Good morning, everyone. And how are you today? I hope this snowy February morning finds you well, safe, warm, and dry. I'm not too bad, personally; moderately excited about Bravely Default coming out this Friday, but that's really about it. Waiting for Pitchers and Catchers Report Day, of course, just as I'm sure all of you are. The downside of one's favourite team finishing up their offseason business before Thanksgiving rolls around is just how long it seems to be before baseball -- even of the practice variety -- starts up again.
It's a Wednesday morning, meaning you're in for another round of scouting reports on amateur players. Are you excited? I know I sure am. So let's rock.
The more I look at this year's potential draft class, the more I believe this may be an historically strong year for the amateur crop. It's not the topic of this particular week's batch of scouting reports, but I've got at least two more editions based strictly on high school pitching prospects in the hopper, and while that may be the strongest demographic in the draft this year, it certainly isn't the only unusually deep area to explore. (Must...resist...juvenile...joke...)
Today, though, pitching is taking a back seat. Today we're selling out for offense, folks. Three players, three collegians, three bats. And not just any bats, mind you. Bats that will get these guys drafted, even if they might be a little short in some other ways. Capital eye, capital bee Impact Bats.
Kyle Schwarber, C, University of Indiana
6'0", 230 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
That's Kyle Schwarber's batting line last year, his sophomore season for Indiana, and pretty much everything that needs to be said about what's so great about this guy. Not to mention a school-record 18 home runs in less than 300 plate appearances and more walks than strikeouts, though that last thing, admittedly, is to be somewhat expected of an elite college bat.
The point is this: Kyle Schwarber can really hit. He has big-time power from the left side of the plate, he understands and controls the strike zone, and he puts the fat part of the bat on the ball consistently. This is a kid who probably grabs at least a 60 grade on both his hit and power tools, and puts a nice big bow on all of it by playing the catcher position.
Oh, wait. Um, yeah. The catcher thing.
Here's where the picture starts to get more than a little cloudy for Mr. Schwarber. He's a catcher now, and will be one this coming season at Indiana as he tries to lead the Hoosiers to another Big Ten title. And, hey, there are some people out there who think he could stick at catcher long term in pro ball.
I am not one of those people.
I wouldn't put the chances of Schwarber staying at catcher in pro ball at zero, necessarily; if a team really was committed to keeping him behind the plate and was willing to stash him in the minors for the express purpose of turning him into a big-league catcher, maybe, possibly, he might just be a catcher. At the very least, I'm sure there are plenty of teams out there who would at least be willing to pay lip service to the idea he's a catcher when they draft him.
If I'm putting down money on it, though, I'm betting everything I have against Kyle Schwarber catching in pro ball. His arm is below-average, his feet are heavy, and while I haven't seen nearly enough of his receiving skills to form a real opinion, most reports aren't overly impressed with his hands, either. This just isn't a catcher, to be perfectly blunt.
And that, of course, is an issue. Kyle Schwarber's bat as a catcher is off the charts. Kyle Schwarber's bat as a first baseman...not so much. It's still a very, very good bat, but the offensive demands increase exponentially when you move those 90 feet down the first base line defensively. I don't think he has the foot speed to play an outfield corner, either, although there is some thought he might be able to handle left field. He's built like a fire hydrant, squatty and thick, and he's probably going to have to watch his weight in order to keep even his present level of athleticism.
Schwarber is nearly a finished product offensively, and that's what any team taking him is going to be counting on. As I said earlier, if a team was absolutely dedicated to making him a catcher, they could stick him in the minors and try to develop him, but it seems much more likely to me he'll simply move to first base, zoom through the minor leagues, and be slugging in the majors by the time July of 2016 rolls around.
To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Schwarber. While I think the bat is legit, I also think his value takes a big, big hit if he isn't catching, and I just don't see him behind the plate long term. Still, there are certainly worse -- or at least riskier -- bets one could make in the draft.
Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State
6'1", 210 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
A lot of what I said above about Kyle Schwarber could pretty easily be said about Michael Conforto, to be honest. Much like Schwarber, Conforto's most notable asset is an ability to hit baseballs really, really hard. Actually, I think Conforto may have Schwarber beaten in sheer hard-hitting-ness, as he boasts some of the best pure bat speed in the entire draft. In fact, for my money, I'm not sure there's another player in the draft I would bet on hitting for more power over the course of a career than Conforto.
Even better, Conforto plays in a pitcher's paradise at Oregon State, and we've seen in the past the Cardinals specifically seem to use park factors in evaluating prospects. Just something to consider.
On the downside, Conforto -- again, much like Kyle Schwarber -- is not a premium athlete, and is limited to the far-right end of the defensive spectrum. He moves well enough to play in the outfield, I think, but his arm is below-average, likely pushing him over to left exclusively.
Regardless of position, Conforto is going to make his money at the plate, and he brings both power and patience to the table. He has excellent plate discipline, waiting out pitchers who prefer to work around him and rarely getting himself out on bad pitches out of the zone. He'll get on base at a high clip and put plenty of balls in the seats, I think, which should allow him to have value no matter where he ends up. That being said, he also doesn't have great contact skills, and he strikes out more than you like to see in a college player. If a guy is swinging and missing facing college pitchers with a metal bat in his hands, you have to wonder how that's going to translate to the pros.
I think Conforto ends up very much a three true outcomes kind of slugger, combining deep counts, plenty of walks, lots of power, and a bunch of strikeouts into a pretty attractive offensive package overall. I think he stays in the outfield, at least for the next half-dozen years or so, and should play well enough there to avoid giving back all the value he creates with his bat. I think Schwarber is definitely the better pure hitter of the two, but I think Conforto has a slight edge in power and might be a slightly more patient batsman overall. Ask me which I would prefer, and I have no idea how I would answer.
J.D. Davis, 1B/RHP, Cal State Fullerton
6'3", 220 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Another major college program player with serious thunder in his bat, J.D. Davis is actually an even rarer commodity at the moment than the other two players on our list today, as his power comes from the right side of the plate. Of course, whether or not that actually should make him more valuable is another question entirely; it seems to me focusing on one specific skillset, no matter how difficult it is to find at a given moment, is really just a recipe for missing out on better players along the way. Nevertheless, the dearth of right-handed power in the game at the moment is at least a talking point around the league, which means....well, I don't know, exactly. Maybe teams are valuing right-handed power hitters differently, and maybe not. It's one of those cases where it's difficult to tease out what teams might be thinking from what the people covering the game are saying. But I digress.
In a way, I feel like Davis somewhat splits the difference between Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto; he isn't as good a pure hitter as Schwarber, but is a little better than Conforto, while he isn't quite as patient or as possessed of elite raw power as Conforto, but has a little more of each than Schwarber. The one thing which stands out to me about Davis in particular is an ability to drive the ball with authority to the opposite field, a skill I feel he's displayed in much greater measure than either of his lefty-swinging contemporaries. It may not be the most important thing, but if given the choice I prefer to see a hitter able to use the whole field, rather than being limited to pull-side pop.
Somewhat amazingly, Davis may actually be the slowest-footed player in the field today, and while his arm is strong enough to play anywhere in the field (he's hit 95 mph off the mound, and would seemingly slot in beautifully in right or at the hot corner with that arm strength), he simply doesn't offer much in the way of mobility. Again, as with both the other players covered here today, any team selecting Davis in June will be expecting 90% (or more), of his value to come from his bat.
At the moment, Davis is the least-touted of these three sluggers, and honestly, it's with good reason. While he offers a similar package of tools, his numbers to date have failed to match up with those of either Conforto or Schwarber. He put up an .843 OPS in a hitter-friendly stadium last season, and for all the raw power he shows at times it has yet to translate into consistent, in-game thump. The more I turn Davis over in my head, the more I think I might be missing the mark when I say above he splits the difference between Conforto and Schwarber. He simply isn't as accomplished as either, really, though I think long-term he has a toolset that fits in somewhere between those respective styles.
I'm honestly a bit conflicted about the players covered here today; while I have come to believe over the years that the hit tool is easily the most important, as a player who can hit will always find somewhere he can be useful, I'm not a huge fan of taking defensively- and athletically-limited players early in the draft. I feel like there are enough Allen Craigs and Matt Adamses in the world that a player needs to be truly elite with the bat for me to believe he's worth a first-round selection. And even those who appear to be in that elite class may ultimately turn out to be a little short in some fashion; look no further than Brett Wallace to see all the things that can go wrong for a bat-first (or bat-only), prospect who lacks the tools to make a positive impact beyond that he can achieve offensively.
Given my choice of the three players here, I would probably lean toward Conforto. I love Schwarber's hitting ability, but I think Conforto has the most athleticism and truly elite power potential. Given my choice of the three players here or anyone else in the draft, though, I have to say, in all likelihood this is not the demographic I would pull my first-round pick from.
The Baron's Playlist for the 5th of February, 2014
"Your Life is a Lie" -- MGMT -- Because it's awesome when Henry Winkler just shows up randomly.
"Gigantic" -- Pixies -- Because it's awesome they'll be in town tomorrow, but still shitty Kim Deal is once again gone.
"Here Comes Your Man" -- Pixies -- Because it may not be their best song, but it's still the one that takes me back the most.
"It Was My Season" -- Okkervil River -- Because this was the best song put out in 2013, period. And there aren't really any other close contenders.