Just when the Reds 2009 season was becoming borderline unwatchable for even the hardiest fans, a shot in the arm arrived in the form of centerfield prospect Drew Stubbs. For fans who grade out as something above "casual fan," the opportunity to view top prospects can make an otherwise unwatchable season somewhat watchable.
Stubbs is one of the Reds top prospects, though one whose selection in the draft came with one of the biggest opportunity costs in MLB history, but has been languishing in the minors. Perhaps to the point of stagnation, as he had really done as much developing as he was likely to do. In fact, there were rumblings from the fans that the Reds should have brought Stubbs up for a cup of coffee last September. Still, the Reds were probably right in their belief that Stubbs wasn't quite ready last September, but may have kept in the minors a bit too long.
In the minors, Stubbs was working on a slash line of .268/.353/.360 with a 104/51 K/BB ratio, 46 steals in 54 attempts, and a paltry 3 homeruns in 411 At Bats. Suffice it to say, Stubbs' prospect star tarnished a wee bit in 2009, due in no small part to his power outage and the performance of Chris "Supernova" Heisey.
Still, Stubbs has reopened some eyes with his performance at the MLB level thus far. He has matched his full season minor league homerun total in less than 61 MLB At Bats. In my book, Stubbs' value is tied to his power output. He can be a very nice player if he hits only single digit homers. Still, if that's all the power he provides, then he's a complimentary player. However, he can be a true impact player if he can hit 20+ homers a season. Time will tell.
Things I like about Drew Stubbs in 2009
1. The Improved Power Production
Not only does he already have 3 homeruns, but he's driven several more balls deep into the outfield that have settled into the gloves of fielders, including a fastball from Matt Cain that reached the warning track.
Still, he's already cranked three homers, so it's looking likely that Stubbs can run into 10-12 homers a year almost by accident. So, maybe 20+ bombs and a future as an impact player isn't out of the question.
Hopefully, Stubbs' power production doesn't completely fall off the table a la Chris Dickerson in 2009.
2. Speed and Stride
Stubbs is very, very fast. And, he's got a natural, free-and-easy stride that allows him to cover a lot of ground, both on the basepaths and in the outfield. He really glides out there and rea
He's already swiped 3 bases on the year, which should be an indication of what's to come in the future. Stubbs could be the big time threat on the bases that the Reds sorely need.
3. Line Drive Swing
I've always liked Stubbs' swing. He stands tall up there and has a smooth, fluid righthanded swing. Contact has always been a problem, in part because of his height and longer arms, but his swing produces line drives at a good clip when he does make contact.
During his brief MLB career, Stubbs is hitting line drives at a 22.5% clip, which is very strong. Admittedly, it's a small sample size, but at the very least you have to appreciate the swing.
Things that Concern Me about Drew Stubbs in 2009
Obviously, this has always been the concern with Stubbs. Whether he can make enough contact to take advantage of his power and speed.
Typically, I don't worry too much about strikeouts. I'm a big believer in the value of late-count hitters and one of the byproducts of such an approach is a significant number of strikeouts. Still, there is a tipping point at which the lack of contact and putting the ball in play becomes a real drag on offensive production. His minor league career stats and his early 2009 MLB stats indicate that Stubbs may live dangerously close to this tipping point during his MLB career.
Now, I'll preface this by saying that Stubbs certainly has all the tools to be one of the premier defensive centerfielders at the MLB level, which is undoubtedly what he'll become. In fact, he's shown flashes of it already, but I just haven't seen him translate his considerable skills into top drawer defensive play.
Stubbs seems to have a good first step and covers a lot of ground in the outfield, but he has taken a few strange routes to the ball and hasn't taken charge on a couple of balls in no mans land like a centerfielder should.
Overall, I'm not worried about his defense at all. He's clearly a defensive stud in the making and any problems he is having at the MLB level likely stem from the learning curve of Major League Baseball.
I'd imagine that he is still getting used to the size of big league ballparks, which have upper decks not seen in the minors. The more massive ballparks can take some getting used to for outfielders.
Also, Stubbs is likely going to get more and more comfortable taking charge on the field. Maybe he didn't feel comfortable running the show in the outfield as a rookie, but that certainly won't last long.
There is one point of interest on Stubbs and his defense. The only criticism I have ever heard of his defensive ability is that he sometimes has difficulty going back on the ball. And, while the sample size is very small, John Dewan's +/- system may well bear that out.
In 2009, the +/- system rates Stubbs as a net 0, as he is a +2 on Shallow balls in play, a +3 on Medium balls in play, and a -5 on Deep balls in play.
I would imagine that a larger sample size will put an end to that trend, but it's interesting to note that his early season performance is somewhat in line with scouting reports on his defense.
Overall, Stubbs has impressed me during his debut. I was rather concerned about his utter lack of power this year in the minors, but his early MLB performance indicates that the power is lying just under the surface. Whether the power shows up or not, it'll be nice to have a gazelle like Stubbs patrolling centerfield for the foreseeable future. The only people who will enjoy watching Stubbs glide around the outfield more than the fans will be the Reds pitchers.
Like most Reds fans, I'm excited to see what the future will hold for Stubbs and I'm thankful that there are still a few things worth watching in the 2009 Reds season.