Signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela in November of 2000, it didn’t take Franklin Gutierrez long to become a big name in the minor leagues. He debuted the following year in the Gulf Coast League before hitting .283/.344/.454 with 12 home runs in 92 games in the South Atlantic League in 2002. His true breakout came in the Florida State League in 2003 as he hit .282/.345/.515 with 20 home runs in 110 games and also added four homers in 18 games in Double-A to finish out the year. Combined with his defensive excellence in center field—his official nickname on Baseball Reference is “Death to Flying Things”—there was a very attractive major-league profile brewing here. Gutierrez entered 2004 as the 31st-ranked prospect, according to Baseball America, and his player comment in that year’s Baseball Prospectus annual said he could be Juan Gonzalez. On April 3rd, the Dodgers traded him to Cleveland for Milton Bradley.
The power Gutierrez displayed in the Dodgers organization didn’t carry over to Cleveland once he left Vero Beach. He hit .302/.372/.466 in 70 games with Double-A Akron, but only recorded five home runs. Without his previous power production, Gutierrez’ profile lacked one standout tool. He still looked like a decent player, but instead of the potential five-tool talent some saw with the Dodgers, he was beginning to look like a jack of all trades and master of none.
Gutierrez went back to Akron in 2005 and his .261/.322/.423 line in 95 games was actually worse than in his first Double-A tour, though he did swat 11 home runs this time around. He spent the majority of the next year at Triple-A before the Indians let him be their platoon right fielder in 2007. Gutierrez hammered lefties with a .330/.366/.553 line in 103 plate appearances, but was downright pedestrian against same-side pitching with a .232/.292/.429 line in 198 plate appearances. His production against left-handed pitching held his overall OPS up (.790), and he was handed the everyday job for 2008. He hit .216/.264/.315 in the first half before the Indians sat him down and then traded him to the Mariners after the season.
Considering the amount of production and playing time, 2009 is and will likely go down as his best season in the majors. He set career highs in games played (153), AVG (.283), TAv (.271), OBP (.339), home runs (18), runs (85), and RBI (70). The only thing Gutierrez didn’t do was win a gold glove—despite metrics claiming that he saved between 25 and 30 runs defensively—which he did the next year. He didn’t save as many runs in 2010, but the award voters were likely influenced by Gutierrez setting the major-league record for consecutive defensive chances in center without an error. His offense also wasn’t as good, as his BABIP regressed from .333 in ’09 to .297 and his AVG fell from .283 to .245.
Gutierrez began to miss significant time in 2011 as he missed over 60 games with first an illness and then an abdomen strain. He missed the beginning of the 2012 season with a pectoral strain and made his debut on June 14th. In only his 13th game back, he was hit by an errant pickoff throw by Franklin Morales and suffered a concussion, which sidelined him for two months. A thigh strain limited him to 41 games in 2013 and he missed all of 2014 with gastrointestinal issues, informing the Mariners just before the start of spring training that he would need to miss the entire season.
What’s Happened in 2015
Gutierrez needed some time in the minor leagues after playing in just 81 major league games since 2011. He went to Triple-A Tacoma and hit .317/.402/.500 with seven home runs in 48 games, but there still wasn’t a lot of optimism for Gutierrez this season and with good reason. Has anyone angered fantasy owners more than Gutierrez over the years? Every time he appears worthy of our faith, he gets hurt or goes in the tank or he misses an entire season with gastro-intestinal issues. But, staying true to his form as the Godfather III of AL-only outfielders, just when we think we’re out he pulls us back in. Entering Wednesday, Gutierrez is hitting .307/.340/.636 (!) with seven home runs in 94 plate appearances. Granted, the sample size is small and there’s no real way for him to keep up those ridiculous numbers, but this is remarkable for a player so many had almost completely written off.
What to Expect the Rest of 2015
While we can’t expect Gutierrez to keep up a .343 TAv just based off a hot 33 games, I won’t even bother posting his PECOTA projection for the rest of the way here because it’s so far toward the other extreme. There’s no way for him to keep up his incredible numbers, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll forget how to hit all of a sudden and plummet to a .255 TAv. Gutierrez is hot right now and fantasy owners should take notice. His production so far has likely earned him some more opportunities, particularly against right-handed pitching. He’s usually just an AL-only play, but can be used in deep mixed formats while he’s hot.
The Great Beyond
Projecting into the future for any player can be tough, but it’s even tougher for a player who hasn’t played a full major-league season healthy in years. Gutierrez is a player I’ve targeted in the past for his diverse skillset, as he can hit for AVG and home runs, and even steal some bases, though he’s yet to attempt a steal this year. I cut myself off of the good stuff after he missed all of last season, but that appears to have been premature. While the possibility for disaster looms for Gutierrez, he’s been a good player before. He really just needs to stay healthy.
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