From the Minor League Ball mailbag:
“Please do a prospect retro for Jimmy Rollins. I know he’s a free agent and not officially retired, but he came up before I was a baseball fan and I’d like to know how he was viewed at the time.”——Jason T, Union City, NJ
Sure thing, Jason.
Jimmy Rollins was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1996 out of high school in Alameda, California. At the time he was viewed as an excellent defensive infielder with good speed and a chance to hit but with questions about his power which kept him out of the first round. Young for the draft class at age 17, he was committed to Arizona State University but signed with the Phillies without much trouble and was assigned to Martinsville in the Appalachian League, hitting .238/.351/.285 in 172 at-bats. At the time I had him rated as a Grade C+ prospect.
Moved up to Piedmont in the South Atlantic League for 1997, Rollins hit .270/.330/.370 with 46 steals, along with a 52/80 BB/K ratio in 560 at-bats. I still had him as a C+ although in retrospect that should have been a notch higher. He was only 18 years old and was already showing improved isolated power to go with his speed.
Bumped up to Clearwater in the Florida State League for 1998, he hit .244/.306/.354 with 23 steals, 41 walks, and 62 strikeouts in 495 at-bats. It wasn’t a great year with the bat but he drew continued praise for his defense and was just 19. I still had him as a Grade C+.
Promoted to Double-A for 1999, Rollins hit .273/.336/.404 with 11 homers, 24 steals, 51 walks, and 47 strikeouts in 532 at-bats. Speed and defense remained assets, his bat was steadily improving, and he was still just 20 years old. I moved his grade up to B- and wrote at the time that he would be “an excellent utility player or an adequate/decent regular.” That was certainly an under-estimate and I wasn’t weighting his youth enough in my evaluation.
Triple-A in the year 2000 resulted in a .274/.341/.457 line with 28 doubles, 11 triples, 12 homers, 24 steals, and a 49/55 BB/K in 470 at-bats. Promoted to Philadelphia for the stretch run, he hit .321 in 14 games, 53 at-bats. In retrospect he should have been a B+ prospect at this point but I still had him as a B-, not quite trusting the bat to hold up.
Rollins seized the regular shortstop job in 2001 and held it for 14 years. As you know, his power production continued to improve, but without loss of speed or defense. He became a team leader and a franchise cornerstone, making three All Star games, winning four Gold Gloves, and taking home the NL MVP trophy in 2007. Peak seasons included ‘07 (6.5 fWAR) 2004 (5.0 fWAR) and 2008 (5.0 fWAR).
Over his 17 years Rollins hit .264/.324/.418, OPS+ 95, wRC+ 95. His solid hitting combined with his defense made him a multi-faceted player, giving him a career fWAR of 49.4.
He ranks very well historically. By Sim Score, his top comparables are Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Roberto Alomar, Edgar Renteria, Ryne Sandberg, Jay Bell, Joe Morgan and Ray Durham. Among shortstops, his 49.4 fWAR puts him in the neighborhood of Joe Tinker (55.5), Dave Bancroft (49.2), Luis Aparicio (49.1), Bert Campaneris (44.9) , Omar Vizquel (42.6), Rabbit Maranville (42.5) and Roger Peckinpaugh (41.4).
It’s a list of Hall of Famers and All-Stars.