Is it time to rename the Gordometer? Now in its sixth spring of existence, the Gordometer is an instrument SI created to assess the probability that an annual set of former top prospects, who each experienced years-long struggles upon reaching the majors, might finally put everything together-and not a moment too soon.
That’s what the Gordometer’s namesake-the Royals’ Alex Gordon, once a second overall draft pick and Baseball America’s second ranked minor league prospect-did in 2011, when he was 26. It was the from-the-blue start of a run of production that included four Gold Gloves, three All-Star selections, a World Series ring and a four-year, $72 million free agent contract.
Now 33, Gordon’s career seems to have finally reached its downswing. He hit just .220 last year, with 17 homers, 40 RBIs and a .692 OPS. Should we rechristen this thing the J.D. Martinezmeter? The Murphometer? The Turnerometer?
You know what? Gordon’s still the archetype. We’ll give it one more year. Here, then, is this year’s slate of potential late bloomers who might follow in his footsteps, assembled with the help of a panel of pro scouts who watched each of them extensively this spring. The scouts provided the Gordometer ratings, which range from one Gordon head (meaning it’s not going to happen) to four Gordon heads (get your popcorn ready).
Yonder Alonso, A’s 1B
Alonso has always had the pedigree. Once the Reds’ seventh overall pick in the `08 draft out of the University of Miami and a four-time member of Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects list, Alonso has never gotten results on the big league level befitting of a corner infielder. He’d couldn’t get playing time in Cincinnati, not behind Joey Votto, but the Reds mercifully dealt him to San Diego five winters ago in a trade that now looks terribly lopsided (they also sent away Brad Boxberger, Yasmani Grandal and Edinson Volquez in exchange for just Mat Latos). In four years with the Padres, and one with the A’s, Alonso still hasn’t cracked double digits in homers, and he’s never hit better than .282 or driven in more than 62 runs.
One scout thinks he would be wise to follow the lead of the guy who used to block him at first base in Cincinnati. “I think Alonso has always tried to prove to people that he’s someone that he is not,” the scout says. “A big guy coming out of Miami, everyone projected big time power. But there are a lot of fly ball outs with this guy, because he’s tried to force the power, which is when he hits it to the warning track. You look at Votto, everyone’s like, why does he take so much? Why doesn’t he hit for more power? Well, he understands who he is, and it’s one of the best hitters in the game.” The scout credits Alonso with appearing more comfortable with himself this spring, and has seen better timing and confidence from him-and less desire to “try to hit the ball out of the yard before he gets in the box.” The scout predicts a .270 average,, 15 home runs and 75 RBIs, which would easily represent a career-best season for the soon-to-be 30 year old.
Tim Beckham, Rays SS
Clubs more or less nailed one No. 1 overall draft pick after another from 2007 through 2012: David Price (`07); Stephen Strasburg (`09); Bryce Harper (`10); Gerrit Cole (`11); Carlos Correa (`12). All-Stars, and maybe superstars, all. The outlier was the Rays selection in 2008: Beckham, a shortstop out of Georgia’s Griffin High. It was a notably weak draft, to be fair, but Tampa Bay took Beckham over both Eric Hosmer (whoops) and Buster Posey (WHOOPS!). Nine years later, he’s played in just 152 big league games, batting .238 with 14 homers, 54 RBIs and five steals.
He’s still with the Rays, though, and at 27 he enters the year with an opportunity, as their Opening Day shortstop. Will he finally come through? Well, first the good: “He’s learning the strike zone, learning he can’t hit the ball in the air, starting to understand what kind of player he is,” says a scout. The bad? That player is average, at best. “The Rays got fooled. He didn’t have the talent they thought he had. He’s just a guy. I’m not a Beckham guy. Neither are the Rays. When Matt Duffy gets healthy, they’ll run him out at short immediately. Ideally, Tampa hopes Beckham gets off to a good start so they can trade him.” The scout predicts a best case of a .250 average, ten home runs, 50 RBIs and ten steals, with mediocre defense. Sadly, for Beckham, a breakout is a long shot.
Avisail Garcia, White Sox OF
Back when he was a Tigers prospect, everyone used to call Garcia “Little Miggy.” He not only shared a home country with Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela), he had an identical 6’ 4”, 240 pound physique and a face so similar that autograph-hunting fans were often surprised when he signed a different name. Alas, a half-decade later, he still hasn’t come close to matching his erstwhile teammate’s Hall of Fame production. He’ll turn 26 in June, but in neither of his two full seasons with the White Sox, to whom he was traded in 2013, has he reached 14 homers, 60 RBIs, a .260 batting average or a .700 OPS. Meanwhile, he’s whiffed nearly once a game. Says one scout, “I would bet that has more to do with personal drive than ability.”
“He’s very gifted,” continues the scout. “A plus arm in right field, plus raw power. Just doesn’t show up in the numbers. Throw him a breaking ball, he’ll get himself out.” The scout, though, detected improvement this spring. “The quality of his at bats were pretty good. I think his strikeouts will drop to the low 100s. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but he’s a great candidate for a breakout.” The scout sets a floor of a .260 average and 15 home runs, both of which would represent career highs.
Jurickson Profar, Rangers SS
Profar, a native of Curacao, skyrocketed up the prospect rankings earlier this decade. Baseball America had him at No. 74 in 2011, No. 7 in `12 and No. 1 in `13. He also occupied the top spot on the lists of MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus that year, ahead of talents like Wil Myers, Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa. Then a series of shoulder injuries caused him to miss all of 2014 and most of 2015, significantly dimming his star. Now, in the estimation of a scout, he looks entirely healthy-but it’s the Rangers’ crowded infield that is holding him back.
“I saw nothing in spring training to suggest his skill set has diminished,” says the scout. “When you have Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, and you’re a middle infielder, it doesn’t give you any opportunity,” the scout says. “I’m sure he can be an everyday player. He’s sort of an Asdrubal Cabrera, a guy that can really hit, isn’t going to strike you with quickness, but is smart and has instincts. But he’s not a leftfielder, where the Rangers look like they’re going to play him part-time. The only way he’s going to break out is if someone sustains a serious injury and they need him in the infield, or they have some injuries in their rotation and need to trade him for something of value. Other clubs still want him.” With a full season’s worth of starts, the scout believes Profar could hit .270 with 15 homers, 75 RBIs and 30 doubles-but says that in Texas, where he’s likely to stay, he won’t play in more than 105 games. Still, the scout stresses, Profar only turned 24 in February, and it’s far too early to give up on the former top prospect, even if he won’t find stardom this year.
Steven Souza, Rays OF
Souza was a central part of the three-team, 11-player trade in Dec. of 2014 that sent Trea Turner to Washington and Wil Myers to San Diego. Turner is now a trendy MVP pick for the Nationals. Myers nearly went 30-30 for the Padres last year-thereby coming through on the maximum four Gordon heads he earned in last spring’s Gordometer. Meanwhile, the injury-prone Souza-who turns 28 this month-has yet to reach his five-tool potential. In 2016, he hit .247 with 17 homers, 49 RBIs, 7 steals and a .713 OPS. Is this the year in which he makes the blockbuster look not quite so bad for Tampa Bay?
In a word, says a scout: “Yes.” “He’d never made very many adjustments at the plate,” the scout continues. “But now he’s finally healthy, and he’s developing on offense. He knows the strike zone better and is learning to use to whole field. What hitters always have to recognize is that if you have power, it doesn’t matter where you hit the ball-it’s going to go over the fence a lot of the time. Seems like he’s learned that now.” The scout believes his average will jump to .280, with at least 20 homers, 80 RBIs and 20 steals. If you’re looking for 2017’s Alex Gordon, here he is.
Eric Thames, Brewers OF
OK, Thames doesn’t really fit the profile of the other players on this list. He’s older (30) and was never really a prominent prospect-a seventh round pick by Toronto in 2008 who never made a major Top 100 list. What he did have was one of the greatest three-season runs ever turned in by a pro baseball player, in which he hit .349 and averaged 41 homers, 127 RBIs and 21 steals. Yes, he did it in the Korean league, but the Brewers were intrigued enough to give him a three-year, $16 million free agent deal last November. I’m intrigued too, which is why he’s on my list.
One scout, though, isn’t. “Korea’s not the big leagues,” the scout says. “Korea’s not Japan, and I’m not saying that disrespectfully. It’s not Triple-A. You’ve got some guys that wouldn’t make A-ball. Honestly, I think it’s a bust, and that by the middle of the year they’re looking to replace him.” The scout admires Thames’s raw strength, but believes he’ll be fooled by big league off-speed pitches and beaten inside by big league fastballs. He also thinks Thames’s stolen base numbers won’t translate back across the Pacific, as he grades him as a 30 runner on the standard 20-80 scale. The scout thinks Thames might hit 20 homers, but with a .225 batting average and fewer than 10 steals. “I hope I’m wrong,” he says.