Friday, March 23, 2012

Prospect Highlight: Wendell Fairley, OF

With the recent news of former No. 1 overall pick Matt Bush being involved in another alcohol-induced incident, it got me thinking "Who are some high round picks in the Giants system that have really fallen off the past couple of seasons?" The two names that came to mind were Wendell Fairley and Michael Main (whom I'll be covering in another post). Bush has had serious makeup problems since he was drafted, and to be honest, while he has flashed good numbers as a converted pitcher (he used to play shortstop, but hit so poorly the Padres decided to switch him positions), I think his makeup problems (specifically alcohol issues) will prevent him from reaching even a modicum of his potential.

(On a side note: I don't understand why this guy has been given so many chances at this point in his career. This was a guy who was arrested at a high school because he showed up drunk, threatened high school kids and then was caught on video camera screaming and crying hysterically as police arrested him. Why would any team touch him, let alone two teams with very smart general managers in the driver's seats? (Though to be fair, Toronto booted him after he broke their zero-tolerance policy they agreed upon when he signed with the Jays; at this point, I think Tampa is probably going to follow suit, especially since they already have some heat on them from acquiring Josh Lueke, a pitcher who allegedly raped someone. Having Lueke, and a guy who apparently hit and run a 72-year-old man on a motorcycle while drunk on the same roster would be a PR nightmare, and Tampa has enough problems drawing fans to the park.)

But, to my knowledge, Fairley and Main's issues have simply been ineffectiveness at the professional level, so at least they have that going for them, unlike Bush. That being said, they did come as highly touted picks, and they have hardly lived up to their Draft Day press clippings during their minor league careers so far. Can 2012 be a break out for the both of them, where they finally capture at least SOME of the hype that made them such highly merited first round choices? Or are these two probably destined to be fringe prospects in the Billy Rowell-mold?

Let's take a look at Fairley in this post. I'll try to take a stab at Main in one of the next ones sometime this weekend.

Wendell Fairley, outfielder

Age: 24
Minor League service time: Three years.
Highest level played: Double-A (Richmond)
Career minor league stat line: .263 average, .347 OBP, .334 slugging, .681 OPS, 167 runs scored, eight home runs, 24 stolen bases in 367 games and 1,419 plate appearances. 
Overall Grade: C-/D+ (Leaning more toward latter grade though)
Projection: Backup outfielder; maybe career minor league player.

Why Has Fairley Been Disappointing?

When drafted in the Giants' pick-heavy 2007 draft, many felt that the Giants got a good steal with Fairley in the 29th slot. Keith Law remarked that Fairley had middle-of-the-first round potential in the draft, but went lower because of signability and some makeup issues (apparently, he had a kid when he was a senior in high school, which to be honest, isn't really all that uncommon with a lot of athletes). A lot of the reports on Fairley were very sterling, as scouts raved about his "five tool" potential as well his athleticism. According to OGC's draft day profile on Fairley, scouts remarked that he had "the ability to hit for average and plus power" and that he was a "plus runner" and had defensive skills "perfect for center field."

However, there were some concerns about Fairley's game from people, even on draft day. For starters, Fairley was a two sport athlete in high school who also concentrated heavily on football (he was widely recruited by colleges as a wide receiver), and hence, he wasn't as widely known by scouts because of his dual-sport commitments. Also, while sporting "five tool" potential, many experts and people in the Giants organization (even Brian Sabean) admitted that he was very raw and that it would take some time for him to develop into those tools. Still, despite some concerns, the vibe surrounding Fairley's selection was overall very positive, as said in OGC's post:

"He sounds like the best position prospect that we have had in ages (well, at least before Villalona; won't they make a nice pair of call-ups in 4-6 years, or less?) and he helps makes up for the fact that we passed up a few premier position talents in Dominguez, Heyward, and Mills, particularly Heyward since I've seen a number of descriptions of him being remniscent of Willie McCovey. He's noted as a Top 10-15 pick by talent so he's equivalent enough to them to satisfy me - and I do like Bumgarner and Alderson and the fact that Sabean and Tidrow both noted that they are on the fast track and could advance to the majors in as short as 2 years, so despite them not being college players, they could provide return to the Giants in perhaps even a shorter timeframe, few prospects make the majors in 6 years, let alone 2 years. And there's no way the Giants would have gotten anyone as good as Bumgarner in the 29th pick had they selected any of those three hitters."

Despite the lofty praise and excitement, Fairley's high point seemed to be draft day and it's been downhill since. He held his own in 52 games in the Arizona Rookie League in 2008, posting a .363 wOBA, but his wOBA was mostly helped by a .388 OBP and a BB/K ratio of 0.70. In terms of actually hitting the ball, his numbers were very mediocre, as he hit only .259 and posted a slugging of .337 with only two home runs in 238 plate appearances. So, while Fairley did show a good approach at the plate his first season in Rookie Ball, his lackluster ability to hit for average or show any power in Arizona was a bit of a warning sign.

All that came into fruition in his first two full years of professional ball. In Single-A Augusta in 2009, he posted a slash of .243/.323/.333 in 390 plate appearances. Not only did he show little ability to hit for average or power in the Sally (only one more home run despite 152 more plate appearances), but he didn't showcase any of the speed that made scouts grade him a "plus runner" on draft day (only two stolen bases on six attempts). While he did pick it up offensively in San Jose in 2010, improving his slash to .292/.362/.343 in 440 plate appearances, the complete lack of power (one home run all year) and questionable baserunning skills (10 stolen bases on 16 attempts) made him an afterthought in most Giants prospects lists.

The Giants had him repeat the year in San Jose in 2011, and though he struggled in his second Cal League campaign (he posted a .245/.329/.317 slash in 242 plate appearances), the Giants still promoted him to Richmond toward the end of the year. Despite the change to the pitcher-friendly environments of the Eastern League, Fairley actually performed a lot better in the EL in 2011 than in the CL, posting a slash of .265/.321/.337 with a .657 OPS in 109 plate appearances. Still though, 2011 provided more of the same: a lot of empty singles and not much extra on the basepaths (only five stolen bases the whole year).

When you look at him in person, Fairley seems to have an athletic presence, but he doesn't 'wow' you in the way a typical "five tool" type would. He's not blazing, his frame isn't incredibly strong looking, and his swing is very constricted and illustrates why he has never posted a slugging in the .400 range over his career. He has a slap hitter's swing that makes him a groundball machine. One would hope that management and instruction has tried to work with him on this, but after four years, one has to wonder how much has been taught and how much has changed. From what I've seen from when he first started playing professional ball, not a lot has progressed in terms of swing mechanics, which makes me think Fairley's power ceiling and ability to hit extra base hits will sort of stay where it is (i.e. very low).

Is There Still Hope for Fairley?

To be honest, Fairley is one of those prospects that's really hanging on the edge right now in terms of projection. If I have to guess where he ends up, I would probably say he's a career minor leaguer with maybe a backup or utility role in the outfield being his ceiling at this point. He doesn't hit for average, doesn't hit for power, doesn't steal bases, doesn't play excellent defense (he projects more as a corner infielder at this point) and doesn't exactly have the best eye at the plate (though he does seem to adjust with more exposure to pitching, as his BB/K ratio improved in his second year in San Jose). All those are factors that are heavily working against his potential and chances in terms of being a Major League player.

However, to be honest, his slash lines haven't been as bad as I initially thought, and Giants fans had to expect Fairley to struggle like this to start out his career. He was so raw when he was drafted that to expect him to come out and mash would be foolish.Yes, the power and speed hasn't developed as well as hoped, but the averages and OBP numbers still give glimmers of hope that he can have some kind of utility for the Giants organization in the future. The glimmer is small and unlikely to project into anything, but to say Fairley is done at 24 years old and after only four seasons (including only 34 games in Double-A) would be a bit rash at this point.

There is a lot for Fairley to overcome. To be honest, there are a lot more outfield prospects in the lower minors levels of the Giants system who are younger and with more upside than Fairley at this point, so he has to do a lot to hold them. Minor injuries have seemed to take its toll on Fairley over his career, as was the case last year where he was limited to only 95 games. So, if Fairley can stay healthy and be somewhat effective in Richmond again, there is hope that he can rebound his status as a prospect in 2012. He won't jump up on any Top 30 lists going into 2013, but if he can have a bounce back year where he can post a .270/.340/.380-esque slash, then Fairley will suddenly be an interesting prospect again in the Giants system and not just the "first round" bust he's been known as the past couple of seasons.

No comments:

Post a Comment