Editor's Note: Red Baron has compiled this year's top prospects in three parts, which can be found by clicking on Part I, Part II, and Part III. The post below is a portion of those massive posts, focusing in on a single prospect at a time, which should make a search of any one prospect easier to find. All of our 2016 prospect coverage and write-ups can be found at the Viva El Birdos 2016 Prospects hub.
#18: Bryce Denton, 3B
Opening Day 2016 Age: 18
2015 Level: Gulf Coast League
Relevant Numbers: 18.9% K rate, .056 ISO, .194/.254/.245, .236 BABIP
So, what's so great about this guy?
Well, certainly not most of the numbers he put up this season after being drafted, even playing at the lowest level of pro ball. Just looking at the stat line, it's easy to form a picture of Denton as a hitter in the GCL this year; he kept his strikeouts from ballooning, but was very much in what might be termed survival mode, making weak contact, drawing very few walks, and just generally doing all he could to keep his head above water and not be overwhelmed by his first taste of the professional game. As a 17 year old meeting the highest level of competition of his young life at the end of an already-long spring and summer season of showcases, pre-draft events, and the normal grind of travel ball, it's not particularly surprising to see a player like Denton struggle. Maybe a bit of a letdown, but not a shock to the system.
Whatever the case may be, though, two things are undeniably true about Bryce Denton: one, he struggled in his first shot at pro ball, and two, he remains a physical beast. It's important not to let the former fact detract from the latter, nor allow the latter to obscure entirely the former.
Athletically, I feel Denton was underrated coming into the draft -- including by yours truly, if you must know -- though I'm not sure why that would be the case. He's capable at either third base or second, with big arm strength that generated 90+ on the mound and makes him a great fit for the hot corner specifically. There was talk before the draft he might have to move to the outfield, but at least for now I don't think that's going to happen. (Or doesn't need to happen, at least.) He's at least an average runner, and probably a little better than that, though looking at his build it's easy to see him slowing down a bit. He moves well on the infield, with a good first step, with the main black mark against him I see so far are inconsistent throwing mechanics, which is exactly the sort of thing one would expect to improve with coaching and repetition.
If Denton was underrated as an athlete and potential fielder, however, it's much easier to see why his bat was worth drafting. In a 2015 draft class that had the Cardinals at least giving off the appearance of prioritising bat speed, Denton's was the most notable, and singular. He has incredible strength in his forearms, and helps generate torque with aggressive trunk and shoulder rotation, leading to a swing which aesthetically has a bit of Andrew McCutchen in it. It's big-time raw power for Denton, with enough bat-to-ball skills to dream on. If it all comes together, this might be the highest upside bat in the system for the Cards.
There are plenty of potential stumbling blocks for Denton, beginning with plate discipline that has a long way to go if he's going to hit that offensive ceiling. He was borderline overmatched at times in the GCL, though having just turned 18 at the beginning of August he was also one of the youngest players in the league, so he has more maturing ahead of him than even the majority of his high-school draft contemporaries. If he does have to move out of the dirt into the outfield, the bat will have to play up, though I have very little concern about either of those outcomes.
For an organisation that has appeared at times hesitant to go for upside in the draft, preferring instead to draft performers capable of developing into major league depth, with league-averageness generally the ideal outcome, Denton is a remarkable departure, particularly in terms of the early rounds. He has miles to go, and plenty of questions to answer, but the ceiling on his talent is unlike nearly any other player in the system.
Player Comp: the thick, muscular build, extreme bat speed, huge power potential, and defensive spectrum slot of 2B/3B all resemble Rickie Weeks, with the hope Denton might be able to exceed Weeks's career production if he can command the strike zone more effectively, as well as avoiding the litany of nagging injuries which seemed to cost Weeks time nearly every year.