What, exactly, does Grant Green do well?
That's the first sentence that pops into my mind every time I think of the A's outfield prospect, though I'm probably getting a bit ahead of myself by starting this post with it. After all, Grant Green plays baseball better than 99.99% of people on this planet, enough to be a first-round pick in 2009 and a solid Double-A player two years later. Sitting here on my couch, I have no reason to believe that he's not a nice guy and a hard worker. As a fan of the A's, I hope he, like any A's prospect, has a huge breakout year and can become part of a stellar team core in the future.
But, seriously, what above-average skills does Green have? I can't think of any.
Contact: 19.3% strikeout rate in 2010 in High-A; 20.3% in Double-A in 2011
Power: .203 ISO in 2010 (Cal League inflated); .117 in 2011
Speed: 9-for-14 in steals in 2010; 6-for-14 in 2011
Defense: Apparently average-ish in center field
Arm: Apparently poor enough to push him off of shortstop
Plate discipline: 6.3% walk rate in 2010; 6.6% in 2011
Grant Green walks less than an average hitter, he strikes out more, he doesn't hit for a ton of power, and doesn't steal bases. He was able to muster enough power in the friendly Cal League to put up a 125 wRC+ there in 2010, but he was a below-average hitter in the Texas League last year, with a 97 mark.
You might be saying "Wait, he's good at contact! He hit .318 in 2010 and .291 last year!" True, but here's the thing-his batting averages on balls in play have been very high--.366 and .355. Now, that's two years of that in a row, so maybe it's a skill, right? But here's the thing-high BABIPs are far easier to sustain in the minors than the majors. Here's a quick breakdown of the number of hitters (300+PA) at each level that posted BABIPs of .350 or above. For short-season levels, I used the "qualified" threshold instead of 300 PA.
MLB: 18 of 265 (6.79%)
AAA: 54 of 225 (24%)
AA: 44 of 235 (18.72%)
Hi-A: 41 of 234 (17.52%)
Low-A: 42 of 242 (17.36%)
SS-A: 39 of 129 (30.23%)
RK: 108 of 268 (40.30%)
In Double-A last year, it was nearly three times as common for a hitter to post a .350+ BABIP than it was in the majors. Green may have some skill in that area, but the odds he's a consistent .350+ BABIP player in the majors are basically zero. Ichiro, considered a master of BABIP, has a career .351 mark, for example. It would be a surprise to see Green be consistently over even .320, so unless his homer rate goes up or his strikeout rate goes down, he's likely to lose a fair amount of his average-and consequently OBP and slugging.
Now, prospecting is far from all about stats-there's the small matter of scouting information, where Green seems to grade out more highly, though again I'm not sure what makes him compelling enough to make people's Top 100 Prospect lists. And let's face it-the guy turns 25 in September and hasn't even seen Triple-A yet. It's not like we're talking about a young, projectable kid with his entire career in front of him, like Rashun Dixon or Aaron Shipman, two other statistically iffy A's outfield prospects I remain somewhat optimistic about. No, it's time for Green to put some things together.
Again, I hope he does, but as best I can tell, Green's best skill is that he might play an average center field for you. And that's certainly not a bad thing, but it's not the sort of thing that you build a long career as a first-division starter around.
Now, it should be noted that while Green is below-average in many areas, he doesn't have any Jai Miller-level weaknesses that totally preclude him from being a major league player.
If we assume that he doesn't really break through statistically and ends up as a .265/.320/.380 sort of hitter, Green becomes something of a "tweener"-he'd be a decent starting middle infielder or catcher, but isn't particularly interesting as a starter at any other position. Obviously, he's no longer a middle infielder, and he can't catch, so he'd seem to be looking at more of a fourth outfielder role, or perhaps a platoon gig.
Green was moved to the outfield in mid-2011, and since then, of course, the A's have acquired about a dozen outfielders, no exaggeration. Barring a breakout, Green wouldn't seem to be a particularly important part of the A's outfield plans going forward, with Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Michael Choice, Jermaine Mitchell, Collin Cowgill, Michael Taylor, and others all fighting for time in 2013 and beyond. And yet, at the same time, the A's don't have a single shortstop prospect worth anything, depending on who you consider a shortstop prospect. Eric Sogard, who got the majority of the time at the spot in Triple-A, is a nice utility player; beyond him, the A's had the spotty Tyler Ladendorf in Midland, strikeout king Dusty Coleman in Stockton, prospect but likely third baseman Yordy Cabrera in Burlington, and anonymous Sean Jamieson and Wilfredo Solano in the short-season leagues. Despite all their frantic trading, the team hasn't done anything to fortify the spot this offseason.
Given how much the landscape has changed since Green was moved to center, one has to at least wonder in passing if it makes sense to move Green back, right? Then you see that he's a career .930 fielder there, his range is considered adequate-ish, and his arm below-average, and suddenly it doesn't look that great.
So, what do we do with Grant Green? There's really nothing that strikes me as the slam-dunk right thing to do with him, honestly. The best thing my brain has cooked up is to go the Adrian Cardenas route and try to get Green experience at every position but catcher and use him as a multi-position rover, giving different lefties days off against southpaw pitchers, covering for injuries, and generally keeping positions above replacement level. And then, if one of these years he finds enough offense to stick full-time at a spot, then that's icing-Mark DeRosa and Jose Bautista are two examples of that, though Bautista's obviously an extremely atypical one.
Even that idea, though, doesn't really thrill me. So now, after over 1000 words of my rambling about Green, I'll throw it open to you guys-what's Green's best role on future A's teams?