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Prospect Retro Redux: Kevin Youkilis

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Prospect Retro Redux: Kevin Youkilis

I wrote a prospect retro for Kevin Youkilis back in October of 2007. I've received several requests over the last month or so for a look back at his development, so let's revisit his minor league career and see where he now stands in context.

Here is what I wrote back in 2007:

Kevin Youkilis was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the eighth round of the 2001 draft, from the University of Cincinnati. He'd hit .405/.549/.714 with 22 steals, 59 walks, and 21 strikeouts for Cincinnati, but scouts didn't like him much. He wasn't toolsy, looked slow and awkward on defense, and they didn't think he'd hit for power with wood. Youkilis hit .317/.512/.464 with an incredible 70 walks in 59 games for Lowell in the New York-Penn League, earning the sobriquet "The Greek God of Walks" from statheads. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2002 book.

Youkilis began 2002 with Augusta in the Sally League, but earned a promotion to the Florida State League after just 15 games. For Sarasota he hit .295/.422/.388 in 76 games, then moved up to Double-A Trenton where he hit .344/.462/.500 in 44 games. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2003 book, and noted that his defense, while not wonderful, was underrated in my opinion. He was still downplayed by some scouts and traditionalists, but his contact ability was special, his strike zone judgment was superb, and he had enough pop to keep pitchers honest.

2003 began similarly: he hit .327/.487/.465 in 94 games for Double-A Portland. But a summer promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket was a disaster: he hit just .165 in 32 games. Granted he continued to control the strike zone, drawing 18 walks in 109 at-bats, but all the skeptics were now out in droves and claimed he couldn't hit advanced pitching. I still gave him a Grade B in the 2004 book, and figured that there was a "better than 50/50" chance he would adjust and resume raking soon enough. Scouts did note that he'd worked hard at his defense and was rated as an average defender by this point.

Youkilis ended up spending more than half of 2004 with the Red Sox, hitting .260/.367/.413. He's gradually boosted his production from that point, and while he hasn't hit .300 in the majors, he's shown enough power and on-base ability to make himself a regular, albeit now at first base rather than third. Statistically at least he's turned into an very good-to-excellent defender at first base.

I can't prove it, but one of these years, either 2008 or 2009, I think he's going to go on a tear and hit .340 or something. He won't repeat it, ending up back at the .280ish with walks level the rest of his career, but I think he's capable of one huge season.

Well he didn't hit .340, but I was right about his breakout potential. On the other hand, I was wrong about his ability to sustain the breakout: he's had not one but two outstanding seasons (.312/.390/.569, 143 OPS+ in '08, .305/.413/.548, 145 OPS+ in '09.). He hasn't come to Earth yet either, hitting .303/.431/.533 so far in 2010.

Youk is a terrific hitter, due greatly to his terrific knowledge of the strike zone. Keep in mind that scouts never liked his physical tools, and even the ones who respected his college performance at Cincinnati were unenthusiastic about his power potential and ability to sustain his hitting at higher levels. This was a stathead pick that really panned out well.

Historical comparisons:

SIM SCORES: Tommy Henrich, Moises Alou, Wally Judnich, Trot Nixon, Brad Hawpe, Hank Leiber, Bob Nieman, Jeff Conine, Juan Rivera, and Jeffrey Hammonds.

PECOTA Comps: John Jaha, Ryan Klesko, Bob Watson, Gil Hodges, Tino Martinez, Todd Helton, Bill White, Sal Bando, Richie Hebner, and George Scott.

Lots of good players here, no Hall of Famers yet although Helton will have a case once he's eligible. Youkilis is on the wrong side of 30 now, and it will be interesting to see what kind of age curve he has. I'm not convinced that he will age well, but given his tendency to disprove doubters, he could very well last longer than expected.