Boston Red Sox
Position: 3B Height: 6-1 Weight: 220 Born: 3/15/79 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Red Sox drafted Kevin Youkilis in the eighth round in 2001, out of the University of Cincinnati. A college senior, he'd played well with a wooden bat in the Cape Cod League after his junior year, getting on the prospect radar due to his bat. But questions about his defense and power with wood kept him out of the top part of the draft. Youkilis hit .317 in short-season ball after signing, but what was especially interesting was his superb strike-zone judgment. He's continued drawing buckets of walks at the higher levels, without many strikeouts, and has quickly become a favorite of the new Boston administration under general manager Theo Epstein.
Youkilis is an on-base machine. He never swings at a bad pitch, and is adept at working counts and outthinking the pitcher. Unlike some guys who draw lots of walks, Youkilis seldom strikes out. He makes solid contact against both fastballs and breaking pitches. Youkilis' swing is tailored for the line drive, and he may never hit for much home run power. But he hits balls to the gaps effectively, and could develop 10-14 home run power down the road. Youkilis does not have very good speed, though he is a decent baserunner. His defense at third base draws mixed reviews. His arm, range, and hands all rate as adequate/average. He doesn't kill the defense at third base, but he doesn't help it much, either, and is likely to end up at first base down the road.
Having spent the last seven weeks of 2002 at Double-A, Youkilis now has the equivalent of a complete season at that level under his belt. This comes out to a .330 average in 136 games, with 110 runs, 33 doubles, 11 homers, 62 RBI, 12 steals, 115 walks, and only 58 strikeouts in 467 at-bats, with a .462 OBP. This is equivalent to a batting average around .305 at the major-league level, with an OBP over .400. Not shabby at all for a 24-year-old, and a great basis for development.
Youkilis doesn't have great athleticism, but his hand-eye coordination is obviously excellent, and that's the key thing for a hitter. He's had no significant injury problems.
What to expect
Youkilis has nothing left to prove in Double-A, and should get a chance in Triple-A sometime soon. The trade of Shea Hillenbrand opens up a slot in the Red Sox lineup for Youkilis as soon as next year. Right now, Youkilis looks conservatively like a .280-.300 hitter with an outstanding on-base percentage and adequate gap power at the major-league level. Given a normal growth curve, he could be a potential batting champion down the road. That's a big expectation for a young hitter to live up to. Some Red Sox faithful have gone so far as to herald Youkilis as the new Wade Boggs. Youkilis is an excellent offensive prospect, but it is important to have perspective. It's possible Youkilis could settle into Bill Mueller-type usefulness, rather than Wade Boggs-type excellence. I hope fan expectations don't get out of hand and put extra burdens on a fine young hitter.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.