Marlon Byrd Prospect Retrospective
Veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd announced a few days ago that he would retire if he doesn't make the New York Mets roster for April. Byrd was an unusual case as a minor league player and is today's subject for a Prospect Retrospective.
As a freshman at Georgia Tech, Marlon Byrd kicked a door while goofing around and sustained a severe leg injury. In so doing, he caused muscle damage, a circulation problem, and eventually an infection to the point that doctors wanted to amputate the leg. He refused to go along with that, went through three operations and ended up weighing over 300 pounds.
Eventually the leg healed, he got back into shape through an intense workout program, and transferred to Georgia Perimeter Junior College. He played well enough to get drafted in the 10th round in 1999, then went nuts in the New York-Penn League, hitting .296 with 13 homers, 28 walks, and 70 strikeouts in 243 at-bats. Scouts weren't sure about his defense and noted the high strikeout rate, but the power stood out and I gave him a Grade C+ in my 2000 book, rating him as a bat to watch.
There was a lot to see in 2000: he hit .309/.379/.515 for Piedmont in the Low-A South Atlantic League, with 17 homers and 41 stolen bases in 46 attempts, drawing Kirby Puckett comparisons. I gave him a Grade B in the 2001 book, with the main concern being age: he was already 23, somewhat old for the Sally circuit, and his whiff rate was a bit higher than I'd like with 110 in 515 at-bats, not terrible but enough to prevent me from giving him a higher grade given his age.
Noting his birthday as well, the Phillies skipped him up to Double-A for 2001. He had no problems at all with Eastern League pitching, hitting .316/.386/.555 with 28 homers and 32 steals, with a reduced strikeout rate to go with it. He also drew much better reviews for his defense, and his makeup as well-regarded. I gave him a Grade B+ entering 2002, writing that "I'm certain he can hit .280, pop 15-20 homers, and steal 15-20 bases a year."
Playing for Triple-A Scranton in '02, Byrd hit .297/.362/.476 with 15 homers and 15 steals. It was a decent year, but there was some concern that he was too power-conscious, especially after he went 8-for-35 (.229) with eight strikeouts in his major league trial. There was also some off-field controversy involving an incident with his girlfriend, though the matter was resolved. I kept him rated a Grade B+ entering 2003, writing that I expected he would be a solid regular and be something like a .280/.350/.450 producer.
Byrd played 135 games for the Phillies in 2003, hitting .303/.366/.418. He hit for a higher average with less power than I expected, but I was really close on OPS, predicting a .780 mark and seeing a .784 result. He was very solid overall, posting a 3.9 WAR. However, he was much less effective in 2004 (.228/.287/.321) and ended up traded to the Washington Nationals.
Byrd became a journeyman from that point, playing for Washington, the Rangers, Cubs, and Red Sox, with his peak season being a 4.4 WAR, .293/.346/.429 line in 2010. He was also very productive in 2008 with a .298/.380/.462, 122 wRC+, 3.2 WAR.
Overall, he's a career .278/.336/.413 hitter, 16.4 WAR in 1104 games. His Bill James Sim Score comps through age 34: Lee Maye, Al Zarilla, Johnny Groth, Hoot Evers, Warren Cromartie, Ken Landreaux, and Tom Paciorek. No exceptional players there, but they all had value and some good seasons to their credit.
Byrd didn't maintain his speed, his power production has been erratic, and he's had his share of problems including a nasty beaning in 2011 and a "banned substances" suspension last year. While he didn't turn into Kirby Puckett, Byrd hasn't really been far off from where we thought he'd be as a prospect, and he's had some solid value seasons.
That's a lot better than having your leg amputated at age 20.