Weeks Needs One More Chance

Most baseball fans and analysts expect a young player to take the Mike Trout route and become an instant star. Once a player is drafted, we watch as the young player climbs the prospect lists and becomes the next big star in waiting. He’ll turn the franchise around. He’ll be the final piece of a championship puzzle.

There’s a reason why Mike Trout is so special; he is simply that rare. Most prospects, even those who turn out to be all-time great players, take time before finding success at the Major League level. No other sport has this sort of track record when it comes to translating amatuer talent to the professional level. It takes time.

There was once a time–just three years ago in fact–that Jemile Weeks was an untouchable prospect for the Oakland A’s. General Manager Billy Beane often spoke about the unlikelihood of moving such a talented player. Three years later, Weeks is now 27 years old and entering his first season as a Baltimore Orioles second baseman candidate. He was acquired with little fanfare from the A’s when the Orioles sent closer Jim Johnson and his salary out to the West Coast. It was viewed as the ultimate salary dump. Weeks has struggled since playing moderately well his rookie season, during which he finished with a .721 OPS, a 110 OPS+ and 22 stolen bases in 97 games. With a track record of plate discipline at the Minor League level, there was no reason to doubt Weeks becoming a solid everyday second baseman.  Some thought, with a bit of improvement, he could even be a star.

{Discuss Weeks and his chances in 2014 on the BSL Board here.}

It just didn’t happen as he struggled in 2012, hitting just .221/.305/.304 in 118 games. With the A’s on their way to winning a division title, there was no room for someone who wasn’t producing. Weeks was banished and played most of the 2013 season in the Minors. Now, Weeks has the label of “former prospect”. He is viewed by some as a player who will never make it.

But, General Manager Dan Duquette acquired an interesting player while dumping a salary he didn’t want to pay. Weeks hasn’t played well at the Major League level since 2011, but there are some indications in his Minor League performance that still give hope that he can be a better than league average player. Unless the Orioles decide to hand the second base job to Jonathan Schoop, the current favorite appears to be Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty does have some power potential, but he profiles more like a utility infielder rather than a starting second baseman. He would be a better value to the team in that utility role as his offensive flaws as an everyday player would be exacerbated over time.

Weeks does have an offensive skillset that helps. Despite his poor performance at the Major League level in limited doses, Weeks has shown an excellent command of the strike zone. Even during his brutal 2012 season, he drew 50 walks as compared to 70 strikeouts in 511 plate appearances. That 9.8 walk percentage was above the 8.0 percent league average. Even more impressively, his 13.7 percent strikeout rate was well below the league average of 19.8 percent. One could blame the .256 BABIP for the poor season and use the often overused “bad luck” season. It’s entirely possible as his contact rates were 8 to 10 percent higher than the league average in 2011 and 2012.

As Weeks lost the opportunity in Oakland, he tried to rebuild his value at triple-A in 2013. In 130 games for triple-A Sacramento, Weeks hit .271/.376/.379 with 19 doubles, 10 triples, 4 home runs, and 17 stolen bases in 19 attempts. Obviously unspectacular, but his season does give further proof to his plate discipline. In 614 plate appearances, he walked 80 times while striking out 99 times.

Again, not a superstar, but there is potential for a better than league average player. Looking a bit deeper into his 2013 season in Sacramento, there may be reason to believe that Weeks may be better suited as a platoon player. Despite being a switch hitter, Weeks has produced while batting left handed against right handed pitching. In 483 plate appearances against right handed pitching, he hit .282/.383/.383 with 27 of his 33 extra base hits. He displayed the same type of split disparity in 2011 and 2009. While he hasn’t shown this type of disparity at the Major League level, it is worth noting.

There is no guarantee that Weeks becomes a viable Major League hitter. But, his Minor League track record indicates he can do things that the Orioles seem to lack. He can draw a walk, get on base, and steal a base. The 2013 Orioles finished 14th, 10th, and 10th in the American League in those respective categories.

Last season, Orioles second basemen hit . 236/.299/.376 with a 7.7 percent walk rate and an 18.4 strikeout rate. Even if Weeks hits .250/.340/.330 with 9 percent walk rate and a 15 percent strikeout rate, he would be an upgrade. While the metrics don’t like him defensively and he does seem to have an issue hitting left handed pitching, Weeks does have some ceiling left. It may not be as high as Billy Beane once thought it would be (or at least publicly stated), but if given a chance, he could give the Orioles a solid 120 to 130 games at second base.

Much of the attention has been rightfully placed on the Orioles inertia of the winter. But, trading for Jemile Weeks was the type of move a team that has payroll restrictions has to make. They have brought in a player who did have a taste of success as a rookie. They bring in a player with good plate discipline and who can run. It may be more about getting a chance at an everyday job in a better ballpark for hitters. If Duquette hit it right, he might have acquired a starting second baseman for a pitcher who regressed in 2013 and who was about to make over $10 million.

Rarely do players get it right during their first extended chance. Jemile Weeks didn’t during his first full season as a Major Leaguer. There is still enough reasonable hope that he can make good on that promise. Entering his prime and entering a new environment, Weeks has to perform now. Sometimes all players need is that second chance after experiencing failure. Weeks is hoping that the Orioles are going to grant him that second chance. If he makes good on that chance, the Orioles upgraded an important position.

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About the author

Gary Armida  

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated FullCountpitch.com, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site, garyarmida.com, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.

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