Too often we like to think of baseball as a linear game. This is especially true when it comes to prospects and younger players. They must progress at very specific rates and hit distinct checkpoints or something is amiss. We certainly don’t allow much wiggle room for prospects who struggle over a number of years to live up to their promise. Once a prospect has started bouncing around, they are written off as failures.
Donnie Dewees is trying to prove that not all baseball careers are linear. He’s in his second go-around with the Chicago Cubs organization. Gone are the days where he was a highly touted second-round pick out of the University of North Florida. He came to the Cubs this time via the trade route because the Kansas City Royals had decided Dewees had nothing to offer the organization. Viewed through a linear lens Dewees career in organized ball was on the downward spiral, with no end in sight.
Before his February 2017 trade from the Cubs to the Royals for right-handed pitcher Alec Mills Dewees had shown potential at both the A and High-A levels. The following year he posted his third straight season with a WRC+ above 100 and appeared to be on track for positive organizational progression. Then 2018 hit and Dewees, well, he stopped hitting. At the Double-A level, he only managed a WRC+ of 80 with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Promotion to the Royals Triple-A affiliate Omaha Storm Chasers did little to help the situation. His WRC+ remained below average at 92. The power he displayed in college still had yet to manifest itself with a wooden bat, 27 home runs in 4 years, and his ability to get on base via base on balls remained almost nonexistent.
When Dewees was shipped back to the Cubs this offseason it marked the most important stage in his career. He had been identified as no longer being a prospect to keep an eye on. If baseball really were a linear game then Dewees would have continued his downward movement in 2019. Baseball is far from linear and Dewees has steamrolled his career in the opposite direction of where it was headed. The center fielder finds himself with career highs in nearly every offensive category. His slash line of .313/.419/.490 lead into a WRC+ of 129. The tale of Dewees’ 2019 offensive numbers is of someone who has figured something out.
It appears that what the Inverness, Florida native figured out is that if he swings at good pitches he will fare much better. His BB% is 12.0 this year, while his K% is 10.3. Prior to this season he never had a year where his BB% was above 8.8 or his K% below 12.4. His BB/K is 1.17, his previous career best was 0.57 in 2017, while his 2019 ZiPS projected him to be at 0.27. The Dewees on the ballfield in 2019 is not a Donnie Dewees we have ever seen before. He is a completely different player, except he is still a good fielder and still possesses the same speed he always has.
The argument could be made that Dewees is simply benefitting from a juiced Pacific Coast League baseball. However, his improvement isn’t really about power, though his ISO of .177 is a career high. Rather, his improvement is rooted in showing a drastic increase in plate discipline. This, in turn, is allowing him to make better contact when he does swing. Donnie Dewees isn’t being talked about much, but that’s because his improvements didn’t follow the standard trajectory. There’s a chance his 2019 improvements are for real, and those improvements may lead to a big league shot sooner rather than later.
Lead photo courtesy of Dylan Heuer