Recently over at his MetsMinorLeagueBlog.com Toby Hyde made an interesting age-based comparison when he matched up Cesar Puello and Carlos Beltran. Hyde pointed out that they were both playing center field in Hi-A at age 20 and both put up mediocre stat lines. Here are their respective numbers:
Beltran – .229/.311/.363
Puello – .259/.310/.397
The big difference was in their walk rate. Beltran had a 9.7 BB/9 while Puello turned in a 3.7 mark last year. Only getting HBP 17 times kept Puello’s OBP as close as it was to Beltran’s.
It’s a very interesting comparison and perhaps a reason not to get too down on the year that Puello had at St. Lucie in 2011.
But there’s a couple of other things in the comparison worth noting. When Beltran played in the Carolina League in 1997, he was basically skipping a level. After being drafted by the Royals in the second round in 1995, Beltran held his own in the Rookie Gulf Coast League. The following year he played in the Northwest League, a short-season loop, where he showed increased patience and power from his professional debut.
Beltran played 11 games in the Lo-A Midwest League, where he posted a dismal .353 OPS. After witnessing this performance, the Royals’ braintrust decided that he had mastered that level and sent him to Hi-A in 1997. There’s no truth to the rumor that Tony Bernazard was making decisions for Kansas City that year.
Prior to the 1997 season, Beltran was rated as the 93rd best prospect in the majors by Baseball America. Previously, he was rated as the eighth-best prospect in the Northwest League and the Royals’ fourth-best prospect. Despite these accolades, Beltran struggled mightily as a 20 year old in Hi-A and did not make BA’s Top 100 list for 1998.
In addition to jumping a level, Beltran also had the misfortune of playing in the league’s toughest park for batters. Wilmington is a notorious pitcher’s park and while park factors for when Beltran played are not readily available, Baseball-Reference has three-year park factors from the 2006-08 seasons and Frawley Stadium had a multiplier of .91 for runs and .84 for HR in this span.
Beltran split the 1998 season between Hi-A and Double-A. He improved in his second go-round in Wilmington, going from a .673 OPS in 1997 to a .791 OPS before getting promoted to Double-A, where he tore the cover off the ball. He posted a .352/.427/.687 line in 208 PA in the Texas League before ending the year in the majors.
Meanwhile, Puello had a much more typical career progression. He, too, started his career in the Gulf Coast League and the following year he was in the short-season Appalachian League. But unlike Beltran, Puello spent a full season in Lo-A, as he amassed 469 PA for Savannah in 2010.
Puello was even higher ranked than Beltran coming into his season at Hi-A. He was rated as the Mets’ number-three prospect before last season by BA and he ranked 77th on their annual Top 100 list.
The scouting reports are still positive on Puello and he ranks fifth on BA’s Top 10 list for the Mets for 2012. Here’s what BA thinks the future holds for Puello:
“If he can learn to lay off pitches he can’t drive, Puello can become a first-division regular in right field. His youth and strong work ethic will work in his favor when he tackles Double-A at age 21.”
Puello received a lot of hype and many view his 2011 as a major disappointment. But while the Beltran comparisons are a bit lofty, there’s still reason to be excited about what Puello brings to the table. BA pointed out how in his final 194 ABs, he posted a .294/.344/.474 line. While St. Lucie is a good hitter’s park for the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, most Mets hitting prospects put up better numbers in Double-A Binghamton.
We should find out a lot more about Puello as a prospect this year. Hopefully he can continue to show increased power. Last year he upped his HR output from 1 in 2010 to 11. A similar jump is not out of the question for 2012. Hopefully, Puello can rediscover some of the patience he lost last year. After he posted a 6.8 BB% in 2010 that number was almost cut in half last year.