In my time as a baseball fan (24 years and counting), I have yet to witness a player better than the great Albert Pujols. Sure, Mike Trout is almost certainly the better all-around player, but I have not yet seen him play in person, and he only has three full seasons "under his belt" while Albert has 14. As the 16th player picked by the Cardinals in the 1999 MLB Draft (13th round, 402nd overall), it is safe to say no one projected him to be the 26th (and counting) best position player of all time in terms of fWAR (90.5), except maybe Fernando Arango of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (hat tip to Wagonbaker for sharing this must-read article by the ever-terrific Jonah Keri) who quit his job as a scout after the Devil Rays passed on Albert in the draft.
Before I get into the professional scouting reports on Pujols, I want to bring up an urban legend that was introduced to me back in 2007 when I was a member of the Crestwood American Legion baseball team. We were in a tournament at the historic Liberty Park Stadium in Sedalia, Missouri, and before games commenced, the stadium owner/curator took our team on a mini tour of the facilities. At one point, he stopped and pointed at a photograph of a very young Pujols on the wall. Though I do not remember his exact quote, it paraphrased as: "When we get out to the field, take a good look at the tree beyond the fence in left center. Because Albert put one over it back in the day." At the time, I'm not sure if any of us realized that it had been at least ten years since Albert played there, and ten plus years is a lot of time for a tree to grow. Either way, it is a story I will remember forever.
The first scouting report I reviewed was completed by Russ Bove prior to the 1999 MLB Draft. At the time of the report, Bove was a scout with the Milwaukee Brewers. Upon completing my review of his work, it's probably a good thing he didn't see much in Albert because having the Cardinals face him regularly as a National League Central would have been a chore.
via the Baseball Hall of Fame
As you can see, Bove gave the 19-year-old a "D" in terms of "impact" and projected him to be eventually be a major league utility player. Overall, Bove believed Albert was a 9th round value, which, considering he fell all the way to the 13th, would have been quite a steal for the Brewers. In terms of tools, I found it surprising that Bove rated Albert's fielding, both currently and projected, higher than his hitting. A projected 40 rating with hitting meant that Bove thought he would be one standard deviation below average. His career slash of .317/.403/.588 and wRC+ of 159 suggest otherwise.
Projecting Albert as a future weight problem seems a bit harsh to me, especially given the pictures I've been able to uncover from his time at Maple Woods Community College. Sure, 210 pounds is above the supposed ideal body weight for a 6'3" male, but in no way does it scream a weight problem, especially for an athlete. Bove was right in classifying him as an "aggressive hitter," but there is a good chance at least a handful of his 520 career home runs came on good pitches, not just mistake pitches. His career strikeout rate of 9.8% also rebuts the "hacker" and "chases" classifications as well.
Full disclosure, I realize that this scouting report was produced after Bove saw Albert play in one game, on May 21, 1999. And yes, even the best players in the world have the ability to look bad in one game, just ask Matt Holliday. That's baseball. Still, it is fun to look back and see just how wrong Bove was in his report, especially given how critical he was in his evaluation.
via the Baseball Hall of Fame
The increased sample size (three games seen instead of one, saw him in college as well), combined with it being a few months into his professional career, helped make Pransky's job a whole lot easier. Pujols crushed the ball when he was with the 2000 Peoria Chiefs (low-A). He smacked 17 home runs and slashed .324/.389/.565—an impressive enough performance for him to see a promotion to the A-Advanced Potomac Cannons followed by a splash with the AAA Memphis Redbirds for three games.
Projecting Albert's hit tool as a 7 (aka 70) and his power tool as a 6 (aka 60) has been proven pretty accurate, though he has also shown to be slightly better than just an "above average ML player." Pransky, like Bove, mentions Albert's weight/large frame, but admits that he appears to have it under control—something that was actually probably pretty easy given his work ethic and the fact that he was surrounded by a terrific training staff.
My favorite part of Pransky's scouting report is clearly his comments on Albert's hitting: "power to all fields - hits ball well to right center. Aggressive at plate, but makes contact...Feel this guy's bat will make him an eventual ML All Star." This description was spot on. His career .208 ISO on balls hit to the opposite field provides backing to the "power to all fields" classification. Though his glove has been quite good at first base, his bat definitely helped make him "an eventual ML All Star." Nine times to be exact.
Albert Pujols will go down as one of the greatest players to ever live, and as Cardinals fans, we are truly lucky to have been around to experience his best years in terms of overall performance. He may be with the American League's Los Angeles team now, but you better believe I keep a close eye on his statistics and highlight videos.