Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
by alex ciepley
Not too long ago, minor leaguer David Kelton was the Next Great Hope at third for the Cubs. These were the heady days, pre-Aramis, where memories of Gary Scott had faded and dreams of Kelton clicking his heels seemed plausible.
To be honest, there were always some doubts that he'd stay at third, but few that he wouldn't hit in the bigs. The 2003 Baseball America Prospect Handbook said as much following Kelton's 2002 season:
[A]t 22 he wasn't old for Double-A, led the Southern League in homers, RBIs, and extra-base hits, and managers rated him the league's best batting prospect. Kelton own a pure swing and there's little doubt that he can hit .275 with 20-25 homers in the majors.
The publication projected the same results in their 2004 book, if not in the same rosy tone:
[Kelton's] bat speed and plate coverage should make him a .275 hitter with 20-25 homers annually.
In a year, Kelton went from "little doubt" to "should". And after the 2004 season, I think you'd now go with "probably not". Kelton spent the year in AAA putting up the underwhelming line of .245/.303/.448.
For what it's worth, Kelton's having a great go of it in Venezuela this offseason. He's playing for Oriente Carires in the Venezualan Winter League, hitting 323/397/583. With 9 doubles and 8 homers so far (127 at-bats), he's displaying some nice pop.
Unfortunately, he's striking out a third of the time (44 Ks) and not walking much (14 BB), signs that he still can't control the strike zone. I think it's his Achilles heel, and it has yet to be addressed in his game at any level.
I asked All-Baseball.com's prospect maven Bryan Smith for his opinion on Kelton.
Kelton has gotten to the point where his inclusion on the 40-man roster is hardly a given. For too long it was assumed his bat was good enough to allow him not to play any position well, but he just can't hit advanced pitching. There is a chance he'll resurface somewhere on a bench, as a Wes Helms type, but that's sure not saying a lot. Simply put, one of the most disappointing happenings of the Cubs' system in recent years.
I'm actually more confident in the bat of Matt Craig, a 23-year-old that put up an OPS more than seventy points higher than Kelton did at the same level in 2002.
You know what blows my mind? Kelton is still a few weeks away from turning 25, which is shocking to me because it seems like he's been around forever. Actually, he has been around forever: 2005 will be his eighth season as a pro. How's them apples?