We have come to The Birdhouse Player of the Year for the 2006 season. This performance-based award is presented to the position player having the best overall offensive season. The player had to meet the following criteria:
- Retain minor league eligibility status, for rankings purposes (not too much Major League experience)
- Be on an active roster in the Cardinals’ system at season’s end
- Have a minimum 200 at bats
Forty-six players met these criteria and, therefore, were eligible for consideration for this award. These performances were then ranked in a number of different offensive areas such as on-base percentage, slugging percentage, strikeout and walk rates, OPS and home run rate, among others. Weight was given to the level at which a player performed and the age of the player. Additionally, ranking in certain categories, like runs scored, gave inherent weight to the length of each player’s season. The performances of three players stood out from the rest but there was a clear winner.
And the winner is….
Colby Rasmus – Centerfield – Swing of the Quad Cities/Palm Beach Cardinals
It is somehow comforting when the Cardinals’ top prospect has the best performance of the 2006 season. To me it means that one little slice of the baseball world is aligned the way it should be. Well, Colby Rasmus is that prospect and his 2006 season was just that, the best overall performance by a position player in St. Louis’ minor league system.
Rasmus went a combined .288/.364/.470/.834 in 496 at bats between class A Quad Cities and class A-Advanced Palm Beach. His season was good enough that he was named Baseball America’s fourth-best prospect in the Midwest League and the sixth-best prospect (and second-best position prospect) in the Florida State League. He led St. Louis’ minors in at-bats and runs batted in with 85. His 28 stolen bases were good for third place and he took fifth place in walks with 56. Rasmus was part of a three-way tie, along with Matt Dryer and Joe Mather, for seventh place in home runs with 16. Ten players occupied the top seven slots in this category and the closest in age to Rasmus is a full three years older. While Rasmus’ HR/AB rate is only 16th, the power potential is there.
Quad Cities was Rasmus’ destination at the start of the 2006 season. By starting at Quad Cities, Rasmus skipped short-season A ball entirely after having spent his draft season at rookie level Johnson City. In what turned out to be a seasonal pattern, he got off to a slow start at class A by going 7-for-42 in his first ten games, .167/255/.238/.493. He subsequently got untracked and was hitting .310/.373/.512/.884 in 303 at-bats by the time of his July 3rd promotion to Palm Beach. His Quad Cities’ walk rate of 1:11.76 plate appearances was almost identical to his 2005 walk rate of 1:11.62 while his strikeout rate improved from 1:2.96 at bats in 2005 to 1:5.51 at bats in Quad Cities.
As at Quad Cities, Rasmus started slowly at Palm Beach, going 22-for-103 in July, 214/.302/.379/.680. But he adjusted in August, going 25-for-82 or .305/.414/.451/.865 for the month. Overall, Rasmus went .249/.345/.396/.741 at Palm Beach with four doubles, five triples, five home runs and 27 walks. His Palm Beach walk rate improved upon his Quad Cities numbers as he walked once every 8.3 plate appearances while his strikeout rate was identical to that at Quad Cities, 1:5.51 at bats.
That strikeout rate was good for 20th place out of the 46 qualifying players which is an area that needs further improvement. His averaged walk rate of 1:10 plate appearances placed him in 15th. Rasmus’ batting average (.288), on-base percentage (.364), slugging (.470) and OPS (.834) were all in the top 10. He was sixth with 71 runs scored. Rasmus’ 2006 season showed an all-round balanced offense of speed, improving batting eye and emerging power.
All of this was accomplished by a player in his first full season of professional ball who turned 20 in August 2006 and was the second youngest player to qualify for Player of the Year consideration, behind Bryan Anderson.
The Birdhouse staff congratulates Colby Rasmus on his 2006 season.
Honorable Mentions -
Rico Washington – Third Base – Springfield Cardinals/Memphis Redbirds
Washington was Rasmus’ main competition for Player of the Year honors. He went a combined .284/.393/.494/.887, 128-for-451 between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. Washington bested Rasmus in several offensive categories and played at higher levels than did Rasmus. However, two things were major factors in the final decision. First and most importantly, Washington, who turned 28 in May 2006, is almost eight years older than Rasmus. He is three years older than the average Double-A age of 25 and just a bit older than the average Triple-A age of 27.4. By contrast, Rasmus is about two and one-half years younger than the average A age of 22.3 (Quad Cities) and three and one-half years younger than the average A-Advanced age of 23.5 (Palm Beach). Second, there was a pretty dramatic split between Washington’s Double-A performance (75-for-232, .323/.444/.616/1.060) and his Triple-A play (53-for-219, .242/.333/.365/.699). Washington dominated at the Double-A level which he first experienced in 2000 while he was not nearly so impressive at Triple-A, a level he first saw in 2003. Rasmus got the nod.
Randy Roth – Third Base – Swing of the Quad Cities/Palm Beach Cardinals
Like Colby Rasmus, 2006 was Roth’s first full season of professional ball. Also like Rasmus, Roth started the season at Quad Cities only to be promoted to Palm Beach later in the season. In fact, Roth’s Quad City numbers of .307/.354/.523/.878, 118-for-384 in 97 games, were good enough that more than a few of we minor league fans were wondering what Roth had to do to get promoted long before it actually happened on July 24th. Roth’s production diminished only slightly at Palm Beach, .295/.368/.448/.815 or 31-for-105 in 30 games. He edged Rasmus in several offensive categories as well. Roth appears to be a put-the-ball-in-play guy as he combined a fairly low strikeout rate, 1:8 at bats (eighth place), with a fairly low walk rate, 1:19 plate appearances (41st place). However, Roth is almost four years older than Rasmus and played at the very same levels as did Rasmus. That was the difference.
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