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Prospect Retrospective and Career Profile: Chone Figgins

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Chone Figgins, 2009
Chone Figgins, 2009
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing with our series of new prospect retros focused on speed players, we turn today (by reader request)  to Chone Figgins.

Chone Figgins was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of the 1997 draft, out of high school in Brandon, Florida. He was drafted for his speed: he was really, really fast. There were doubts about his bat and he was erratic on defense, but he was one of the fastest players available. He went to the Arizona Rookie League and hit .280/.386/.374, with 30 steals, showing off his speed as well as a willingness to draw walks and get on base.  I' did not write about rookie ball players back then but nowadays a similar player would likely get a Grade C "with higher potential" or C+.

Moved up the short-season Northwest League in 1998, Figgins hit .283/.345/.349 with 25 steals. He led the league in fielding percentage at shortstop and showed great range and athleticism. The speed was obvious and his on-base skills were decent enough, but there was no power. I didn't give grades to short-season players back then, but I did put him in the 1999 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook with a note that he could threaten to become a regular shortstop in three or four years.

The Rockies jumped Figgins to the High-A Carolina League in 1999 and it did not go well. He hit just .239/.306/.279, overmatched more often than not though he did steal 27 bases. He did run up a 41/86 BB/K ratio, not horrible. He also made 45 errors, going backwards in most phases of the game. I dropped him to Grade C, and at this point was wondering if he was more of a utility player or even Triple-A speed guy.

Perhaps realizing that they had pushed Figgins too quickly in '99, the Rockies returned him to Salem in 2000 and he was more effective, hitting .278/.358/.398 with 37 steals, as well as 26 doubles and 14 triples. They also moved him to second base, improving his defensive consistency. I gave him a Grade C in the '01 book, projecting him as a utility player.

Colorado moved Figgins to Double-A in 2001 and once again he struggled with the promotion, hitting.220/.306/.310 with 27 steals in 86 games for Carolina. At this point it looked like he wasn't going to ever hit much against advanced pitching. In July he was traded to the Angels in exchange for Kimera Bartee. The Angels sent him to Double-A Arkansas and the change of organization seemed to help him: he hit .268/.329/.384 in 39 games. He had settled down defensively and his speed was obvious, but I still doubted his bat. Grade C.

Figgins went to Triple-A Salt Lake in 2002 and hit .305/.364/.466 with 39 steals. Promoted to the majors, he was used as a pinch-runner in the playoffs. I gave him a Grade C again, writing that Figgins niche was as "a utility infielder with speed and decent defensive ability. He'll knock a pitch in the gap occasionally, but would likely be overexposed if used as a regular for any length of time. He does have a bit of patience, but has been erratic as a hitter in the minors, hitting well at times and not so well at other times. I imagine the same will be true of his major league career." Grade C.

He turned out to be considerably better than that. Figgins spent much of 2003 with Anaheim, hitting .296/.345/.367 with 13 steals, 20 walks and 38 strikeouts in 240 at-bats. He earned regular playing time in 2004, hitting .296/.350/.419 with 34 steals, then played more or less regularly for the Angels through 2009. His best seasons were 2007 (.330/.393/.432, 41 steals, 4.0 fWAR) and '09 (.298/.395/.393, 41 steals, 101 walks, 6.5 fWAR).

His '09 campaign earned him a big free agent contract with the Seattle Mariners. As you know that turned out badly: he slumped to 1.3 fWAR in '10 then was hampered by injuries the remainder of his career, not unexpected for a player his age. All told though he had a good run, hitting .276/.349/.363 in his career with 341 stolen bases and an fWAR of 21.5.

Figgins was very much a throwback type: his Sim Score list consists of Hans Lobert (he played 100 years ago), Tony Womack, Bip Roberts (you might remember them), Art Devilin (who retired before the Great War), Patsy Dougherty (likewise), Jimmy Johnston (last year was 1926), Cliff Heathcotte (retired 1932), Dave Collins (speedster from the 70s and early 80s), Max Flack (retired 1925), and Topsy Hartsel (retired 1911).

His 21.5 fWAR, among players with a similar amount of playing time, puts him in league with people you probably haven't heard of like George Pinkney (21.5, retired in 1893), Duff Cooley (21.3, retired 1905), and Jack Graney (21.0, retired 1921).

Figgins' style of play stood out as something different in the steroid era.

As a prospect, Figgins showed decent strike zone judgment and contact ability to go with his athleticism in the minors, even when he wasn't hitting well early in his career. He had some struggles on reaching new levels but was able to adapt and grow. Like Denard Span and Brett Gardner, Figgins developed just enough pop in his bat to keep the respect of the pitchers, moving beyond the bench status to which he may have otherwise been confined.