Back in 2008, when Colby Rasmus was a highly touted prospect, Cardinals director of Minor League operations John Vuch said this about him: "He's the closest thing to a five-tool player that we've got. Defense is sometimes underrated and he's a very good defensive center fielder. He can go get the ball and has an above-average arm. You tend to focus on what he can do with the bat. He's going to be a good hitter with some power, but the fact he can do that and play above-average defense in center is the important thing."
After being extended an invitation to Spring Training in 2009, Rasmus impressed the big club and was named to the Opening Day roster in early April. Rasmus repaid the Cardinals by having a respectable first season, batting .251/.307/.407 with 16 home runs in 147 games. He followed it up with an even better 2010, hitting .276/.361/.498 with 23 home runs and 66 RBI in 147 games. The following season, Rasmus was part of a trade deadline deal in July 2011 that sent him to Toronto along with Trever Miller, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters for Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson, Corey Patterson and Marc Rzepczynski.
During his four years with the Blue Jays, Rasmus hit .234/.295/.433 overall with 66 home runs and 194 RBI. He was also pestered by injuries during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, only playing in 118 and 104 games respectively. In 2014, he suffered a hamstring injury which affected the rest of his season, and he was relegated to bench duty in favor of guys like Kevin Pillar and Dalton Pompey. He became a free agent during the 2014-15 offseason and signed a one-year deal with Houston for $8MM in January 2015. After a 25-home run campaign in 2015, Rasmus became the first player in Major League Baseball history to ever accept a qualifying offer, signing a one-year $15.8MM offer from Houston and returning to the Astros for the 2016 season.
Now, after a long seven-year journey, it looks like what was expected of Rasmus years ago is finally coming to fruition for the soon-to-be 30-year-old outfielder. In 2009, when Rasmus was ranked the #3 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, he was known as a slow starter at the plate. In his career to that point, which was only three seasons, Rasmus was a .244 hitter in April. Even as recently as 2014, some of his early season numbers weren't fun to look at – he hit .194/.242/.387 in the first month – but this April, Rasmus is not starting slow in any way. Rasmus is batting .293/.440/.707 with seven home runs, 11 runs scored, and 18 RBI. He's walked 16 times and struck out 17 times. All that has lead to a .473 wOBA and a 222 wRC+. It's his best April start since 2011, when he finished that month with a .301/.392/.476 with three home runs and 10 RBI for the Cardinals.
Thus far in 2016, Rasmus is an equal opportunity home run hitter. According to Brooks Baseball, Rasmus has hit two apiece off four seamers, changes and sliders, and one off a sinker. He's batting .385 against the four seam fastball with an .846 slugging percentage, a .462 ISO and an insane .429 BABIP. He has also been aggressive at the plate, swinging at nearly everything middle and down in the zone:
Four of Rasmus' seven home runs have been hit in the last week, including one on Sunday night against the Red Sox. With his Astros down two runs in the bottom of the ninth, Rasmus stepped into the box against closer Craig Kimbrel and deposited Kimbrel's second offering, a nearly 99-mph fastball, into the seats in right-centerfield to tie the game. With the way Rasmus has been hitting the ball this month, and with the way he's been easily handling fastballs the past week or so, Kimbrel made a huge mistake throwing something in Rasmus's favorite part of the zone—middle down.
Rasmus is also being really aggressive with pitches that are low and out of the zone as well, which may be why he's not doing so well against curveballs. He's struck out seven times in 11 at bats against the curve (67 total pitches) and has yet to get a hit against the curve.
Rasmus is continuing the same pattern he's followed his entire career with regards to how he hits the ball and where he hits the ball. He's hitting more fly balls (46.3%) then ground balls (31.7%) and line drives (22%), and he's pulling the ball over 50 percent of the time—he's at 59.5% so far in 2016.
Another noticeable pattern in Rasmus's career splits is how streaky he is from month to month. Last season he batted .254 in March/April, .227 in May, .268 in June, .192 in July, .207 in August and then jumped up to .289 in September and the first few days of October—before the playoffs even started. Rasmus continued that hot hitting streak by almost singlehandedly beating the Yankees in the Wild Card game then batting .429/.600/1.143 with three home runs and a double in Houston's Division Series loss to the Kansas City Royals.
In order to sustain the success he's seen so far this month, Rasmus needs to continue hitting for power. Overall, Rasmus averaged 3.2 home runs a month in 2015 which is closer to his career pace. But along with hitting for power, Rasmus also needs to hit the ball with more regularity and not be as streaky from month to month. If that happens, he can have a very big year for Houston.
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Stacey Gotsulias is a contributing writer of Beyond the Box Score. She also contributes to The Hardball Times and writes about the New York Yankees for It's About The Money. You can follow her on Twitter at @StaceGots.