What might the Yankees expect to get out of Brandon Laird in 2011?

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.

3 thoughts on “What might the Yankees expect to get out of Brandon Laird in 2011?

  1. What do you think about Jorge Vázquez? he once again batter pretty well in the strongest league of México (the winter pacific league), and in the playoffs (semifinal) he hit 4 homers with 14 hits for a pretty good batting average above 0.370, during the regular season he had limited play =/

    his stats this winter (near the bottom, with the Tomateros de Culiacán):

    batted in the season:
    0.346 Avg
    0.401 OBP
    0.647 SLG
    1.081 OBPS
    10 hrs
    30 RBI
    36 games
    133 AB
    13 walks
    41 K's

    The winning team from this league goes on to face Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela in the Caribbean Series.

    And in the Mexican summer league:

  2. I agree with you, Larry, that Laird’s weak performance in Arizona can probably be attributed to too many games played last year. The Yankees might have been better served by allowing him to rest during the offseason and make the transition to the outfield in 2011 at AAA.

    It’s interesting that clubs worry constantly about young pitchers getting overworked early in their careers (see Joba and Hughes), but they don’t apply the same level of concern to position players. Overworking a young position player can lead to a loss of confidence if they tire (as expected), and it can also lead to injuries that might derail their development.

    But, back to Laird’s potential. He strikes me as the sort of guy that needs time to adjust at each incremental level in his career. When I first saw him two years ago, he wasn’t hitting much, but then he broke loose last year. But I saw something in him, even when he wasn’t performing that well two years ago, that told me he had the potential to be a major leaguer.

    As I noted and your article seemed to confirm, he projects as a fourth outfielder and emergency infielder at the MLB level at this point. But he exhibits the kind of desire that could lead to him far outreaching his projected potential.

    Either way, it’s apparent he needs at least one year at AAA before we can rightly expect anything significant out of him at the MLB level. But my gut feeling is he’s going to play some kind of significant role at the MLB level eventually. Whether that will be as a full-time player or a valuable reserve is yet to be determined. As you noted in your closing, quality role players are hard to come by, and younger ones who you can control inexpensively for a number of years are even more valuable.

    As a younger player, a guy like Laird may actually read articles like this one about himself. So, Laird, if you happen to read the comments section, keep working hard at your game, stay confident that things will turn around when you slump some (like every hitter eventually does), and you’ll achieve your dream of playing major league baseball. I, for one, think you can make it. Good luck.