When I was trying to see how well Baseball Prospectus had done in previous year's top prospect lists, I came across this passage from 1999.
Yes, Baseball Prospectus compared Jeremy Giambi to Ted Williams. At this point I decided that, no, their previous lists weren't very good.
Fortunately Baseball Prospectus hired Kevin Goldstein a couple years ago so we won't be seeing any predictions as bad as this any time soon. However, as I looked at Giambi's minor league career, I realized that I'd be saying the exact same thing, well, minus the Ted Williams part. I assumed that Giambi had monster numbers in the minors, but probably struck out a ton which BP didn't really care about back in the day. When you look at the actual stats though, this isn't true. In his minor league career, Giambi had 1217 at bats, hit .321/.435/.539 struck out 236 times at walked 244. His numbers when he actually was still a prospect are even better. If I didn't know who this was, I would almost guarantee that this person would have a long and productive big league career. Hitting for average, power, walking more times than you strikeout while getting punched out once every six at bats? The term Holy Grail comes to mind. If Jeremy Giambi can be a failure with Holy Grail type numbers, does that mean that my boy Andy LaRoche isn't as much of a lock to be a successful big leaguer as I thought?
The similarities are there. LaRoche has hit .294/.374/.524 in his minor league career with 203 walks and 274 strikeouts in 1655 at bats. A better strikeout rate, but less walks and average (LaRoche's patience hadn't become amazing until 2006), while playing in good hitters parks for the most part. I've been trumpeting LaRoche's potential for two years solid now, saying he's almost a can't miss, but does Giambi mean that he can? It puts a little doubt in my mind, but LaRoche does have several advantages over Giambi, all of them having to do with the fact he can do things other than swinging a bat. LaRoche isn't slow as molasses, LaRoche can catch the ball, and LaRoche probably would slide on a close play at the plate instead of securing the legacy of Derek Jeter. Having other tools would encourage people to give him a chance, even if his hitting isn't tremendous.
Another question is Jeremy Giambi really a failed player? His last big league season was at age 28 and he finished his career with a 111 OPS+. I like to occasionally bring up how rare it is that Hee-Seop Choi was finished so early in his career with a 106 OPS+, but Giambi was still in his prime and had hit .259/.414/.505 in his age 27 season, a 147 OPS+. Now, there were some other factors in his demise (read: actually being dumb enough to admit he took steroids to get better at baseball), but for the most part, Giambi was a pretty productive hitter that just didn't have any other tools to support him. Heck, there'd probably be a free Jeremy Giambi campaign going on if he was on the Dodgers at some point.
So, if Andy LaRoche becomes Jeremy Giambi with some decent tools without steroid accusations, it probably wouldn't be that bad. All I've been claiming in my campaign for LaRoche is that he's a near lock to be a solid hitter in the bigs. It's hard to argue that Jeremy Giambi was anything but that.