Tyler Colvin is Not Great (Yet)

I present, for your viewing pleasure, two players -- one being Tyler Colvin:

Player (Age) Tm PA HR SB CS BA OBP SLG
Player 1 (23) CHC 347 13 16 5 .298 .329 .511
Player 2 (24)CHC3942061.254.316.500

Okay. Which player would you rather have? Player 1 or Player 2?

Player 1 is younger, faster (16 steals), and has a slightly higher OBP.

Player 2 hit more homers, but his SLG was still lower than Player 1.

Defensively, both players appear to be above average outfielders.

Player 2 is Tyler Colvin, while Player 1 is the infamous Corey Patterson in 2003 -- his one sort of good year. I'm not exactly sure how he ended up with ~350 PAs that year (injury? Kenny Lofton?), but it works great for this comparison.

Allow me to clarify: I'm not suggesting Tyler Colvin is a bust -- all I'm saying is his 2010 season was largely incomplete. Cobbling together ~400 PAs does not an All-Star make.

If the Cubs are willing to boot this year, then go ahead and start the unknown (Colvin) over the known (Kosuke Fukudome). This allows the team better evaluate Colvin.

Frankly, there's a lot of analysts out there (smart, respectable analysts) who doubt Tyler Colvin's power and scoff at his "patience." That is troubling.

So, especially given the recent injury to Adam Wainwright and the suddenly more realistic Cubs playoff hopes, I'm in the Start Kosuke Camp.

There's always a chance Tyler Colvin may blossom into the next Barry Bonds (see the start of his career for something interesting), but he could just as likely be Chicago's Jeff Francouer -- or worse, Corey Patterson.

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  1. Patterson blew out his knee running down to first on a close play in July. Torn ACL, was done for the year. That was why Lofton became necessary for the '03 team.

  2. Yeah, that's what I was thinking. Thanks for the clarification, Dave!

  3. Patterson got injured that season and they acquired Lofton and Ramirez shortly thereafter. One huge difference between Patterson and Colvin was their prospect status. Patterson was number 1 overall prospect in baseball. Colvin was never that kind of prospect. Patterson had it all. He could hit for average, power, super fast, great arm and great defense. That was when he was young and in the minor leagues. Colvin has never had anywhere near the potential that Patterson had.

    I think Felix Pie (in terms of Cubs prospects) is a better comparable.

    I just looked at CPat's Bref page and he was ranked number 2 overall before 2001 and number 3 overall before 2002. For some reason I'm pretty sure Patterson was ranked number 1 prior to that, but I can't confirm that without doing more research than I care to. Either way, Patterson's prospect status was far superior.

    Pie was a top 100 prospect for several years. He started out at 82 and then in the 70s and jumped up into the 20s and then the 30s. Colvin has only been in the top 100 once (number 75).

    I've compared Colvin to Soriano in the past because their numbers are just so similar, but looking at Soriano's prospect status it's probably a reach to compare those two. Soriano was ranked 39th, 16th and 27th from 1999 to 2001.

    The thing to consider with Colvin is that he spent much of his minor league career dealing with an injury. As soon as he had surgery to repair it, he went back to High A for a few weeks and then tore up AA pitching and had a pretty solid rookie season the following year. Is that Colvin's talent level? I don't know, but I do think there's room to be optimistic. How optimistic? Probably a solid platoon partner or 4th outfielder. I don't ever see him becoming much more than that, but that has value.

  4. Very interesting Bradley. However, one of the things that's hard to quantify when talking about a young players future is how hard they work at improving their game. I can say having watched both players extensively early in their careers that Colvin wins this hands down.

    Colvin has had some college, while Patterson came out of high school as the 3d player picked in the draft. Patterson was being raved about with all the potential and tools, but he never pushed himself. That's just not good enough in the bigs (at least to be a top player). Colvin works harder than just about any player I have seen in all my years at Cubs spring training. We shall see how Colvin's future goes but he had nice power numbers in the minors when he was a 6'3" 180 lbs. beanpole. Now at a solid 220 lbs, one thing he has is good power.

  5. @mb: Patterson's prospect status aught only add to my supposition (that it takes more than 300 PAs to know a guy).

    Probably a solid platoon partner or 4th outfielder. I don't ever see him becoming much more than that, but that has value.

    Yeah, I'd agree with that. I just too often here him being anointed an NL All-Star -- which may one day come, but he hasn't demonstrated that just yet.

    @Tim: Yes, that's an excellent point. Young players -- especially -- are still improving their game. Someone like Colvin could easily exceed all of our expectations, even if his first few years end up being a little rough.

    At the same time though -- having all my life been a high-effort, no-talent kind of athlete -- I cannot believe work ethic alone can necessarily save someone.

    Consider: David Eckstein has long been considered a high-effort, gritty player -- yet, on a good day, he's basically Ryan Theriot (not exceedingly useful).

    Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez gets labeled lazy and goofy, yet he puts up MVP numbers.

    If we assume these perceptions are accurate (and I don't think they necessarily are), then we'd conclude Ramirez is worse than Eckstein, which is simply not the case, or that Eckstein would improve later in his career, which he hasn't.

    All the same, I'm pulling for Colvin and hope he kicks my Pessimism Cat.

  6. I'd agree that Kosuke should start -- at least in some figurative sense, and that Colvin's best use is probably rotating around the outfield to keep everyone a little better rested.

    Now here's a question I'd like you to address: If a Luck Dragon and a Pessimism Cat got into a fight, who would win?

  7. Phew, that's a tough one.

    I imagine Pessimism Cat would just walk away depressed, and the Luck Dragon would make a piano fall on it. Pessimism Cat, being a Cubs fan, has ∞ lives (because it dies every season), and therefore wouldn't mind a body-crushing piano, which weighs much less than a soul-crushing sweep out of the playoffs.

  8. On another note, Daver, your description of Colvin's usage suits my expectations too -- play him like last year (plus maybe a little 1B time). This keeps the aging OF healthy and gives Colvin more exposure.

  9. That sounds about right re: Pessimism Cat's sad fate. And let's hope Quade takes that approach with Tyler, though, to be honest, I'm not sure what other choice he has.

  10. Brad, it definitely takes more than 300 PA as you know. We have to assume that Corey Patterson was a far more gifted baseball player though. Corey Patterson is an example of a player who had all the talent in the world (best in the minor leagues for a few years) that reached his peak early and never lived up to the hype. Plus, I really think comparing him to Patterson is a miss because of Patterson's athletic ability. I don't know how closely you followed the minor leagues back then. I wasn't as optimistic for Patterson as the scouts were, but there was no denying he had the potential to become one of the best players in baseball. He had everything that Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr. had early in their careers.

    Because of this, we can safely say that Patterson reached his peak prior to reaching the big leagues. In fact, I think we can say he reached it about age 19. I don't think there's any doubt had Patterson aged as expected, he'd be one of the very best in the game and arguably the best offensive player over the last decade. That's had he aged as the average player does. He was that good.

    Based on the last couple seasons, I don't think Colvin has hit his peak yet. When Corey Patterson was getting worse, there's good reason to believe that Colvin will get better.

    I really think the overall difference in talent between these two players is huge.

    Side note: talking about Corey Patterson back then has upset me. Not at him, because it's not his fault, but the Cubs were going to be something special back then. They had Wood, Patterson, just drafted Mark Prior in 2001, young pitchers like Carlos Zambrano and Juan Cruz and perhaps as good as any of them, Angel Guzman. Bobby Hill. Hee Seop Choi. David Kelton. Kyle Farnsworth was throwing 300 mph and had made himself feel comfortable in that bullpen with a dominating 2001 season.

    Just about everything that possibly could go wrong did and here we are nearly a decade later. We did get 3 playoff appearances out of it and more winning seasons in 40 years, but not what could have happened. That farm system was stacked and unfortunately almost every single one of the top prospects didn't reach expectations. That sucks.

  11. @mb: Ha! I just noticed you did the same comparison thing in your post about Colvin! I don't see a time stamp, so I don't know who came first, but what are the odds we'd both post about Colvin -- and use the same methods!

    Concerning his minor prowess and what not, I don't buy it -- Patterson had one good minor league season (in A-ball, 1999) where his BABIP was .353 (his career minors BABIP = .330, Majors = .300). I don't think he peaked at age 19, I think he was just not what the scouts said he was.

    Meanwhile, Colvin is an .800 OPS minor leaguer (Patterson was .835) who OPS'd .815 in the majors. Unless he makes some significant improvements, I think he'd be an iffy starter and a average-at-best 4th outfielder.

  12. That should read: "Concerning [Corey Patterson's] minor league prowess..."

    Also, to finish the Colvin OPS thought, I don't think going from AA-ball to the MLB should add .015 points to an OPS -- quite the opposite. So, in order to maintain that (which would make him a good 4th OF), he needs to improve.

  13. I'm pretty sure he was what the scouts said he was. It wasn't just the Cubs scouts. It was all of them. It's much more likely that Patterson peaked early. Players who never reach the major leagues probably peak at around age 22 or 23 on average. That's partly why they never reach the big leagues.

    The same is true with Felix Pie. He had a ton of talent, but didn't age as the scouts thought he would. Scouts will admit that the most difficult part about evaluating minor league talent is projecting how they age. Sometimes they get that right and other times they don't, but when they say someone is good, I'm certain they're right. I may disagree (Hak-Ju Lee), but I'm basing that opinion on his less than impressive stats and have never seen the guy play.

    I don't believe scouts just get it wrong. Patterson was one of the most talented players those years. They just missed at something that's impossible to figure out for someone his age: projection. Patterson was in AA holding his own at age 20 (see Castro, Starlin) and the same is true at age 21 at AAA. He made his big league debut at that age. The guy was ridiculously talented. As Castro is.

    Maybe Castro ages better than Patterson did. Let's hope so, but I'm not willing to dismiss dozens of scouts who all agreed that Patterson was one of the best players in minor league baseball. Speaking of Castro, his 2009 minor league numbers were only impressive because he was 19 years old. It wasn't an especially good season, but at the age of 19, it's fantastic.

    Imagine that Castro fades away like Patterson did. Would it be fair to say that the scouts were wrong about Castro in their evaluations or that Castro just didn't age as well as they anticipated? We've seen Castro for basically a full season and the hype is more than deserved. We still don't have any idea how he'll age and that will determine whether or not he's around for long, but clearly the guy has a ton of talent. Even if he fades away, the scouts weren't wrong.

    That's what I'm saying about Patterson.

    I agree with you for the most part regarding Colvin. 4th outfielder or platoon player.

    As for the minor league OPS, I'm ignoring the career average. He injured his arm at the end of 2007 and didn't bother fixing it until the end of the 2008 season. His OPS in the FSL (pitcher's league) prior to injury was .850 and then it dropped to .774. The following year it dropped to .736 and then he had surgery. It bounced back to .859. It was .816 last season as a rookie. I don't see too much that's out of line there. Seems like it's actually right in line with what you'd expect.

    Colvin's power in the FSL prior to injury was .514. That's impressive. It was .462 after injury and then .424. After the surgery it was .524. .514 in a pitcher's paradise to .524 in a neutral league is about what you'd expect as well.

    I think Colvin's numbers look a lot worse because of that injury. It's quite clear when you look at the numbers that injury nearly killed any chance he had of being a big league player.

  14. Excellent points, mb.

    My opinion of scouting: You can find great athletes via scouting (i.e. fast base runners, powerful hitters, etc.), and successful ballplayers tend to be great athletes. Scouting is much like a shotgun then, where the youngest, most athletic players are (somewhat rightly) deemed the most likely to succeed.

    I don't like the term "aging" -- at least with respect to younger prospect (like Castro or Patterson in the 2000s). Aging implies physical deprecation. I think it's more accurate to say Patterson did not develop the way scouts anticipated.

    But this sidetracks too much from my overall purpose in this post, which was not to say: "Tyler Colvin will be Corey Patterson."

    My true intention was merely to say: "350 PAs is not enough to know how Colvin will turn out."

    The lack of his prospect status -- as well as his injury history -- aught imply Colvin is an even GREATER let-down candidate than Patterson was (well, he has a greater chance to be a let-down, but if you're expecting him to be a 4th OF and he becomes a 5th, then it's a much smaller let-down than Future Bonds turning into Present Patterson).

    I'm not trying to draw perfect comparisons -- because I understand Patterson does not fit Colvin's mold. Instead, I wanted to use a player -- familiar to Cubs fans -- to demonstrate how 350 PAs can lie to us sometimes.

  15. I didn't mean to make it sound like I was picking this apart. I think you did a great job at explaining why so few PA is just not enough to evaluate a player. Considering Colvin's strikeout rate last year, we also have even fewer balls in play than we'd need to really even know what kind of batted balls to expect from him going forward. There's a lot more we don't know about Colvin than what we do know.

    I will add that Colvin so far has hit lefties pretty well and hit them well in the minor leagues too. Minor League Splits is gone now, his minor league OPS vs lefties was something like 5 points less than it was vs righties. I'm thinking that's of value when it comes to pinch hitting. He doesn't just need to be saved for righties.

    I usually use aging for both improvements and decline. Development is probably a better word, but when I hear that with a prospect I get the idea that development is something that the player's have complete control of. Also, I think the peak age for players who don't reach MLB is so low that we could use aging for just about every player. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the average peak age for a minor leaguer was 21 years old.

    By the way, it's very interesting that we were each writing a post about Colvin and comparing him to someone who was or is still a Cub.

  16. Personally, I'm a believer in Colvin's power. That doesn't guarantee he'll be a good player necessarily, but I think he's got a chance to hit 30 home runs in some years.

    The combination of poor plate discipline and contact skills have doomed many careers before Colvin's, namely, Corey Patterson's.

    Good post Brad

  17. I do agree though with the point that K-Pat and Colvin have never had comparable ceilings. I'm not sure if I think Patterson peaked when he was 19, rather, back then he obviously was able to get away on sheer talent. You mention that he was a top prospect for so many years, and clearly, he was ticketed for the big leagues from Day 1. So to me it just seems like he was just that much better than some of the minor league competition he was facing.

    I don't think anyone doubts Patterson had all the ability in the world to become an outstanding player. He simply never progressed in terms of his approach. That's why, for me, it obviously all boils down to which directions his strikeout and walk rates trend over the years.

    I suspect that Colvin is always gonna struggle with strikeouts. He has the power skills to overcome that though. The problem is, I can see him striking out so much that he struggles to keep an average around .270, in which case he's gonna have to make significant progress in his walk rate to sustain an acceptable OBP for a corner outfielder.

  18. I agree, Jack. I'm actually not too worried about Colvin's power. The guy can hit the ball a long way and I also see a 30 homer season if he gets every day playing time. I'm not saying 30 homers next year though that wouldn't really be that surprising. I'm guessing he's a couple years away from that, but I do agree with you.

    I don't know when Patterson peaked, but I think it was early in his career. He just never developed as the scouts thought he would. At what point was that? I don't know. Somewhere between 19 and 23. 2003 was his age 23 season and it took a babip near .360 to even get him within 15 points of the league .342 OBP that season. Certainly some of his skills stopped developing a lot earlier than expected.

  19. Legit power has failed to save many a walk-less careers. Still, I too think Colvin will hit for power -- no matter the circumstance -- but I fear he'll get on base like Jeff Francouer (i.e. not at all).