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Chris Pettit: Angels Top Prospect #19

19) Chris Pettit, 8/15/84 - OF, AAA

.321/.383/.482 with 8 HR's and 18 SB's. +14 bat, -2 glove

Ranking in a Nutshell:  Seven months ago, Pettit looked like the best hitter in the Angels' system: he had ended 2008 destroying Arizona Fall League pitching with a .359/.417/.545 line, and was carrying a monster 2009 season into June, batting .371 with 27 extra-base hits for the Bees.  His stock as a prospect skyrocketed, and remains much higher to this day than for most other corner outfielders who don't hit for power. Pettit's present skills include mashing lefties - 1.099 OPS in 2009, .966 OPS over his minor league career - and stealing bases at an 83% success rate.  However, he has a tougher time against righties - only a .772 OPS last year - and measures of his defense are split on how good he really is in the field. More seasoning in AAA could help him to overcome those issues and land a starting job, but it's more likely that he winds up consigned to 4th outfielder and platoon status.  

Track Record:  Pettit played four years at Loyola Marymount before the Halos took him after his senior year in the 19th round of the 2006 draft. His college career numbers were decent - .304/.389/.474 with 18 homeruns over 776 AB's - but in no way foreshadowed Pettit's pro debut explosion, when he hit .338/.446/.569 at Orem. He split the following year between the Midwest League and the California League, putting up a combined .327/.410/.539 line with 18 HR's - still the best power numbers of his career - and leading all Angels' minor leaguers with 4.7 wins above replacement. The Halos' FO was clearly enamored, and fast-tracked him to AA to begin 2008, but in the first game of the season he broke his foot chasing down a foul ball. The common wisdom is that his AA struggles - he hit only .251/.323/.404 - were due more to the lingering effects of that injury, but I think they had more to do with his home park. After Pettit's return he hit only .220/.301/.322 in Little Rock, but was much better on the road, hitting  .279/.348/.467. His difficulties outside of hitters' parks continued in 2009, where he managed only a .274/.363/.393 line on the road while hitting .370/.410/.559 in the Bees' batting-average-inflating home park.  Those numbers raise a significant red flag, since Anaheim is no hitters' dream, but Pettit still has time to improve his track record in tough parks before assuming a role with the Angels - to that end, returning to his patient 2007 ways would be a good start. He ended the season with his first MLB hit in a September callup.

Win-the-Lottery-Ceiling:  "...Doesn't have a huge ceiling but should be an excellent 4th outfielder" (Fangraphs, 2009).    "Solid player but not a star" ( John Sickles, 2009).  "A poor man's Jason Bay" (Baseball America, 2007).  I have little to add to these sentiments, and think Pettit will continue his development into a solid back-up outfielder.  With luck, he could have a career similar to that of Reed Johnson, or with a little less luck, Jeff DaVanon. Ironically, his best shot at steady playing time with the Angels might have been as the right-handed half of a Curtis Granderson platoon - they pair up almost perfectly - but that ship sailed months ago.

Scouting Report: (beneath the jump)

Pettit has a funky swing (see "Pettit highlights" in the video library) that helps him to make plenty of contact, but likely limits his power ceiling. He has no stride, tapping his foot while pulling his front knee towards his back knee so as to close the hips and build torque for his swing. He remains upright even as his weight shifts forward through the cut, minimizing extraneous motion, and the hands go straight from his back shoulder to the ball. At the point of contact, the swing is nearly picture perfect, except for two things: first, he folds his back foot over, instead of rotating on it, which limits his post-contact extension and follow-through. Second, his hands tend to meet the ball well out in front of his body, even when he's shooting the ball the other way, which is one marker of a contact guy without a ton of power. Those swing mechanics facilitate inside-out-cuts, helping him to line the ball to right; but they do not generate substantial power, even when he pulls a pitch like he does here in his first MLB hit. His pitch recognition skills and compact swing may lead to stretches where he hits over .300, but I don't think he will ever hit more than 10 or 12 homeruns over a major league season. 

Pettit is a smart and effective baserunner, reminding me of Orlando Cabrera. His instincts are outstanding and he steals bases at a high percentage, though he doesn't make frequent attempts. 

Pettit's speed is supposed to make him a defensive asset at the outfield corners, and he has even played centerfield adequately in short stints. However, TotalZone has consistently pegged him as a small liability in the field in every season since his pro debut, supporting some reports that he still has to work on his positioning and jumps. Despite being very close to earning a bench role for the major league team, I feel Pettit could still benefit from more time with the Bees. 

A special thanks to Stephen Smith for publishing the interview I linked to above.