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Prospect Retrospective: Curtis Granderson

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Most awesome photo day photo of Curtis Granderson
Most awesome photo day photo of Curtis Granderson
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

As you no doubt know, New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson has a broken forearm and will miss at least the next two months.

Here is a look at how Granderson developed as a prospect, and where his career currently stands.

An outfielder at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Granderson had a terrific season in 2002, hitting .483/.552/.763 with nine homers, 17 steals in 17 attempts, and a 32/24 BB/K ratio in 207 at-bats. He ranked second in the NCAA hitting race, but despite his performance, he didn't get a huge helping of praise from scouts. Some saw his tools as only mediocre and felt he was a tweener, although some Midwestern scouts who had seen him a lot were more optimistic. He lasted until the third round in the draft, selected by the Detroit Tigers.

I saw him play in college and was very impressed, and felt his tools were quite solid and were being underrated. He hit .344/.417/.495 in 212 at-bats in the New York-Penn League. I gave him a Grade B in the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, writing "I think he's going to be one of the better players coming out of the '02 class."

Granderson played for Lakeland in the High-A Florida State League in 2003, hitting .286/.365/.458 with 11 homers, 49 walks, and 91 strikeouts in 476 at-bats. That may not look that hot, but his OPS was one of the best marks in the league at +22 percent. Scouting reports were muted, though...again, talk of mediocre tools. He didn't appear on the league Top 20 prospects list for Baseball America, and nobody really seemed impressed with him.

I lowered his grade slightly to a Grade B- and wrote that he could be a "good fourth outfielder or possibly a decent though not spectacular starter." Even that assessment was considered optimistic, although in retrospect I pulled my punches too much with him and should have stuck more strongly with my instincts that he was still being underrated.

Promoted to Double-A Erie for 2004, Granderson had an excellent year, hitting .303/.407/.515 with 21 homers, 14 steals, 80 walks, and 95 strikeouts in 462 at-bats. He saw action for the Tigers late in the year, going 6-for-25 (.240) with a double and triple. Although it looked like his Double-A numbers were way above his High-A marks, in context they really weren't: his OPS was +23 percent, almost exactly what it was the previous year.

However, with the surface numbers looking better, all of a sudden people started rating his tools more enthusiastically. They also praised his work ethic, leadership abilities, and intellect.

He looked like the same guy to me, the same guy I saw in college with solid tools and a great approach.

Other than simply maturing physically, I don't think Granderson changed much. He didn't gain loads of bat speed or completely turn into someone different. It was the perception around him that changed.

I had him as a Grade B again entering 2005. I thought he might struggle at first in the majors, but wrote that he had the intellect and confidence to adjust if he was given the chance to do so. That didn't really happen; he played well in Triple-A (.290/.359/.515) and didn't have a lot of difficulty in 47 major league games, hitting .272/.314/.494. In 2006 he played 159 games for the Tigers, and he's been a regular ever since.

Granderson has a career WAR of 33.3 currently. His defense isn't as good as it was when he first reached the majors, but his power really blossomed. He's traded strikeouts for home runs, and his platoon splits have been pretty sharp throughout his career. His OPS+ dropped to 116 last year and (if you believe WAR) his defense has begun to deteriorate significantly.

His Bill James Sim Scores through age 31:

Ron Gant
Larry Doby
Bob Allison
Jose Cruz
Eric Davis
Bobby Thomson
Ray Lankford
Roger Maris
Preston Wilson
Frank Thomas (the one from the 50s)

That's a pretty strong list.

The worst guy on it, Preston Wilson, had a lot of flaws in his game. He did hit 189 career homers, but was done by age 32. Gant began fading at age 32. Hall of Famer Doby faded at 35. Allison faded at 34. Cruz, 32. Davis was still an excellent player when he managed to stay on the field through his late 30s but couldn't stay healthy. Thomson began fading at 30, Lankford at 35. Maris' last year was age 33 though he was still an above-average player. The white Frank Thomas from the 50s and 60s didn't fall apart until he was 35. An extremely crude estimation of the average "fading" year for Granderson's comps is about 33.5.

Wrist injuries are notorious for hindering power, which isn't a good thing for a guy whose ability to hit home runs is his best skill.

In any event, even with a full comeback this year, the Yankees would be wise to be looking for long-term replacements since his contract is up in 2014. Overall, though, he remains a personal favorite and by all accounts a great person.

LESSONS LEARNED: Gut instincts can pan out; don't be afraid to go against the crowd. Makeup matters.