April 6, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
By far, the most common question showing up in my mailbox this week--during those periods when I've actually had access to my e-mail, thank you, Time Warner--concerns Red Sox third baseman Shea Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand, who did not make the cut for Baseball Prospectus 2001, did make the Sox roster thanks to a .423 batting average in 52 spring at-bats.
The problem is that Hillenbrand's primary skill is hitting for average. He did not draw a single walk in Florida, continuing a trend that has seen him walk fewer than 100 times in 2,032 minor-league at-bats. Drafted as a catcher, a knee injury suffered in 1999 moved him out from behind the plate, and he's now a first baseman/third baseman.
Keith Law, our resident Red Sox expert, offered this evaluation of Hillenbrand:
"He's a hacker, and ex-catcher who blew out his knee and will probably never catch again. He plays a passable third base at best, probably destined to be a first baseman with a Rico Brogna bat. The Trenton guys were high on him, but I don't think he's really in Boston's long-term plans."
Here's Clay Davenport's Wilton projection for Hillenbrand:
AB H D T HR BB SO R RBI SB CS OUT AVG OBP SLG EqA EqR 469 132 23 1 13 16 42 58 56 5 3 340 .281 .305 .418 .239 47
A .239 EqA from a corner infielder isn't going to push the Sox towards a title. The three-year, $14.9-million contract just handed to Jason Varitek--and there's a column in that move alone--makes it pretty clear that they don't intend to move Hillenbrand back behind the plate.
What does that leave? It leaves the Sox giving a job to a player based solely on 52 spring training at-bats. More specifically, they gave him the job because six or seven balls dropped in for singles, giving him an impressive batting average in a small sample. That's the kind of overreaction to short-term performance we often criticize, not admire, and I want to thank the many readers who mentioned it.
Now, I praised Jimy Williams for his willingness to assign roles to players based on what he felt was best for the team, and not just based on who had a big contract. I'll stand by that, because in general it's the right thing to do, and in the specific case of platooning Dante Bichette with Scott Hatteberg, it probably helps the Sox. It would help more if they'd get Morgan Burkhart on the roster.
But as I said at the end of Tuesday's column, the Sox are probably best off with Jose Offerman playing second base full-time. Whether than means reducing the roles of Hillenbrand or Chris Stynes--himself an inadequate third baseman--I'm not sure, but it's fairly clear that Shea Hillenbrand isn't a solution to the Red Sox problems.
Next week, we'll have a look at all the players who made Opening Day rosters who, like Hillenbrand, were absent from BP2K1.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.