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Prospect Retrospective: The career of Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson

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Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Although as a Midwesterner I am personally rooting for the Royals in the 2015 World Series, I like the Mets too and would be perfectly content to see them win. The Metropolitans have several of my favorite players on their current roster, both young ones (Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom) and older ones (Bartolo Colon, Mike Cuddyer). One of my favored veterans is outfielder Curtis Granderson.

With the World Series travel day here, let's do a retrospective on how Granderson rated as a prospect and how his career has progressed. He is also a Midwesterner, another reason he's on my favorites list I suppose.

Some of this is previously published material, but it has been updated to reflect recent seasons.

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 huge praise from scouts. Some saw his physical tools as only mediocre and felt he was a tweener, although some Midwestern-based area scouts who had seen him play frequently 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 in his debut. 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, there was much 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- entering 2004 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. Midwestern sources always praised this intangible aspect of Granderson's profile but it didn't seem to make much of an impact nationally until this point.

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 for Detroit, the Yankees, and now the Mets, productive and durable until his '13 injuries. His peak seasons were 2007 at age 26 (7.7 WAR) and 2011 at age 30 (6.7 WAR).

Granderson's 2014 season with the Mets was disappointing, but his '15 campaign was excellent, with a 5.1 fWAR being the third-best of his career.

In 1499 regular season games, Granderson has hit .257/.341/.475, OPS+117, wRC+118, with a career fWAR of 41.4. Sim Scores through age 34 reveal the following comps: Ron Gant, Bob Allison, Ray Lankford, J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron, the original Raul Mondesi, Rick Monday, Bobby Thomson, Hall of Famer Larry Doby, and Bill Nicholson. The Gant and Lankford comps seem particularly appropriate to me.

Among players with a similar amount of playing time, Granderson's 41.4 WAR in 6380 plate appearances puts him in the neighborhood with Babe Herman (42.7 in 6226), Andy Van Slyke (41.9 in 6495), Darryl Strawberry (41.5 in 6326), Albert Belle (41.0 in 6676), Tony Oliva (40.7 in 6879), Nicholson (40.6 in 6418). David Justice (40.4 in 6602) and Lankford (39.8 in 6675).

Not bad for a third round draft pick from a cold-weather college.