So much has been written about Rickie Weeks over the last few years that it’s easy lose sight of what we actually have. Is he destined to fall short of his full potential because of a move to an outfield position? Or do we have a star on our hands, someone who can carry our franchise for years to come? I fall on the side of viewing Rickie as a franchise player, someone the Brewers can build around as they move from perennial doormats to, hopefully, perennial contenders. As John can attest, I’ve been very outspoken in my view of Rickie as a star, especially after I had the opportunity to watch him play in his first big-league games in 2003. Assuming the Brewers can keep him when his free agency eventually comes up, I think we’ll someday be mentioning him in the same breath as Molitor and Yount (hence the name of this blog).
Strengths: When I watch Weeks hit, the first thing that jumps out at me is the way he absolutely hammers the ball. I’ve seen hundreds of Brewers games live over the years, but very few times have I seen someone who made such an immediate impression on me. Last season, during one of the first games I saw him live, I turned to John and asked “do you see the way the ball just jumps off his bat”? The way Weeks wags his bat before the pitch arrives immediately reminds one of Gary Sheffield, and the speed at which he whips his bat through the zone and stings the ball does nothing to diminish that impression. Don’t be deceived by Weeks’ low 2005 batting average. His decline coincided with a torn ligament in his thumb that he played through (also a good sign). He looks to be full strength for 2006, so we’ll hopefully see what he can really do over the course of a full season. Judging by the home run power he showed early on, I think we can expect Weeks to hit at least 20 homers a year, with that number possibly growing as he nears his prime. Right now one of the main reasons Weeks is so valuable is the position he plays. Second basemen who can put up the numbers Weeks potentially can don’t come along very often. Having a second baseman with corner outfielder hitting production is a tremendous asset for the Brewers. Also, an overlooked talent of Rickie’s is his speed and baserunning ability. He stole 15 bases in 2005, while only being caught twice. Expect the Brewers to ask him to run even more in 2006. Put this all together and we have a potential 30/30 guy on our hands who we’ll be seeing in many All-Star games in the years to come.
Weaknesses: Much has also been made of Weeks’ defensive deficiencies at second base. Statistically speaking and by just eyeballing him, you can see he’s probably got a below average glove. Weeks can make the big dazzling play, but as we all know he can also boot the routine grounder. I would expect this to get better over time, but even if his defense remains the same, he’s not even close to the worst second baseman in the game (as I’ve pointed out here before), even with Alfonso Soriano now playing the outfield in Washington. I’m glad the Brewers have decided to stick with him, and when asked, Doug Melvin usually defends Weeks’ glove. That said, an improvement- even if just to league average- would be very nice.
Outlook: As you can tell, I like Weeks’ future in a Brewers uniform. I know that we as Brewers fans can often get starstruck and overestimate our players’ abilities, given that we haven’t seen too many stars come through town. And I also remember guys like Glenn Braggs, who was an incredible minor league prospect who completely fizzled out at the major league level. But Rickie Weeks’ potential is great, and I’m excited to see what he can do. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system gives him a modest 2006 projection at 18 homers, 64 RBI, 14 steals and .267/.361/.462 in 562 plate appearances. I’m going to lean more towards their 75th percentile projection for him in my prediction:
.275 BA/.372 OBP/.470 SLG, 20 HR, 78 RBI, 22 SB, with improved defense.
I’m also going to predict serious All-Star consideration for him this year, with him being challenged by only Chase Utley and Marcus Giles for an NL slot. Ok, let the “you’re a homer” accusations commence…..