Boston Red Sox
Position: 3B Height: 6-1 Weight: 220 Born: 3/15/79 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Promoted to the major leagues two weeks ago, Kevin Youkilis is playing third base in place of the injured Bill Mueller, and has pleased the Red Sox with his early hitting. Nicknamed the "Greek God of Walks" in the stathead community, Youkilis was an eight-round pick in 2001 from the University of Cincinnati. In his senior year, he hit .405 with 18 homers and 59 walks in 58 games. He has remained an effective offensive player in pro ball, mainly due to his exquisite plate discipline.
Scouts have never been especially wild about Youkilis, since he isn't that athletic and doesn't have good physical tools. He doesn't run well, has an average arm, average range at third base, and doesn't have tremendous power. Although his defense at third base is only average, he does enough offensively to play at the hot corner. He has a quick swing, and while he isn't a huge home run threat, he hits line drives from gap-to-gap, making consistent hard contact. He has a mature, intellectual approach at the plate. Youkilis has some of the best strike zone judgment in professional baseball. He works pitchers like a master, tries hard to get ahead in the count, and seldom swings at pitches outside the zone. His goal is to get into hitter's counts, and he is adept at killing the cripple pitch. Youkilis had some adjustment problems in his first exposure to Triple-A pitching last year, and some scouts worry that he can be too patient. That's an easier problem to fix than lack of patience, and Youkilis has proven that he should not be underestimated. His instincts are sound, and he is a student of the game.
If you like walks, you'll like Youkilis. His high walk rate juices his on-base percentage, and since he's usually hitting at or over .300, his OPB is good indeed. The main worry in his statistical profile is his performance at Triple-A Pawtucket in the second half of 2003 and early 2004. He looked overmatched at times last year, hitting just .165 and with a higher-than-usual strikeout rate, though he maintained a good walk rate. He did better this spring, though his .258/.347/.406 line through 32 games was still below his standards in Class A and Double-A. On the other hand, he's looked good against major league pitching so far. Putting everything together, on paper at least, it looks like he should be able to hit .280+ in the Show, with plenty of walks and doubles. Traditional scouts who like him compare him to Mueller, and most statheads remain optimistic about his future.
Youkilis has had no serious health problems.
What to expect
Several other clubs have asked about Youkilis in trade talks, but if he continues to hit like this, it won't be easy to pry him away. Youkilis has impressed the Sox so far, and the stat-oriented Epstein Administration certainly appreciates his ability to get on base. His immediate future may depend on how quickly Mueller can come back. In the long run, he should be able to provide a good batting average and excellent OBP for several years. He is a good example of how an intelligent skill approach can make a player valuable despite mediocre physical tools.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.