At times, it feels like Dalton Pompey has been a part of the Blue Jays organization for ages. Selected in the 2010 amateur draft, he signed back when Vernon Wells, Shaun Marcum, Lyle Overbay, and Aaron Hill were a part of Toronto's major league roster. Given the fact that he's still not an established major leaguer, it is easy to see why some fans are experiencing prospect fatigue.
Dalton Pompey is widely regarded as a strong fielder and baserunner, so the major questions relate to his bat. He simply did not live up to his offensive expectations in his age-23 season, and a .270/.349/.353 batting line at AAA Buffalo leaves more to be desired. Before we all agree to trade Pompey to the first team that calls, let's quickly consider how the team's current starters fared before the age of 24:
Before Their 24th Birthday: Blue Jays Edition
Josh Donaldson: Heading into his age-24 season, he was about to get his first taste of AAA action. Donaldson had just posted a .379 on-base percentage in AA, but was not regarded as one of his team's top five prospects.
As a 24-year old, he was a league average hitter in 86 games for the Sacramento River Cats, and even appeared in 14 games for the Oakland Athletics. While he displayed power and plate discipline in the minors, he struggled to the tune of a .156 batting average in his short major league sample. Two years later, entering his age-26 season, Donaldson was still only regarded as an average AAA catcher.
Jose Bautista: He boasted 64 MLB games under his belt prior to his age-24 season, the exact number of career games for Dalton Pompey (including playoffs). He struck out 40 times in just 96 plate appearances during his rookie season, and went on to spend most of his age-24 season in AA. His 54 home run breakout season finally came in his age-29 season, the same year that Pompey was drafted.
Kevin Pillar: Pillar is third on the Blue Jays in WAR over the past two seasons, behind only Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion. However, entering his age-24 season, Pillar had yet to reach AA. He did make major strides as a 24-year old, excelling at both AA and AAA, which soon led to his major league debut in mid-August.
Pillar's debut did not go as planned, as he struggled to the tune of a .206/.250/.333 batting line in 36 games, and would head back to the minors before long. He projected as your typical fourth outfielder, but later broke out at the big league level as a 26-year old.
Devon Travis: Just before his age-24 season, Travis was traded to Toronto in exchange for Anthony Gose. He had yet to reach AAA, but was coming off a solid season for the Tigers AA affiliate in Erie. Flying under-the-radar on prospect lists, many believed he would start the season in the minors, but he quickly made a name for himself as 24-year old. He thrived with the big league club over 62 games, but lost a large part of his season due to injury.
Kendrys Morales: There was a lot of pressure on his bat given his defensive profile, but he enjoyed some success at the AAA level thanks to a .320/.359/.520 batting line as a 23-year old. He boasted 57 MLB games under his belt heading into his age-24 season, just two less than Pompey.
Morales struggled in his MLB sample, as his .234/.293/.371 batting line looked awful for a first baseman. He went on to put up 0 WAR in 43 games as a 24-year old, and followed that up with -0.5 WAR the next season. His breakout came as a 26-year old, as he belted 34 home runs with a .306 batting average.
Steve Pearce: Heading into his age-24 season, Pearce had yet to reach AA. He was terrific across three minor league levels later that year, and even earned himself a September call-up. A late bloomer, he finally broke out in his age-31 season, but injuries limited him to 102 games.
Troy Tulowitzki & Russell Martin: These were the clear outliers among Toronto's starting position players, as they both enjoyed big league success prior to their 24th birthday. Tulowitzki was a star shortstop at a young age, while Martin showcased himself with 2.4 WAR in his rookie season.
Other Notable Centre-Fielders:
|Player||First 2 WAR Season|
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||25|
Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen were quite productive at an early age, to say the least, but this is not the norm. There are a ton of late bloomers at this position, and it can take a few years before the player breaks out offensively. There's no guarantee that Pompey ever reaches this level, but patience could certainly pay off in this regard.
Looking For A Breakout Season
There's two major positives when scouting Dalton Pompey: he's a plus fielder, and he's quite good at taking a walk. As a result, there's less pressure on his bat, and a modest .260 batting average will play at the major league level. Steamer projects him for a .260/.326/.379 slash line, and given his defence and base-running, this would make him a solid everyday player.
The Blue Jays already have Kevin Pillar in the middle of the field, but players like Mookie Betts and Adam Eaton showcase the benefits of playing a strong defender in a corner outfield position. The pitching staff would greatly benefit from his presence in the outfield, and the team would benefit with Steve Pearce as the everyday first baseman.
With a decent performance in spring training, Dalton Pompey will be Toronto's best option as the everyday left-fielder. If he can bounce-back from a down season in 2016, we could see him breakout in a big way. If the bat does not come around, the team will at least enjoy quality defence and base-running, plus Melvin Upton Jr. can hold down the fort against left-handed pitching.
Don't give up on Dalton Pompey just yet. It's worth holding onto him for as long as possible, and hoping for him to follow in the footsteps of his teammates. Even if he does not make the team out of spring training, there's plenty of time for him to develop into an everyday player. The 2017 Toronto Blue Jays will be built on late-bloomers, and there could be another piece added to this puzzle in the near future.