Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tumbler Profile: Carlos Willoughby Takes Step Back in 2011

Second Baseman Carlos Willoughby was on my Top-32 last year (before it dramatically stopped at 17 with Heath Hembree) at No. 28, and though he was kind of a fringe guy on the list last year, I still had some high hopes for him. I basically pictured him as a more patient, Eugenio Velez, and considering Velez's main flaw was his lack of plate patience, I thought Willoughby might have some value and upside as a prospect. However, the Sally was not kind to Willoughby, and consequently, he tumbles out of my Top-30 for this year.

The Colombian-born product made a name for himself in his third year in the Dominican Summer League as he posted a slash line of .327/.466/.904 in 329 plate appearances in the DSL. While he was old for the league (the average age of hitters there was 18.4) and it was his third campaign in the DSL, I still liked the fact that he not only could hit, but he could take a walk as well (his BB/K ratio was a ridiculous 1.67). Furthermore, Willoughby also showed exceptional skills on the basepaths as he stole 46 bases out of 58 attempts, a 79 percent success rate. With an excellent eye, good contact skills and some aptitude on the basepaths, Willoughby had all the tools in my mind to be a sleeper prospect of sorts (though as noted, his older age was a bit of a concern).

At 21 years old, Willoughby produced a solid campaign in the Arizona Rookie League in 2010, as he posted a respectable slash of .295/.432/.804 in 205 plate appearances. His BB/K ratio wasn't as impressive as his DSL numbers, but at 0.47, it wasn't bad considering it was his first exposure to American professional pitching. His base stealing ability was his real strength in Arizona, as he stole 23 bases out of 27 attempts, an 85 percent success rate. Yes, Willoughby did not sport much power, as his ISO was only .136 and he only had16 extra base hits all year. Nonetheless, many felt his speed tool set would suit him well as he continued to climb up the system and be more exposed to American pitching.

He made the jump to Augusta last season and while some things improved in a sense, a lot did not. His BB/K ratio did rise to 0.73, but his overall slash line dipped to .240/.341/.650 in 567 plate appearances. Additionally, though the Sally is tough on hitters, he showed absolutely no power at all as evidenced by his .068 ISO. I found the ISO numbers especially surprising because one would think a guy with his speed set would be able to stretch some single into doubles (unfortunately that wasn't the case in 2011).

Hence, Willoughby pretty much proved to be nothing but a singles hitter (25 extra base hits) who could draw a walk and steal a base decently well (33 stolen bases on 43 attempts). His lackluster numbers, thin profile and older age (he was 22 in the Sally) caused him to fall off the radar in many Giants fans and analysts' minds and you'd be lucky to see Willoughby crack any Top-50 lists, let alone a Top-20 one.

Defensively, Willoughby seems to be good as evidenced by his 5.74 RF/G and .982 fielding percentage, but reports don't rate him as anything spectacular (probably Velez-esque to guess). Furthermore, with guys like Charlie Culberson and Nick Noonan and now most likely Joe Panik (who probably will move to second base based on reports about his defense) ahead of him, it's easy to see why Willoughby has been lost in the shuffle before and most likely will stay lost in the shuffle in 2012.

In my opinion, Willoughby has some potential to be a decent role player in the future. His plate patience is solid, and he has some competency on the basepaths (though to be honest, I'll be interested to see if his stolen base numbers will sustain as he moves up the system). Granted, his upside may be that of a utility player, and at his age, one has to wonder how old he would be when (or even IF) he gets a shot at the Majors. Thus, the big question would be, as an older age prospect making his Big League debut, will his speed and the ability on the basepaths still be there? Or will they deteriorate with age like most guys?

I like Willoughby for a variety of reasons. I was higher on Velez as a player than most Giant fans (I saw him hit a home run in person at AT&T and I was immediately endeared) and the comparisons to him are pretty uncanny; he's from Colombia (I visited Colombia for a month) and I like his plate patience, which you can't devalue by any means. But, if he wants to regain any steam as a prospect, he has to start hitting better for average (I'm not even going to talk about power because it's obvious that he's just not a power guy by any means), and right now that is simply a big question mark that could go either way at this point.

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