All-Star snub Boesch one of league's best hitters
Jason Heyward was the most impressive young hitter in baseball this spring. He homered on Opening Day in Atlanta. He continued delivering in the clutch. On May 30, he was hitting .301 and slugging close to .600.
Then an injured left thumb limited him to a .181 batting average in June. He was placed on the disabled list. He's still there now. He was elected to the National League All-Star team but might not be able to play.
And he lost the title of Best Rookie Hitter in Baseball to a guy found at No. 25 among Tigers players in the current Baseball America Prospect Handbook.
Brennan Boesch. Former Cal Bear. A .249 hitter, with seven home runs, in the Florida State League two years ago. Present No. 5 batter, protector of MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, and owner of one of the biggest bats wielded anywhere in the majors.
If Heyward had stayed healthy, we would have a real argument on our hands. And here's hoping that J-Hey's thumb heals soon so we can engage in a regular point-counterpoint from now until October.
But at the moment, there is absolutely no mistaking the numbers: Brennan Boesch has been baseball's most impressive rookie this side of Stephen Strasburg.
In short order, fans everywhere will see why.
Boesch should have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title by the All-Star break or shortly thereafter. At that point, he will take up residence in the high-rent precinct of American League hitters.
... His .341 batting average would rank fourth in the league – behind Cabrera, Justin Morneau and Josh Hamilton; ahead of Robinson Cano.
... His .595 slugging percentage would also rank fourth – behind Cabrera, Hamilton and Morneau; ahead of Kevin Youkilis and Vladimir Guerrero.
... He hits the ball so far, and so consistently, that his current production would translate to 83 extra-base hits over a 162-game season. Last year's AL leader (Mark Teixeira) had 85.
So it's not absurd to suggest that he was one of the more egregious All-Star snubs – or hear the superlatives uttered in the Tigers' clubhouse.
Like this one:
There is a subtle stride, a hip recoil, a sweeping stroke, and a high finish.
Kind of like another left-handed slugger in the AL Central ...
"Morneau," Cabrera offered.
Yep. I see it, too.
Boesch, 25, debuted on April 23. The early book on him was that a lack of plate discipline would result in a strikeout pileup and rapid return to the renowned Toledo Mud Hens. So much for that.
Boesch may be a free swinger, but not to his detriment. He has fanned 46 times in 62 games – a very acceptable number, considering his .396 on-base percentage and smoldering gap doubles.
"They throw, he swings," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "When he hits it, he hits it hard. I don't want him to change anything. He's laid off some pitches, so I'm not worried about that. He's just a good-looking hitter.
"He's going to flail and wail. That's what he's going to do. But if they get it into that Nitro zone, they're in trouble."
The approach is uncommon. But so are the results. And that is why Leyland has a simple policy for the team: "Don't give him any advice about hitting."
After all, it would be difficult to find fault with Boesch's performance on Sunday afternoon. Cliff Lee, the most-talked-about pitcher in baseball, was on the mound. Leyland started Boesch, despite the lefty-lefty matchup.
And he went 2-for-4 with a double.
"I knew he throws a lot of strikes, so I wanted to keep it simple and get a good pitch," Boesch explained. "He comes at guys with an array of different pitches. He got a lot of strikeouts looking, with his cutter. I didn't want to see all of his stuff, so I decided, ‘Hey, if he comes at me early, I'll be ready.'"
He was. First-pitch single. Second-pitch double. Figures, right?
"I think he will continue his great year," predicted Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who watched Boesch have a 5-for-12 series during interleague play. "He's surrounded by a good group of hitters. And left-handed pitchers haven't slowed him down.
"He actually reminds me of Paul O'Neill. Seems to really compete at the plate the way Paul did."
So, there you have it. The kid looks like some combination of Justin Morneau and Paul O'Neill. Either way, there wasn't a better rookie bat anywhere in the first half of 2010.