Potential Player of Interest: Ryan Sweeney | The Process Report

Potential Player of Interest: Ryan Sweeney

If the Rays’ interest in Nate Schierholtz indicates their desire to add a platoon outfielder, then one name that may pop up is Ryan Sweeney.

Boston acquired Sweeney last offseason in the Andrew Bailey-Josh Reddick trade. Sweeney roared in April, hitting .373/.394/.567. From thereon, Sweeney failed to hit for an OPS of more than .599 in a single month. The frustration caught up to Sweeney in late July, leading him to punch a wall. He broke multiple fingers with the haymaker and missed the season’s final 59 games because of it. The Red Sox, likely not amused that Sweeney had made better contact with a wall than he had with a ball over the past few months, elected to non-tender the 27-year-old.

Despite a 6-foot-4 frame, the former first-round pick’s game is devoid of power. Instead Sweeney relies on patience and contact. The line of demarcation between patience and discipline is thin, but one side implies passiveness and the other selectiveness. Sweeney might be on the wrong side. He’s offered at seven percent of first pitches over the past three seasons. Kevin Youkilis led the league in taking first pitches in 2012 with an eight percent mark. There is something to be said about seeing tons of pitches. However, falling behind in counts by letting hittable pitches go by is an undesirable attribute.

All is forgiven when Sweeney swings his picturesque swing. He makes a high rate of contact and uses the entire field. His stance is closed pre-swing and he strides toward the plate, preventing him from pulling off the ball. Sweeney has sound instincts defensively, and enough arm to play right field. He’s a solid runner as well, though the stolen base is not part of his game.

The comparison to Schierholtz isn’t perfect. Baseball Prospectus keeps multi-year platoon splits on their player pages, which weigh the last three seasons based on recentness. Using that measure, Sweeney has hit .287/.340/.396 against righties; Schierholtz has hit .277/.340/.446. Of course, Schierholtz received $2.25 million (with the chance for another half a million in performance incentives) while Sweeney is looking at something worth maybe half. But because of Sweeney’s former top prospect status and his age (he turns 28 in February), it’s easy to look at this following quote from Joe Maddon about James Loney and wonder if it doesn’t apply to Sweeney as well:

I know there’s probably something, some chicken left on the bone there yet, according to Dave Wells, but he’s also at that optimal age, like 28 years of age, right in that sweet spot, where we like to get guys, and maybe possibly what you would consider have underachieved to a point. And all of a sudden, they come to us, and this is like the perfect time to get them.

This is the age, I think, where a lot of potentially really good players that maybe have not arrived there arrive there. So we could hopefully be getting him, if that were to happen, at the exact right time.

Sweeney hasn’t lived up to his hype. He never developed power and his walk rates are only okay. If the Rays are looking for another platoon outfielder, one available at a low cost, then he could make some sense. Who knows, perhaps the Rays could excavate his remaining upside.

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