Not a Rookie: Troy Tulowitzki
One of my favorite current young players is Troy Tulowitzki. We've never done a retrospective on him, so there is no time like the present.
Tulowitzki was drafted in the first round in 2005, seventh overall, out of Long Beach State University. He was very successful in college, hitting .349/.431/.599 as a junior (in a difficult-for-college hitting environment) and the Rockies had no hesitation in drafting him despite an injury-plagued campaign. A broken hamate kept him to 39 NCAA games that spring, and a torn quad limited him to just 22 games as a pro, where he hit .266/.343/.457 in 22 games for Modesto in the California League. He drew very positive reviews for his defense as well as his bat, and I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2006 book, writing that he would likely advance very rapidly. I ranked him at 26th on my Top 50 Hitting Prospect list.
Moved up to Double-A Tulsa for 2006, Tulowitzki hit .291/.370/.473 in 104 games, with 34 doubles, 13 homers, 46 walks, and 71 strikeouts in 423 at-bats. Some scouts questioned his defensive range, but as I wrote in the '07 book, "it looks OK" to me. He got a cup-of-coffee in Colorado to end the season and struggled, hitting .240/.318/.292 in 25 games, 96 at-bats. In the '07 book, I wrote that it would be a good idea for him to spend some time in Triple-A, and that he currently projected as a .260/.330/.430 hitter in a neutral park. But I also wrote that his ultimate upside was as a .300/.380/.500 hitter, with strong defense. I gave him a Grade A-, ranking him as the Number Four offensive prospect in baseball.
The Rockies didn't listen to me about Triple-A and it was a good thing they didn't: he was their regular shortstop in 2007 and hit .291/.359/.479 with 24 homers, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Ryan Braun. An injury-plagued '08 season resulted in a much weaker .263/.332/.401 line, but last year he rebounded fully and had a stellar campaign: .297/.377/.552, 134 OPS+. His defense is excellent. It is true that Colorado boosts his numbers somewhat, but even if you ignore his home park he hit .267/.352/.507 on the road last year. Combine that with his glovework and you have a helluva player. He was 5.4 WAR as a rookie and 5.4 WAR last year; his injury season resulted in a 0.9 WAR, but it is clear how good he is when healthy.
Looking at comparable players, Sim Scores brings up the following names: Ernie Banks, Gary Carter, Earl Williams, Juan Uribe, Vern Stephens, Derek Jeter, Wil Cordero, Tony Lazerri, Yogi Berra, and Glenn Wright. There are four current Hall of Famers on that list and one future one, although oddly enough two of them are catchers. PECOTA comps are all over the map but are still interesting: Mark Carreon, Joe Cronin, Fernando Tatis, Dick McAuliffe, Keith Miller, David Justice, Travis Fryman, Ryne Sandberg, Oscar Gamble, and Eric Chavez are the top ten. Cal Ripken checks in at 15, with Jeter at 19, Barry Larkin at 20, and Ernie Banks at 23.
The presence of so many Hall of Famers on Tulowitzki's comp lists shows us what kind of ceiling he has. It doesn't mean he'll get there: there are several journeymen comps, too, and some guys who were just pretty good. Whether he reaches his ultimate ceiling or not will depend on factors like health and durability.