This was originally going to be a comment on isoldout's fine Fanpost on his attendance at a Sidewinders game in Portland, but it ended up expanding so much it might as well become its own piece. It was particularly good to get some first-hand information on Jamie D'Antona, who has been tearing it up this season for our Triple-A affiliate, posting video-game numbers. All he has been doing is batting .422 - even in Tucson and at Triple-A, is insane. That is currently the highest average of any qualifying player, at any level in the minors.
Where did he come from? D'Antona, along with Jackson and Quentin, he was part of the 'Three Amigos', our first three draft picks in 2003, and was rated as our #8 prospect according to Baseball America's Top 10 prospects in 2004, but had vanished the next year. While J + Q continued their surge to the majors, D'Antona languished in Double-A until last year, when he finally was promoted to Tucson. He had a 2007 line there of .308/.362/.499, which is decent, but nothing to indicate the explosion this season.
Obviously, that doesn't equate to .422 in the majors: Tucson is a hitter's park, and the quality of pitching is clearly much lower [the odd Randy Johnson rehab start aside]. However, using the MLE Calculator, we can adjust for these factors to get an approximation of what those figures would translate to in the big shows, and it still comes out at a line of .366/.381/.547. An OPS of .928 from our third-baseman would initially appears to look pretty nice, compared to Special K's .228/.313/.392 thus far.
However, there are definite warning signs. Remember my discussion of BABIP a few days ago? And my concern because Justin Upton had a unsustainably-high BABIP of .400? Well, D'Antona's BA on balls in play is currently .460. Almost half the time he applies wood to horse-hide in a meaningful manner, it results in a hit. Unless every other team in the Pacific Coast League runs out a defense consisting of nine garbage cans, this will come back down to earth, and we'll see something closer to last season. There, D'Antona's BABIP was a much more reasonable .329 - and the results, put through the MLE calculator, are a much less impressive .264/.306/.409, barely distinguishable from Reynolds.
The lack of walks also concerns me: five in 154 at-bats is a level of free-swinging undreamed of by Mark Reynolds. That's a sharp drop-off from last season, where he had 40 walks in 483 at-bats. D'Antona appears to be basing his trips to the plate on a reworked version of an old baseball cliche: you don't walk up from Tucson. On the plus side, looking at D'Antona's splits, he is hitting lefties, righties, at home and on the road, so he's not just a Tucson Electric Park baby. But he is now 26, more than a year older than Reynolds, and time is running out.
On the fielding site, his rep is poor, based on just about every scouting report I've seen. A glimmer of hope - and it may not be much - is that he does seem to be improving somewhat with the glove. He's only made four errors at third in 28 games there, for a fielding percentage of .933. That's a lot better than the .909 last season, and is actually also ahead of Mark Reynolds' .922 so far. I wish there was some additional figures available though, such as Zone Rating or Range Factor, to give us a better idea of whether this is a genuine improvement or an illusion.
Overall, D'Antona is not useless, but I don't see him as profiling as much of an answer at the major-league level. His figures this season, while undeniably impressive, seem to be a statistical fluke rather than indicating he has had a hitting epiphany. There remain huge questions over his defense, and I'm not convinced he has got much potential upside. A bench role is possible, but we already have our quota of backup infielders, some of whom are solid with the glove. For the moment, I am inclined to pass.