Sunday, October 28, 2007

What do the Yankees see in Rodriguez and Rees?

While the Red Sox were clobbering the Rockies the other day, IBL fans were treated to a smile when the Yankees announced the signing of IBL batting stars Jason Rees and Eladio Rodriguez, the first IBL position players to sign pro contracts and the first IBL alumni to sign with MLB farm systems.

Congratulations to Jason and Eladio, as well as to the league for giving them the platform from which to get noticed by the big leagues.

But don't expect to see Rees and Rodriguez in Yankees uniforms any time soon. They were signed to minor league contracts, and both have a long way to go before they're likely to make the majors.

Eladio has minor league experience already, having been signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1998. His (incomplete) record in the minors shows him having played in leagues at the A- and A+ levels, playing variously as catcher, outfielder and pitcher. most recently in 2004. Before the IBL, he played in the Dominican Republic Winter League, where he apparently only had seven at bats in as many games in the 2006-7 season. At 28 years old, typically the peak of a ballplayer's career, he would seem to be a long shot for a major league roster.

Update: Eladio's complete minor-league record is here.

Rees's baseball resume is even thinner. He's played college ball, and not even at the higher levels. And he's played in Australia. None of which is to say that he doesn't have what it takes to make it in the big leagues, but neither is it much evidence that he does. He is only 23, however, and his best years may yet be ahead.

So why Rees and Rodriguez? Most obviously, the two were the IBL's home run leaders. Rees led the league with 17, followed closely by Rodriguez at 16. But Rodriguez was injured for about a week of the season, and he actually hit home runs at a faster pace than Rees when he played: 6.4 at bats per home run, compared to 7.6 for Rees.

Beyond that, how did the two do in the IBL? Let's see how they ranked among the 50 batters with at least 80 plate appearances (that's about 2 per game).

As you can see, despite Rees's higher home run total, Rodriguez was a substantially better hitter over his 34 games than Rees over his 41. Rees also walked less often (9.7% of plate appearances vs. 13.6% for Rodriguez) and struck out more (15.3% of PAs vs. 12.7%). And there were several other batters with better overall stats than Rees.

Considering the short season and the small sample size (remember, about one-fifth the length of a major league season), it's hard to see why the Yankees would sign Rees just on the strength of his home runs rather than, say, Gregg Raymundo (12 HRs), Johnny Lopez (14 HRs) or Adalberto Paulino (11 HRs in just 92 PAs). Though of course I'm not privy to any of their personal plans, and perhaps none of them were available or the Yankees turned them down for other reasons.

On the face of it, it looks like the Yanks just signed the IBL's two home run leaders without thinking any further. If that's the case, this may turn out to be more a PR move than anything else in a city with America's largest Jewish population.

Still, it will be good to see how the two hold up in the minors. We'll have two more data points for assessing the IBL's league quality.

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