Midnight Player of the Week: J.B. Shuck, Angels OF

This week: .400/.391/.700 (8 for 20), 4 R, 1 HR (first of career), 5 RBI, 1 HR Stolen

All hail J.B. Shuck, whose name evokes corn and that’s it, Midnight Baseball’s inaugural player of the week.

Shuck began the week with his first career dinger off new Ranger Matt Garza and ended it by leaping into the stands to take one away from Jose Bautista, who just couldn’t believe it.

Jose Bautista and friend, surveying the Confederate dead.

Now let me pop some sunflower seeds in my mouth, hike up my pants and talk like an old baseball guy:

This kid Shuck, he, uh, let me tell you, he plays the game the right way. Here’s a guy, just made the best catch of his life, and he springs right back up, fires the ball in there, trying to double up the runner on first. Now that’s heads-up baseball. Your teammates notice that kind of stuff, and believe me, they appreciate it, because they know, “Here’s a guy who’s bustin’ his ass, playin’ to win.”

And after he’s thrown the ball back into the infield, he spits perfectly, with just a hint of contempt. It’s beautiful punctuation.

***

Say you’re intrigued. You are a baseball nerd, so you want to know more about the fourth outfielder on the fourth-place Angels. You’ll start at the beginning.

J.B. Shuck was drafted out of Ohio State in the sixth round (182nd overall) of the 2008 draft by the Houston Astros. Bobby Heck, scouting director for the Astros at the time, told the Houston Chronicle that Shuck was “the best player available” and had the “ability to be a regular at the major league level.” Heck praised Shuck’s energy and baseball IQ, calling him a “plus runner, plus defender, more of an overachiever type of player. We had a lot of good stuff about his makeup as well as his ability to play the game.”

Of course, you’re never going to hear a scout disparage a player he drafted, but Heck was mostly right about Shuck. Defensive metrics don’t love him in the outfield, but clearly he goes all out. Besides, Shuck has only played about 700 innings of defense in the majors. That’s a small enough sample for me to say how small a sample it is. You know the drill.

Four Astros fans bothered to submit a scouting report of Shuck’s defense from his only season with Houston, 2011. The reviews are in, and they’re not good. Let’s move on.

The Astros of the late aughts had one of the worst farm systems of recent memory, so bad that the franchise is only now getting over the talent drought. Still, Shuck never made it into anyone’s Top 10 prospects list. Baseball America ranked him No. 13 among Astros prospects in 2009. In 2010, Baseball Prospectus ranked Shuck No. 17, and gave him a sentence: “He has real on-base ability, but his center field defense is fringy.” John Sickels of SBNation ranked Shuck No. 15 in 2008, also praising his plate discipline.

Shuck’s good eye has so far stayed with him in the majors. Notice how rarely he chases, except on balls just above the zone.

On-base guys (Shuck had a career .382 OBP in the minors) shouldn’t have to stay in Triple-A as long as Shuck did, not when the major league roster is as underwhelming as the 2010 to 2012 Astros. Sure, Shuck lacks for power, so much that his slugging percentage has historically been lower than his OBP. The fact remains that few bench outfielders will give you a walk rate of eight percent, a contact rate of 90 percent and a strikeout rate of around ten percent. Oh, and all that at close to the major league minimum salary.

J.B. Shuck, roster bargain and king for a week.

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