Sunday, January 17, 2016

Random Former Prospect Sunday - Elvis Andrus

During the season, Sundays are set aside to take a look at a prospect at random, but with the minor league season over, I wasn't sure what to do for my Sunday article until this nugget of an idea came my way. How about we look at players who ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 while part of the Braves' organization, yet never appeared for the Braves? Over the next few months, I'll take a look at the prospects that were traded or simply faded away and just to keep up with my theme, I randomized the players.

Tom Szczerbowski | Getty
Much like the case was with Neftali Feliz, the Braves faithful never really had a chance to get excited about Elvis Andrus. Sure, by July of 2007, Andrus had already appeared in Baseball America's Top 100 twice, but he was still just in A-ball. Also, it wasn't like the Braves needed to worry about the shortstop position. Yunel Escobar had just arrived in the majors and was playing behind Kelly Johnson and the just-30 year-old Edgar Renteria. Andrus was nice, but the Braves were pretty set for the next few years.

Except...well, you know that story.

Andrus was just 18 years-old when he was dealt to the Rangers. Even so, he was considered so advanced and mature that he began his career, at 16, in the Gulf Coast League. Signed out of Venezuela, the standard assignment would have seen Andrus spend a year at the Braves' Dominican Academy, get some game action the next year in the Dominican Summer League, and head to the states for more rookie ball in his Age-18 year. But that was not for Andrus, who began the season hitting .295 in the Gulf Coast League. He even got a week with Danville to end the season. A .380 OBP at two rookie league stops? Where do I sign up?

2006 wasn't impressive on the surface - he only slashed .265/.324/.362 - but he was just 17 years-old when the season began. Ozhaino Albies was a full year older this year and was the youngest player in the South Atlantic League. With Andrus, his age and placement would have been enough to garner attention, but the fact that he was such a gifted gloveman was the icing on the cake. Sure, he committed a lot of errors (32 to be exact), but that's part of the learning experience for a young shortstop. Minor league infields are not nearly as maintained (especially in the low minors) and having Kala Ka'aihue at first base certainly won't help your errors numbers. Wow, Kala...how I had unreasonable hopes for you.

The next season, 2007, saw more of the same for Andrus. He flashed more speed, but his OPS was sitting around .665 when John Schuerholz got antsy. The Braves were 55-51 and 4.5 games back in the NL East. Scott Thorman had been a failure at first base while Julio Franco, who was at the end of his rope, was brought back to help out. But the problem for Schuerholz is that he felt by making the offense better, it might hide the deficiencies of a pitching staff that was abysmal. It was not a good plan. Tim Hudson and John Smoltz had no support in the rotation and were flanked by Chuck James, Buddy Carlyle, Kyle Davies, Jo-Jo Reyes, Lance Cormier, Mark Redman, Jeff Bennett, and Anthony Lerew during the 2007 season. The quantity did little to assist the quality. The bullpen was hardly shutdown, either. Bob Wickman's luck ran out, Oscar Villarreal wasn't vulturing wins, Tyler Yates's fastball had no movement, and Mike Gonzalez was hurt (shocker). The Braves had a clear issue, but Schuerholz still tried to make a good offense a great one, dealing Andrus with a cadre of excellent prospects for Mark Teixeira.

Atlanta would finish 28-27 over the final two months. Their offense was better (4.8 R/G to 5.5 R/G), but their pitching staff was just as awful (4.5 R/G). Some of Atlanta's problems after the move was just bad luck (they had a better pythW-L% with Teix than before), but the trade had done nothing to resolve their bigger issues.

For Andrus, the trade would benefit his offensive numbers. Playing in leagues easier to hit in, Andrus OPS'd .742 in 27 games with Bakersfield. After ascending to the Top 20 in Baseball America's mind, Andrus slashed .295/.350/.367 in his Age-19 season at AA. He added 54 steals as well. The next season, 2009, Andrus jumped from AA to the majors and finsihed second in the AL in the Rookie of the Year ballot.

The six years that followed have been pretty consistent. He has a .270/.331/.347 triple slash in the majors, though his numbers have declined over the last three years. He hits a few homers, gets 20+ steals, and has been a good defender (though not elite). His declining offensive numbers have led to pretty ugly WARs over the last couple of seasons, though. Signed to an 8-year, $120M contract that runs through the 2022 season, Andrus is one of those few players that are overpaid by Fangraphs' standards. They have a formula for estimating how much in dollars a player is worth based on his WAR. While being paid $15M in 2015, Andrus was worth $12.5M according to that website.

Ultimately, Andrus has yet to become the superstar many felt he could be. When his defense was graded as excellent while his offense was close to league average (2011-13), he maxed out as a 4 WAR player. Now that both have come down, he's rapidly entered the overpaid baseball players club. Still just 27, Andrus could conceivably get back to his higher WAR totals, but the chances that he becomes the superstar people dreamed about him when he was a 17 year-old at Rome. He's just not that guy.

Still...would have loved to been able to trade him for a pitcher.

Previous Random Former Prospects...
Bobby Smith

Bubba Nelson
Neftali Feliz
Gorkys Hernandez
Matt Belisle
Matt McClendon

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