Career Profile: J.D. Drew
Per reader request, here is a Career Profile for Boston Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew. How did he develop as a prospect, and where does his career stand in historical context?
A superstar outfielder at Florida State University, J.D. Drew was rated as the best position player available in the 1997 draft class. He was the first 30-30 player in college baseball history, and many scouts felt he was a once-a-decade talent. Agent Scott Boras agreed. Drew was drafted by the Phillies with the second-overall pick in the 1997 draft, but Boras and Drew felt the $2 million bonus offer was "insulting."
A war of words ensued, with Boras claiming that Drew should be made a free agent on the technicality that the Phillies sent his contract offer to Drew's parents home rather than his college apartment address. Needless to say, Drew didn't sign and went to the independent Northern League to play for the St. Paul Saints. This was very controversial at the time and a lot of people felt Drew was just being greedy. He reportedly wanted $10 million.
Re-entering the draft pool for 1998, Drew went fifth-overall to the St. Louis Cardinals and signed for $3 million. The Cardinals sent him to Double-A Arkansas (I got to see his debut in Wichita, and the stadium sound guys played Pink Floyd's "Money" when Drew came to bat). He hit .328/.444/.627 in 19 games for Arkansas, then .316/.471/.519 in 26 games for Triple-A Memphis. He followed that up with a .417/.463/.972 mark in 14 games for the Cardinals, meeting if not exceeding all expectations for his bat. I gave him a Grade A and rated him the Number One prospect in baseball entering 1999.
Drew hit a disappointing .242/.340/.424 (OPS+91) in 104 games in 1999 though he did steal 19 bases and hit 13 homers. He picked up the hitting in 2000 with a .295/.401/.479, OPS+120 sophomore season. You know the shape of his career from here: he gets injured a lot, but has been an above-average hitter every season of his career. His best overall campaign was 2004, when he hit .305/.436/.569, OPS+157, in 145 games for the Braves, with 31 homers and 118 walks at age 28, a classic peak year. Excellent defense combined with the hitting gave him a spectacular 8.5 WAR that year.
In 1505 major league games, Drew has hit .281/.387/.497, 127 OPS+, WAR 47.4. He lost the speed he had when he was younger, but has maintained the power and strike zone judgment and is still a strong fielder. Yet, there is certain sense that Drew has been a disappointment. He only made one All-Star team. This was a guy who was supposed to be a Hall of Fame-caliber talent, but it hasn't quite panned out that way
His list of comparable players by Sim Score: Larry Doby, Ray Lankford, Cliff Floyd, Bill Nicholson, Danny Tartabull, David Justice, Brian Giles, Fred Lynn, Bob Allison, and Ron Gant. All excellent players, but only Doby is in the Hall, he played in a more difficult offensive context, and his selection owed much to other factors as well as his playing talent.
Drew's 47.4 WAR ranks 110th All-time among outfielders, with Roy White just ahead of him at 47.7 and Dale Murphy just behind him at 47.3. Obviously Drew is still playing and his final career WAR will be higher, perhaps in the mid-50s range if all goes well. That could get him into a borderline area, near players like Rusty Staub, Vada Pinson, Joe Medwick, Kiki Cuyler, Jim Rice, and Cesar Cedeno.
At his very best, Drew did play like a Hall of Famer, and he's always been at least solid; even his worst years produced safely positive WAR values. But injuries and sharp platoon splits (.289/.397/.521 against right-handers, .256/.358/.425 career against lefties) kept him from reaching his peak potential consistently, though his broad-base of talent was always obvious when he was a prospect.