If you blinked you probably missed that Dalton Pompey played in the majors last September. And nobody could blame you. Pompey logged only 43 plate appearances in 17 mostly meaningless games with the Toronto Blue Jays. Pompey’s overall line during that first taste wasn’t particularly electrifying either. He batted .231/.302/.436, struck out 12 times and walked just four. If you were so inclined, you could probably get through all of his at bats in one sitting. I’ll do you a favor and boil it down to the highlights.
He did do this off Felix Hernandez:
And this off Chris Tillman:
…twice in one game:
Oh, and he did this in the field (a few times actually):
Steadily rising through the Toronto system since being a Round 16 pick in 2010 via consistent play at every level, Pompey brings decent power along with speed, a rangey glove, strong throwing arm, and positive contact skills. He’s not the stud that everyone presumes Byron Buxton to be in Minnesota, but Pompey projects as a safer bet to be at least a consistent middle-to-bottom of the lineup bat who can command center field. If things swing towards the best case, he’s a leadoff hitter of the future who can beat you in almost every way, including drawing walks by making pitchers (even in his jittery first month he saw 3.70 pitches/PA, a number Reyes has gotten above only once in his career) work and anchor the Toronto lineup in a way they haven’t seen since perhaps Devon White.
Add Pompey’s flare for the flash to Daniel Norris’ beard and Marcus Stroman’s newly-honed wicked split-finger (with gas that belies his diminutive stature) and you have a triumvirate that should jolt a Toronto fan base that hasn’t been allowed to get excited behind the shadow of AL East powerhouses for two decades. On the flip side, while we know Stroman can play at the highest level, does that same go for someone like Pompey? At first glance his comps look a lot like prototypical slap and dash center field such as Dexter Fowler and Adam Eaton. Immediately Pompey is set a part by being a switch hitter, thus resembling his current teammate Jose Reyes at the dish. Pompey won the Minor League Gold Glove Award for CF in 2013 and, unlike Reyes, he should remain sturdy in the field.
Using Carson Cistulli’s nifty WAR tool for Minor League players since 2006, Pompey has accumulated a 9.9 Wins Above Replacement since his age 17 short season in 2010. A strong number that doesn’t rate anywhere near Adam Eaton’s disgusting Minor League line (19.1 WAR all told), mainly because Eaton puts the bat on ball as good as anybody in the game, but when coupled with Pompey’s toolsy dynamism, makes for a promising lynchpin for Toronto to have in their back pocket. Not to mention Pompey will likely dwarf Eaton’s power numbers. If, at the very least, Toronto ended up with an upside Melky Cabrera, another favorable comp, building around Pompey would still be worth a try.
Most impressive about Pompey is his ability to get on base. In his five seasons in the minors he posted a cumulative .367 OBP, while showing an ability to keep his walks high and strikeouts relatively low. In 2014, before being promoted to the Jays, he plowed from A+ ball through AAA, posting On Base Percentages of .397, .378, and .393, respectively. As was the case with Eaton, there’s good reason to assume that Pompey’s contact abilities will translate at every level. Additionally, when Pompey’s on base he should put constant pressure on the pitcher. He stole an average of 27 bases over his past four campaigns. Steamer currently projects him to swipe 21 in his rookie season, a number that might look low in a few short months.
To recap: Pompey comps as Eaton with more projectable power, Reyes with a glove, and Melky with wheels. Why then does it seem Pompey has flown under the radar while a comparable player like Buxton or a can’t-miss guy like Kris Bryant steals all the air from the room? Baseball America has never even ranked Pompey in their Top 100 Propsects, stating that scouts have “tagged him as a below average to average hitter,” who is “on occasion overmatched with velocity.” Getting lost playing with Toronto might have something to do with his standing also, as might the letdowns that fit Pompey’s profile – from Rocco Baldelli to Cameron Maybin. There is reason to wonder if Pompey will level off and become more of the solid prospect he once was and less of the star he’s been recently. Pompey’s longish swing will likely play far better from the left side of the plate. If he can’t produce both ways his value is limited a great deal, but hardly lost completely. Most importantly, Pompey has to keep his strikeouts down and walk percentages up. This slight inconsistency, which was shown in his small sample size at the majors where he struck out 21.5% of the time against 7.5% in walks, creates fair skepticism.
The Jays, perhaps even more effectively than the Red Sox, have maintained a core of veterans while adding high-quality pieces from other teams and developing talented young prospects. The attention will be on that nucleus of pitchers, Stroman, Norris and Aaron Sanchez, but don’t sleep on Pompey, who may quickly find himself atop the lineup everyday, especially if Reyes misses time once again. Not many people are projecting Pompey to win the Rookie of the Year but from my view he’s in the pole position. No pressure.
Feature Image: Via Yahoo! Sport Canada