Late bloomers are problematic. For one thing, the development curve we normally use on baseball players makes them seems suspicious. For another, a lot of slackers like myself use the "late bloomer" label as a smoke screen.
So it's difficult to know what to think when baseball player starts suddenly playing much better in their late 20s. I wouldn't imply Xavier Paul is a slacker like myself, but it's understandable to look at his recent mashing with a jaundiced eye. Understandable - but is it totally fair?
To return to the aging curve idea: there's an infinite number of characteristics you can pull out from any player's career and shunt them off into some sub-group that follows a career trajectory of your own imagining. But there are also some observable trends that probably make certain players peak earlier or later.
Over at Beyond the Boxscore, Jeff Zimmerman looked at three different types of players, compared to the league average aging curve. I don't really know what kind of player Xavier Paul is, but he's pretty fast, has decent plate discipline and strikes out kind of a lot. That would suggest he might have a slower ascent to his peak and a more sustained prime.
Maybe. Or it might not even make sense to talk about peaks and primes with Paul. He was slated to be the Reds fifth outfielder when the season began. He's been used as a platoon player in the majors, facing right-handed pitching 88% of the time. Unfairly or not, we think of Paul as a bit player and not someone with a grand narrative.
But plans have changed. With Ryan Ludwick out for months, Xavier Paul becomes your fourth outfielder and sometime starter.
Paul just passed the century mark in plate appearances as a Red. In 105 trips, he has this line:
That's after having a torrid few years in triple-A to contribute to a similar-looking career minor league line: .294/.362/.455
A skeptic would say:
1. He spent 2012 in AAA as a 27-year old. The median age is 26 and a lot the best talent that hasn't breezed through the level is much younger
2. 100 PAs isn't much of anything. He spent another 400+ PAs in LA and Pittsburgh just flailing around.
3. We've been here before. Chris Dickerson, another platoon lefty outfielder, has been crushing AAA pitching for almost a half decade.
Someone trying to write an article arguing he's an OK player would then say:
1. Paul spent most of his professional career being young or around median age for his level. He's hit pretty well everywhere, including in less hitter-friendly leagues in Florida.
2. He's also hit righties extremly well everywhere.
3. He has some speed, some pop and decent plate discipline (9% BB-rate in the minors). That's good enough when you're trying to replace a starter in the aggregate.
I'd argue that Paul hits righties well enough to merit a few starts a week. He crushed righties throughout his minor league career, including a 923 OPS against righties from 2009-2010 (admittedly, in the PCL). Even with his slow start in the majors, his line is still .279/.323/.401 against righties.
I'd like to see how far the hot hand goes. Chris Heisey isn't going anywhere - and is a vital defensive flank to Choo in bigger, unfamiliar parks - but he's also off to a cold start. Over the last calendar year, in fact, he's hit for a .258/.305/.397 line.
By the way, Chris Dickerson has been a useful player. In roughly a season's worth of PAs over his MLB career, he's hit .266/.352/.407 and accumulated 3.0 wins above replacement. These are the kind of players you need to have around -- just good enough to not be bad.