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What To Expect: Kennard Bibbs

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Kennard Bibbs had a career year for the El Paso Diablos in 2009 and turned it into a 4-year, $14 million contract from the Wingnuts this offseason. Unfortunately, the terms of that contract were well outside the bounds of the American Association salary cap, so Bibbs was forced to take a significant salary cut. The salary cap for the league is $100,000 for the season. For 22 players. You do the math.

But I digress.

Bibbs, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound outfielder, batted .323 for El Paso last season and had a .423 on-base percentage, making him a perfect candidate to bat leadoff for the Wingnuts in 2010. And he will bat leadoff, but how capable is he of matching those numbers or even coming close? I’m going to try to answer that question. But you probably guessed that.

I think it was generally understood that the Wingnuts’ division, the North, was top-to-bottom more competitive than the division in which Bibbs and the Diablos played, the South. The North had better pitching and Fort Worth was dominant in the South for pretty much the entire season, though Pensacola was the South representative in the championship series.

A season earlier, Bibbs batted .267 for a North team, Sioux Falls. In fact, his .323 batting average was the highest of his career by 21 points and 43 points higher than his next-highest mark. So either Bibbs really turned a corner in his seventh season at age 29 or his 2009 season is a major outlier than can’t and won’t be repeated.

Even if Bibbs doesn’t come close to matching his 2009 totals, he still brings plenty of value to Wichita from the leadoff spot. Last year he drew 63 walks, and since plate discipline isn’t a skill that fluctuates from season to season like other numbers can, it’s fair to expect that he’ll earn a lot of free passes this season. Does that make sense — can you earn something that’s free? Anyway, 63 was his career high in walks, but he’s drawn at least 40 in four other seasons with a similar at-bat total.

In addition to his good eye, Bibbs can also steal bases and disrupt pitchers. He stole 32 bases for El Paso and his career best is 55, which he set in 2003 while playing Class A ball in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. He won’t be as fast at 30 as he was at 23, but as a player gets older his instincts and knowledge improve, so I think Bibbs’ steals will stay level. His speed also helps him defensively and supplements a strong arm that helped him notch seven assists in 2009.

Season projection: 384 at-bats, 111 hits, .289 average, 0 home runs, 31 RBIs, 17 doubles, 5 triples, .359 slugging percentage, 58 walks, 4 HBP, .402 on-base percentage, 28 steals, 64 runs.