Minor-League Monday: Jemile Weeks

In an effort to keep you well-informed on all fronts of the baseball world, we’re going to begin a series for Monday of each week in which we discuss an up-and-coming prospect that may not be the Bryce Harpers of the world but may be making an impact fairly soon. This week we’ll focus on Jemile Weeks of the Oakland Athletics.

Originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 8th round of the 2005 draft, Jemile Weeks went on to play college ball at the University of Miami, and after three stellar seasons, the Oakland A’s drafted Weeks with the 12th overall pick in 2008. Weeks is the younger brother of Brewers star Rickie Weeks, and they share a similar build and skill set, right down to the lengthy injury history.

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In fact, it’s his injury history that makes him difficult to measure. A switch-hitter, he has excellent bat speed and good plate recognition from both sides of the plate, and while he’s never likely to hit for the power his brother does, he could hit for more power than his 5’9” frame indicates. On the basepaths, he has good speed, but this is an area where the injuries have taken their toll. He’s never stolen more than 16 bases in a season, but what is the reason? Have the leg and hip injuries taken away his speed? Or is he waiting to run until he gets fully healthy? Defensively, he’s good enough, but again, the injuries have limited his ability to play defense and to practice and develop his defensive abilities. When trying to place a tag on him, few know exactly what to call him.

 

Coming into this season, those concerns hampered his prospect status. Baseball America rated him the fifth best prospect in the A’s organization, and Kevin Goldstein rated him 6th. Keith Law and John Sickels, however, are more concerned. Law rates him 8th in the organization, and Sickels rates him 10th. It seems as though Baseball America and Goldstein focused more on the overall tools with a dose of injury skepticism, but Law and Sickels went with the inverse. It’s hard to argue either way. The tools are definitely there, but if he’s unable to use them for long period of time, it doesn’t really matter. What they all seem to agree on, however, is that, if he stays healthy, he could really break out.

Well, 2011 has been that year to this point. Playing at AAA Sacramento, Weeks has mainly stayed healthy, though he did have a minor wrist injury, and he’s responded with a .322/.412/.454 line. The patience and pitch recognition seem to be a strength for Weeks, and if he wants to hit at the top of the order, he’ll need that ability to walk. Power-wise, he could be better, but Sacramento isn’t a great hitter’s park, much like Oakland. If his wrist gets back to 100%, he could add some more pop. But it’s on the basepaths that Weeks has made significant strides. In only 36 games, he’s already stolen 8 bases while being caught three times (72%). He still needs to work on when to go, but stealing this much already indicates that his legs feel better, which is an excellent sign for his prospect status. 36 games is still a small sample to get too excited about, but it’s been all systems go so far for Weeks.

But the thing all prospects really need is an opportunity at the major-league level, and here’s where Weeks has an advantage. Mark Ellis is the current A’s second baseman, but he’s only signed through the rest of this season. But he hasn’t even been playing well this season. Hitting .206/.243/.274, Ellis is quickly building the momentum for his own exit. While the .245 BABiP is low, his walk rates have collapsed, his strikeout rates have jumped, and his line drive rates have decreased. Weeks was already the second baseman-in-waiting, but combining his and Ellis’ starts, he may be seeing some time in Oakland very soon.

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