May 31, 2012

Rasmus Worth Waiting For

Colby Rasmus is a unique player. The St. Louis Cardinals first round pick in 2005 has followed a complicated story line in the first part of his career; he came so far as being named the third best prospect in all of baseball in 2009 by Baseball America. After what seemed to be Rasmus’ breakout season in 2010 he looked to be on the verge of becoming a premier center fielder, batting .276 with 23 home runs at just 23 years old.

That all seems like decades ago now; since then he has fallen out of favour in St. Louis, due in part to a well-documented dispute with manager Tony LaRussa involving Rasmus’ father. He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays on June 27, 2011, not even a year after his promising 2010 campaign. Up to that point his numbers had plummeted all around, shown by his OPS of .517 compared to his 2010 figure of .859.

Still, Colby Rasmus was a big-time talent, and the deal to get him sparked a ton of excitement among the Toronto faithful. The predominant feeling was that Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos had swindled the Cardinals out of a future face of the franchise.

The feeling didn’t last too long, though. In his first 35 games with Toronto, Rasmus hit a measly .173 with only three homers, before a wrist injury ended his season. In little more than a month, he had already worn out his welcome, and Blue Jays fans collectively gave up on Rasmus.

Not much has changed up until the end of May in 2012. Fans are still calling for a trade, claiming he will turn out to be nothing but a defensive specialist for his entire career. It has been quite the turnaround in terms of public perception of Rasmus, and quite the overreaction by Blue Jays nation.

His showing in 2012 has not been all that bad. A .717 OPS leaves a lot of room for improvement, to be sure, but he continues to show flashes of the hitter he once was and could be. There is definitely streakiness to his game, but when he is on, he is oh-so dangerous.

Rasmus has had a couple of these hot patches so far this season, where he seems to sting a hard line drive every single at bat, every single time he swings. He just gets in one of those grooves where you know he has a shot at taking any given pitcher deep whenever he steps up to the plate. When he goes on a tear, he is the biggest threat in the lineup.

Opposing managers know it, too. Rasmus has been intentionally walked more than anyone on the Blue Jays so far: four times already this season. That ties him for fourth in the American League in that aspect, surrounded on that list by names like Hamilton, Ortiz, Fielder, and Konerko. Rasmus’ stats are not even close to the numbers these guys have posted, but when he starts to feel it, he turns himself into a feared hitter.

Obviously he is prone to slumps, and when he falls into one, the parade of strikeouts and pop-ups can go on for weeks. At times it is downright painful to watch. The thing about Rasmus is when he does not contribute offensively; he finds a way to help win games with his defense. Usually when people hear this part of his game brought up, they roll their eyes and maintain that it does not make up for his lack of production at the plate.

It is true that defense alone will not be enough to stay in the lineup, but Rasmus’ playmaking at centre field is severely underrated. Throughout his career, especially this season, he has not only consistently avoided errors, but has shown the ability to be a game changer with his glove.

In 2012 he has already made several spectacular catches in the outfield, many of them at pivotal moments in the game. Rasmus has been at his best when it matters most: late in close ball games. These are not just plays that could have maybe shifted the momentum if he had not made them. He has laid out to keep go ahead runs off the board and to take walk-off singles away. He has provided defense with an impact.

Yes, the bat hasn’t come around the way the Blue Jays would have liked. The risk with Rasmus is undeniable; we knew that the day he arrived in Toronto. There is a chance that he never recaptures his 2010 form, and the Jays would have to look elsewhere for a starting centre fielder.

But if he does manage to hit his stride the same way he did two years ago, he will become an invaluable asset for the Blue Jays. Rasmus can win games so many ways: his defense is already one of them. If he finds his way at the plate, he could very easily be a 30-30 player not too far down the road.

When you have a guy with this much talent, this much potential, you have no choice but to wait on him. It makes no sense dealing him anyways, his trade value has gone down considerably; Toronto would not get anything significant back.

The Blue Jays might as well keep him until his one-year contract comes to an end. If he turns out to be a bust, let him go then. But if he starts to play to his star ability, you have to believe Anthopoulos will lock this guy up long term in a hurry. He would be crazy not to.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff. I had Rasmus on my fantasy team last year and he was awesome until the Jays got him. I too believe he will be a force in the Big Leagues for years to come.