Long-time New York Mets third baseman David Wright has announced his retirement due to spinal stenosis. Let’s take a look at what he was like as a prospect and where he stands in historical context.
Wright came out of high school in Chesapeake, Virginia, and was drafted by the Mets with the 38th-overall pick in the 2001 draft. His pro debut was a success: .300/.391/.458 in the Appalachian League. I gave him a Grade B rating entering 2002 and he followed up with a .266/.347/.401 mark in the Low-A South Atlantic League. He hit 11 homers, hit 30 doubles, and stole 21 bases.
Scouting reports were positive and I rated him as a Grade B+ prospect entering 2003, with this comment in the inaugural edition of the Baseball Prospect Book:
Wright was a supplemental first-round pick in ’01, from high school in Chesapeake, Virginia. He went to the same high school as Twins prospect Mike Cuddyer, and in many ways the two are quite similar as players. Both have terrific makeup and work ethic. Wright did well in his full season debut last year, better than his numbers look on the surface. Note his walks, his doubles, his steals. The home run power will come as he matures physically. Wright is a fine defensive third baseman as well, better than Cuddyer at the same stage. Interestingly, Cuddyer hit .276/.361/.451 in his first full season, not far off from what Wright did last year when park/league effects are considered. I like Wright a lot, and I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about him over the next couple of years. Grade B+.
Wright moved up to High-A St. Lucie in 2003 and had another strong season: .270/.369/.459 with 39 doubles, 15 homers, and 19 steals. Reports were even better than the numbers; I wrote this entering 2004:
I LOVE this guy. David Wright is a Seven Skill third baseman. He has plate discipline and draws walks. His power is increasing; note his spike in doubles and homers last year. Although he hasn’t hit for a great average yet, some scouts think he’ll hit .300 at the major league level. I think .280 is more likely, but that’s still good. Although his speed is average, he is heady on the bases. He is a very good defensive third baseman and could be a Gold Glove someday. About the only thing negative anyone says about him is that he works too hard; I’d rather have a kid with a “too good” work ethic than a not-good-enough one. His statistics are great: OPS +22 percent, SEC +74 percent, the latter an indicator of a broad skill base. So what we have here is a guy who does just about everything, who works hard, and is young. If that’s not a great prospect, I don’t know what is. I want to see exactly how much home run power he develops before ranking him in the Top Five prospects, but he’s definitely in the Top Ten. Grade A-.
David ended up spending about half of 2004 in the majors, hitting .293/.332/.525 in 263 at-bats, blowing past rookie limits. He punched that up to .306/.388/.523 in 2005, then hit over .300 five years in a row, legitimatizing what scouts projected when he was in the Florida State League and exceeding my thinking that he’d be more of a .280 guy.
Aside from an injury season in 2011, Wright remained outstanding for eight years in a row until injuries and age began to erode his skills. He hit .301/.382/.506 from 2004 through 2013, winning two Gold Gloves and making seven All Star Games. He fizzled quickly after age 30 due to injuries but overall finished at .296/.376/.491, OPS+ 133, fWAR 52.3.
As a prospect, Wright showed a broad range of skills and did almost everything well from the beginning, needing only to grow into his home run power with physical maturity. In historical terms, his 52.3 fWAR puts him in the neighborhood with other excellent talents like Robin Ventura (56.7), Sal Bando (56.2), Stan Hack (55.8), Ron Cey (55.6), Jimmy Collins (52.5) Tommy Leach (52.1), and Bob Elliott (50.5).
Oddly enough only Collins is in the Hall of Fame although all of these guys have a better case than many players so honored. Third base is the thinnest position in the Hall but I think Wright belongs.