John Mayberry Jr. to Become the Phillies Next Breakout Star?
In a time where huge payrolls and absurd contracts are becoming common place, teams across the league are always looking for cheap, controllable players that have a chance to become legitimate stars.
While each and every team clings to the idea that players they've drafted will someday contribute at the Major League level, there are some times where we're forced to just face facts: It's not going to work.
Jayson Werth is the prime example of a player with plenty of raw talent who just couldn't put things together at the Major League level. Drafted by the Baltimore Orioles as a catcher, the team tried everything to milk the potential from his thunderous bat, before finally giving up and sending him to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Jays tried to do the same thing. They spent a few years tinkering with his stance and working on his coordination before finally deciding that the best path for their franchise would be to cash in on what value he had left as a prospect and send him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade.
After a very solid 2004 season, the Dodgers thought they were on to something. Werth broke out with 16 home runs, showing glimpses of all five of the "tools" scouts love to see: Power, speed, defense, arm strength and batting average.
The following season wasn't kind to the promising young outfielder, however, as he suffered a wrist injury and the Dodgers feared that he would never be able to swing the bat the same way again. Unwilling to tender him a contract and give him a raise as a risky player, they cut him loose and the Phillies swooped in.
It's important to remember now that the Phillies of 2007 were not the same as the National League beasts of 2011. They didn't have a huge payroll and an ace to take the mound every day but a couple of promising, young rookies, solid veterans, and All-Star caliber players just finding their niche. In an attempt to find some cheap value, they took a chance on Werth as a bench player.
Charlie Manuel was very pleased with Werth's production against left handed pitchers, eventually making his way into the lineup against lefties on a daily basis before taking Geoff Jenkins' job for good.
The rest is history.
So after that brief recap of Werth's career to date, it isn't hard to see why outfielders who follow the same path draw similar reviews. In fact, way before the season started, I wrote about how Ben Francisco could be poised for a break-out season, and we see the results of 2011 are more broken than anything.
It's hard to predict what kind of impact a player could have on his club, and for that reason alone, what I'm about to write should be taken with a grain of salt. Today, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports posted his daily column, and in it were a few interesting snippets about Phillies' outfielder John Mayberry Jr.
In it, he notes that some scouts that he recently spoke to see Mayberry as a "potential late bloomer," and compared him to Werth and Washington Nationals break-out player, Michael Morse—all of whom are tall, lanky right handed hitters with power.
While Mayberry has yet to realize his full potential, the path to the Major League taken by these three players is strikingly similar. Like Werth, the Nationals took a chance on Morse, a failed shortstop in the Seattle Mariners organization, and moved him to a position to better amplify his power. And the early results are promising.
The same could be said about Mayberry, whom the Phils decided to take a chance on following the 2008 season. Feeling as though they couldn't get the production they desired out of draft pick and fellow outfielder Greg Golson, the Phils struck a deal with the Texas Rangers, swapping promising outfield prospects, Golson and Mayberry—both of whom were struggling with their current organizations and looking for a chance of scenery.
The Phillies had high hopes for Mayberry's tremendous power reserve, and they believed that the confines of Citizens' Bank Park would play well to his swing. As it turned out, they felt as though he may never blossom into a Major League regular, despite being a first-round pick twice.
They sent him to the bench in need of a right-handed stroke, and when Francisco came to town at the 2009 trade deadline, Mayberry's services were no longer needed, and he was sent back to the Minor League.
Mayberry's problems were clear. First of all, he simply couldn't hit right handed pitching. Albeit in brief stints with the Major League club, the Phillies saw a huge hitch in his swing that would keep him from being productive. The second knock was the incredible rate in which he was striking out. In both of his stints with the Phillies in 2009 and 2010, Mayberry struck out in more than 30 percent of his at-bats.
For the remainder of 2010 and the 2011 season, the Phillies' coaching staff provided Mayberry with certain goals to work towards in the Minor League. Knowing that he could hit left-handed pitching, they told him to work on hitting right-handed pitchers, and most importantly, make contact with the ball.
The result was a minor tinkering with his stance, and in 2011, it seems like John Mayberry Jr. is finally putting things together.
After struggling early in the season, the outfielder went to AAA and worked on his problem areas, returning in July like a man who's pants were on fire. To date, he has lowered his rate of strike outs by more than 10 percent, and his OPS of .793 vs. right-handed pitchers is surpassed by only Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard.
To measure his production, FanGraphs uses a statistic called "Weighted Runs Created," (wRC+), which "attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs." The stat is very self-explanatory. To understand the basics, all you need to know is that a wRC+ of 100 is average and anything north of that is better than league average.
To date, through 67 games, Mayberry has registered a wRC+ of 124, bested only by Victorino, Utley and Hunter Pence, who's extremely small sample size of 10 games makes him a misleading leader in this category.
Simply put, when he's played, Mayberry has generated runs. And thanks to good base running and defense in the outfield, where he's played all three positions, he's generated more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Ryan Howard in 47 fewer games and at just a fraction of the cost.
With those numbers in mind, it isn't hard to see that the improvements Mayberry has made over the last few seasons are helping him adjust to Major League pitching and to begin reaching his potential. Whether or not he's able to become a break-out start like Werth and Morse remains to be seen, but with Raul Ibanez becoming a free agent at season's end and Domonic Brown's production at the Major League level a grey area, having a surging Mayberry in the fold for the foreseeable future is certainly not a bad idea.
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