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Top Prospect Alert - Travis Hafner

By Schuyler Dombroske

DOB: 6/3/77, Age: 25, Bats/Throws: L/R, Height: 6’3’’, Weight: 240. Acquired: Indians - Traded with Aaron Myette from Texas for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese on 12/6/02; Drafted by Rangers in the 31st Round of the 1996 Draft (Cowley County CC, KA). 2001 Stats: (AA - Tulsa) .282 AVG, 323 AB, 25 2B, 0 3B, 20 HR, 3 SB, 59 BB, 82 K, .393 OBP, .545 SLG. 2002 Stats: (AAA - Oklahoma City) .342 AVG, 401 AB, 22 2B, 1 3B, 21 HR, 2 SB, 79 BB, 76 K, .463 OBP, .559 SLG; (Maj. - Rangers) .242 AVG, 62 AB, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 0 SB, 8 BB, 15 K, .329 OBP, .387 SLG.
    In the shrewd deal for Travis Hafner, the Indians cheaply acquired a slightly lesser version of their former first baseman Jim Thome, and at the same time, created space for one of their other top prospects in Victor Martinez. Hafner, who will be 26 in June, is a bit old to be both a top prospect and a Rookie of the Year candidate, but rest assured, he is certainly both. Hafner is an incredibly strong left-handed hitter with power to all fields, cut right from the same cloth as Thome and Jason Giambi. His power is his most readily apparent tool, as he has hit 20 or more homers at each of his past four stops in the minors. He can hit them off any pitch, in most zones, to all fields. In short, he has legitimate big-league power. Hafner combines his ability to hit to all fields with solid plate discipline, a mix that certainly can result in a high batting average. He’s hit above .340 two out of the past three years, (his other season was cut short by a wrist injury) so I think it is safe to say that a .300 batting average and 20 homers are not out of the question for his rookie campaign, if he gets 500 at bats. On the bases, Hafner is below average. He is not a station-to-station runner just yet, but anyone who witnessed his attempt for a cycle-completing triple last season would not put “nimble” or “swift” anywhere near a comment on Travis Hafner. In the field, Hafner is also below average. He is reasonably surehanded, but his range is rather limited. He actually looks like someone who needs more practice at first, which is surprising given every comment made regarding his work ethic. He’ll probably play a lot of first this season, but he certainly looks like a future DH to me. The only major potential negative with Hafner is his health. A wrist injury cut short his 2001 season, and the same thing apparently shorted his winter-ball campaign this year, although that might have been a smokescreen for the trade announcement. His early-season power numbers will probably shed some light on the status of his wrist. Other than that, Hafner is a solid acquisition for the Tribe.
    The Indians are in the midst of a retooling, one which happens to be occurring in a reasonably weak division. This fact, of course, gives them the illusion that they are closer to being a very good team than they actually are. I think their offense is a bit ahead of their pitching staff, with Victor Martinez, Hafner, Ben Broussard, Brandon Phillips, and Alex Escobar all young (relatively) and showing potential. The rotation has Cliff Lee, Sabathia, Ricardo Rodriguez, Brian Tallet, and Danys Baez (banished to the bullpen for the time being) in a similar state. Mark Shapiro has done a nice job getting the Indians geared up for another shot at AL Central domination, but with Ken Williams shaking off the cobwebs in Chicago and the folks in Minnesota beginning to utilize some of their organizational talent, the competition is much stiffer than it was ten years ago. The Indians are probably still looking at a third place finish this year, but could be in the mix for 2004 or 2005. As far as Hafner goes, with DH seemingly occupied by the aging wheels of Ellis Burks, he will probably start the year at 1B in the bigs (although the Indians are making noises about having a straight-up competition between Hafner and Broussard during the spring). I expect that Hafner will perform up to league-average standards at first, which should be enough to give the Indians a hitter for the middle of their lineup. Breaking in this late, I wouldn’t expect a fantastic career for him, but he could put together a solid ten years if everything falls right. Hafner does indeed draw his share of comparisons to Thome, but I don’t think he has quite that much power. He might, but something more along the lines of a cross between Thome and the left-handed part of David Segui’s game might be closer. Either way, Cleveland has themselves a hitter for the immediate future, even if he does end up as the DH within a year or two.


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