Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista: Will There Ever Be Another Like Him?
Jose Bautista is the most dangerous hitter in baseball, and it's not even close. The man has no rival.
That's an incredible statement to be able to make in 2011, considering the Toronto Blue Jays slugger hit .235 with 13 home runs just two seasons ago. There has never been a player quite like him in the history of the game, but does that mean we'll never see another Jose Bautista?
I set out to find who could be the next player to have a Bautista-like meteoric raise later in his career. By using Bautista's career numbers entering last season as a starting point, I came up with a handful of guys who compare to Joey Bats before the start of last season.
Entering his breakout 2010 campaign, Bautista was 29 years old, had just over 2,000 plate appearances in the Major Leagues and had never hit more than 24 home runs in any season at any level (he hit 24 total in 2005 between the majors, Triple-A and Double-A).
Using those numbers, I was able to weed out most of the guys who immediately came to mind as potential post-hype sleepers. For instance, Travis Snider is too young (23), Brandon Wood already has a track record as a minor league power hitter (he hit 43 bombs in 2005) and Nolan Reimold doesn't have a long enough MLB track record (about 500 plate appearances).
What started as an attempt to find the next Jose Bautista ended as an example of just how amazing it is that Bautista has evolved into the most feared hitter in the game. After doing the research, I'm convinced there won't be another like him. Here are the players I found who've had similar careers to Bautista prior to 2010...
Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
28 years old
2,677 plate appearances
High of 26 HR with CIN in 2008
Lightening couldn't strike the same place twice, could it?
Another Toronto Blue Jay, Encarnacion made his major league debut as a 22-year-old and has yet to refine his approach. He has shown impressive flashes of power in the past, knocking out 26 long balls with the Reds in 2008 and 21 with the Blue Jays last season but has struggled with inconsistency. Encarnacion, mired in another one of his slumps, sits homerless so far in 2011.
Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks
28 years old
2,897 plate appearances
High of 21 HR with ARI in 2008
Drew is a former first-round pick with an All-Star brother who is already one of the better offensive shortstops in baseball, so he’s not exactly a no-name. He's probably the biggest star on this list, but he’s no slugger. Unlike some other guys on this list, Drew plays his home games in a very hitter-friendly park. After all, Chase Field helped Luis Gonzalez make the transformation from solid everyday player to star slugger.
Seth Smith, Colorado Rockies
28 years old
1,065 plate appearances
High of 17 HR with COL in 2010
Another guy who plays in a hitter's haven, Smith falls short of what I was looking for in terms of plate appearances, but everything else syncs up. The former backup quarterback to Eli Manning at Ole Miss is on pace for well over 400 at bats for the first time in his career. If he could ever get a handle on left-handed pitching, Smith would develop into a dangerous hitter.
Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
28 years old
2,155 plate appearances
High of 24 HR between Double-A and Single-A in 2003
Gutierrez may be the closest replica to Bautista I could find. He's a very good athlete who has shown some pop but strikes out far too often. Best known for being a Gold Glove center fielder, Gutierrez will see his power numbers sapped by Safeco Field as long as he plays in Seattle. He recently made his season debut after a mysterious stomach ailment kept him out.
Conor Jackson, Oakland A's
29 years old
2,206 plate appearances
High of 15 HR with ARI in 2006 and '07
A former member of the Baby Backs, a group of up-and-coming Arizona stars, Jackson was once an exciting, polished young hitter. That seems like so long ago. The past two seasons, he has been hampered by freak illnesses and injuries, making him a shell of his former self. Now fully healthy, Jackson at least has the opportunity to get his career back on track.
Two More Just for Fun: Wily Mo Pena, Matt Murton
Wily Mo Pena
29 years old
1,725 plate appearances
High of 26 HR with CIN in 2004
Once one of the hottest prospects around, Pena has been out of Major League Baseball since 2008. He even spent the second half of '09 playing for the independent league Bridgeport Bluefish. After spending 2010 with the Padres Triple-A affiliate, Pena is back with the Diamondback's Triple-A team, the Reno Aces. Wily Mo has also returned to hammering homers, already pounding out 14 to go with a 1.203 OPS.
29 years old
1,058 plate appearances
High of 16 HR between CHC, Triple-A, Double-A in 2005
A star at Georgia Tech, former first-round pick, once traded for Nomar Garciaparra, now a star in Nippon Professional Baseball. Murton made headlines when he broke Ichiro's single-season hits record in Japan, tallying 214 hits in 144 games. He is definitely making the most of his time with the Hanshin Tigers but has expressed that he would like to play in the MLB again someday.
Joey Bats Stands Alone
There you have it. I think the fact that the list of guys who could be the next Jose Bautista includes a guy who has been out of the majors the past two seasons and a guy who is playing a world away says everything you need to know about Jose Bautista, where he's came from and what he's done.
Take any of the players on this list and imagine them hitting 50 home runs in a season. That's essentially what Bautista has done, and he's backing it up. As I wrote this piece, Bautista crushed his major league-leading 19th home run of the season.
There's never been another player like Bautista and there never will be. Some fans will call him a fluke and wait for him to fall. Others will call him a cheat and assume he used performance enhancing drugs to slug his way to the top. I know we've all been burnt by this line of thinking before, but what we should be doing is enjoying this and celebrating Jose Bautista—the home run king of this new era of the pitcher.
To hear more of my thoughts on Bautista and more, check out today's podcast at BaseballByTom.com.