Long-time major league outfielder Nick Swisher retired last month. Between college and professional baseball, Swisher was in the spotlight for 16 years. A reader requested a Prospect Retrospective for Swisher, so here it is.
Nick Swisher was born November 25th, 1980, in Columbus, Ohio. His father was Steve Swisher, who played catcher for the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Diego Padres from 1974 to 1982. Steve was a light-hitting defensive specialist but his son was much different, Nick developing into a power-hitting outfielder. He was better-known as a football player in high school and went undrafted by MLB in 1999, but by the time he got to college he decided to pursue baseball.
In the lineup from day one at The Ohio State University, Swisher hit .299/.389/.549 as a freshman in 2000, .322/.423/.672 as a sophomore in 2001, and .348/.470/.620 as a junior in 2002, showing an intriguing combination of switch-hitting power and sound strike zone judgment. Drafted in the first round by the Oakland Athletics, 16th overall, his combination of physical tools and statistical performance made him the centerpiece of the (in)famous Moneyball draft.
Swisher did not immediately thrive in pro ball. He drew a lot of walks and showed power potential but needed time to adapt to advanced pitching, hitting just .220/.321/.360 on arriving in Double-A in 2003. He struggled with inside pitches and a tendency to try and pull everything. He made some adjustments in 2004 and hit .269/.406/.537 with 29 homers, 103 walks, and 109 strikeouts in 443 at-bats in Triple-A, then hit .250 with a pair of homers in 60 at-bats after being promoted to the majors late in the year.
Just before he was promoted I filed a report with ESPN.com, which makes interesting reading 13 years later.
His .269 batting average at Sacramento this year would translate to about .230 at the major league level, but with enough power and patience to still be useful. At age 23, a normal growth curve projects him as a .260ish hitter down the road. Keep in mind that a "natural .260ish" hitter can hit .230 as easily as .290 through random chance. If the walks and power carry forward, he'll be a solid regular due to strong secondary skills. . .he may have some adjustment problems at first, but given sufficient time to adjust, Swisher will emerge with major league numbers very similar to what he has posted in the minors.
In his major league career spanning 12 seasons he hit .249/.351/.447, with his peak seasons being 2010 (.288/.359/.511, 4.3 fWAR), 2012 (.272/.364/.473, 4.0 WAR), and 2007 (.262/.381/.455, 4.0 WAR). His career fWAR was 25.4, putting him in solid company.
Swisher’s closest comparable players according to Sim Score (as calculated by Baseball Reference) are Bob Allison, Jeff Burroughs, Jayson Werth, Andre Thornton, Pat Burrell, Kevin McReynolds, Matt Stairs, John Mayberry, Adam LaRoche, and Tom Brunansky. His 25.4 fWAR, among players with a similar amount of playing time, puts him in the neighborhood with Dave Henderson (26.3), Ben Oglivie (25.8), Baby Doll Jacobson (25.8), Greg Vaughn (25.5), Adam Dunn (25.4), Jeromy Burnitz (25.1), and Vernon Wells (24.8).
There are no superstars here but both peer groups consisted of very productive players, most of them being low-average/high walks/good power guys, just like Swisher. Both scouts and sabermatricians liked Swisher as he was coming up. Both camps were right.