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March 17, 2010

Future Shock Blog

Breaking Down Julio Borbon

by Kevin Goldstein

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With Julio Borbon penciled (or more accurately, penned) in as the centerfielder and leadoff man for the Texas Rangers, we can now get down to the nitty-gritty here. How good can he be? His tools profile as a classic old-school CF/No. 1 hitter, so let's check how well those translate on the field. The role Texas envisions for Borbon contains three primary components, so here's a breakdown: 

Running: Tools-wise this isn't a problem, as Borbon has 70 speed on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, or "plus-plus." He also knows how to use that speed on the basepaths, stealing 97 bases over the past two years, including 44 last year between the minors and majors combined with an impressive 80% success rate. Defensively, his wheels allow him to cover plenty of ground. 

Playing Defense: While his range isn't an issue, his arm is. We're not talking Johnny Damon noodle-like arm strength, but we're not talking much better either. It's a liability, but also a common one for players like Borbon. The good news here is that Texas couldn't find a better tutor than Gary Pettis, who despite his offensive shortcomings as a player, is arguably the best defensive outfielder of his generation. 

Getting On Base: This is where things might get a bit problematic. Borbon certainly can hit. His career minor league batting average is .310, and he's hit above .300 at every level. His .317 batting average during his big league debut last year is probably a bit fluky, as players just don't hit better in the majors, but there's no reason not to see him flirting with .300 annually. The question really revolves around plate discipline, as leadoff men are expected to work the count and reach base via the walk as well to boost their on-base percentage. For many, the baseline here is a 10% walk rate -- that is, if a player has 500 at-bats, one wants to see a minimum of 50 walks. Borbon's career minor league rate is just 6.6%, although there has been some progress including an 8.1% mark at Triple-A, followed by a shockingly good 9.6% rate with Texas. If this is real progress, it spells great things for the Rangers' chances in the American League West. Unfortunately, the small sample sizes bring up a fear of flukiness, and this spring he's returned to his free-swinging ways, walking just twice in 37 at-bats (5.4%). 

Our PECOTA projection system, which uses historical comparables to forecast the future, sees many players similar to Borbon, with the most similar being former Padre Alan Wiggins, as well as current big leaguer Juan Pierre, who has carved out an 11-year career with a similar skill set. If the walks come around, everything could change, but for now, the system sees Borbon hitting a solid-yet-unspectacular .286/.335/.394 at the top of the Rangers' lineup without a lot of growth potential from there. He's the kind of player a team is happy to have, while they keep an eye out for something better. 

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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