There aren’t a lot of people asking it yet, but a lot of people are going to want to know if Ben Zobrist is some Badass Ninja or if he’s a one-year wonder.
In fantasy sports, optimism can be a killer so we need to tread lightly here. Ben Zobrist is one of those players we really want to champion — everyone does a little, especially fantasy players who started him last year — but should we?
The Rays’ utility man turned star is clearly going to be a lightning rod in the preseason. He’s ranked in the top 5 in some fantasy circles, others have him as barely a fantasy starter in 2010. So, Ninja, what’s your move?
It’s time to get statistical — you’re a fantasy baseball fan, you know you love it. First, let’s discuss his minor league record. For full minor league stats, check out his profile at baseball-reference.com.
The second baseman’s 5×5 stats in the minors show an increase in power performance echoed by the 27 homers in his breakout last year and good speed.
Zobrist began his minor league career as a decent steals, high average type of player and every season he got around 300 at-bats he had around 10-15 steals. He also was a 3-to-5 homer hitter in his first two years in the minors.
Then in 2007, Zobrist hit 7 homers in less than 300 at-bats. In very limited minor league at-bats (103) in 2008 he hit four. In 227 major league at-bats in 2008, Zobrist hit 12 homers, giving him 16 total in 330 at-bats. At that pace, 500 ABs would have produced 24 home runs. That number is similar to his breakout total last year and still shows the upward trend.
So he may not hit as many homers in 2010, but his speed and power display can be explained.
Zobrist was also a lifetime .318 hitter in the minors, with a .353 season and a .339 season, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to see a reproduction of his .297 from 2009. But his batting average on balls in play was .326, far better than anything he’s shown in the past, so we could see his average decline.
The statistics that really don’t jive are runs and RBIs. Let’s chalk that up to opportunity and batting order, for now.
If I was going to project Zobrist’s 2010 numbers, and I am about to, I’d say his low range would be above his three-year averages — that includes two seasons where he was just a utility man. Give him 70 runs, 15 homers, 70 RBIs, 12 steals and a .280 average.
If you want to be optimistic, change those numbers to 85/22/85/15/.310.
He’ll likely be nestled somewhere in between, and in that case Zobrist is not going back to a utility role anytime soon.
Where should you draft him? Well, our full rankings are a month or two away, but just at first glance, pick Chase Utley, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Hill and Brandon Phillips first. But pick Zobrist before Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia or Brian Roberts.
What do you guys think. Will Zobrist repeat his breakout performance from 2009 or will he return to life as a utility man? Where do you think he should be drafted? Let us know in the comments.