I think by now we're all familiar with what a great season Dustin Pedroia had this year. He'll likely be named the AL Rookie of the Year soon because of his .317/.380/.442 season. He also received quite a bit of publicity for some big hits in Boston's playoff run. Despite a rocky start he finished quite well this postseason (.283/.348/.483). He hits at the top of the Red Sox order, plays a pretty good 2B, and earns the major league minimum salary ($380,000; considerably less than the $2 million earned by his BACKUP, Alex Cora).
Today I'm going to make the case that Jarrett Hoffpauir, the Cardinals 2B prospect, is in the same mold as Dustin Pedroia. I want to begin, however, by saying that I do not expect Hoffpauir to ever be the NL Rookie of the Year or an All-Star. I'm not saying that he'll be as good as Pedroia; in fact, I'll argue that Pedroia played a little bit over his head this year for the Sox.
That said, many people have Hoffpauir pegged as a utility player, not a regular 2B, particularly for a contending ballclub. Well, there's a lot to like in Hoffpauir and it's my opinion that he can be a starting 2B for the Cards, if not in '08, then certainly in '09 (assuming the Cards could figure out some way to deal w/ Kennedy).
I got the idea for this quest from an article posted at Baseball Prospectus by Marc Normandin. The profile of Pedroia explained Pedroia's background and why he was successful. Hoffpauir displays many of the same characteristics that Normandin lauds in this article and helped to convince me that Hoffpauir can be much more than a cheaper Aaron Miles.
This week AZ and Erik have been counting down their top 25 prospects in the Cards' system. Of Hoffpauir, AZ said
So why all the attention? Why do we have any reason to expect he's more than Aaron Miles?
Normandin,too, lauds Pedroia for his low K rate and the fact that he walks more than he strikes out. He called him "a powerful doubles hitter with excellent plate discipline and control of the zone." In looking at the two players, there are a lot of similarities --certainly many more than just their size (5'9", 165 lbs for Hoffpauir; 5'9", 180 lbs for Pedroia). It's true that Pedroia moved through the system much more quickly than Hoffpauir. Part of that is b/c Hoffpauir seems to struggle initially as he advances, before settling in and being successful, and part of that seems to me to be organizational philosophy - one that, I believe, is changing somewhat with the Cards. Nevertheless, Hoffpauir is now about 1 ½ to 2 years behind Pedroia, despite both being drafted and beginning pro ball in 2004. (Pedroia was 20; Hoffpauir 21).
Thanks to the fact that baseball reference has now added a section on the minors, I was able to compare Pedroia's and Hoffpauir's numbers coming up through the minors. The key similarities are included below.
OK, first some of the differences - yes, as I said, Hoffpauir was older at every level than Pedroia was. Yes, in most cases his slugging % was lower than Pedroia's. (I'm not sure some of that can't be chalked up to the pitching-friendly Florida State League, however.) But Marc Normandin said that Pedroia's success was attributable to his low K rate, the fact that he walks more than he strikes out, and the fact that he is more than just a singles hitter.
You should notice that, at almost every level, Hoffpauir's walk rate is higher than Pedroia's. Early on, his K rate was as well but they were roughly the same at AA and, considering that Hoffpauir seems to struggle early on with a new level before adjusting, I suspect that, if he spends some time at AAA this season, they will even out at AAA as well. Their extra-base hit rates are almost identical, as well. It's true that Hoffpauir's is slightly lower, but it's clear that Hoffpauir is more than just a singles hitter as it has been 25% or higher every year but 1 in pro ball.
Finally, notice the BB/K. Hoffpauir's compares favorably to Pedroia's and he has walked more than struck out every year in pro ball. Incidentally, Kennedy's minor-league BB/K was .54 and Miles' was .77. So, according to Normandin, Hoffpauir seems to possess the same characteristics that have made Pedroia a successful hitter at the major-league level.
ZIPS projects Hoffpauir to have a .246/.318/.332 line this year. Not great, to be sure, but Pedroia struggled out of the gate when initially brought up to the majors as well (.191/.258/.303 in 89 AB's in 2006). It's a small sample size, to be sure, but Pedroia figured it out. Hoffpauir will likely struggle early on but he'll figure it out also. BTW, ZIPS projects Kennedy (.251/.310/.332) and Miles (.268/.311/.334) to be about the same or worse than Hoffpauir anyway. It's not like the Cards have several better options.
The other person that Hoffpauir reminds me of somewhat is Placido Polanco. Like Hoffpauir, most didn't think Polanco would be more than a utility player and that was his primary role until almost forced into the lineup every day. Once he was traded to the Phillies for Scott Rolen, he became a starter by default and managed to keep hitting so much that no one could keep him out of the lineup. Like Hoffpauir, Polanco is small and doesn't strike out often. However, he doesn't walk often either and only 3 times in his professional career (minors and majors) did he have a full-season walk total that eclipsed his strikeouts. Polanco's minor league XBH% was 19% and in the majors it has been 23%. There's no reason to think that Hoffpauir doesn't have the potential to become the same type of hitter that Polanco is.
I should add here that Pedroia played above his projections in '07 and probably will come back to earth slightly in '08. He slugged .442 this year and hadn't done that since AA. Additionally, he was sensational at home (.351/.410/.502), in friendly Fenway, whose Green Monster probably helped contribute to his 39 doubles. He was pretty ordinary away from Fenway and Hoffpauir wouldn't have such a friendly home park. He would, however face weaker pitchers in the NL and if Hoffpauir was able to even post the same OPS that Pedroia posted on the road (.729), it would be a 62 point improvement over the feckless OPS posted by Cardinals' 2nd basemen in '07 (.667).
Kennedy will get and should get every chance to win the 2B job in the spring. After all, the Cards are on the hook for his contract for the next 2 years at $3.5 M in '08 and $4 M in '09. They can't unload that contract after his craptastic '07. Miles, on the other hand, should go away. There's no need to pay him $1 M or more to be worse than Hoffpauir when Hoff will earn the minimum. While Hoffpauir may never be Rookie of the Year, we have every reason to believe that he could become an average major-league 2B, at least until he reaches his 2nd year of arbitration - when his salary may compel the Cards to look for a better option. In the meantime, however, he offers an inexpensive 2B whose upside should be seen as similar to Pedroia's or Polanco's. But we'll never know if we don't stick him in there.
Oh, one more thing -- thanks for the compliments last week. Take an extra hour tonight to enjoy VEB!