Saturday, June 02, 2012

Where you been, A.J. Ellis?

Baseball is a game that is about talent rising to the top. Players start (usually) in the minors and work their way to the majors. If they are talented enough and produce consistently, they stay in the big leagues and have enjoyable and profitable careers. But sometimes luck is a factor and a lot of really talented players just never get the shot they deserve. Case in point is A.J. Ellis, who at the age of 31 is finally getting a full time shot as a major league catcher. And boy is he doing well. So what took Ellis so long to make it?

You would think that A.J. Ellis was a saber-centric front office dream. He wasn't highly drafted and wasn't picked until the 16th Round of the 2003 draft by the Dodgers. He played nine years in the minors including 59 games last year. His minor league career on-base percentage is a mighty impressive .406. As impressive as that is, even more so is that in 251 career games at the Triple-A level, Ellis had the following triple slash line: .310/.441/.413. .441! That is impressive. And yet, here he is at the age of 31 just now getting his shot.

Perhaps it was his defensive capabilities. He does have five passed balls this season, which leads all major league catchers. That is a possibility. Ellis never made any prospect list as one of the best prospects in the game. They don't usually hand out those kind of vibes to a guy past 25. And perhaps his lack of power was part of the deal too. The highest home run total he ever notched was eight in 2007 and his 22 doubles that season were also a minor league high. But the guy could always get on base.

The Dodgers gave him looks for four seasons in the big leagues before this season. And in those four seasons, he only accumulated 244 plate appearances. His on-base skills carried over from the minors. 2010 saw his first real exposure with 128 plate appearances and his on-base percentage was .363. Last year, in 103 plate appearances, that went up to .392. He didn't hit for any power, but there is value in that kind of on-base ability. 

But this year, he is getting his first real shot at being the full-time catcher. And his triple slash line to this point is impressive: .316/.429/.493. The average could see some regression as his BABIP is at .384, hardly sustainable. But the .429 should not regress too much based on the history that has been given you to this point. 

His slugging percentage is the real surprise. He has already hit five homers and three more will tie his professional high. Part of that slugging percentage is tied in with the amount of hits he has as even a single creates a total base. But still. He could end up with ten to twelve homers and that would be much more than expected.

And the defensive metrics this season (outside of the passed balls) are giving him positive marks. Some further research into his framing and blocking skills would be needed to get a full picture, but so far, so good for A.J. Ellis. 

The bottom line here is that on a surprise club like the Dodgers, A.J. Ellis might be the most pleasant surprise of all. But looking at his professional career to this point, it shouldn't be a surprise at all. Sometimes it just takes longer to break that barrier. Welcome to success in the big leagues, A.J. Ellis. Hope you can earn all you've worked for.

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