Colby Rasmus has the potential to be an extremely valuable player. Centre fielders with solid power and a good eye at the plate are very difficult to acquire, particularly when they are in their mid 20’s and have several years of team control remaining, as Rasmus does.
It is amazing to me how many people I have seen write Rasmus off after his poor 2011 season. Obsessed with his ugly triple slash line (.225/.298/.391), rumours about daddy issues and squabbles with his former manager, much of the Blue Jay online community seems to miss how special Rasmus could be.
Putting aside the mess of a year 2011 was for a moment, I think a detailed look into Rasmus’ minor league numbers would help Jays fans understand why the Georgia product was widely regarded as one of baseballs best prospects just a few years ago.
Drafted out of high school 28th overall in the 2005 draft, Rasmus began his pro career by hitting .296/.362/.514 in 62 Rookie ball games. Splitting time between hi and low A ball in 2006, Rasmus put up a .288/.364/.470 line as a teenager.
The big break out came in 2007 when Rasmus crushed 29 HR while hitting .275/.381/.551 with a .414 wOBA and a .275 ISO. Also of note was his BB% of 12.6 and 18 stolen bases. That was in AA as a 20-1 year old.
By this point, baseball’s prospect analysis community had taken note. Before the 2008 season Rasmus ranked as the 5th best prospect according to Baseball America, 8th by Baseball Prospectus and 10th by MLB.com. Rasmus was viewed as a five-tool, blue chip prospect.
2008 was a relatively disappointing year, (.251/.346/.396) as his power disappeared. This was probably due to a knee injury (limited to 96 games) and the move up to AAA.
Prospect writers weren’t too discouraged by the off campaign though. Baseball America bumped Rasmus up to third overall heading into the 09 season, Baseball Prospectus had him 8th, and Keith Law of ESPN ranked him 12th best. At the time, Law wrote that “he [Rasmus] still has quick hands and gets the bat to the ball quickly, projects to have plus power, is an above-average runner, plays a solid center field, has the arm to play right, and shows a generally advanced feel for the game given his age.”
Rasmus made the Cardinals out of training camp in 2009. As a 22-3 year old, he put up 2.8 (Fangraphs) WAR, with an unspectacular .251/.307/.407 batting line. That first season in the bigs was marked by a significant drop in his walk rate (down to 6.9%) and a serious lack of power (.156 ISO). It was also marked by some very good defense and baserunning value (UZR/150 13.9). Like most players in their early 20’s, Rasmus needed to make adjustments at the plate to handle big league pitching. Unlike most of his peers though, Rasmus showed the ability to be productive even when his bat faltered.
2010 was a phenomenal success for Rasmus: .276/.361/.498/4.3 WAR and 23 HR in 144 games. His wOBA of .366 was third best amongst center fielders in MLB behind only Josh Hamilton and Carlos Gonzalez. His peripheral stats were excellent: 11.8 BB%, .222 ISO, HR/FB 14.8%. Rasmus showed both the plate discipline and power that scouts had loved during his minor league career.
Compare Colby Rasmus’ age 23 season with the performances of other CF at the same age:
2007 (23): 33 G/ .353/.394/.509/wOBA .407
2008 (24): 145 G / .301/.355/.415/ .333
2008 (23): 155 G/ .290/.340/.459/.349
2009 (23): 89 G/ .285/.353/.525/.378
2010 (23): 154 G/ .286/.365/.449/.363
2008 (23): 145 G/ .273/.383/.401/.354
2010 (23): 144 G/ .276/.366/.498/.366
Rasmus’ hitting in his age 23 season was right up there with the best young CF’s in the game.
Rasmus was awful with the bat last year, but it doesn’t mean he can’t get back on the exceptional track he was on. Keep in mind his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) dropped to .267, when his career mark is close to the league average at .298. His FB/HR rate also plummeted to 8.3%, down from 14.3% in 2010. These numbers will likely creep back up to his career norms, which will boost his overall production substantially.
Colby Rasmus will bounce back in 2012 by putting up solid power and on base numbers, while playing a strong center field. Picking up Rasmus for Zach Stewart and 1/2 seasons from Octavio Dotel, Jason Frasor and Corey Patterson was a spectacular move for the Blue Jays, and exactly the type of trade that has made Alex Anthopoulos so highly regarded amongst the baseball community.