A year ago today, Jeff Clement made a start for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was his first start in over two months, after spending a lot of time in AAA. Clement would only make two more starts before being placed on the disabled list with left knee irritation. A later exam found a microfracture in his knee, which required surgery. Over the off-season he was outrighted off the 40-man roster, and he missed all of Spring Training. He’s only recently made his way back to the AAA level, where he is 6-for-13 in his first four games.
The knee injury certainly didn’t rob Clement of any playing time. He played his way out of Pittsburgh last year, hitting for a .201/.237/.368 line. The former catching prospect was moved to first base, which raised some concerns from Pirates fans about his defense. The defense at first ended up fine, but the lack of hitting was the problem. The hitting returned in AAA, when Clement hit for a .304/.337/.548 line with eight homers in 168 at-bats.
The former third overall pick from the 2005 draft was once one of the top prospects in the game. He no longer qualifies as a prospect, but he still brings something to the table. That something is power. Despite his poor hitting in his 363 at-bat major league career, Clement has 14 homers. His seven homers in 144 at-bats in 2010 was a pace for 27 homers in a 550 at-bat season. That 20.57 AB/HR ratio would rank first on the current Pirates’ team, a team that lacks power.
Clement turns 28 on August 21st, and he’s had two shots at the majors, including a starting job with the Pirates last year. You’re not likely to find many Pirates fans who would be willing to give him another chance. His AAA numbers are encouraging, but that doesn’t translate over to major league success. The key for Clement is walks. His career .223 average isn’t ideal, but it would be passable if he could get on base at a .330 rate, and hit 25-30 homers a year. That would almost make him a poor man’s Carlos Pena or Adam Dunn. The power is there, but that’s all that we’ve seen in his short time in the majors. The lack of walks, combined with some high strikeout numbers, is the difference between a poor man’s Pena and a AAAA player.