Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the second round of the 1995 draft, Beltran, a potential five-tool player, struggled to hit in the low minors. In 1996, he hit .270/.359/.433 with seven home runs in 59 Northwest League games before stumbling in a brief promotion to the Midwest League. He spent all of the 1997 season with Wilmington, which is a pitcher’s park. Still young for High-A at 20-years-old, Beltran hit .229/.311/.363 with 11 home runs in 120 games as he continued to struggle with the bat. He was back at Wilmington to start the next season and his production picked up as he hit .276/.364/.427 with five home runs in 52 games, earning a promotion to Double-A. Beltran went on a tear after his promotion, hitting .352/.427/.687 with 14 home runs in 47 games. He had finally had the power breakout so many expected from him and entered 1999 as the No. 14 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America.
Beltran won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1999 nearly unanimously, taking home 26 first place votes. Despite trailing other rookies in bWAR like Freddy Garcia (5.5) and Chris Singleton (4.8), Beltran (4.7) played in 156 games and produced in all five fantasy categories. He hit .293/.337/.454 with 22 home runs, 27 steals, 112 runs scored, and 108 RBI. Beltran struggled mightily in his sophomore campaign as he hit just .247/.309/.366 with seven home runs in 98 games. It took him some time to get going in 2001, but was one of the best players in baseball in the second half as he hit .358/.424/.617 with 12 home runs and 21 steals. He was very good on the bases in his 20’s as he stole 31 bases on the season while being caught only once in 2001. After that season, the Baseball Prospectus annual compared him to Bernie Williams, only with more power, speed, and defense.
He continued to establish himself as one of the best players in baseball over the next few seasons with Kansas City before the Royals traded him halfway through his All-Star 2004 campaign. The move to Houston was beneficial for Beltran as he hit 23 home runs in 90 games in the second half while becoming the first player to knock in at least 50 runs in both leagues in the same season. He swatted another eight home runs in the playoffs and could’ve had more if Houston had found a way to make the World Series. He cashed in during the offseason, signing a seven-year deal with the New York Mets.
Beltran made another All-Star team his first year in New York, but hit just .266/.330/.414 with 16 home runs in doing so. The following year, he posted his career-high in OPS (.982). Beltran hit just .276, but drew a career-high 95 walks and hit 41 home runs and 38 doubles on his way to a career-high .320 ISO. He finished fourth in the National League Most Valuable Player voting, though he was second in bWAR behind Albert Pujols, who also lost in the real voting to Ryan Howard.
He had his best season 2006, making everyone forget about his struggles the year before. He wouldn’t maintain the ’06 level of production as his OPS+ was back in the 130s for the next two seasons before injuries kept him from playing 100 games in 2009 and 2010. Beltran’s health and power returned in 2011, but it wasn’t enough for the Mets, who were able to acquired Zach Wheeler from San Francisco for their free agent to be.
Beltran signed with the Cardinals in the offseason and with St. Louis he made two more All-Star teams and was once again a playoff fixture. The Yankees came calling before the 2014 season, but Beltran couldn’t get right last year as injuries held him to a .233/.301/.402 line in 109 games.
What’s Happened So Far in 2015
Despite being up there in age (he’s 38), there was a pretty decent chance entering the season that if he was healthier this season he’d also bounce back and be a better player. That seems to be the case here. Beltran was awful in April, though, and when older players struggle there is a tendency to question how much they might have left in the tank. If we remove his horrid .162/.216/.265 April line from his season, he’s hitting .299/.360/.528 with 13 home runs in 77 games. With the rest of the Yankees’ offense floundering this month, Beltran is hitting .317/.397/.651 with five home runs and a BB:SO ratio of 9:11 in 19 games in August. Old Beltran can still hit.
What to Expect the Rest of 2015
No more stolen bases. He’s had just five steals in the past three years and hasn’t even attempted to swipe a bag this year. He’s is also in the midst of one of his worst defensive seasons as his FRAA sits a -8.5 this year. While we can’t expect him to magically bounce back in those areas over the final month, there’s also no reason to anticipate him falling off at the plate in September. He might not hit close to .320 with another five home runs again, but he should be a steady performer. Beltran may even see an added boost from being a veteran hitter as he’ll likely face his share of September call-ups. He’s usable in AL-Only leagues and even deep mixed leagues while he’s hot.
The Great Beyond
While it might just be because of his age, the team he plays for, and the fact he hits mostly left-handed, Beltran is reminding me of late-career Raul Ibanez this year. He isn’t nearly the liability Ibanez was against left-handed pitching, or course, nor is his production as much of a product of simply hitting at Yankee Stadium. Perhaps it’s because watching the Yankees offense over the past month has felt like a long October game with all the waiting around for Ibanez to produce some offense.
The Yankees gave Beltran a three-year deal, so he’s signed through the 2016 season. With Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Greg Bird all still around then too, it won’t be easy to get him at-bats at designated hitter, which they might’ve had in mind when they offered three years. While his defense may be a point of contention and no one is going to champion this contract as some sort of great success, Beltran can still hit and that’s why they got him.
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