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2015 Draft Preview No. 3: Educated Bats

A brief overview of some of the bat-first (or bat-only), college players draftable this June.

Carlos Santana of the Indians. Definitely a bat-first player, much like today's scoutees.
Carlos Santana of the Indians. Definitely a bat-first player, much like today's scoutees.
Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

First off, can I just tell you how pissed I was when it was announced that Max Scherzer signed with the Nationals? I mean, really, really angry. For one thing, I was hoping against hope he would somehow end up wearing the Birds on the Bat, even though I knew those rumours were likely nothing but wishcasting, but you know what? At the number he signed for, with that contract structure, if the Cardinals could have signed him to that exact same deal I would have been happy with it. Sure, we can make all the Bobby Bonilla jokes we want, but the fact is that deferred money is almost always an excellent deal for the team paying the contract, and this one is no exception. Washington is paying far less than the sticker price would seem to indicate, and they just added an unbelievable pitcher to their rotation, not to mention one I actually think will age better than many believe.

For another, if Scherzer didn't come home to St. Louis, I was really hoping he would sign back with Detroit and we would see David Price dealt this offseason, possibly to the Cardinals. There would seem to be zero chance of that happening now. So, neither pitcher I was hoping would turn out to be the huge, splashy, completely out of character acquisition the Cards made this offseason are actually going to be that, and I'm feeling sour grapes all over the place currently. Don't get me wrong; I'm pleased as punch it looks like the Cards are willing to ride with Carlos Martinez getting first crack at a real rotation spot in 2015. However, I'm on record both in podcast form and now in writing that I think there is less than a 50% chance Adam Wainwright finishes the 2015 season even reasonably healthy (in other words, I think Waino might just go all Prior on us this year), and thus have pretty big concerns about this rotation.

The one positive in Scherzer signing elsewhere for a contract I would have been happy to see the Cardinals hand him is this: in not signing here, ol' Max didn't torpedo my next five months' worth of postings the way I was afraid might happen. If the Cardinals were to give up their first round pick in June, these posts suddenly become a whole lot less interesting. I would still do them, as I feel there would still be value in the information, but there would be a definite, sizable reduction in the fun of writing them. And a side note to John Mozeliak: ruining my draft previews for Max Scherzer would have been acceptable. Ruining them for James Shields is not. (Just in case you were wondering.)

But enough of my grousing over moves I was hoping would happen and now will not. Maybe Price will hit the market next year and the Cardinals will sign him then. Sure, he'll be the subject of an enormous bidding war I can't really see the home team winning, but he's one of my favourites. Let me have my dream, will you?

Anyway, draft previews! College bats today, everyone! Let's get excited!

Chris Shaw, OF/1B, Boston College

6'3", 245 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Chris Shaw is a man who stands six foot three and is approaching 250 pounds. He also hits like you would expect a man who stands six foot three and is approaching 250 pounds would hit. Which is to say, when Chris Shaw connects with a baseball, there's a pretty good chance that baseball is going to go a really, really long way.

Of all the college bats in the 2015 draft, Shaw may have the biggest raw power of any. He's capable of hitting moon shots out of pretty much any park in BP (possibly including Yellowstone), and can run into a pitch with the best of them in game action as well. The problem is in trying to figure out how much of that raw power is going to translate into consistent, usable power.

Shaw has some definite contact issues, even though he's overhauled his swing nearly completely since entering Boston College. Coming out of high school, his swing had a LOT of moving parts, and tended to be extremely long. His number during his freshman season were brutal, with a .547 OPS that was largely fueled by too many strikeouts and tons of weak contact. He has since remade his swing, eliminating most of the extraneous motion and improving his swing path, and the result was a 340 point jump in OPS his sophomore season, a small but tangible improvement in contact rate, and a huge jump in doubles.

This spring will be huge for Shaw. He established himself as a very dangerous hitter in 2014; this year you would expect to see a big jump in his walk rate as opponents choose to simply pitch around him rather than give him the opportunity to beat them. If that happens, and Shaw can be patient enough to take the walks and not go outside his zone, he'll boost his stock significantly. If not, I think there's a real chance he falls down boards quite a bit as the plate discipline/approach questions continue to dog him.

Comping Shaw to Rowan Wick currently doesn't seem out of the question to me; similar sized players, similar light tower power, similar contact issues. The difference is Wick is a more patient hitter in general, is a bit more prone to striking out because of it, and is a better athlete overall. Shaw plays the outfield now (right, primarily), but it's almost a certainty at this point he'll be moving to first as a pro. Running isn't his game, and neither is defense, really. Virtually all the value Shaw is going to offer a team is tied up in his bat, and specifically how often that bat is capable of putting baseballs over fences.

As much as power is in demand in the game currently, and for as much as I've stated the ability to hit trumps all else for me personally, I'm not a huge fan of Chris Shaw. I feel he's a poor enough athlete that there isn't much room for him to fall off before he becomes untenable as anything but a DH, and I have definite concerns about his ability to make enough hard contact in pro ball to tap into that enormous power potential. Maybe he continues to improve at the plate this spring and takes off; it certainly wouldn't be a shock for a guy with his toolset. But if you're asking me would I want to bet on Chris Shaw in the first round, I would have a tough time giving anything resembling an unqualified 'yes'.

via Moore Baseball:

D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State

6'0", 230 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Stewart doesn't have the same kind of power potential as Chris Shaw, but as a pure hitter he's shown more already, and is a much better athlete to boot.

Not that he necessarily looks the part of the better athlete, mind you; Stewart is built like a college fullback and is likely limited to left field or first base by a lack of arm strength. However, where Shaw is a complete non-starter as a runner and will likely clog bases like a Molina brother if he makes it to the big leagues, Stewart is basically an average runner and should be able to stay in the outfield long term unless team need pushes him toward first.

Also unlike Shaw, Stewart has produced monster numbers in college, rather than teasing with potential and flashes of legit slugger upside. Playing in the same tough ACC as Shaw, Stewart has posted better than a 1.000 OPS each of his first two seasons at Florida State and has shown a remarkable batting eye in addition to plus-plus bat speed and an innate ability to barrel the baseball.

Stewart's setup at the plate is unorthodox; he hits from a fairly extreme crouch that feels a little Jeff Bagwell-y to me (from the left side of the plate, however), but he makes it work, with absolutely incredible hand speed that generates easy line drive thump to all fields. He improved both his strikeout and walk rates from his freshman to sophomore seasons at FSU, walking significantly more often than he struck out in 2014. ACC pitchers didn't want much to do with Stewart as a sophomore, and for the most part he was content to wait them out and take his base when he didn't get the pitch he wanted. It isn't always easy for a player this young (and hoping to catch the eyes of scouts, also), to maintain discipline and patience when opposing pitchers aren't giving them anything to hit, and the ones who manage the trick often become something remarkable down the line.

The downside for Stewart is a limited range of defensive options. He lacks the arm for right field and doesn't profile at any premium positions, so his value is going to be hurt by playing down at the weak end of the spectrum. As impressive as the ball is coming off his bat, there are scouts who will tell you he doesn't have the swing plane to put the ball over the fence consistently. I personally think concerns about his ability to hit for power (including of the home run variety), are complete nonsense, but the question is there. The one thing I do worry about is the body. As I said before, Stewart is a better athlete than you might think looking at him, but that doesn't mean he's a premium athlete, by any means, and a bad body can become a downright terrible body if the player in question isn't diligent about his conditioning.

For my money, while I can understand the questions and concerns about Stewart, he's one of the guys on the board I would not have any qualms about seeing the Cardinals pick in June. This guy is going to hit, mark my words. And hit enough no one is going to mind the fact he's a left fielder. After all, nobody minds that Matt Holliday has only ever played left field, do they?

via Fangraphs:

Gio Brusa, OF, Pacific

6'3", 210 lbs

Bats: Both

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

It isn't all that often you find a young player who projects to hit for above-average power from both side of the plate as a switch hitter, but that's exactly what you have in Gio Brusa. He's a big guy, with long levers, and he's got that natural loft from both sides that seems engineered to put balls in seats. He hits with a big leg kick from the left, almost Daryl Strawberry-esque at times, and might rival Chris Shaw for the top raw power among collegiate bats this year.

He and Shaw have something else in common; it isn't clear how good they are as hitters, other than the shared ability to hit balls into the stratosphere when pitchers make a mistake in the right (or wrong, depending on you point of view), part of the plate.

Brusa strikes out too often, and doesn't walk often enough. He's struck out more than twice as often as he's taken a free pass in both of his college seasons to date, and that isn't in the extremely competitive ACC; it's playing for decidedly non-powerhouse Pacific University in Oregon, which just moved up from the Big West to the West Coast Conference in 2014. (To be fair, Pepperdine and Gonzaga are both very good baseball programs, but the overall quality of competition in the WCC is not the greatest.) The lack of patience at the plate and a propensity for swinging and missing have combined to hold his numbers down in a big way so far; he's barely broken the .700 OPS line in both of his college campaigns.

So why, exactly, would a player with such middling results make it into a college bat-first player post? Because Brusa, at his best, has the kind of offensive ceiling you really can't deny, particularly when it comes as part of switch-hitting package deal. His big breakout moment came playing in the Cape Cod League last summer, when he clubbed six home runs in just 126 plate appearances hitting with wood. We know the Cardinals (and plenty of other teams), value the results a player puts up with wood bats to a significant degree, and with good reason: the BBCOR bats college teams have gone to certainly play closer to wood than the aluminum bats of just a few years ago, but they're still not an exact representation of what a player is going to be handling in the pros. (Then again, he did also only walk four times in those 126 plate appearances, so I'm not feeling incredibly optimistic about him based on the Cape performance.)

Brusa probably has the best body of the three players covered here today; he's tall and lean (ish) and has room to put on some additional weight without compromising his athleticism. He's not  Jason Heyward in the outfield, but he is capable of playing a solid right field, and that should remain an option for him going forward. Where Stewart has future concerns about his body and Shaw is just big and slow already, Brusa has average speed and a baseball body. I'm not sure Brusa will be that much more valuable than Stewart defensively, but I have to admit he won't be getting slapped with the same bad body label anytime soon, and there's some value in that frame.

In case it isn't clear by now, I'm not a huge fan of Brusa. The Cape Cod numbers are certainly intriguing, as guys who show a feel for hitting with wood have a real leg up on some others when it comes to the transition between college and the pros, but I'm not at all prepared to say for sure he didn't just have a few hot weeks of playing time.

More worrisome to me is the lack of plate discipline, which could be absolutely crippling in pro ball. The strikeouts are high, but not insurmountable, if Brusa were to hit for the kind of pop he looks capable of generating. The pretty serious aversion to free passes, however, is a big problem to my mind, and the sort of thing capable of torpedoing a player's career fairly early on. It's definitely intriguing to think of Brusa possibly becoming the next Lance Berkman as a legitimate power threat from both sides of the plate; the only problem is, he's really not that hitter. He lacks Berkman's patience and remarkable baseball IQ, and while those things can certainly be coached and improved to a certain extent, I just don't see Brusa progressing by the kinds of leaps and bounds he would need to to turn into a big-time threat at the major league level.

via Wilson Karaman:

It's probably fairly obvious by this point that, for my money, D.J. Stewart is the prize of this particular crop of players. Where the other two are big-time power potentialities, Stewart has already shown himself to be one of the, if not the, best hitter in the draft, or at least of the college hitters available. He's not the type of player I always prefer, as I tend to go for the most athletic player available in nearly every situation, but he fits right into that idea I've discussed of prioritising the hit tool. D.J. Stewart is going to hit, and hit, and hit some more, I believe, and I would be thrilled if his was the name called when the Cardinals go on the clock come June. The other two, not so much.