On Monday evening, news broke that Ichiro Suzuki had been traded to the New York Yankees for two minor league pitching prospects, therefore closing the chapter on his career as a Seattle Mariner. Although the 38-year-old outfielder will help solidify an ailing Yankees’ outfield, he’s a shell of the player that he once was.
After 10 consecutive seasons in which he batted at least .303/.350/.386 with 26 stolen bases, Ichiro had the worst season of his storied career in 2011 when he batted .272/.310/.335 and failed to make the American League All-Star team for the first time since entering the league in 2001—the year he won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP award in the American League.
His best season came in 2004 when he led the league with a .372 batting average and 262 hits, breaking George Sissler’s longstanding, single-season hits record. According to BaseballReference.com, Ichiro posted a 9.0 WAR—boosted by a 2.4 dWAR for his exceptional play in right field—highlighted by a .869 OPS, 37 extra-base hits and 36 stolen bases.
Since 2001, the left-handed hitter has led the league in hits six different times, averaging 222 in a typical 162-game season, and won two American League batting titles (2001, 2004).
Overall, Ichiro has amassed 2,534 hits, 473 extra-base hits, 1,176 runs scored, 439 stolen bases and 792 K/513 BB in 1,845 career games.
But as we look to the minor leagues, it’s always fun to speculate if there's the next Ichiro Suzuki waiting to break through. Given his insane hit tool—one of the best in baseball history—on-base skills and speed, the answer is simple: no. I feel confident saying that there will never be another hitter like Ichiro.
However, if we lower the threshold and look at those who possesses an above-average to plus hit tool, advanced on-base skills and plus speed, there are numerous prospects who come to mind.
Low-A: .329/.387/.526, 40 XBH (13 HR), 70 RBI, 38 SB, 57 K/34 BB (94 G)
After struggling in the lower-minors from 2009-2011, Polanco has made huge strides in 2012, and has been one of the top offensive performers this season at Low-A. His power has finally blossomed and he’s become more selective at the plate, which has led to career-highs in every offensive category. A wiry, 6’4” left-handed hitter, he has a frame that still leaves room for projection with a solid foundation already in place.
Low-A: .285/.383/.395, 25 XBH (7 3B), 39 SB, 47 K/44 BB (80 G)
A highly talented and impressive athlete coming out of college, Peterson’s baseball skills are still catching up to his raw talent. But in his first full professional season, the results have been highly encouraging—especially his advanced plate discipline. Only time will tell if his power develops as hoped, but his ability to reach bases and accumulate steals is already present, with room to improve.
High-A: .359/.480/.526, 31 XBH (26 2B), 16 SB, 40 K/52 BB (67 G)
Double-A: .302/.395/.481, 15 XBH (10 2B), 6 SB, 25 K/19 BB (33 G)
The 40th overall selection in the 2011 First Year Player Draft, Bradley has enjoyed one of the more impressive seasons among minor league hitters this year. He doesn’t have a lot of pop, but he has insanely good plate discipline that allows him to let the ball travel deep and use the entire field. He consistently draws more walks than strikeouts, which allows him to utilize his above-average speed and steal bases with regularity.
Double-A: .300/.451/.325, 6 SB, 8 K/6 BB (11 G)
Triple-A: .376/.454/.535, 43 XBH (34 2B), 32 RBI, 30 SB, 47 K/39 BB (86 G)
Although Eaton may never receive the opportunity to be more than a fourth outfielder at the major league level, he’s demonstrated the ability to be a legitimate top-of-the-order threat at the plate this season. He paces all minor leaguers with 147 hits and 108 runs in 97 games, and due to his advanced on-base skills, has stolen 36 bases in 44 chances.
Double-A: .290/.352/.404, 33 XBH (25 2B), 27 SB, 60 K/26 BB (101 G)
After a dismal start to the 2012 season, Brown has been on fire since June and, as a result, has seen his stats improve across the board. After a highly impressive 2011 season, his power has faded while his plate discipline has worsened. However, he’s recently improved his contact rate, which has led to a higher on-base percentage and more stolen bases.
Low-A: .319/.383/.552, 51 XBH (15 HR), 50 RBI, 27 SB, 82 K/41 BB (96 G)
Arguably the top breakout prospect of 2012 thus far, Hanson consistently shows all five tools and may have the ability to remain at shortstop. He makes consistent, hard contact with enough power to jump the yard to all fields, and should steal his fair share of bases due to his on-base skills and aggressiveness on the basepaths.
Low-A: .304/.359/.489, 31 XBH (8 HR), 19 SB, 33 K/21 BB (69 G)
High-A: .266/.284/.380, 5 XBH, 14 K/2 BB (20 G)
Enjoying a breakout season and having already received a promotion, Williams isn’t one to walk a lot. However, his excellent hand-eye coordination and pitch recognition allow him to make consistent contact without registering too many strikeouts. Furthermore, he’s an aggressive basestealer who has seen his power emerge over the first half of the season.
Low-A: .302/.406/.442, 33 XBH (8 HR), 71 SB, 92 K/62 BB (95 G)
After a down season at Low-A in 2011, DeShields is repeating the level and enjoying one of the best bounce-back seasons among all prospects. He’s making considerably more hard contact and using the whole field, and his plate discipline has vastly improved. He still strikes out more than desired for a top-of-the-order hitter, but at least his walks have spiked this season. Perhaps his best asset is his plus—arguably double-plus—speed, which has resulted in the second-most stolen bases in the minor leagues behind Billy Hamilton.
High-A: .323/.413/.439, 28 XBH (9 3B), 104 SB, 70 K/50 BB (82 G)
Double-A: .333/.455/.528, 4 XBH, 8 SB, 7 K/8 BB (11 G)
Ah yes, the fastest player in baseball. After shortening the gap between his outstanding athleticism and baseball skills, Hamilton is in the midst of a breakout campaign and has even asserted his place on the big-league radar. He’s posted a seemingly sustainable slash line at High-A and now Double-A, and is on pace to challenge Vince Coleman’s stolen base record (143 in 1983). And so the saying goes with a player like Hamilton, “speed never goes into a slump.”
Low-A: .266/.359/.384, 28 XBH (20 2B), 19 SB, 53 K/43 BB (86 G)
Only 18-years-old and already one of the premier shortstop prospects in the game, Lindor’s plate discipline has been shockingly good this season—although his batting average has waned as of late. He has the plus defense in all regards needed to remain at shortstop and figures to be a fixture at the top of the Indians’ batting order for the duration of his career.