Rookie Profile: Brennan Boesch
Detroit Tigers rookie outfielder Brennan Boesch is making significant noise so far in 2010, hitting .368/.383/.684 in his first 16 games for the Tigers, including three homers and 16 RBI in 57 at-bats. Who is this guy, where did he come from, and can he maintain this pace? Let's find out.
Brennan Boesch was an outfielder at the University of California entering the spring of 2006. He was considered a potential first round pick before the season began, due to his size (6-5, 185) and power potential from the left side. He hit .313/.372/.505 that spring, with 10 homers, not a bad performance but not spectacular either for the context in which he was playing. Scouts critiqued his approach, saying that his swing was too stiff and wouldn't work with wood. They also gave mediocre ratings to his defensive ability, and he fell to the third round of the draft. The Tigers sent him to Oneonta in the New York-Penn League, where he hit .291/.344/.435 in 70 games. That doesn't look great, but the NY-P is pitching-heavy and his OPS was actually very good at +20 percent. I gave him a Grade C+ in my 2007 book, noting him as a potential sleeper who could exceed expectations.
Assigned to West Michigan in the Midwest League for 2007, Boesch hit .267/.297/.378. He did knock 10 homers and stole 15 bases, but his plate discipline was weak and his overall numbers quite poor for the context, with a -3 percent OPS. The Midwest League isn't an easy place to hit, but as a 22-year-old Division I product he should have done much better than that. Scouts continued to note a stiff, mechanical swing; combine that with bad plate discipline and you have a disappointment. I kept him in the 2008 book but gave him just a Grade C, noting that '08 was going to be a very critical year for him.
Moved up to Lakeland in the Florida State League for '08, Boesch continued to struggle, hitting just .249/.310/.379 with more below average production for context. The same complaints were heard: he was a big guy, strong and physical, but had a bad swing that didn't translate his strength into useable power. His speed and defense weren't enough to compensate. He was also changing physically, having gained 30 pounds since his college days and losing much of his speed. I was about ready to give up on him at that point, leaving him out of the 2009 book completely.
Promoted to Double-A Erie for 2009, Boesch had a breakout season, hitting .275/.318/.510 with 28 homers. Scouts reported that he was more aggressive early in the count and less passive. Indeed, his strikeout rate shot up, with a career high 127 whiffs (he'd never exceeded 100 before), but the boosted power production was clearly worth it. He also dropped a bit of weight and got some of his speed back. On the other hand, 19 of his 28 homers came in his power-friendly home park, and his overall production was good-but-not-excellent with a +15 percent OPS. He had problems against left-handed pitching, and it remained to be seen if this would carry forward successfully to higher levels. I put him back in the book, but with a Grade C rating this year, noting that Boesch had a chance to be a useful platoon bat in the majors due to his power, but that he would not hit for average or post a good OBP.
Boesch got off to a hot start at Triple-A Toledo (.379/.455/.621 in 15 games) and has remained hot in his major league time obviously. However, even at Toledo his BB/K was an unattractive 4/17 in 58 at-bats. My feeling is that he will stay hot for awhile, but that pitchers will eventually exploit the holes in his swing detected by scouts.
Long-term, despite the fast start I still see Boesch as a .230-.250 hitter with a weak on-base percentage, albeit with enough power in his bat to be useful if deployed properly in a platoon role. He has a decent throwing arm and can swipe a base occasionally, but isn't going to keep himself employed with his defense alone. Tigers fans should enjoy the hot start while it lasts, but eventually Boesch will come to earth.