Continuing on in the week long series on the 50 most valuable assets in major league baseball. If you missed the introduction, it can be found here.
Ranking, Player, Position, Franchise, 2006-2008 WPA/LI
20. Ryan Braun, LF, Milwaukee, 5.05 WPA/LI
19. Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets, 3.40 WPA/LI
18. Russell Martin, C, Los Angeles, 4.04 WPA/LI
17. Jay Bruce, RF, Cincinnati, 0.23 WPA/LI
16. Justin Upton, RF, Arizona, 0.17 WPA/LI
Braun is just a tough nut to crack. The power is ridiculous, and as we saw last year, he can succeed with his aggressive approach at the plate. However, since he just refuses to walk, he has to make his contact count. He’s just 24, and there’s room for growth, but he’s already had to shift down the defensive spectrum once. The bat is going to carry him, but the way he approaches his at-bats is going to keep him from being as good as he could be otherwise. There’s room for more, but for right now, I can’t put him any higher than this.
There’s been a lot of attention on Reyes the last few years for his attitude and issues that people have had with how he plays the game, but lost in that shuffle is that he’s still a pretty remarkable player. By any measure, he’s an above average hitter, and he plays a pretty nifty shortstop. He’s also 25, and he’s got the skillset that ages very well. He’s heading into his prime as an all-star up-the-middle player, and the Mets have him locked up through 2011. Unless they finish the season well, there is going to be pressure on the Mets to make some changes to their roster this winter – Jose Reyes shouldn’t be one of the things they should be changing.
Martin doesn’t have a normal catcher’s skillset, which shouldn’t surprise us much since the Dodgers converted him from a third baseman into being a catcher. It’s worked well, as his work behind the plate draws rave reviews from pitchers and scouts alike, and his command of the strike zone and contact ability have turned him into an on base machine as a hitter. No, he doesn’t have much power and he never will, but he’s doing a terrific Jason Kendall impersonation.
Bruce announced his presence with authority after the Reds called him up, but after a ridiculous start, pitchers started to take advantage of his aggressiveness. Don’t let the slump fool you, though – Bruce is a legitimate major league hitter at age 21, and his ceiling couldn’t be any higher. The comparisons to Larry Walker might not be fair, but they’re not that far off the mark. Bruce is a monster, and he’s going to be a devastating hitter for a long, long time.
Take the above paragraph and replace Bruce with Upton, and then change “age 21” to “age 20”. Both made an instant impact, have experienced growing pains, but both are legitimate major leaguers at a very young age. Upton might not match Bruce for raw power, but he’s going to be a better defensive player and draw a few more walks. Trying to pick between which of these two kids would rank ahead of the other was rough, but in the end, you can’t go wrong either way. They’re both great.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.