*2014 Draft Preview No. Twelve: Bats! (Of the High School Variety)

Dilip Vishwanat

Hitters all day, hitters all night. Something something something, feel all right.

Okay, first things first. Yesterday, I wrote a post about Joe Kelly's mechanics. I was pretty pleased with it, actually; I thought the screen shots I put up illustrated what I was talking about pretty well, and I felt my conclusions were concise, clear, and understandable. Overall, not a bad day's work, I thought.

Well, a few hours after writing said post, I received a rather pissy email from Chris O'Leary, perhaps known better to most of you as the pain guy. In the email, he basically accused me of stealing his ideas, co-opting his language, and not bothering to acknowledge him in any way, shape or form. It wasn't vulgar or obscene, to Chris's credit, but he essentially concluded the email by stating I was a lousy journalist and a pretty subpar human being in general.

Now, ordinarily, I don't mind so much when people don't like me. Lots of people don't, and I've mostly learned to just let it roll off. But in this case, the missive in question really bothered me. For one thing, I happen to quite respect Chris's work. For another, and more importantly to my mind, I've never made any secret of my admiration for him, and I've tried to support him over the years. I've linked to his stuff here. I linked to his site several times when I was writing for the RFT. I promoted an appearance he made on Will Leitch's podcast just a few weeks ago, as well as sending him an email expressing how much I enjoyed said appearance. But I didn't mention him in this particular instance, and so am apparently just a wretched excuse for a person. I suppose it's the central conundrum of being a jerk on the internet; the people who disagree with you are idiots, assholes, and occasionally Nazis, and the people who agree with you are all stealing your ideas and never kissing your ass enough.

But, since I would never want it to be said I refuse to give credit where credit is due, I will say this: I think Chris O'Leary does really, really excellent work over at his website. I think he has a ton of excellent ideas about pitching mechanics, and I tend to agree with almost everything he says in that particular sphere. Reading Chris's work, and a lot of the research he has cited over the years as background, has been very influential on me in the way I look at pitchers. I've always found the mechanical side of things fascinating, and while I had a lot of my own ideas to begin with, there are plenty of other ideas I've come to through Chris's work. His stuff is always worth reading, and I encourage anyone interested in that aspect of the game to do so.

There. Acknowledgement made. It will probably be the last.

Now, second things second. Lance Lynn was really, really bad last night. The hits were hit hard, and so were most of the outs. He wasn't fooling anyone, and the outing in general just showcased everything that is lacking in Lance Lynn's game. He has one really, really good pitch; a fastball that generates a remarkable number of strikeouts, and not a whole hell of a lot else.

Each of the past two seasons, Lynn's fastball has been a pretty well above average pitch; by Fangraphs' numbers it's been worth better than 33 runs over an average pitch. Unfortunately, every other offering has been below average.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering how good his heater is, Lynn has thrown a ton of them in his career; over the course of three-plus seasons in the big leagues, 72.2% of the pitches Lance has thrown have been of the fastball variety. That's not quite Tony Cingrani territory, who threw better than 80% fastballs as a starting pitcher in 2013, but it's still really, really high for a non-reliever.

Which is why it's doubly amazing that Lance Lynn is completely obliterating his own prodigious pace for fastball usage this year. So far in 2014 (admittedly, an extremely limited sample size), Lynn has thrown an incredible 87.9% fastballs. Anecdotally, I have to say that number seems just about right; Lance doesn't seem to have even attempted to attack hitters with much of anything outside his fastball in the early going this season. Now, those haven't all been straight four-seam fastballs; the pitch f/x data has him throwing 77.1% four-seam fastballs and 8.7% two-seamers. Still, what we're seeing from him through two starts is extreme, even for him; this is a pitcher who leans heavily on his fastball pretty much all the time, and this year has apparently decided he just...doesn't feel like throwing anything else.

Third things third: I really, really don't like Thom Brennaman. Or Eric Karros. Or Fox Sports One, so far.

And now, fourth things fourth: I've got three guys, all of whom are high schoolers, who are going to be drafted in June as bat-first players. I've already said a whole bunch of things without approaching the scouting reports. So, rather than further draw this out with a clever intro of some sort, let's just get to the players, shall we?

Braxton Davidson, OF/1B, TC Roberson High School (North Carolina)

DOB: 18th June, 1996

6'3", 215 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

So, what's so great about this guy?

Balance.

That's the word I come to to best describe what it is that really works about Braxton Davidson: balance. If I could add a second word, it would be Violence. Balance and Violence. Yep, I think that just about sums it up.

Okay, so perhaps a little more detail would be helpful. I say balance because Braxton Davidson has exceptional balance in his swing, particularly for a player still in high school. He hits with a widespread stance, and works off a leg trigger similar to that of Bryce Harper, with that front knee kicked inward before exploding into the swing. He's rarely fooled, and even when he is, Davidson is capable of making an adjustment and getting the bat to the ball.

And violence? I say violence for the same reason we speak of violence in relation to Oscar Taveras: Braxton Davidson swings the bat like he wants to hurt the baseball, and possibly its entire family as well.

For my money, Davidson might be the best pure hitter in the draft this year. He's certainly the best of the high schoolers, and I'm not sure there's a collegiate player at this point I would honestly put much above him. It's kind of a rare thing to see a prep player who is such a high-end draft prospect based on the bat alone; the last one I can think of would probably Eric Hosmer. And, in fact, that's not at all a bad comp for Davidson, if you're looking for one.

Davidson can hit from foul pole to foul pole, and he has plenty of over-the-wall power already. This is a guy who just puts the barrel of the bat on the ball, time and time again, and does so with tremendous authority.

Beyond the hitting ability, however, Davidson is a very limited player. That's what you get with a bat-first prospect, though, I suppose; it's sort of baked right into the description. He moves quite well around first base, but I don't see him playing the outfield in pro ball for any significant period of time. He does possess a surprisingly strong arm, which is nice, but I don't think he's going to have a ton of chances to use it.

Here's a video of Davidson playing in two of the ugliest pairs of pants I've ever seen on a baseball field. Enjoy!

Handsome Monica, C/1B, St. Paul High School (Louisiana)

DOB: 5th August, 1995

6'2", 210 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

What, you mean besides possessing one of the all-time great names in the history of anything? Pfft. Why would you need anything more?

For now, Handsome Monica is a catcher by trade. Long-term, I think he probably ends up at first base. The good news is, the bat will probably play wherever he has to go. He's a big, strong kid who can hit a baseball a long way when he squares one up. Like Braxton Davidson, he's also unusual among high school hitters in the sense he's capable of hitting the ball to all fields, rather than simply trying to yank everything for power.

He hits from an open stance, with a fairly deep crouch, a little like a less-extreme version of Jeff Bagwell. Also like Bagwell, Monica is built along football player lines, with excellent functional strength in his legs. He's got the arm to play catcher, but I have my doubts about him staying there in pro ball. Most likely, the team drafting him will give him every chance to prove he can't catch before moving him out from behind the plate, but in the end, I think the glove is too limited -- and the bat too good -- to keep him back there.

Unfortunately, if he can't catch, I don't see a whole lot of other places he can play. He's got the arm for third, but I'm not seeing a whole lot of lateral range. Conditioning is, I think, going to be something Monica really has to watch; he's already a big guy, and he looks like the sort who could pack on weight without much trouble if he isn't careful.

In the end, I think the bat is definitely good enough for Handsome Monica to get drafted in the early rounds. If I were making the pick, though, I would be careful. I think he's ultimately a limited player, limited to the far right side of the defensive spectrum, and I'm not entirely sure the bat is going to be good enough to make him an impact player. He'll hit, I think, and he'll play, but if it was my money, I would probably look for a player whose game is a little less one-dimensional coming out of high school, unless that one dimension is just so overwhelmingly impressive I thought he could be a dominant force. Handsome Monica's bat is really good, but I don't think it's quite that good.

Kel Johnson, OF/1B, Homeschooled (Georgia)

DOB: 8th July, 1995

6'4", 205 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

You know, I think that's the first time in all these years of writing up these draft reports that I've ever had to list a player's school as Home. A draft prospect of the homeschooled variety is just not something you see very often. At all.

Kel Johnson is a tall, lean drink of water whose long levers give him some of the best raw power you're going to see out of a high school aged hitter anywhere. He's already capable of hitting moonshots out of pretty much any park (Yellowstone included), and he's shown enough hitting aptitude there's reason he'll be able to turn all that raw power into plus usable power down the road.

A very long, loose physical specimen, Johnson is a bit more athletic than the other two hitters here, or at least a better runner, and he's the one of the three I can honestly see playing a position other than first base down the line. I'm not sure if his arm is strong enough to play in right field, but I definitely think left is a good bet for his future home. He doesn't possess the range for center, unfortunately, but if he can fully harness the leverage his swing generates it won't matter that he's a corner prospect only. He plays baseball for the East Cobb Braves, an elite youth program, so the talent level of competition he's taking on is another plus on his side of the ledger.

All that length leads to, as with many young hitters, a fair bit of swing and miss to Johnson's game. He's shown advanced patience and discipline at the plate, but still needs plenty of refinement, particularly when it comes to the mystery of hitting a breaking ball. Of course, the fact he's only eighteen helps on that front; he's got plenty of years ahead of him to learn those skills. His swing is a little odd to me; he certainly swings the bat like a guy who can hit the ball 400+, but his setup seems unusual for the type of hitter he is.

I like Johnson better than Handsome Monica, due to what I see as a chance to play a slightly tougher defensive position, but not as well as Davidson, whose offensive game is just so advanced and so exciting already that he just outclasses almost every other hitter available this year. The nice thing is, Johnson isn't going to be a first-rounder in June, meaning some team is likely going to be able to snag him with something other than an elite-level draft pick. I wouldn't want to spend my top selection on him, but if he were to still be there in, say, the third or fourth round sometime, I think he could present an outstanding opportunity for a real value bet.

That's it, everybody. I'll see you all again next week, when it will probably be a Players of Interest post I'm presenting you with.

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