Career Profile: Rickie Weeks
Per reader request, here is a look at the career of Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, beginning with his minor league career.
Rickie Weeks was the second overall pick in the 2003 draft. His college season at Southern University was amazing: he hit .500/.619/.987 (that's right, he hit .500) in 50 games, with 16 homers, 46 walks, and just 17 strikeouts in 158 at-bats. He stole 27 bases without being caught. Southern doesn't' play the best competition, but scouts were in love with his tools just as much as statheads were in love with the numbers.
A terrific athlete, he had tremendous bat speed as well as a good feel for the strike zone. Considering how good his tools were, it was hard to believe he went undrafted out of high school and ended up at a small school. His defense needed work, but many scouts thought he would adjust with more experience, and if he didn't he ran and threw well enough to be a strong defensive outfielder. He hit .349/.494/.556 in 20 games for Beloit in the Midwest League after signing, then went 2-for-12 in a September major league trial. I gave him a Grade A in the 2004 book and ranked him as the Number Three hitting prospect in baseball.
Weeks spent all of 2004 with Huntsville in the Double-A Southern League, hitting .259/.366/.407. He hit just eight homers, but contributed 35 doubles and 55 walks. He stole 11 bases but was caught 12 times. While scouts remained enamored of his tools and upside, he had trouble with breaking balls. He also played most of the season injured: his hamstring bothered him all year, but he refused to take a DL trip or even more than minimal rest. This likely contributed to his weaker-than-expected numbers, but it demonstrated to scouts his makeup and work ethic. I gave him a Grade A- in the'05 book, ranked Number 14 overall on the hitter list.
A healthy Weeks moved up to Triple-A Nashville in '05 and hit .320/.435/.655 with 10 steals in 11 attempts over 55 games. Promoted to the majors in June, he hit .239/.333/.394 in 96 games, with 13 homers and 40 walks in 360 at-bats, along with 15 steals in 17 attempts. The batting average was low, but everything else looked great, and the general consensus was that Weeks was a superstar in the making.
As you know, it took Weeks some time to get going. Injuries were a constant factor: he missed significant playing time in '06, '07, '08, and almost all of '09. When he did play, he showed considerable power, excellent use of speed on the bases, and a good walk rate. His batting averages have been disappointing, the best mark so far being .279 in 2006, but he does everything else well. He finally had a healthy season in 2010 and hit .269/.366/.464 with 32 doubles, 29 homers, 76 walks, and a 125 OPS+. This, along with defense that is considerably more polished than it was early in his career, gave him a 6.1 WAR, by far the highest in his career so far. Overall, he has a 13.7 WAR over portions of seven seasons.
Weeks is now 28 years old and in the prime of his career. When healthy, he's shown the ability to do just about everything except hit for a high batting average. While he hasn't been the perennial All-Star player scouts originally envisioned, injuries were a big part of that, and he did have an All-Star caliber season last year according to WAR at least. As long as he's drawing walks, hitting for power, and not butchering the ball on defense, I don't care about the low batting average.
Similar Players through age 27: Brandon Phillips, Frank Bolling, Bobby Grich, Mike Andrews, Howard Johnson, Jeff Blauser, Earl Williams (makes little sense, he was a catcher), Felipe Lopez, J.J. Hardy, and Miguel Tejada. I particularly like the Grich, Johnson, and Blauser comps, players who didn't hit for terrific averages but who were still very productive due to strong secondary skills.