Saturday, April 23, 2011
OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 30, Wendell Fairley, OF
Wendell Fairley is probably a case of why you shouldn't rely on OTF for prospect rankings. On projection alone, Fairley probably doesn't crack the Top-40 of any Giants prospects list (more on that later). However, Fairley intrigues me for a variety of reasons, which is why I included him on this list.
First off, he was a first round pick (No. 29 overall in the 2007 draft), and there is always going to be hype and expectations surrounding a guy who is drafted in the first round. Of course, Fairley was probably a first round pick for financial reasons rather than talent ones. The Giants had multiple supplemental picks after Moises Alou left for free agency, and Fairley, one of four first round draft picks for the Giants in 2007 (along with Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson and Nick Noonan), was picked up by the Giants in the late first round mainly because he could be signed easily and at a low cost.
Many experts chided the Fairley pick as one that wouldn't amount too much. And so far, the experts have been right. Fairley, despite showing some raw athleticism and skills in high school, hasn't really excelled in any category since he broke in the minors in 2008. During his first year in Rookie Ball, Fairley struggled to hit for average (.252), but he showed strong plate patience in 238 plate appearances. His OBP was .388 and he had a BB/K ratio of 0.70 (helped by a 10.9 walk percentage), which produced some good advanced numbers (his wOBA in Rookie Ball was .363).
However, Fairley hasn't shown much as he's progressed through the Giants system. After a solid Rookie Ball campaign, Fairley took a big step back in 2009 in Augusta as he hit .243 with a .656 OPS. He didn't show power (three home runs in 390 plate appearances; 0.90 ISO), he struck out a lot (103 whiffs), and the one strength he did show as a rookie didn't translate to the South Atlantic league. He only had 10 more walks despite almost 160 plate appearances and his BB/K ratio fell to 0.35. Once a fringe prospect, Fairely fell totally off the radar after the 2009 season ended.
Despite the lackluster season in the South Atlantic League, the Giants promoted Fairley to San Jose after the organization got a pretty good look at him in Spring Training. Fairely in many ways bounced back a bit in High Single-A. He posted a much better average (.292) and he cut down his strikeouts (his K percentage went from 29.9 percent in 2009 to 22.1 percent in 2010). However, despite playing in a hitter's league, Fairley's power continued to dip. His ISO fell to .054 and he only hit one home run in 439 plate appearance. To compare, Fairely hitting one home run in Municipal Stadium is equivalent to Juan Pierre hitting only one home run in Coors Field (e.g. you must really not have any power).
Fairley is again starting the year in San Jose (predictably) and he is off to a better start. He is hitting .354 right now with an OPS of .853 in 58 plate appearances. Sure, he is still managing only to be a singles hitter (he has only three extra base hits), but his plate patience has been solid, as he has managed to bring back his BB/K ratio to a more respectable number (0.67) after slacking in that category a year ago (0.34). Of course, this year is just a small sample, but considering he has a year of High Single-A ball under his belt, it is expected that Fairley is capable of having a better year in San Jose in 2011 and may be capable of a promotion to Double-A if he can build upon on his good start in the California League.
Despite being athletic, Fairley isn't great on the basepaths. While he stole 10 bases last year, he was caught six times and he has only 19 stolen bases total in his minor league career. Additionally, he suffers from a lot of the same "Fred Lewis" problems: despite sporting some above average athleticism, he doesn't really get to balls as well as you would think (career 1.45 RF/G).
In many way, what intrigues me about Fairley is just the fact that he seems to be a "tools" player. He's got a lot of potential (or seems to have potential), and he could contribute to a team in a myriad of ways, but he's extremely undeveloped as a player overall. The one thing Fairley has going for him is the fact that he's young (he's only 23) and there doesn't seem to be any need to rush him through the system (the Giants are fine in the outfield with guys like Thomas Neal in Fresno).
The one guy I liken Fairley to is Fred Lewis, a "tools" player who showed above average plate patience in the minors. Of course, Lewis was a better base stealer than Fairley, and he also hit better as well in the lower levels (though much like Fairley, Lewis didn't show much power initially, as he hit only two home runs in his first two years in the minors). That being said, Lewis did have a year of college underneath his belt as he played for Southern University before getting drafted by the Giants in the second round of the 2002 draft. Hence, Lewis was a little more developed breaking into the minors than Fairley, who came in as a very raw outfielder out of high school.
Fairley is still developing, and unfortunately for him and the Giants, he is developing slower than expected. However, Fairley is one of those guys who could develop into something should he ever realize and build upon a certain skill set. Right now, it seems to be plate patience and drawing walks, but even then he's been inconsistent in that category over his minor league career. His ceiling may not be high, and he probably won't ever live up to his "first-round pick" billing, but Fairley is a guy Giants fans should pay some attention to. He could develop into a poor-man's Lewis, perhaps even a player on Lewis' level should he ever develop a modicum of power or adeptness on the basepaths.
Whether that's a good or bad thing for Fairley's future though is yet to be determined. Despite Lewis' solid minor league numbers and decent career with the Giants, he wasn't exactly a favorite with the Giants fans or management, as evidenced by him being jettisoned to Toronto last season.