Blake DeWitt finally got his first major league home run tonight, and not only that, it was a proper bomb to dead center field. He also pushed his average up to .295, in addition to some excellent defense, and I think we’ve been a little remiss around here in not recognizing his amazing story thus far. (Sidenote: see? We can be positive about players too! It’s possible!) To make up for that, we’re giving him the rare and coveted “large centered picture” honor, of his curtain call after his homer tonight.
Look at those fans! They love him! The guy in the blue Dodgers jersey is yelling, ”Andy who?!” I think the woman to his right is actually offering him a child.
Seriously, a quick review of the third base depth chart entering the season:
1. Nomar Garciaparra
1a. Andy LaRoche
3. Tony Abreu
4. Russell Martin, apparently
5. Brandon Inge/Joe Crede/Wes Helms/Mark Loretta
6. Ron Cey
7. Jim Gilliam
8. forget 3B entirely and solve the OF logjam by putting all 4 of them in at once
9. Blake DeWitt
This guy had no prayer to even get a shot this season, and even less of a chance to do anything with the opportunity should it arise. Even after Nomar and LaRoche got hurt within 12 minutes of one another, and Abreu never really got out of the starting gate, no one believed that Blake DeWitt would do anything but embarrass himself. I’m going to quote myself quoting other people here, on March 20 – 11 days before Opening Day.
Let’s bounce around the blogosphere, starting with new it-boy Blake DeWitt, the talk of camp with his .571 SLG this spring. DodgerThoughts:
Blake DeWitt has also been mentioned by some, but considering how recently the guy was in A ball, it just strikes me as too huge a leap for him to make. Consider that the Dodgers are hesitant to do the same thing with Clayton Kershaw, then ask yourself whether it makes sense to throw DeWitt to the major-league wolves at this stage.
I’m not really worried about the Kershaw comparison, because it’s such a different situation – the Dodgers have a few decent 5th starter options, and are getting absolutely desperate at third base. But on the whole, I tend to agree that DeWitt’s not ready for the bigs, and so does ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer:
DeWitt’s just not ready. He spent most of last season in the Class A California League before moving up to Double-A. Also, he wasn’t great at either level, and in 128 games he drew 27 walks and struck out 88 strikeouts. The major league wolves would eat him alive.
Now, I can’t kill either of these guys for not believing in him; who would? This is a guy who in 4 minor league seasons had a line of .279/.332/.443. Keep in mind, he’d only played 71 games above single A, and in his first attempt at AA in 2006, he flopped miserably with a .183/.241/.221 line in 104 at-bats, prompting him to get kicked back to down A-level Inland Empire to start last year. Not exactly a forecast for success at the MLB level, no? Baseball Prospectus gave him a 50% chance of putting up even a .253/.303/.394 line in the bigs in 2008, and ranked him at #10 in their preseason prospect rankings for the Dodgers (and only the third best 3B!), saying:
The Good: On looks alone, DeWitt has one of the prettiest swings in the minors, notable mostly for its speed and fluidity. He has excellent barrel control, no weakness by location, and at least average power. He’s a decent third baseman who makes the plays he gets to.
The Bad: As much as scouts love DeWitt’s batting tools, the results have hardly been eye-popping, and he’s yet to show enough in the way of secondary skills to project as a classic third baseman. A move to second base last year was a failure, as DeWitt lacks the athleticism to play up the middle.
Judging by every statistic and scouting report known to man, letting this kid who admittedly had talent but had shown no indication of putting it all together play in the bigs could only lead to catastrophe. Right? Let’s look at the stats again: in 4 MiLB seasons, he had a line of .279/.332/.443 and Baseball Prospectus believed that gave him a 50% shot of putting up a .253/.303/.394 MLB line. So what has he actually done? He’s blown all that away at .295/.382/.436. That’s respectable no matter who you are, and he’s been particularly hot over the last week (.438/.500/.563). Look at it this way: he’s currently 8th in all of MLB 3B in OPS at .818, which is ahead of some guys you may have heard of, like Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Glaus, and Mark Reynolds.
What’s more: he’s been a fantastic fielder. How good? Well, his range factor is the best in Major League Baseball. The best. And it’s not even close; his 3.76 far outpaces runner-up Melvin Mora’s 3.27. His Zone Rating is 5th best in MLB, and fancy stats aside, all we needed to see how slick he is at the hot corner is the week or so we had to suffer through Nomar playing there on a regular basis.
So here’s to you, Blake DeWitt. I have absolutely no idea how you not only managed to not embarrass yourself, but to be an adequate hitter and valuable fielder, but we’re all enjoying it. What this means for the future of Andy LaRoche remains to be seen, of course; but hey, the more successful young players around, the merrier. Just please: no more Nomar.