Monday, March 3, 2008

Who is Buck Coats?

A proper bio on this lanky international man of mystery seems appropriate given some early spring training buzz and his recent arrival to the Jays organization. Some are calling him a dark horse candidate for the 25th roster spot. Those people are wrong, but hey, aren't we all at times?

Mop Up Duty really phoned in its Coats scouting report today, which inspired me to do some deeper research (cough, hitting the first three google links, cough). This is what I found.

Coats was originally drafted out of high school by the Cubs in the 18th round of the 2000 amateur draft, slowly climbed the ranks before his first cup of coffee in 2006, then was traded to the Reds organization at the end of last year because the Cubs just had too many players in the same mould. In his age 25 season he put up a nice looking .303/.363/.435 line in AAA, though it must be noted this came in the PCL, which has a reputation as an extreme hitter's league.

Since he's spent the bulk of his career in the Cubs organization, I thought I'd poke around Cubs sources first for some scouting reports. CubsHub.com did a pretty detailed look back in late 2006 from which I will now proceed to plagarize liberally.

The most alarming thing on Coats' stat sheet is his defense from three seasons as a shortstop in the low minors. This is incredible:

2001 - 51 errors in A ball in his age 21 season
2002 - 29 more at A+
2003 - 33 at AA

What in the HELL happened here? He's being now touted as a super utility player and these raw numbers might lead one to the impression that he fields worse than Russ Adams' grandma.

Well, CubsHub provides some explanation:

The Cubs took Buck Coats in the 18th round of the 2000 draft from Valdosta High School in Georgia where he was the school’s shortstop and one of the better hitting prospects in the state at the time. Scouts loved his speed in the field and on the basepaths, they also raved about his quick wrists at the plate. But the writing was on the wall when scouts basically called his defense ugly and that it’d be a miracle if he stayed at SS with his brick hands and poor throwing accuracy. While Coats’ power abilities have yet to develop into what the organization felt he was capable when drafting him, he’s displayed great doubles plus potential.

The best athlete on a high school baseball team almost always plays shortstop, or sometimes centrefield. Scouts basically knew that Coats should have been shifted to another position when he started playing pro ball, but for some reason he was allowed to have three atrocious seasons in the field before he was moved to the outfield. It was as obvious as a punch in the face, but the Cubs organization didn't make the necessary move. I reiterate, the Cubs organization.

Back to CubsHub. Apparently Coats transitioned well to the OF, takes good routes, has good range, and shows a strong arm. Unsurprisingly, his error numbers there are back down to the acceptable range.

Coats hasn't seen regular duty in the infield since 2005 and had no games there last year. He's played a handful of games at second and third in the minors, though any thoughts of him returning to short should be jettisoned with extreme prejudice. CubsHub really doesn't think he can play third in the bigs, but might get by at second.

If he does break with the Jays at some point in the future, I'd expect it to be as a 4th-5th OF who only sees time in the infield under extreme circumstances. There's nothing wrong with that, but we shouldn't get the idea that he's as versatile as, say, Marco Scutaro.

On the offensive side, Coats has one asset that's lacking from our bench: base-stealing speed. In 2007 he went 18 for 20, 17 for 21 in '06, 17 for 22 in '05, and 27 of 36 in'04 . That kind of success--especially last year's--is close to the acceptable range of success rates. In the lower minors he went "Buck" Wild (haha?), stealing a high of 32 bases in '03, but his percentage wasn't as good. That's typical of younger players in the lower levels, where coaches are more aggressive with their runners. The Mid-West League Guide lists him as a plus baserunner during both of his seasons with the Lansing Lugnuts (then a Cubs affiliate).

As a hitter, Coats isn't going to pull your hair back. He put up near identical lines in A+, AA and his first kick in AAA in the .280/.340/.390 neighbourhood. That points to a very fringy major league career as 4th OF/pinch runner if he ever does stick.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier Coats put up a pretty solid line of .303/.363/.435 last year in his second go at AAA. As noted, he played in the hitter friendly PCL (as he did most of the year prior). Of interest is the fact that he added .20 of average and .60 points of SLG playing in the same league. Hitter's league or no, Coats definitely improved at the dish.

He also put up double digits for homeruns for the first time in his career and cut his K total to the lowest level since his A ball season in 2002. He's never going to put up impressive extra-base hit numbers, but does have gap power and plus speed. If he hasn't peaked yet, he's probably now playing as well as he can ever hope to.

JP acquired Coats in December via a trade with Reds for a some unremarkable minor league pitching, likely viewing him as a super util Marco Scutaro-esque bench player of the future. He may well end up fitting that bill in 2009 (or 2010 after Scooter has departed), but I just don't see even the remotest of chances of him going North as the 25th man this spring.

Since his infield defense leaves something to be desired at present, it would make no sense to carry a player who'd effectively be a 6th OF/pinch runner with a weak bat while Adam Lind--a legitimate hitting prospect with average D--was wasting his hours playing solitaire down in Syracuse. That said, Coats already does most of the things even the sunniest of Russ Adams optimists could hope for at this point in the career of JP's worst draft pick ever.

But, should Coats prove himself capable of playing an adequate second and third in addition to the OF at AAA this year, he may yet have a future with the club. In a perfect world where beer was free and the women exceedingly chesty, you might want to hope to see him develop into a Ryan Freel-type player. (Please hold your tomatoes until you compare their minor league numbers!)

This is reality, however. Before you go celebrating his next homerun by buying yourself a Buck Coats #87 jersey, just remember other luminaries who tore it up in spring trainings past. Guys like Gabe Gross...

-- Johnny Was

1 comment:

Cub Navigator said...

nice post but
youse wuz rong!

So why did the Jays let Reed walk and give his job to Buck Coats??