Of the players for whom 2013 is going to be an important season, Kellen Sweeney is at the top of my list. The 22 year old has to make some adjustments in order to put himself back into the prospect discussion for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The brother of outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who posted the best statistical season of his career for the Chicago Cubs last season, Kellen was drafted with all kinds of promise as a shortstop coming out of Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The younger Sweeney managed to get drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft despite the Tommy John surgery he had undergone the previous season. His first professional season in the Gulf Coast League was outstanding, hitting .267 with a 450 OBP and walking more than he struck out. His second season, moved up to Bluefield was cut short due to breaking a bone in his hand. He was off to a poor start to the season with the bat and Sweeney doesn’t seem to have been able to get out of that hole ever since.
In 2012, he received a fairly aggressive assignment, getting sent to Lansing to start the season. He hit only .179 despite a an excellent 13.9% walk rate and was sent down to Vancouver when the short-season Northwest League got under way. Hitting slightly better for the Canadians, Sweeney posted a .229/.330/.367 line and was showing some decent power at the lower level.
Moving back to Lansing in 2013, Sweeney continued to scuffle in the Midwest League, hitting only .185/.269/.284, showing a lack of power and seeing his strikeout rate jump to 23.6% despite maintaining a walk rate over 10%.
Unlike Jacob Anderson, who has seen a bad season and subsequent injuries scuttle his prospect status, Sweeney’s injuries are far enough in the past for minor league watchers to wonder if this is all he’s capable of. He still has a quick swing and good approach at the plate but he seems to either hit the ball at people or without much authority although the power did seem to start coming back a little bit in 2013. Unfortunately, it can’t be said that Sweeney made significant improvements throughout the season after a slow start because the only month in which he hit over .200 was in May.
People I’ve spoken to down in Lansing have spoken very highly of his makeup as well as his defensive play. He’s an outstanding defensive infielder and has played at just about every position on the infield except for shortstop and he’s played left field in the past.
For Sweeney, 2014 is going to be a make-or-break year. It is his fifth professional season and my gut reaction is that he’s going to be assigned to Dunedin to see if a bigger challenge jump starts his development. The Florida State League is a tough league for hitters but I think that he can’t stay in Lansing for another year, particularly with the big group of young, highly-touted prospects coming up from Bluefield like Mitch Nay, Matthew Dean and Dawel Lugo.
It would be great to see Sweeney realize some of his potential in 2014, particularly since he’s well regarded for his demeanor and his defense. Good luck to Kellen Sweeney in 2014.