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May 3, 2000

Four Outfielders

How Some Rookies are Faring

by Derek Zumsteg

Peter Bergeron, the young Expos center fielder, has something as rarely seen in Quebec as a sweet-smelling separatist: good plate discipline. Baseball Prospectus 2000 projected him at .300/.376/.419 this year, but he's hitting .227/.299/.241. I hope this is only an amazingly bad month, because Bergeron has shown thoughtout his minor-league career that he's a hitting talent. There is another disturbing possibility, which is that Felipe Alou has gotten to him.

Alou's teams don't walk, and this one is no exception: 15th in the National League in drawing walks so far. I've always been a strong believer in plate discipline as the cornerstone of offensive talent. If a player can't control the strike zone, his performance will be limited as pitchers adjust and feed him unhittable junk, rendering his power and speed useless. Bergeron has the capability to be a great player. If he can focus on taking pitches and working his way on base, the rest of his game will fall into place.

The Rangers' Ruben Mateo is a different case. Mateo has never had great plate discipline, but it's been accepted as part of the deal, like buying a Viper and knowing you'll be ticketed for speeding while ordering at the Wendy's drive-through window. Mateo, expected to tear up the American League, has hit .281/.343/.396, which is about league-average strike zone judgement without much power.

Mateo was widely expected to hit for power, strike out and not take walks, but he's taken seven free passes already and struck out only 14 times. This is about in line with the BP 2000 projection. Mateo has never slugged less than .400 in his career, so this is likely just bad luck at the start of the season.

Fortunately for him, Mateo has been shielded from scrutiny by the recent media love swoon for Vladimir Guerrero, Mike Bordick and even Shawn Green. But unless the power returns, it's only a matter of time before speculation starts that Mateo is injured again, and the fragility label, applied for the umpteenth time, may be too sticky to peel off this time.

Speaking of labels, I think label-ignoring Mark Quinn is awesome. The only press he's getting is the K-Swiss ads, but Quinn may well be the newest Edgar Martinez: a great hitter held down by the Man for too long, biding his time, waiting for the payback. I see Vin Diesel as Quinn in "Quinn's Big Score", coming soon to a contract negotiation near you. Quinn is hitting .291/.344/.500, spending his time mostly at DH, and only Jermaine Dye's amazing start is keeping Quinn from his place in the spotlight. It will come.

And you already know about J.D. Drew, hitting .357/.491/.690 and still inexplicably fighting for playing time. While nagging injuries have helped keep him on the bench, there's another problem. Tony LaRussa is like Lou Piniella these days, recognized as being past his prime (in Piniella's case, an imagined prime), but weirdly immune to sanity, learning or removal. I think the Cardinals should make Drew the manager, so he can fill out a rational lineup card.

Eric Davis: Um, Mr. Drew, I noticed that I'm not in the lineup again. Can I ask why?

J.D. Drew: It's like, you're not as good as I am, okay? Maybe you'll like play on Scrub Day Sunday, cool?

Davis: Cool.

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