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2005 Brewers Preview Part 4: Shortstop

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It's quite rare that a team hands a Major League starting job to a player who has never had a Major League at-bat.  It happens occasionally--the Twins did it with Joe Mauer last year--but when a team makes that choice, it speaks volumes about the confidence they have in that guy.  The Brewers, apparently, have that kind of faith in 22-year-old J.J. Hardy, despite the fact he has only had 101 AAA at-bats, and spent most of 2004 on the disabled list.

Everyone seems to agree that his defense is ML-ready.  And apparently that's enough.  Hardy has shown the ability to hit at every level he's played, though at times it's taken him a while to adjust.  After his 2002 mid-season promotion to AA Huntsville, for instance, he slugged under .300 in 150 at-bats.  But he was 20 years old, and silenced doubters by bouncing back nicely (.279/.368/.428) the next season.

There's a wide range of offensive projections floating around about Hardy in 2005.  Ken Rosenthal believes Hardy will be the NL Rookie of the Year, though perhaps not quite as strong at the plate as last year's star rookie shortstops, Bobby Crosby and Khalil Greene.  To put numbers along with that prediction, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection has Hardy at .252/.347/.397 with 10 HRs and 42 RBIs--but that's only in 305 ABs!  If Hardy plays every day (about 600 ABs), that's an impressive 20 HRs and 84 RBIs.  ZiPS predicts that only two other NL shortstops--Nomar Garciaparra and Alex "The One in Miami" Gonzalez--will hit that many or more.  And, if ZiPS is to be believed, those 20 HRs would be accompanied by only 76 K's.  

ZiPS tends to be a little optimistic on solid AAA players moving to the majors, but even a weaker version of that would be acceptable.  This is the position manned by Craig Counsell and Bill Hall last year.  For reference's sake, ZiPS projects Counsell to hit .245, strike out more than J.J., and slug a whopping .311.  I'll take the 22-year-old, thank you very much.

For this entry's poll, I'm going to give you a chance to be optimistic: where will J.J. place in this year's NL Rookie of the Year balloting?

Poll

Where will J.J. Hardy rank in this year's NL ROY balloting?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    First
    (0 votes)
  • 28%
    Second
    (2 votes)
  • 14%
    Third
    (1 vote)
  • 42%
    Fourth or lower, but still Top 10
    (3 votes)
  • 14%
    Nice player, but won't get any ROY votes
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    He'll be back in AAA by June
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    He'll miss most of the season on the DL
    (0 votes)
7 votes total Vote Now