Called up Thursday evening and starting at third base Friday night against Greg Maddux and the Padres, Ryan Braun, 23, is a potential superstar. He is likely to battle L.A.'s Andy LaRoche for the title of best young N.L. third baseman not named David Wright or Miguel Cabrera. My rule of thumb is this: A guy has superstar potential if he meets three criteria:
• He hits like mad in the minors.
• He is brought up to the majors before he turns 24.
• He is a regular by the time he is 25.
Braun meets my first two requirements, and I'd bet a good chunk of the farm that he'll meet the third test when it's all said and done.
Braun, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, starred at the University of Miami and was taken with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2005 draft. At the time he was picked, Braun was lauded for his bat speed and power potential. In addition, he had a reputation for a strong arm and good speed. Two things scared some teams away: a hitch in his swing and bad footwork at third base that made him error-prone.
Flash-forward to 2007: Braun came into the spring with a chance to earn a starting job. He hit like a demon, belting five homers in four Cactus League games, but he made a throwing error in each of those games. He was sent to minor-league camp with orders to get his defense in order. Another concern for us fantasy folks: Braun had plate-discipline issues before this season (a 140/55 K/BB in 650 at-bats).
In the meantime, Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino were given a platoon role at third base in Milwaukee. I don't stand in judgment of them as human beings, but as fantasy players, they're useless: They're batting a combined .214-.320-.273 with a homer and 14 RBIs in 154 at-bats.
At Triple-A Nashville, Braun has been hitting like a machine, going .342-.418-.701 (with 12 doubles and 10 homers in 117 at-bats). His 1.119 OPS was leading the Pacific Coast League, and his league-leading slugging percentage was 27 points higher than Kansas City's Billy Butlerand 73 points higher than the PCL's No. 3 guy, 31-year-old Hiram Bocachica. Even more encouraging; his plate discipline showed a tremendous improvement, with a K/BB ratio of 11/15 so far this season.
Braun's offensive upside is that of a younger Justin Morneau -- except Braun has more speed, and he qualifies at third base. Braun just might have top-of-the-scale power and 20 steals in him. The thing is, be safe and assume that his first 40-homer season occurs 2-3 years down the road. For now, he's likely to hit .260-.280 with 10-15 homers over the balance of the season (with 5-8 steals) as he gets his major-league footing.
Projected Playing Time
Braun's defense is a lot less problematic right now: He committed a mere three errors at Nashville. If he can keep his throwing problems in check, there is no reason he can't earn a full-time job and keep it starting now. Counsell and Graffanino always were considered place-holders. Braun was rated the No. 2 prospect in Milwaukeee's organization by Baseball America. Milwaukee's overall third-base play might be the worst in baseball, so Braun's time is now, and it appears as if he will get 300-400 plate appearances from here on out.
If I needed an offensive boost, he'd be at the top of my charts.
David Srinivasan writes about statistics and the minors for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.COM. If you have questions or want David to write up a minor leaguer you're interested in, please e-mail him at Srini@TalentedMrRoto.com.