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Prince Fielder and Jack Cust

If you know who Jack Cust is, you're probably either worried or extremely angry with me to see him in a title with our superstud first base prospect.  But it wasn't me who made the comparison.

Blame goes to Rany Jazayerli, who has been studying the results of the last couple decades of amateur draft results, breaking them down by college and high school players, and then further by position.  (Unfortunately, a BP subscription is required.)

Today, Jazayerli looked at college first basemen drafted in the first few rounds, who have performed extremely well.  Names like Will Clark, Todd Helton, and Frank Thomas may sound familiar.  On the other hand, his overall numbers show that high school first basemen have been exceedingly bad gambles.  Here's what Rany has to say about it:

Why have college first basemen proven to be such great investments, when their high school counterparts have been among the worst investments? I think it has to do with two things:
  1. A player who mans first base in high school is, almost by definition, unathletic. The increased quality of competition at the college level, particularly the elite conferences, means that it is possible to be quite athletic and still be "relegated" to playing first base.
  2. Even the best high school first basemen still require several years of refinement before they're ready for the majors, years in which their lack of athleticism inhibits their development. The best college first basemen, on the other hand, are essentially ready for the majors on draft day.
Of all the high school first basemen in our study, the one who probably had the most initial success as a pro was Jack Cust, who hit .334/.452/.651 as 20-year-old in the California League. Cust's downfall has been the fact that he has not improved one whit as a player since he was 20. (This does not bode well for Prince Fielder, incidentally.)

I'm probably making more of the Cust/Fielder comparison than Jazayerli intended--it's just a throwaway line in a long analytical article.  But Jack Cust was a big-time prospect, to the extent that teams have been taking chances well into his twenties, despite his lack of big-league success.  It seems like a given that Prince Fielder won't have the same problems, but...if we didn't make mountains of molehills, what would baseball team blogs be for?

Here's Jack Cust's lines at age 21 and 22 in AA and AAA:

  • AA: .293/.440/.526
  • AAA: .278/.415/.525

And here's the age 20 and 21 for Prince Fielder at the same levels:
  • AA: .272/.366/.473
  • AAA: .291/.388/.569

One caveat is that I think Cust played in more hitter-friendly parks; another is the importance of that one year of age difference.  But aside from that monster SLG that Prince put up last year, Cust looks like a better prospect--and he didn't have the same body-type issues that has caused so many observers to worry a bit about Prince.

There's only one way we're going to find out if Prince Fielder transcends the Curse of the Cust, but suffice it to say he'll be a rare, rare high school first baseman to become a major league star.  And we'll begin to find out very soon.