The Pittsburgh Pirates have given their fans a lot to groan about over the last two decades.Â Former GM Dave Littlefield and current GM Neal Huntington are about as popular as Ray Lewis and Alexander Ovechkin in the Steel City.Â Bad trades and a lack of money to spend in free agency have left a sour taste in the mouths of many.
One player sure to turn some heads and change some minds in 2012 is Alex Presley.
Drafted in the 8th round from Ole Miss in 2006, Presley began his professional career with two mediocre campaigns in 2008 and 2009 with Lynchburg (A+) of the Carolina League.Â He hit .258 and .257, respectively, causing scouts to sour on his long-term potential.Â Presley moved up to Altoona in 2009 (AA-EL) and saw his average skyrocket to .350. This prompted a call-up to Indianapolis (AAA-IL) and a transformation in his approach.
Presleyâ€™s turnaround at the plate came as a result of shortening his swing to focus on hitting to contact.Â Scouts knocked him in High-A because they felt that he was trying too hard to hit for power.Â At 5â€™9â€, 190lb, it was pretty clear that he wasn’tÂ destinedÂ to be the next Babe Ruth.Â By hitting to contact, Presley allowed his natural speed to shine through.Â He posted 13 triples, 13 SB, and a .320 BA between AA and AAA in 2010.
After scorching AAA pitching in 2011, Presley was called up to replace the injured Jose Tabata.Â Between all levels in 2011, he hit .318 and stole 31 bases in 42 attempts.
A thumb injury derailed much of Presleyâ€™s season after his scorching start with the Pirates. Â Manager Clint Hurdle has already said that Presley has the chance to keep his job in 2012 if he performs.Â Although the Pirates signed Nate McLouth to a one-year, $1.75 million dollar deal, it is hard to believe that he has anything left in the tank.Â McLouth hasn’t hit for average or power since he left Pittsburgh in 2009 and has been a disaster at the plate.
Presleyâ€™s biggest goal in 2012 should be to increase his walk rate.Â He only drew the free pass 5.6% of the time in 231 AB with the Pirates and had a 7.4% rate in 2010 and 2011 with Indianapolis.Â If Presley can marginally increase his walk rate, Clint Hurdle will be forced to keep him in the line-up as long as his AVG doesn’t tank.Â Their only regular to hit over .260 last year was Neil Walker (.273) and their only regulars with an OBP over .340 were Jose Tabata (.349) and Andrew McCutchen (.364).
Presley will be given every chance to keep his job in left field and I expect him to hold it down.Â Even if we assume that McLouth gets 300 AB in the Buccos outfield, I can see things shaking out like this:
If we then assume Presley is due to get 485 AB with 10/20 production and compare him with similar players (irrespective of AVG, R, RBI), we would put him in the same category as Will Venable, Andres Torres, Michael Brantley, Lorenzo Cain, Franklin Gutierrez, and Dexter Fowler.Â As far as rough projections are concerned, weâ€™re left with this:
Aside from the fact that Dexter Fowler is likely to score a boatload of runs, Presley is comparable with everyone elseâ€™s counting numbers.Â When punting on a fourth or fifthÂ outfielder, Iâ€™d much rather own someone who can hit .290 than someone who will hit .250 like Andres Torres or Will Venable.Â There is a reason why those two are always floating around the waiver wire; they always burn you with their AVG.
While he isnâ€™t going to knock your socks off in shallow mixed leagues, Alex Presley should be on your radar in deep mixed leagues and NL-only leagues in 2012.Â For as much asÂ I’veÂ heard Michael Brantleyâ€™s name being thrown around as a breakout candidate in 2012, Alex Presley is not only a better option but a cheaper one to boot.