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Prospect Retrospective: Brooks Kieschnick

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Brooks Kieschnick, Batman Villian
Brooks Kieschnick, Batman Villian
both photos by Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

A few days ago, a reader requested a Prospect Retrospective for Brooks Kieschnick. I have always been fascinated with two-way players and Kieschnick was certainly an unusual case in many ways, so let's take a look.

The Chicago Cubs drafted University of Texas star Brooks Kieschnick in the first round in 1993, 10th overall. A successful two-way player for the Longhorns, he hit .374 with 19 homers his junior year, at the same time going 16-4, 3.25 ERA on the mound with a 126/49 K/BB in an incredible 150 innings. He became a full-time outfielder for the Cubs. He hit .341/.388/.495 in a 25-game Double-A trial after signing, excellent performance coming right out of college, and was expected to advance quickly. I'd give a similar player a Grade B+ nowadays at a minimum. He wasn't the toolsiest guy in the world, but he could hit and he worked hard.

Returned to Double-A in '94, Kieschnick had an OK but not spectacular season: .282/.332/.438 with 14 homers. Eddie Epstein gave him a Grade C in the 1995 Minor League Scouting Notebook. I remember thinking that this was too low; I thought Grade B would be more appropriate given his college performance and overall pedigree. Scouts complained that he had problems handling inside pitches and there was some talk that his swing was too long.

Promoted to Triple-A in '95, Kieschnick had a solid year, hitting .295/.370/.495 for Iowa with 23 homers and 58 walks. I saw him play several times and the inside pitch problem didn't look important to me, at least against right-handed pitching. He hit just .224 against lefties though and there was concern that he might end up as a platoon player in the long run. I gave him a Grade B and projected that he would be a good hitter but not a star. His arm worked well in left and right field and he collected 12 assists.

Rather than give Kieschnick a shot at a job in '96, the Cubs signed Luis Gonzalez as a free agent and sent Kieschnick back to Iowa. Frustrated, Kieschnick began trying to hit the ball for power more aggressively. . .he tried to pull the ball more. It was obvious if you saw him play: he'd lunge at pitches that he previously handled well. It backfired, as he hit just .259/.315/.431 for Iowa with a deterioration in plate discipline and a higher strikeout rate.

Ironically, he hit great in a brief trial with the Cubs: .345/.406/.517 in 25 games. In my 1997 book, I wrote that "there isn't anything wrong with Kieschnick that a regular job or a change of scenery won't cure" but lowered his rating to Grade B- since he was now 24.

Sent back to Iowa for a third time in 1997, he continued to be overly power conscious, hitting .258/.323/.492...he hit 21 homers in 97 games. Having seen him since college, it was obvious to me that his approach had changed: he was selling out for power, hurting his OBP and batting average. He got into 39 games for the Cubs and hit just .200/.294/.356. I lowered his grade to C+; he was selected by the Devil Rays in the expansion draft.

Kieschnick got hurt in 1998 and didn't play in the majors, getting into just 38 minor league games on rehab assignment and falling out of Tampa's plans. He then began a trek through Triple-A in the Angels, Reds, Rockies and White Sox systems 1999 through 2002, showing good power in Triple-A but struggling with nagging and poorly-timed injuries. He was used as a pinch-hitter by the Rockies in 2001 and hit just .238, but with a .548 SLG in 35 games.

Realizing that he was now typecast as a "minor league slugger," Kieschnick converted to mound work in 2002 and did well, posting a 2.59 ERA in 25 games for Triple-A Charlotte. He was an adequate middle reliever for the Brewers in '03 and '04, also seeing considerable action as a pinch-hitter; he was excellent in that role in '03, hitting .300/.355/.614 in 76 plate appearances. However, he slipped back into the minors in '05 and out of baseball in '06.

In the minors, Kieschnick hit .278/.338/.491 in his career. Although considered a "failed first rounder," in the majors he hit .248/.315/.444 with 16 homers in 306 at-bats...that's a 30-homer pace in a full season of play, although his overall OPS+ came out to just 93. As a pitcher, he posted a 4.59 ERA in 96 career major league innings, with a 67/26 K/BB and 110 hits allowed, ERA+ 95.

Overall, he was a replacement level hitter and pitcher. Still, there is little doubt in my mind that if he had been given a fair chance early enough in his career, Kieschnick would have been a decent major league power hitter, not a star, but someone who could be a useful platoon outfielder/first base type. In an alternate universe somewhere, the Cubs let him play in '96 and '97 and he ended up having a long career.