School: Durango High School, Las Vegas, Nevada
Selected 2009 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Dustin Mattison (29): The darling of Cardinals' prospect list this time last year, Vasquez had a difficult first full season in professional baseball. He ranked #16 here on our list while ranking #24 on my personal inventory during our countdown last season.
The native of Las Vegas struggled at both the Quad Cities and later at Batavia in 2009. With a player this young, position changes, new environments, etc. could have all contributed to his strife. Looking at the raw numbers, his strikeout rate, walk rate, and line drive rate all remained rather similar while his BABIP dropped drastically when comparing this season's numbers to last. Is it a matter of bad luck or just a matter of advanced competition? Only time will tell completely.
On a positive note, he did hit .303/.333/.417 over his last 10 games. Yes, it is a small sample size but still something positive to build upon. Reports are that his attitude stayed upbeat throughout his struggles and he earned points with coaches with the way he continued to grind it out.
Even though he did not hit, more discouraging was that he already has been moved off the shortstop position. Vasquez does not project to have the power of a typical corner infielder but could possibly be a viable offensive second baseman. Though last year's ranking might have been a little overzealous, I think it is way too early to write off the 20-year-old.
Message board community (NR): Last year, Niko Vasquez ranked 17th for the community. At the age of 19, he had put up very nice numbers at Johnson City, .416 OBP and.462 SLG, in 208 AB's. And he did it playing shortstop. And he was the Cards 3rd round pick in 2008. Good patience at the plate. Line drive stroke. Middle infielder. Lots to like there. He had a rough 39 AB's at Quad Cities, with an OPS of .359. But that was only 39 AB's and it was a good sign that he was promoted right past Batavia.
Meet the new year, not the same as the old year. Vasquez did walk and strike out at about the same rates this past year. For instance, at Johnson City in 2008, he walked 29 times in 208 AB. This year at Quad Cities it was 28 BB in 208 AB, with similar ratios at Batavia. But his OPS at both Batavia and Quad Cities were sub-.600 this year. And his line drive rate was a below average 13%. And he wasn't playing SS. And while he started the season as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League, he was moved down to Batavia.
He did not make the community top 40 this year, and I think he did not get any votes, though his name did show up in the conversation. But is some of that due to contrast? (Hopes were high last year, and starting the year at Quad Cities was promising!) It could be that he was pushed too fast. He hit better away from Batavia (.668 OPS with a solid .358 OBP) than at home (.475 OPS with .198 OBP). Did he relax a bit on the road with Batavia? A rough start of the year can throw a guy for a loop. And he will only turn 21 in February. Hopefully he'll be able to adjust and consider 2009 a year to grow through adversity. - Gagliano
Brian Walton (30): How much weight does a kid just out of his teenage years carry on his shoulders when scouts and his own farm director are comparing him to a Major Leaguer with two batting championships and six All-Star Game appearances?
A year ago, no one was laughing at the Nomar Garciaparra comps being showered down upon Vasquez based on his third-round selection and strong Johnson City debut. In fact, many observers were surprised that Niko was still on the board when the Cardinals took their turn.
Unfortunately, there is one area in which Vasquez did mimic Nomar in 2009. The most disappointing occurrence in a most disappointing year was Vasquez' move off the shortstop position, something Garciaparra didn't have to do until he reached his 30's. Now Niko must work even harder to prove he can be a credible hitter at a position with greater offensive demands. There is still time, however.
Our 2010 top 40 countdown continues: To see our entire list of 40 Cardinals prospects, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.
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