The Non-Catcher

Kansas City Royals prospects are graded on a pretty steep curve. They’re either considered the next George Brett or on their way to a different team. Mike Sweeney came up with Kansas City in the mid-90s as a catcher, a position that initially shielded him from Brett comparisons. He was serviceable in this role, but the future wasn’t terribly bright either.

Above: Although listed on the card as a first baseman, Sweeney is shown on the back holding a catcher’s mask and crouching like a backstop on the front.

That changed in 1999. An unexpected retirement left a hole at first base (sort of like catching but without pads), allowing Sweeney to platoon with Jeremy Giambi. Later that season Giambi and Sweeney were clowning around on ATVs at Kevin Appier’s farm when Giambi crashed. Giambi’s resulting head injury opened the door for Sweeney to nail down a permanent place at first base. His production began to take off from that point forward, bringing now-welcome Brett comparisons with it.

162 Game Pace651.6.29724101.35.958.210.5%.3662.4

Sweeney hit his stride from that point forward, helping make the Royals a contender for the first time in years. Topps included him in the ’01 Origins set after he posted a very Brett-like .333 average in 2000. His .340 mark in 2002 still remains the second highest in team history, trailing Brett’s .390 from 1980 but still 5 points better than anything Brett did in 20 other seasons. Injuries ate away at Sweeney’s prime years, taking him out of action for several dozen games each season. He finished among the franchise leaders in almost every offensive category, including a career batting average just 6 points behind Brett. Perhaps Kansas City first basemen will be described as the next Sweeney in the future.