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Ryan Brett: Future leadoff hitter?

The 98th pick in the 2010 draft earned a recent promotion to Montgomery

Ryan Brett's on base skills are key to his game
Ryan Brett's on base skills are key to his game
Jim Donten

Over the weekend, second base prospect Ryan Brett was promoted from High-A Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery after a very successful 51 game stint with the Stone Crabs. After returning from his 50 game suspension, Brett batted .340/.396/.490 with a 6.7% walk rate, 12.0% strikeout rate and.377 BABIP. He also stole 22 bases in 29 attempts. This is clearly better than his 2012 season with Bowling Green when he batted .285/.340/.393 with an 8.1% walk rate and 16.0% strikeout rate, and it's even better than his solid 2011 season with the Princeton Rays when he started garnering more attention.

As of Sunday's games, the totality of Rays leadoff hitters have been below league average. The league averages for a leadoff hitter show a .263 average and .327 on-base percentage with an 8.0% walk rate and 16.5% strikeout rate. While looking for these stats, what struck me is that this walk rate is actually a bit below the American League walk rate for all hitters (I threw out the NL because of the pitchers batting), so that could suggest some managers still aren't getting the point that high on-base players go at the top of the lineup. But I digress.

Desmond Jennings has accumulated 68% of the team's plate appearances for number one hitters this year, and he's been pretty average with a .258 batting average and .326 OBP. I don't want this to be about Jennings though, as Michael and the community have covered his development quite well. He's definitely a top 10 center fielder in the league and has plenty of value, but could Brett eventually provide an alternative to him at the top of the lineup?

To take a statistical look, I compiled statistics of each team's most common leadoff hitter during the 2013 season. Since Brett obviously hasn't played in the majors, I'm including their minor league stats as well to see how Brett compares to these players at similar stages in their careers. This isn't for the purpose of creating minor league equivalencies to big league stats because individual players' developments are never the same, but for the sake of comparison, here's the table:

This table is missing one team's leadoff hitter: Milwaukee's Norichika Aoki. He went from Japan straight to the bigs, so he has no minor league track record to compare to. Compared to the average future leadoff hitter, Brett is well... average; he's within one standard deviation of all four rates. If his stats translate to the majors the way the average player here does, he'd be about a league average leadoff man like Jennings but trading some power in for a little more contact. So statistically, if he remains more or less the same hitter he has been throughout his career, it looks like he could hit at the top of a lineup, especially considering his speed and baserunning instincts.

I didn't consider slugging at all for this since power isn't a trait teams usually look for in leadoff hitters, but it's still a part of player development. Brett is a small guy, but he's occasionally shown some surprising pop during his career. His career ISO is only .132, but in 2011 with Princeton, it was .171 with 30 extra base hits in 61 games, and with Charlotte, it was .150 with 19 extra base hits in 51 games. The average ISO for an ML leadoff hitter this year is .124.

Statistically, there aren't any great comparisons for Brett on this table, and scouting-wise, there may not be either. Only four of these other players are second basemen. Ian Kinsler is a power hitter, Matt Carpenter is a bigger player and not as athletic, Brian Dozier isn't as athletic either, and that leaves Houston's Jose Altuve. Altuve and Brett are both smaller players that can put bat on ball and run. Altuve's minor league numbers are certainly more impressive than Brett's, but he had the benefit of playing at Lancaster and the Texas League, two of the better hitting environments in the minors. They do share one more similarity, and that's their age 21 seasons. They both started the season in high-A and eventually moved up to double-A. Altuve kept crushing the ball and got a promotion, but Brett's not going to have that opportunity because of the lost time due to the suspension in addition to the Rays having major league talent on the major league roster. All in all though, Brett's performance this year is encouraging and could land him in the majors some time soon.

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