Thursday, January 12, 2012

Analyzing Matt Antonelli

The Orioles made a curious move this off-season when they signed infielder Matt Antonelli to a major league contract. The former first round pick of the San Diego Padres has only 65 major league plate appearances in his career. So what reason(s) could the Orioles possibly have to sign a guy like Antonelli to a major league deal?

Antonelli started out his career with fairly strong numbers in the lower minors with the Padres. His first season he had a line of .286/.426/.360 with a .331 BABIP and a .388 wOBA in Low-A Ball. His second season he raised the bar even higher, posting a .307/.404/.491 line in 629 plate appearances between High-A and AA Ball. It seemed that Antonelli was well on his way to becoming a very productive major league infielder.

 Unfortunately for Antonelli, his stock fell through the roof in 2008 when he posted a line of .215/.335/.322 with a .248 BABIP and .305 wOBA. Antonelli also battled injuries, and to make a long story short, fell off the map in terms of prospects. It seemed that at age 26, he might have run out of time to show he could still play at the major league level, until the Nationals gave him a minor league deal to prove his worth.

Antonelli did not disappoint. He posted a .297/.393/.460 line with a .342 BABIP and .377 wOBA in 2011 at AAA for the Nationals. It was nothing short of the promising resurgence that he surely was looking for. It was strong enough to land him a major league deal with the Orioles.

 Some may wonder why the Orioles would give a struggling prospect a major league deal after one good season in AAA at age 26. If you look at his career minor league numbers though, his .373 OBP shows that he could potentially be a solid addition to any club. If Antonelli is fully healthy, it would not be a stretch to say that he could provide the Orioles with the asset they are indeed looking for. Not only can he get on base at a reasonable clip but he has the track record proving it. If you take out the seasons where was injured (2008-2010), he has a .402 OBP. His career numbers are rather exceptional for a low-risk signing, although he does not provide much power or stolen base potential at this point. He can also play multiple positions such as 3B, 2B, SS, and OF. He most likely will get playing time at 3B and 2B, but it is never a bad thing to have multiple position eligibility. Overall, Antonelli is exactly the type of player the Orioles need to take a risk on. They are not going to be contending anytime soon, so they need to take fliers on former big-talent guys such as Antonelli. He may never be more than a bench player at this point, but he still provides the Orioles with a low-risk/high-gain potential.

*Credit to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference for the statistics*

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