Not a Rookie: Ryan Zimmerman
Yesterday we looked at Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun, product of the 2005 draft. Today we train our vision towards another product of that class, Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
Ryan Zimmerman was a three-year starter for the University of Virginia, hitting .308/.340/.376 as a freshman in 2003. He went homerless, but his athleticism and future potential was clear. He improved somewhat as a sophomore in '04, hitting .361/.395/.454 but with just one homer. His stock rose rapidly that summer after he hit .468 with four homers for Team USA. His junior draft season in '05 saw a .393/.469/.581 mark, with six homers, 17 steals, and dramatically improved plate discipline with 31 walks against just 14 strikeouts in 234 at-bats. The bat was very intriguing, but scouts liked his glove even better: he was considered an outstanding defender at third base, with shortstop-caliber range, a strong throwing arm, and soft hands.
Drafted fourth-overall in the '05 class, Zimmerman signed quickly and was sent to Double-A, where he hit a stunning .326/.371/.528 in 63 games. Promoted to Washington for the stretch run, he was even hotter with a .397/.419/.569 mark in 20 major league contests.
In the 2006 Baseball Prospect Book, I wrote that Zimmerman looked like a complete player, a very strong hitter with a terrific glove. I wasn't sure how much home run power he would show right away, writing that "huge home run numbers are unlikely in the short run. Expect large numbers of doubles however." I gave him a Grade A in the 2006 book, ranking him as the Number Three hitting prospect in baseball.
Zimmerman made the major league roster in spring training of '06 and had a great rookie season, hitting .287/.351/.472 with 20 homers, 47 doubles, 110 RBI, and a 61/120 BB/K ratio in 614 at-bats. His hitting was slightly weaker in '07 (.266/.330/.458) but he continued bashing doubles with 43 and boosted his homer output to 24. An injury-plagued '08 season resulted in a .283/.333/.442 mark, but last year he was healthy again and jumped up to .292/.364/.525 with 33 homers.
His defense has been as good as advertised, as shown by all objective and subjective measures. His overall values according to WAR: 4.1 in '06, 5.1 in '07, 2.2 in the injury '08 season, and 7.1 last year. Basically, Zimmerman has met and exceeded even the optimistic expectations scouts had coming out of college.
Looking at comparable players, here is what we find:
Sim Scores through age 24: Ken Keltner, Eric Chavez, Harlond Clift, Hank Blalock, Ron Santo, Gary Sheffield, Greg Luzinski, Scott Rolen, Del Ennis, and David Wright.
PECOTA comps: Eric Chavez, Jim Ray Hart, Sid Bream (?), Joe Crede, Travis Fryman, Edwin Encarnacion, Cal Ripken, Fernando Tatis, Ken Keltner, and Eddie Murray (?).
Of the 20 names on the two lists, there are two repeaters (Keltner and Chavez) which is the sign of a good comp. There are two Hall of Famers (Ripken and Murray), and Santo deserves to be in. Some of the others (notably Sheffield and Keltner) were excellent players better than some guys in the Hall. David Wright clearly has Hall of Fame talent if he lasts long enough.
This is strong company, although not quite as impressive as Ryan Braun's comp list, which is interesting because if you add in Zimmerman's defense, he is currently a better overall player than Braun. Third baseman don't always age well, as the recent examples of Chavez and Blalock show. If Zimmerman can avoid serious injury problems, he has a decent chance for a Hall of Fame type career.