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Career Profile: Scott Rolen

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Per reader request, here is a Career Profile for Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen.

Scott Rolen was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the second round of the 1993 draft, out of high school in Jasper, Indiana (population about 15,000). He was considered a solid all-around prospect on both offense and defense, and might have been a first round pick if he'd played high school ball in a warmer area. Assigned to Martinsville in the Appalachian League, he hit .312/.429/.375 in 25 games, not demonstrating a lot of power but making contact and showing strike zone judgment. A similar player nowadays would probably get a Grade B- from me.



Assigned to Spartanburg in the South Atlantic League for 1994, Rolen hit .294/.363/.462 with 34 doubles, 14 homers, 55 walks, and 90 strikeouts in 513 at-bats, Baseball America naming him the Number Nine prospect in the league. He played excellently on defense as well. Eddie Epstein gave him a Grade B+ in the first edition of the STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook, a grade I agreed with at the time.

Rolen was limited by a broken hamate to just 86 games in 1995, but they were a good 86 games (.290/.392/.487 in 66 contests in the Florida State League, .289/.353/.447 in 20 in Double-A). Scouting reports continued to praise his defense, he made contact, didn't strike out excessively, drew some walks, and impressed coaches and managers with his makeup. I gave him a straight Grade A rating in the 1996 book, writing that "Scott Rolen could be a star" and ranking him the Number Six hitting prospect in the game.

Rolen began 1996 with Double-A Reading, hitting a stunning .361/.445/.591 in 61 games, with 34 walks and just 32 strikeouts in 230 at-bats. Promoted to Triple-A Scranton, he held his own with a .274/.376/.411 performance in 45 games, maintaining his plate discipline with a 28/28 BB/K. He got into 37 games for the Phillies down the stretch, hitting .254/.322/.400, which was enough to ensure a job as the starting third baseman in '97. He was now drawing comparisons to a young Mike Schmidt. I gave him another Grade A, wrote "he will be a star," and ranked him as the Number Four prospect in baseball behind Andruw Jones, Vlad Guerrero, and Nomar Garciaparra.

Playing 156 games for the Phillies in 1997 at age 22, Rolen hit .283/.377/.469 (OPS+121, 4.6 WAR) and won Rookie of the Year. He followed that up with a .290/.391/.532 (OPS+139, 7.3 WAR) mark in 160 games in 1998. He had injury troubles some seasons after that, but provided excellent defense and solid hitting, though the Phillies eventually traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals. His peak year was 2004 at age 29, when he hit .314/.409/.598, OPS+157 in 142 games. He also had a great year with the glove, giving him a terrific WAR of 8.8 that season. Although injuries and durability became a big issue for him as he got older, he's still a very effective player, posting a 5.0 WAR last year at age 34. He still has a solid bat and his defense hasn't deteriorated much at all.

Through 1892 major league games, Rolen is a .283/.369/.498 hitter, 124 OPS+. He's won eight Gold Gloves, and the strong defense combined with his hitting boosts his WAR value to 71.7.

Sim Scores indicate that Rolen is a unique player. Through age 35, none of his Sim Scores are higher than 896. The list: Luis Gonzalez, Bobby Bonilla, Reggie Smith, Tony Perez, Ken Boyer, Bernie Williams, Robin Ventura, Dwight Evans, Bobby Abreu, and Matt Williams. Most of those guys weren't third basemen.  

Does Rolen have a chance for the Hall of Fame? Only one of his comps (Perez) is in, although some of the others have borderline cases. Black Ink and Gray Ink are not optimistic at 1 and 35 each (27 and 144 are average for a Hall player). Monitor at 76 (100 is average) and Standards at 40 (50) show him as a very marginal case.

On the other hand, Rolen's career WAR of 71.7 is 12th all-time among third basemen. 10 of the 12 players ahead of him are either in the Hall or certainly headed there (A-Rod, Chipper), and Rolen's career isn't over yet. The two who aren't are Graig Nettles (WAR 71.8, Rolen will pass him this year) and Ron Santo (WAR 79.3) and Santo deserves to be in.

I predict that Scott Rolen will be the Ron Santo of Hall of Fame arguments in the 2020s, a favorite candidate of sabermetric types but too marginal for most writers.

As a prospect, Rolen showed good strike zone judgment, power potential, and excellent glovework. He didn't turn into Mike Schmidt, but he did turn into an excellent player.