production was less than anticipated, and he was hampered by a difficult home park, hitting .185/.385/.325 at home vs. 265/.408/.422 on the road. His glove at first base is solid, and the high walk rate is certainly intriguing, but I'm not sure what to expect from him at higher levels.
To summarize, Alvarez looks great right now and Davis has answered doubts about his power. Wallace looks solid to me though I'd like to see a few more walks. Smoak and Alonso have things to work on but both had injury excuses this year, and I retain faith in both of them. Hosmer is the youngest of the group and has time to improve; perhaps the vision problem explains his struggles as well. I'm concerned about Cooper's lack of distance power. Dykstra is an enigma who might blossom next year in a better environment, but he turns 23 in May and can't afford another bad campaign.