What chance does Reese Havens have of being a useful MLB regular?

This is Reese Havens’ age 25 season. After a brutal first two months, where he was injured yet again, Havens has started to come alive at the plate. In June and July, he is 42-155 for a .271 AVG. Havens also has 7 HR and 29 BB in that stretch, proving that he remains an intriguing middle infield prospect.

Every team wants a guy who can provide solid offense in the middle of the field. It is what made Daniel Murphy at second base a worthwhile experiment and it is what is keeping Havens on various top prospect lists for the Mets. But at this point in his career, the odds are overwhelmingly against Havens ever contributing much in the majors.

Havens is at Double-A and it is unlikely that he gets called up before rosters expand in September. It’s quite possible he does not see the majors at all this season. If he does, chances are he will not see any meaningful playing time. Which means the earliest that Havens will contribute significantly is in his age 26 season.

In the last 25 years (1987-2011) there have been 1,032 players to get 50 or more PA in their debut season. If we limit those to infielders (2B, 3B, SS) we get 363 players. If we limit those to second basemen, we get 131. If we limit them to second baseman age 26 or above, we get 22.

However, we have already stipulated that Havens may get a handful of PA this season. So, let’s look at the group of second basemen in the last 25 years that got 50 or more PA in either their first or second season, at age 25. This gives us a sample of 122 seasons and 105 players. So, in the last 25 seasons, in this age group roughly four second basemen per year come up and make their MLB debut and get 50 or more PA in either their first or second season.

How many of those end up being regulars?

Only 11 of them ended up combining for at least 2.0 bWAR over their first two seasons in the majors. So, in the last 25 years, roughly every other year someone at Havens’ age comes up to the majors and becomes a contributor. How many of those players are really comps for Havens?

We can eliminate two right off the bat. Akinori Iwamura and Tadahito Iguchi were regulars in Japan before coming over to this country. That leaves us the following nine players (now roughly once every three years) who fit into Havens’ profile, ranked by their bWAR:

Mark Ellis
Dan Uggla
Junior Spivey
Ian Kinsler
Kelly Johnson
Jason Kipnis
Orlando Hudson
Jeff Frye
Chase Utley

That’s a pretty nice list. Unfortunately for Havens, the majority of them got a significant head start by their age 25 season. Here’s how many PA they accumulated by the completion of their age 25 season in the majors:

Ellis – 404
Kinsler – 906
Johnson – 811
Kipnis – 558
Hudson – 728
Frye – 230
Utley – 439

Which leaves us two players who got their start in the majors at age 26 or later – Uggla and Spivey.

Spivey was a 36th-round draft choice in 1996 who posted back-to-back seasons in the minors with 500 PA. Apparently, he was injured parts of the following two seasons, as he amassed just 354 PA in his age 24-25 seasons. Spivey made his MLB debut at age 26 and had a solid half season, with a 94 OPS+ in 195 PA. The following year was his career-best, as he posted a 117 OPS+ in 626 PA. Spivey played parts of three more seasons in the majors, posting a 91 OPS+ over 964 PA. His last action in the majors came in 2005. He kicked around the minors a few more seasons, finally calling it quits after spending 2009 in two different Independent Leagues.

Of course Uggla is the one everyone always throws out as the comparison for Havens. It makes sense, as offensively they profile similarly, although Uggla has more power. But how similarly were their paths to the majors?

Uggla was an 11th-round draft pick out of Memphis. The year he signed he notched 312 PA playing for Yakima in the short-season Northwest League. Havens had 97 PA in the short-season New York-Penn League after he was drafted. Uggla topped his debut season in PA each of his other four years in the minors. Here are Havens’ yearly PA totals:

2008 – 97
2009 – 430
2010 – 140
2011 – 255
2012 – 293 (and counting)

In Hi-A ball, Uggla had an .840 OPS in 981 PA. At the same level Havens had a .797 OPS in 508 PA. However, Uggla played in a much friendlier hitting environment. In Double-A, Uggla posted an .880 OPS in the Southern League while Havens has an .817 OPS in parts of two seasons in the Eastern League, two comparable environments.

Quite simply, Uggla was both better and healthier in the minors than Havens.

Perhaps if Havens had been healthier, he would have hit as good or better than Uggla did. And if my aunt had testicles she would be my uncle. No one denies that Havens has ability. But for whatever reason, the gods have not deemed him worthwhile to keep healthy on a consistent basis.

I would love it if Havens could come to the majors and hit like a poor man’s Uggla. That would definitely be a guy worth having. But there’s very little recent historical precedent for a second baseman to shake off injury problems to the extent Havens has had and develop into a major league regular. Uggla just didn’t have those injuries.

Frye and Spivey are much better comps on the injury front. Spivey shook off two injury-truncated seasons in the minors to amass 457 games in the majors. Frye’s injuries didn’t show up until the majors, where he missed two full seasons. But he’s still a guy who got a late start in the majors and had significant injury problems. Frye finished with 667 games in the majors.

At this point in time, I see Frye and Spivey – not Uggla – as the upside for Havens. Even if you insist that Uggla be included, that still leaves three guys in the last 25 years to do what we *hope* Havens can do. Forgive me if I don’t like those odds.

Injuries have robbed Havens of having the major league career it looked like he was destined for when the Mets drafted him in the first round back in 2008. It stinks that this is the way it worked out for him. Unfortunately at this point in time Havens is nothing more than an org solider. In my opinion, he is no more likely to have 1,000 PA in the majors than Brad Emaus, Josh Satin or Zach Lutz – to name three older infielders currently in the Mets’ farm system.

I want to be wrong on this. Back in 2008 I was thrilled that the Mets took Havens and I wanted him to be the club’s starting 2B before now. Last August I wrote an article advocating for the Mets to call him up to the majors to see what they had. It would be erroneous to label me as being anti-Havens.

Right now my concern is that the Mets do with Havens what they did with Fernando Martinez last year. If you recall, the Mets protected Martinez for the Rule 5 Draft and then removed him from the roster, losing a hard-throwing reliever – Rhiner Cruz – in the process. Of course they lost Martinez, too. But there was less of a chance losing the injury-prone Martinez in the Rule 5 Draft than a relief pitcher who hits the upper 90s.

Havens should not be on the 40-man roster when the 2012 Rule 5 Draft rolls around. Some other team can try to buy a lottery ticket and hope for an Uggla-like payoff. They say the lottery is a tax on those who are bad at math. Maybe the Rule 5 Draft can be a $50,000 tax on teams who ignore history. Besides, there’s a far greater chance that another club would carry a pitcher like Darin Gorski or Collin McHugh for an entire season than an injury-prone 26-year-old second baseman.

7 comments for “What chance does Reese Havens have of being a useful MLB regular?

  1. Metsense
    July 22, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Great research and strong argument. It will be the reference source for those who think Havens should not be on the 40 man roster.

  2. Miets Master
    July 22, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Intriguing data mining to support a view that is just a supposition. None of the guys you mentioned had Havens’ specific injury (up until the past couple of years, it wasn’t even an accepted diagnosis), and few of them had his offensive talent. Result is you’re mixing apples with oranges and giving it the window dressing of data mining to speculate on a unique situation. Time will tell.

    • July 22, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      The thing is, it’s not just one injury with Havens. Here’s a partial list: elbow, groin, quadriceps, hand, oblique and back.

  3. Miets Master
    July 22, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Brian — Thanks for accepting a divergent view without responding with flames. None were intended by me.

    • July 22, 2012 at 11:00 pm

      The world would be a very boring place if everyone had the same opinion.

      I have no problem when people disagree with me. My only thing is that we all act like civil, rational adults. I hope you’ll come back and read and comment on some of our other stories here at the site.

  4. David Groveman
    July 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    I’m Captain Optimism and I’ve seen Havens play, so I’m also vested in that swing. He’s got a shot at being an impact bat who can field the position. He’s hardly a HR prospect and his stock is hurt, but I think that if he finishes the year on the pace he’s shown since July began he’ll be worth having around.

    • 7train
      July 23, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      I definitely think he’s worth keeping on the 40. There is no way you can lump him in with Emaus, Satin and Lutz. It will come down to a pure scouting and medical projection and he should get the benefit of the doubt because his upside is pretty big. 2013 he can (hopefully) provide AAA depth (instead of Emaus)in case of injury and 2014 split 2B with Tejada when/if Tovar takes SS. That would be a damn fine MI if it comes together which should be the goal at every position.

      Alderson etal only had 250 minor league AB’s to evaluate Fern for themselves and I think there is no way he doesn’t get nabbed in the rule 5. Big name, big talent, very likely DH, Cruz was a guy I was disappointed to lose but his electric arm doesn’t do too much above the DWL and Fl St. League. Either way neither guy has done anything and doesn’t even remotely compare with losing Flores who at 21 had 30 doubles and 20 HR’s while playing a good defensive catcher in A+. Also I can’t see Puello being taken and that’s the spot that could have saved Cruz.

      Very well written and researched article and just one of many tough decisions facing the Mets this off season.

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