Prince Fielder and Prospects

So there’s this hilarious MLB Network ad starring Prince Fielder, and it begins like this:

Prince: Hey it’s me, it’s time to say goodbye.
Harold Reynolds: Are you sure?
Prince: Yeah, I’m sure.
Reynolds: Okay Prince we’ll let everyone know. [hangs up]
Reynolds [to studio panel]: That was Prince Fielder, he said it’s time to say goodbye.

It ends with a Fielder home run, presumably from last season, that clears the shortest section of Globe Life Park by a whole three rows. Then Prince, running in place in front of a green screen — which looks totally natural by the way — waves to the audience and says “goodbye.”

It is a fool’s game to question the reality of an MLB Network spot, but it’s the reality (or lack thereof) that makes this commercial so amusing. Prince Fielder is not a good hitter anymore and, what’s worse, even if he does put up a respectable slash line in 2016, it still won’t be enough to make him much more than a replacement-level player.

In Fielder’s Comeback PoY campaign in 2015, where he slashed .305/.378/.463 (124 wRC+), he was only worth +1.6 wins according to FanGraphs. That’s how hard it can be to rack up value as a designated hitter. For context, in 2015 Prince provided roughly the same WAR as the fan base’s oft-scapegoat, Elvis Andrus (+1.6 fWAR), and Robinson Chirinos (+1.5 fWAR), who played only 78 games.

This year Fielder has been one of the worst players in baseball, slashing a putrid .187/.247/.293 (42 wRC+) with just 4 extra-base hits (2 HR) in 85 plate appearances.

Extrapolated over an entire season, his current 8.2% walk rate and 20% strikeout rate would each rank as career-worst marks.

His 25.9% hard contact rate is about 10 points lower than his career average (36.5%), and 6 points lower than his 2015 figure (32.3%), where his power noticeably declined.

Aside his unsustainably low .203 BABIP, there isn’t a lot out there to suggest he should be much better than he has been. It’s taken 20 games and Prince Fielder is already inching his way to being worth a full win below replacement. Unless something changes drastically over the next 12-18 months, the Texas Rangers are going to have a helluva time doing what they wish they had been able to do already —

To say “goodbye,” back.

* * * * * 

The Rangers are in a unique position. They are fielding a competitive major league team, yet they have better players in Triple-A who are blocked in the meantime by high-priced veterans. At some point, likely during the offseason, Texas is going to have to shed one of their major contracts to make room.

I’ve been an Elvis Andrus supporter (or apologist) for the duration, but even I’m unsure whether he’s a better player right now than former top prospect Jurickson Profar. Yeah, Elvis (.317/.348/.429 (112 wRC+) has been excellent to start the season, but once some of the noise of his .357 BABIP levels out — and it will — everyone will see he is pretty much the same hitter he has always been. And don’t get me wrong, the Rangers didn’t extend him for 8 seasons because they thought he would turn into Troy Tulowitzki at the plate.

But Profar just doesn’t have anywhere else to go, and it’s hard to imagine the Rangers sticking it out with him for this long, only to use him in a future trade or some obscure super utility role. In Round Rock, Jurickson is currently slashing .328/.394/.438 with 1 HR, 4 2B’s, and an impressive 6/9 BB/K ratio. His bat is ready for the big leagues.

Speaking of bats, Joey Gallo still exists, and his incremental progress over the last three years — namely, cutting down on his booming strikeout rate — is on track to pay massive dividends. Scott Lucas sent out this brilliant tweet last night, saying:

AAA batters with more walks than Joey Gallo: 1

AAA batters with more strikeouts than Joey Gallo: 33

It can’t be stressed enough how huge this is. Also at Round Rock, Gallo is slashing .283/.413/.717 (good for a 1.130 OPS, if you’re into that sort of thing) with 7 HRs, 1 3B, 3 2Bs and a 15/18 BB/K ratio. He, too, would be an immediate upgrade for the Rangers, but with the club stocked to the brim with corner infielders and corner outfielders, there isn’t a place to put him. For the time being, it’s probably for the best that he stays in Triple-A for another month or two.

Then there’s Nomar Mazara, who I don’t really need to write about since everyone already knows how awesome he is. Filling in for Shin-Soo Choo, he’s hitting .354/.411/.521 (160 wRC+) in his first 56 plate appearances, and hasn’t been overwhelmed even a little (6/9 BB/K ratio). Adam Morris of Lonestarball gets more in depth on the club’s options once Choo returns to the lineup in a couple weeks, but it’s getting harder to argue for sending Nomar back to the minors the more he produces.

In Fun GM Land, I would love to see all the young talent playing and helping the big league team. The reality is less fun, especially with Prince Fielder hemorrhaging outs from the middle of the order. But if the lineup continues underperforming from a few key spots, it will be interesting to see the line Jon Daniels decides on taking when he juggles his roster later on in the year.