David Fletcher’s story embodies the difficulties of prospect projection.
Fletcher wasn’t supposed to be in this position today. He wasn’t supposed to be outpacing Mike Trout, the best player of his generation, in fWAR (1.4) through the first half of this 60-game season. Fletcher was a relatively unrecognized minor league prospect who has altered his path from potential utility player to legitimately good everyday player. Let’s take a look at the progression of Fletcher into one of the most valuable players on the Angels roster.
David Fletcher, the prospect
Our very own Jessica DeLine documented Fletcher’s lackluster prospect status in a recent tweet.
A 2015 6th round draft pick out of the local Loyola Marymount, Fletcher was always viewed as an “intangibles player”. Many of the scouting reports talked about Fletcher as a gamer, a guy who busted his ass on the field and managed to get the most out of his skillset. Maybe that was the first hint that Fletcher could potentially be a better player than projected. Nonetheless, Fletcher was given a utility projection by practically every MLB outlet. The defensive projections and contact ability were always positive but the lack of power and plate discipline were everpresent in scouting reports.
Fletcher’s track record both in college and in the minors didn’t signal that he’d be an impact player. His college OPS at Loyola Marymount was .769. In his four minor league seasons, Fletcher posted a .743 OPS in 1500+ plate appearances. Yes, the defense and strong average in the minors (.294) showed that there was the potential for an MLB role. It didn’t, however, signal that Fletcher would produce the way he has to this point.
The progression from ‘meh’ prospect to legitimately good MLBer
Fletcher debuted in 2018 and more than held his own. In an 80-game stint, Fletcher was worth 1.9 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement) and had a passable 88 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus). Fletcher’s performance was viewed as a surprise despite the fact that he did basically everything he did in the minors. He was a superb defender (6 Outs Above Average), hit for average (.275), and made tons of contact (91.1 percent contact rate) in a strikeout-heavy environment. It was a tad ironic that Fletcher’s profile didn’t change in the majors yet his performance from a value perspective surprised people.
Fletcher took it up another notch in 2019, where the perception of his value started to shift. Fletcher improved in every possible facet, boosting his WAR (3.4), wRC+ (99), walk rate (8.4 percent), and power (.384 SLG). The utility projection and performance were true in some sense. He played all over the diamond, providing strong defense wherever he played, even at shortstop when Andrelton Simmons was on the Injured List. While this shift from 2018 to 2019 was stark, it pales in comparison to his improvement from 2019 to 2020.
Across the board, Fletcher is a superior player this year. He’s hitting for more power. He’s walking nearly twice as much as he was two years ago. He’s handled full-time shortstop duties, in the absence of Simmons, and made highlight-reel plays. Through the halfway point of this 60-game season, Fletcher has found his way to the top of WAR leaderboards. He’s tied with Bryce Harper, Trent Grisham, and Cavan Biggio for the 10th-highest WAR (1.4) among position players. At 26 years of age, Fletcher is an incredibly fun and dynamic player who is in his prime.
Fletcher’s transformation into an organization icon
On a team with Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, and Albert Pujols, this is isn’t a team exactly starved for name value. That’s what makes Fletcher’s ascension to one of the most fun and meme-able players on the Angels so surprising. I’d imagine much of Fletcher’s popularity is tied to his local upbringing (Orange County native) and his scrappy, underdog story. It goes beyond that, though. Anyone who follows the Angels on their social media platforms would see that Fletcher has been at the forefront of their baseball content in 2020.
The 2020 season has undoubtedly been a difficult one for the Angels. David Fletcher, however, has been one of the best stories and is a legitimate player to build around for the future. This is an extremely talented major leaguer, a guy the Angels can build around from both an on-field perspective and off-field perspective. With four years of club control left after 2020, Fletcher will be a staple in Anaheim.