With East Coast-groupie ESPN on the scene, it is hard to find, let alone believe, an undervalued, under-appreciated, or underrated player in any team brown-nosed by sports media giant ESPN on a regular basis; Boston, New York (Mets), New York (Yankees), and Philadelphia.
Somewhat like an old man prospecting for gold back in the 1840's, for the last twenty minutes I have been jumping up and down, running around, and screaming: "I FOUND IT, I FOUND IT!!!"
I found a truly underrated player. He plays in the American League East division. More specifically, he even plays for the Red Sox. I have already come to the conclusion that ESPN does not ride him because he doesn't hit the long ball. As if the title didn't tell you, it's Jacoby Ellsbury.
As a top prospect, like Clay Buchholz, Ellsbury was a victim of two things:
1) As a top prospect for the Red Sox, who have great national media exposure, Ellsbury wasn't the only prospect for Boston who got more than his fair share of hype surrounding him. This culminated before his Major League arrival, when Ellsbury was hyped as a can't-miss player.
2) Ellsbury also finds himself a victim of circumstance. In 2007 as a September call-up, Ellsbury lived up to the hype. Ellsbury hit .353 for the month, sustaining a .394 OBP and slugging at .509. Ellsbury also hit three home runs, stole nine bases in nine tries, walked eight times, and scored 20 runs. In the 2007 World Series, Ellsbury continued this trend, hitting .438. He slugged .688, with a .500 OBP. With these great numbers, Ellsbury set expectations very high for himself.
Not all of Ellsbury's hype was media created. In the minor leagues, Ellsbury established himself as a prolific leadoff hitter, hitting .314, scoring 174 runs, stealing 105 bases, and posting an .816 OPS over three Minor League seasons.
Ellsbury spent 2005 at low-A, 2006 with high-A and AA, and 2007 was split between AA and AAA for the most part. Ellsbury also spent September of 2007 with the Red Sox, and he hasn't left since.
His Minor League career included a great 2007 season. Between Portland and Pawtucket, Ellsbury hit .323, with a .387 OBP, 141 hits, 82 runs scored, and 41 stolen bases. Ellsbury was caught stealing only seven times, six of which occurred with Pawtucket. Also, Ellsbury put together that line in 436 at-bats, about 100 less than a Major League everyday player.
Other Minor League highlights include being a 2006 Carolina League All-Star, being named 2006 Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year, being named 2006 Red Sox Minor League Base Runner of the Year, earning an April 2007 Eastern League Player of the Month Award, being named to the 2007 Futures Game All-Star, and being named 2007 Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.
Now Ellsbury, for reasons beyond me, is seen as a bust by everyone. He didn't have as bad as a fall-off as Buchholz did. In my eyes, he didn't even have a fall-off. In 2008, as leadoff hitter for the Red Sox, Ellsbury hit .280, with a .336 OBP, nine homers, 47 RBI, 155 hits, 98 runs, and 50 stolen bases. Also, Ellsbury ranked sixth in the American League with seven triples.
Among leadoff hitters, only two players stole more bases than Ellsbury. Willy Taveras led the league with 68 steals, and Jose Reyes was close behind with 56 thefts. Ellsbury was third in the league with his 50 stolen bases.
Among leadoff hitters, only Hanley Ramirez (125), Jose Reyes (113), Ichiro (103), and Grady Sizemore (101) scored more runs than Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury scored 98 runs on the season.
Jacoby Ellsbury's numbers suggest that he was above average in every major stat among center fielders. Ellsbury hit .280, compared to the league average of .269. Ellsbury was right on the mark for the league average of home runs, with nine. Also, Ellsbury had 47 RBI compared to the average of 41. Finally, Ellsbury stole 50 bases, well over the league average of 13.
Ellbury is no slouch on defense, either. In 2008, Ellsbury boasted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage playing games in left, center, and right field. Ellsbury made no errors, and had four outfield assists. Three of those assists were from center field, and the other came from left. Also, Ellsbury boasted a 2.86 range factor at center field.
Seemingly, Ellsbury only has room to improve upon his good 2008 numbers. Ellsbury is only 25, so his best years are still ahead of him. If his Minor League numbers can accurately predict anything, then they show that Ellsbury is capable of being a better hitter.
In only high-A and AAA did Ellsbury not hit .300 in a Minor League stint. In those two stints, Ellsbury hit .299 and .298, respectively. Ellsbury even hit .452 at AA Portland.
Ellsbury has also been a great base runner throughout his career. He was hardly caught running in the Minors, and he continued that trend with the Red Sox in 2008. He was caught stealing 11 times.
Ellsbury is a lethal runner. He is one of the smartest base runners in the league, as well as one of the fastest. That is a deadly combination of attributes for a leadoff hitter to possess.
Finally, Ellsbury is also showing that he can improve. In the second half of the 2008 season, Ellsbury hit .290, compared to hitting .272 in the first half. However, in the second half, Ellsbury only stole 15 bases. His OBP dropped from .343 in the first half to .325 in the second half. However, at the same time, his SLG improved from .378 to .416.
While it is a breath of fresh air to have a very talented player on the Red Sox not be grossly overrated, I think it is a shame that Ellsbury is as underrated as he is.