Veteran outfielder David DeJesus announced his retirement this week.
Let’s take a look at DeJesus, what he was like as a prospect, and how his career stands in historical context.
DeJesus was a college player at Rutgers, drawing the notice of scouts with a robust sophomore season in 1999 (.373/.473/.614) and a solid follow-up junior campaign (.368/.432/.529) in 2000. The left-handed hitter was a fine all-around athlete and while his baseball tools were more average than excellent, his feel for the game was obvious. He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round that spring but signed too late to play.
2001 was a lost year: he missed the entire season with an elbow injury and was off the general prospect radar, though the Royals certainly hadn’t forgotten about him. He came back in 2002 and hit .296/.400/.434 in 334 at-bats for High-A Wilmington, then followed up with a .253/.347/.443 mark in 79 at-bats for Double-A Wichita.
I saw him play late in the season and was impressed, filing this report in the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book:
The Royals drafted DeJesus in the fourth round back in 2000, out of Rutgers. He missed all of 2001 with an elbow injury. He returned healthy in ’02, and showed no ill effects. DeJesus is a line drive hitter with speed, defensive ability, gap power, and very solid strike zone judgment. He draws plenty of walks, and doesn’t strike out much. His SEC was +40 percent in the Carolina League, showing a broad base of skills. I see DeJesus developing into a very good fourth outfielder. If he can add some home run power, he could be a regular. Looks like a sleeper to me. This grade is conservative. Grade C+.
Injuries hampered DeJesus again in 2003 but when he played he was really impressive, hitting .298/.412/.470 with 34 walks and 30 strikeouts in 215 at-bats for Triple-A Omaha. The Royals knew him better than anyone and promoted him to the majors, where he went 2-for-7 in 12 games.
My report entering 2004:
This guy is one of the best prospects that people haven’t heard much about. He’s been plagued with injuries, but when healthy, he’s demonstrated a broad range of tools and skills. A left-handed hitter, he has gap power, solid strike zone judgment, and maturity at the plate. His speed is above-average, and he has enough range for center field. He works hard and plays with enthusiasm. Statistically, he’s done well at every level, including a +17 percent OPS and a +45 SEC last year at Triple-A Omaha. I think he’s ready for major league action. He should hit .280 or higher with a solid OBP, and would be a darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidate if he gets to play. Even if he doesn’t play in ’04, he’s first on the list to replace Carlos Beltran in center field when/if he is traded or becomes a free agent. Grade B+.
DeJesus played 96 games for the Royals in 2004 and quickly became a fan favorite, hitting .287/.360/.402. He was a steady presence in the Royals lineup for the next six years, standing out for his on-base ability, occasional power, and defensive acumen.
He played as a regular for the Royals, Athletics, and Cubs until injuries and the normal skill decline with age moved him into more of a reserve role with the Nationals, Rays, and Angels. DeJesus finished with 99 career homers, hitting .275/.349/.412 over 5220 at-bats. WAR captured his secondary skills and defensive ability well and rated him at 24.7 WAR over his career.
Looking at historical context, Sim Score finds him comparable to Tony Gonzalez, Al Cowens, Brian McRae, Tilly Walker, Melky Cabrera, Larry Herndon, Kevin Bass, Tommy Holmes, Jimmy Piersall, and Shane Victorino. Using fWAR, among retired outfielders with a similar amount of playing time DeJesus is in the neighborhood of Vernon Wells (24.8), Joe Rudi (24.7), Geoff Jenkins (24.5), Hank Bauer (24.3), Amos Strunk (24.2), Gonzalez (24.1), and Bob Bescher (24.1). There are no superstars here but these guys were all productive players who helped their teams win.
As a prospect, DeJesus demonstrated a broad skill base and polish to go with decent tools. That’s exactly the player he turned out to be.