Is Joel Guzman’s Break-Out For Real?

Former top prospect Joel Guzman has had a good season in the minors for the Bowie Baysox this year, and that’s had people talking about his potential future contributions in the majors recently. There are points for and against Guzman being thought of as a future big leaguer:

For:

* He’s still only 25 years old

* 6’6″ tall

* He’s leading the league in home runs with 30

* Batting .274/.340/.507

* Once ranked above Hanley Ramirez on a prospects list, and Hanley is awesome

* Started out a shortstop himself

(Did I miss something?)

Against:

* He’s only at Double-A, and 25 is old for the level (especially for a guy who’s spent quite a bit of time at Triple-A and even a little in the majors)

* The batting line is solid, but Guzman’s still striking out a fair bit (23% K rate) and not walking a lot (8% BB rate). That’s the kind of stuff that’ll translate into 150 K’s and only 20-30 BB’s in a full season in the big leagues (thereabouts).

* The home run power is new, but it’s largely been a move of doubles to homers (he has just 18 two-baggers) instead of an across the board power surge. This year 38% of his hits are going for extra bases, and that’s the same rate as in his entire minor league career (in Triple-A only it’s been 36%). Some (emphasis on some) of those long flyballs are going to turn back into doubles and triples (and others into outs).

* His BABIP is about .296, which is lower than his career .319 mark in the minors but right in line with his .298 career mark at Triple-A. Maybe he’s been a little unlucky with the average, but it’s probably not by much (if at all).

* Mostly relegated to the corner outfield spots or first-base this year (plus DH), though he played third last year. He’s not been a real plus with the glove anywhere, but he might be OK at third which would maximize his value.

* Though break-outs can happen, until Guzman can replicate this performance at Triple-A next year it’s more likely that his .266/.317/.451 career minor league line is closer to his actual ability level. And that’s not something to get all that excited about.

Remember when Lou Montanez won the Triple Crown at Bowie a couple years ago, at the age of 26? Well his power went back to where it had been, and anyone who thinks he’s much more than a fourth outfielder on a bad team at this point is probably fooling* themselves. I’m not saying Guzman is definitely Montanez 2.0, but the stories might not be all that different**.

* In 93 career games in the majors, Lou has hit .223/.257/.323 and racked up -1.3 Wins Above Replacement. He’s better than that, but upside is about a replacement level player.

** And Lou really outhit Guzman; .335/.385/.601. He also had his extra-base hits go way up overall, keeping the doubles and adding in home runs.