With the completion of the 2014 Major League regular season, Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Lyle Overbay is extremely likely to retire. Let's take a look at his career, what he was like as a prospect, and how he ranks in context.
Lyle Overbay was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 18th round in 1999, from the University of Nevada. He had led the Big West Conference with a .420 batting average and 24 doubles in his draft season, but was not considered a hot prospect, lacking the physical tools to excite scouts. He continued ripping the ball after signing, hitting .343 with a .588 SLG and an incredible 101 RBI in 75 games for Missoula. But this was the Pioneer League, an excellent place to hit in general. Many college players do well there, and some observers remained skeptical about Overbay's chances at higher levels.
I gave him a Grade C in my 2000 book, noting that we needed to see him against better pitching, but that his relatively low strikeout rate (53 K, 40 walks in 306 at-bats) was a good marker.
Overbay began 2000 with South Bend in the Low-A Midwest League, hitting .332/.397/.498 in 71 games. This earned him a promotion to Double-A at mid-season, skipping High-A. He continued to hit, batting .352/.420/.533 with in 62 games for El Paso.
These numbers were unassailable, but again there was some doubt. He still didn't scout extremely well, and the Texas League back then was very good for offense (it is more neutral these days). Baseball America rated him as just the 11th-best prospect in the Arizona farm system, behind such stalwarts as Jerry Gil, Chris Capuano, and Brad Cresse. I was more optimistic and gave him a Grade B and rated him second-best in the Arizona system.
Overbay spent all of 2001 at El Paso, hitting .352/.423/.528 with 49 doubles, 13 homers, and 100 RBI in 138 games. This earned him another Grade B from me. I wrote that he would "hit .285-.300 at the major league level, though his power would be marginal for a first baseman." He now rated as the best prospect in the D-backs system on my list. Baseball America moved him up to number four, as the scouting reports were catching up with the numbers.
Overbay spent most of '02 with Triple-A Tucson hitting .343/.396/.528 with 40 doubles, 19 homers, and 109 RBI in 134 games. This bumped his ranking up to the number 18 prospect in the game overall, projecting as a guy who would hit "at least .285 in the majors, with frequent .300+ averages likely as he adjusts."
Overbay split '03 between Tucson and Arizona, then was traded to Milwaukee, where he blossomed in 2004, hitting .301 with 53 doubles, 16 homers, and 81 walks. He then settled in as a steady contributor with the Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays, then gradually fading out as a journeyman with the Pirates, Diamondbacks, Braves, Yankees, and one last hurrah this year with the Brewers.
Overall, Overbay played 14 years in the majors, hitting .266/.347/.429 with 151 homers, OPS+ 106, wRC+105, with a final career WAR of 11.2 via Fangraphs. His peak seasons were his first three: 2004 (2.2 WAR), 2005 (2.5 WAR on a .276/.367/.449 line) and 2006 (2.0 WAR on a .312/.372/.508 line). He went into a gradual fade after that, playing well enough to retain his job through age 33 and part-time play through age 36, but not producing the sort of impactful numbers that teams ideally want in a first baseman.
My analysis of Overbay as a prospect projected him as a .285-.300 (or higher than .300) hitter, as noted above, but without as much home run power as the typical first baseman. He played up to that level in the 2004-2006 window (ages 27 through 29), but fizzled after that.
In historical terms, his Sim Score comp list is Pete O'Brien, David Segui, Kevin Millar, J.T. Snow, Dan Driessen, Earl Torgeson (a decent hitter from the 40s and 50s), Von Hayes, Walt Dropo, and Sean Casey. . Among first basemen with a similar amount of playing time, Overbay's career 11.2 WAR slots near Snow (12.5), Tony Clark (12.5), Willie Upshaw (12.5), White Lockman (11.9), Segui (11.7), Mike Jorgesen (10.9), and Deron Johnson (9.7). Those aren't guys who directly win pennants for you, but they are useful complimentary players.
Overall, Overbay was an unspectacular player but useful enough to last 14 years, which is a very good outcome for an 18th-round pick.