Let’s face it: it’s not just chicks who dig the long ball. It’s everyone, fans in the bleachers, producers putting together nightly highlight reels … and yes, fantasy owners, too. When Prince Fielder launches 27 bombs in the Midwest League, we take notice, eagerly looking forward to the power he’ll bring to our teams a few years down the road. Yet when Joey Gathright steals 69 bases in 111 minor league games, we don’t feel nearly the same degree of anticipation.
Steals, however, are a rare commodity in today’s game, and when a speedster of Gathright’s caliber shows up, we should take notice. A project signed by Tampa Bay with the 949th pick in the 2001 draft, the 21-year-old outfielder has developed far more quickly than anyone could have predicted. After hitting just .264 in 59 games for the Rays’ South Atlantic League affiliate in 2002, he improved significantly last season, posting an average of .324 (along with an OBP of .406) at Bakersfield. For an encore, Gathright hit AA pitching to the tune of a .376 average in a 22-game stint at Orlando. This year, he was invited to spring training, but will most likely spend the season in the minors, although a late call-up isn’t out of the question.
A prototypical singles hitter – only one of his 32 hits at Orlando went for extra bases – whose OBP is higher than his slugging, Gathright won’t help in the power categories. Then again, neither does Juan Pierre, and we’ve all figured out just how valuable the Marlins speedster is in roto leagues. Gathright’s excellent fielding skills won’t show up in most fantasy standings either, but they’ll serve to accelerate his arrival in the big leagues. For while Tampa Bay already has a solid outfield featuring Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Jose Cruz, Jr., if Joey Gathright keeps tearing up the basepaths the way he did last year, the Rays won’t be able to keep him down on the farm for long. Steal him in your minor league drafts.