Reader Wayne mentioned Brandon Laird in the comments the other day, and as a minor leaguer who (a) we’ve never written anything about, and (b) might possibly contribute to the big league club at some point, he seems worth spending a few minutes on.
Here’s what Wayne had to say about Laird: “I saw him play for the Trenton Thunder, and I liked his bat a lot, but he’s a bit of an abomination in the infield. (He only had a couple of chances in the two or three games I saw him play, and he handled all of those chances, but I believe he had a ton of errors at third.)
I understand the Yankees are trying to groom Laird as an outfielder to increase his versatility. I hope he can cut it in the outfield. I think he could be a nice fourth outfielder and emergency infielder in the future. There’s even a chance he could be a full-time corner outfielder some day, either here or somewhere, if he continues to mature as a hitter. He certainly had an impressive year last year with the bat.
Larry, what’s your read on Laird’s potential? And do you have any idea what the Yankees’ projection is for Laird after last season?”
I responded by saying that Wayne probably knew more about Laird than I did, as someone who’s actually seen him play, but I promised I’d take a look at the numbers and see if I could draw any conclusions.
Here’s what Brandon has done offensively during his Minor League career:
Per Chad Jennings, Laird was probably the breakout star of the Yankee farm system last season, and certainly the biggest potential impact bat on the upper levels of the farm, non-Jesus Montero division. A .383 wOBA over 454 PAs in the Eastern League — often thought to be as if not more difficult than AAA — on the Trenton Thunder, a team that plays in a home ballpark with a reputation for annihilating offense, is not only highly impressive but was also good enough to result in Laird being named 2010 MVP of the Eastern League.
Though he had an uninspiring 127 PAs at AAA last year, he still hit a combined .281 with 25 homers and 102 RBI this season across both levels. Laird — drafted as a third/first baseman, but not exactly known for his defensive prowess — was sent to the Arizona Fall League this past autumn for additional at-bats and also to begin the transition to the outfield. Laird slumped a bit in the notoriously hitter-friendly AFL, batting .236/.282/.436 over 110 at-bats, although after accumulating a career-high number of professional at-bats in 2010 I’d be inclined to attribute his performance to simply running out of steam. The aforelinked Baseball America article has the following quote from Laird on learning several new positions:
“If you look at the corners up there (New York), there are two great players—-Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira,” Laird added. “With me going to the outfield, left and right field, it gives me two more positions. I can play third, if someone needs some rest I can play first, left, right, even DH. I think that’s going to be my best bet to get to the big leagues the quickest way.”
After digesting all of this data, it sounds to me like Laird’s stick could play somewhere in MLB, although probably as more of a bench/fourth outfielder/utility infielder type. According to the Minor League Equivalency calculator, his 2010 at Trenton translates to a rather uninspiring .239/.290/.405 in 421 at-bats.
The Hardball Times’ Oliver projection actually has Laird’s 2011 Major League Equivalent forecast at .259/.309/.462, .331 wOBA over 586 PAs, worth 1.5 WAR. Now if that were actually the case, the slash line would be acceptable for a bench player, but of course Laird wouldn’t even sniff 586 PAs at the MLB level, so if we cut the PAs in half, perhaps something in the neighborhood of 0.7 WAR is a more realistic projection. On the flip side, CAIRO doesn’t seem to think much of Laird at all, with a .243/.295/.406, .306 wOBA line over 557 PAs.
Even if Laird were to rediscover his torrid AA form, the numbers still indicate that he’s probably ultimately destined for an MLB bench. And that’s fine; no one’s expecting Laird to become a superstar. It’s certainly possible he makes a giant leap sometime this year and surprises the heck out of everyone for a second straight season, forcing his way into the starting outfield picture at some point, but it seems far more likely that Laird will be called on for perhaps fourth or fifth outfielder duty. Given that the Yankees have had to trot out the likes of Greg Golson, Kevin Russo, Chad Huffman, Colin Curtis, Justin Christian, Kevin Thompson and Bronson Sardinha to fill those roles in recent years, Laird will hopefully be a pleasant surprise.