I've already covered a handful of bat-first (and occasionally bat-only), type prospects this year. Guys like Zack Collins (my favourite of the group), Will Craig, Matt Thaiss, Bobby Dalbec, and Peter Alonso all fall into this category; when looking at drafting one of these players, the thought process is essentially, "He's not going to contribute much, if anything, on the defensive side of the ledger, but the offensive contributions could be so big as to make that irrelevant."
I find these players fascinating, for one reason or another. Considering drafting this type of guy represents a very interesting balancing act, trying to determine just how valuable a player has to be in one area to make up for the fact he's going to give so much of that value back in others. Even a very good defensive first baseman is still going to get killed in the positional adjustment, meaning his value will look substantially different for a given batting line compared to a third baseman, or center fielder, or catcher.
Of course, that idea supposes that teams' internal metrics for valuation of players are still relatively similar to our own WAR models, which may or may not be true. We know that the public and private metrics have a lot of shared DNA, with plenty of crossover between the public and private spheres along the way. And we know that, at various times, people inside the industry have confirmed they have valuation systems with fairly similar inputs to what we have in public. Probably more advanced, with a few extra wrinkles based on data not available publicly or specific ideas a give team has about player development or aging curves or whatever, but roughly the same.
I do wonder, however, how the concept of positional adjustments works in the kinds of metrics clubs use internally to evaluate players. After all, a public version of WAR and whatever it is teams use internally are doing slightly different jobs, aren't they? When we look at a player's WAR number, we want to know how valuable he has been, and the positional adjustment concept helps us account for how rare it is to find a player who can play a given position. Simply being able to play shortstop at all has value, and that's taken into account. Thus, we can have debates like Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout, and why a center fielder can be the more valuable player even though the immobile first baseman is still the best hitter in the game, etc.
An internal metric, however, while I'm sure it still accounts for position, isn't trying to settle the same kinds of debates we're having in public. If I'm a baseball front office trying to put together a team, guess what? I have to have a first baseman, regardless of whether he's as valuable in absolute terms as a center fielder, and so perhaps the positional adjustment question works a bit differently. We also know that, while positional adjustment hypothetically reflects the relative difficulty of playing a given position compared to others, what it's really doing is basing the adjustment on the rarity of the skillset.
Theoretically a shortstop moving to second base will lose five runs of value but be five runs better at defending the weaker position, but we all know that's not how it actually works. Certain skillsets simply translate better to specific positions, and there are players who are not going to translate to some other position for one reason or another, based not on level of skill but on the way specific skills do or do not fit various places. Taking your light-hitting shortstop and moving him to first base is not going to even out in terms of value. Hypothetically the shortstop should be an absolutely amazing defender at first, somehow making up for the 25 runs he loses in positional adjustment, and thus his 90 wRC+ should be equally as valuable playing there as it was at short. Does anyone believe that's actually the case? Or course not. Thus, while the positional adjustment concept is plenty useful for us in the public to try and determine which players are the most valuable in an absolute sense, I wonder if teams themselves, who have to field an actual baseball roster, might not look at it differently.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying I find bat-first players interesting in the draft, because you have the single most valuable and important skill present in spades, but lack pretty much all the other skills that make up what we call 'player value'. Balancing those facts is fascinating to me.
So what we have here today is three more players who will be drafted in June, for better or for worse, based almost entirely on what they can do in the batter's box. They are not plus defenders, do not play premium positions, and are going to have to hit to have value.
I'm also taking a step down in terms of draft stock on these particular players from that earlier group I mentioned. Collins and Craig are almost certainly going to go in the first 30 picks, and Thaiss will likely be in the top 50. Alonso is a bit tougher to pin down, but a big spring for a top-flight program at Florida, showing more power than he has in the past, could have him in the top 50 as well. Dalbec has dropped well out of top round consideration; he began the year as a potential top 20 guy and now is looking like he may not go in the top 100. I didn't like him at the time I wrote his scouting report, and unfortunately for Dalbec the holes in his swing and limitations in his game have been exploited mercilessly by the competition this year.
Reading over that very early report, I agree with most of what I wrote about the players themselves, but I will say that as the spring has gone along the college hitting crop has actually looked much better than what I thought at the outset. It's been a very positive development in general, and one I'm personally pretty excited about, and happy to have been wrong.
Anyhow, the players here are not in the same ranks of top 30 talent consideration as those other players. These guys are more round 2-3 guys, maybe more like 4-5 depending on how things fall for them in the draft. A club missing out on one of the top bats early on, though, could very well look to this group if still hoping to add a thumper to the system.
Walker Robbins, 1B, George County High School (MS)
6'3", 210 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Robbins is the only high-schooler in this group of three, and represents a somewhat unusual demographic in the draft. Every year there are a handful of high school sluggers who come through, players who at seventeen or eighteen years old are already best described as 'hulking' and whose futures as home-run-mashing immobile monoliths over at first base seems obvious. These guys, though, are generally a fairly small percentage of high-end draft prospects; even the players who turn into those monoliths eventually are usually, at seventeen, lithe and athletic and playing some difficult position based on pure athletic ability. The Eric Hosmers of the world are a true rarity.
Robbins falls very much into that category, though, as a pure first base prospect straight out of high school who just might have the bat to make it worth drafting him relatively early. Not to draw a Hosmer comparison directly; Walker Robbins is not going fourth overall in the draft. If he actually makes it to college, though, looking three years down the line? Who knows. I would still bet against him being a top 5-10 pick, but there's enough promise in the bat I wouldn't lay my mortgage money down on the table.
Walker Robbins is a big kid already, and there's a chance he could end up being simply huge. That 6'3" 210 doesn't do justice to how large his frame is, with wide square shoulders and a torso that speaks of room to add tons of muscle. He's strong already, and could end up much, much stronger is what I'm trying to say.
For all the present strength he already possesses, though, Robbins is not a one-dimensional slugger of baseballs, and in fact doesn't even hit for maybe as much power in games as one might expect looking at him. He's remarkably mature in his approach for a high school hitter, patient and balanced, and uses the whole field. He's aided by a swing that has excellent balance built right in, which helps keep him from getting out on his front foot and overcommitting on offspeed pitches. A couple years ago, there was a high school hitter named Braxton Davidson I very much liked, who ended up going to the Braves either at the end of the first round or early in the sandwich (I can't recall which without looking it up), who was cut from much the same cloth as Robbins. Tremendous maturity, extreme patience for a player so young, big raw power but didn't show it much in game. Davidson has continued to struggle to tap into his power in pro ball, unfortunately, and while he's certainly drawn his fair share of walks the lack of power has limited his production badly. That's probably a legitimate concern for Robbins, as well, as he has yet to show the same oomph he can occasionally tap into in batting practice in games. One hopes he will hit for power more reflective of his strength as he matures, but it's not a guarantee.
Still, I believe Robbins is a good enough hitter he should be very valuable going forward. He works the middle of the field beautifully already, and isn't as likely to go outside his zone to try and make something happen as most other high school hitters. He's strong enough to do damage already, and learning when to be a bit more aggressive and attack should come with time.
Robbins is a slightly below-average runner now, and as he fills out will probably slow down even more. That could be a concern down the road, but for now he moves well enough it isn't too much of an issue. He actually appears to be a very good defender at first base, with particularly good hands, but I'll admit to not having nearly enough info to go on there.
There's also another intriguing aspect to Robbins's game, in that he's a reasonably well thought-of pitching prospect too, capable of reaching 91 with his fastball and throwing a decent slider. If he makes it to college, he'll probably play on both sides, but his route to the pros, at least as an eighteen year old, appears to be unquestionably in the batter's box. It's a shame to waste an arm like his at first base, and a shame teams probably won't start employing combo 1B/LOOGy players anytime soon, but them's the breaks.
Heath Quinn, OF, Samford University
6'3", 220 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Heath Quinn is a player I was very lukewarm on coming into this year's draft season. His first two years at Samford, he was a big-time power threat in the lineup at all times, but an overly aggressive approach and questionable contact skills, as well an overall set of tools that's not particularly inspiring, kept me from really being all that interested in him.
This spring, however, Quinn has made significant strides with his approach, being much more patient and disciplined as pitchers have become more and more careful in challenging him, and he's moved up my personal board as a result. He's still far from my number one choice of this particular type of player, but the improved on-base abilities, as well as the fact he has a strong enough arm to potentially play right field instead of being limited solely to left or first base, have him occupying a spot for me that is essentially backup plan B to several other offensive force types in the draft.
It's also worth noting that Quinn is a right-handed hitter, which is somewhat unusual among this group of bat-first prospects in the draft this year. Will Craig is a righty, as is Peter Alonso, but the majority of the big bats one might be looking at in this year's class hit from the left side. I'm not sure how to value that -- or if to value it at all -- as lefties typically have the platoon advantage, certainly, but also seem more vulnerable more often to same-handed pitching, making it tough to really say if there's any difference in valuing hitters by handedness, but it's worth at least considering, I suppose.
The number one quality Quinn brings to the table is power. Huge, unadulterated raw power that has him near the top of the NCAA leaderboards for homers this year. He's increased his home run output each year for Samford, from nine his freshman season to fourteen last year to nineteen and counting so far in 2016, though the regular season is already over for the Bulldogs. Still, there are postseason games to play, and so Quinn could still break the 20 dinger mark this year. He can hit the ball out from right-center to the left field line, tough like most sluggers his best power is to the pull side. Still, he's strong enough not to have to cheat to try and yank the ball to left, which is encouraging for his future.
He hits from a wide stance, open at address, and closes to square as he swings. I don't particularly like the load in his swing; guys who start their swings by lifting the bat up are typically not my favourites. I think Quinn's swingplane could be better if he changed the load of his hands a bit, more back instead of up, but I'm not a coach. He's an outstanding low ball hitter, but can be beaten up and inside, especially by pitchers with good velocity. I wouldn't call him a mistake hitter, necessarily; that term has a negative connotation I don't particularly mean here. He is, however, going to make his money on bad pitches in the zone, which is the case with plenty of power hitters, I realise. The question is whether he will be disciplined enough to wait for those pitches to come to him, rather than expanding the zone and swinging at pitches he cannot do damage on, especially up high. After his first two seasons in college, I would have been inclined to say no. After the season he just had, I very well may have come around on that question to a yes.
It's worth noting Quinn hit very well on the Cape last year, showing good bat speed and power with wood, something the Cardinals in particular we know value quite highly. His strikeout to walk ratio was not good at all, as he struck out over three times as often as he walked (closer to his plate approach as a freshman and sophomore), but the ability to do damage with a wood bat has to be acknowledged.
On the non-hitting front, Quinn is very average across the board. He runs well enough to play a corner outfield spot, but no better. He has a strong enough arm to play right, but not an exceptional one. In other words, he'll be fine in the non-hitting phases of the game, but it's the power potential in the bat you're betting on if you draft Heath Quinn.
The first round is much too early, and the sandwich round as well. The second round I would consider it, and if he's still there in the third I think he could be a very good value.
via Jake Mastroianni:
Jameson Fisher, 1B, Southeastern Louisiana University
6'2", 200 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Of all the players covered here today -- and most of the players in the draft this year, period -- Fisher has one of the more unusual paths to draft day. He was a late-round pick out of high school in 2012, raked his first two seasons at SE Louisiana, and had to expect some team would give him a long look early as an offensively-minded catcher with enough arm to stay at the position and a lefty swing that could generate huge amounts of value.
Then came 2015, and a shoulder injury (labrum, also known as a Mulder Special), that cost him the whole season. He had surgery to repair the joint, and has come back swinging better than ever this year, but no longer has the arm to do anything but play first base in all likelihood. That shift in his defensive fortunes has clouded the draft picture for Fisher some, but the fact he can hit the way he hits should keep him in consideration relatively early on.
In the past, Fisher showed outstanding bat to ball skills, with an innate ability to make contact and a willingness to go with the pitch to any field that served him extremely well in terms of getting on base and collecting hits. It was more of a doubles-power approach, though, and occasionally not even that, as he hit a bit like Matt Carpenter in 2014, if that helps with the image. A bit too willing to go with the pitch, a bit too reactive, that sort of thing. The strikeout to walk ratio hovered right around 1:1, and the strikeouts were generally right around 10%, but there wasn't a ton of power.
After missing the 2015 season, though, and returning this spring, Fisher has shown much more of a power-oriented approach to his game, and is looking like more of an impact bat than ever. Part of that, of course, is the simple fact he's stronger, being 23 now and having filled out some over the past two years, but there's also what appears to be a concerted effort at patience and power, as he's now walking nearly twice as often as he strikes out, with a strikeout rate that's marginally higher than in the past. Again, sounds a lot like the Matt Carpenter adjustment over the past couple of years, doesn't it?
The questions about his health (though he seems completely healthy now), and resulting change in position are the biggest knocks on Fisher's value at this point, as well as his age. He's limited to first base, having a below-average arm after the shoulder issues, and while he looks fine over there, it's still a relatively new position for him. The fact he's 23 complicates both teams' attempts to evaluate him, as he's often competing against players two to three years younger than himself, and also puts him in the same category as most college seniors. As a redshirt junior, he technically could return to school for one more year and play, but that would put him at 24 in the draft next season and severely impact his outlook, one would think.Edit: Fisher is 22 now and will be 23 at the end of the year. He was born 12/18/93; in my head I had him born in '92 for some reason. Apologies for the mistake.
As it stands, Fisher represents a potential impact bat, one with above-average contact abilities, outstanding patience at the plate, and emerging power that makes him extremely intriguing. He's also old for the draft, and give the likelihood he would prefer to avoid missing out this year, he might potentially also come at a big of a discount if one were to pick him early on. He's likely too good to get the full college senior bargain treatment, but if a club were looking to save a little money on one of their early picks to spread it around because they have a bunch of extra selections, Fisher might save you a little in, say, the second round. There are probably enough questions he grades out a little lower than that, but the financial flexibility aspect could push him up a bit.
So outstanding plate approach, plus contact abilities, emerging power, old for the draft, questions about health following an arm injury. Yeah, I'd say he sounds an awful lot like Matt Carpenter.
Fisher also runs pretty well. He's probably just average in terms of speed, but is very smart and sneaky on the bases. After swiping eight bases as a freshman -- but being caught eight times as well -- he's stolen 23 over his sophomore and junior seasons, without being thrown out a single time. So he's a very heady player, as well, just like -- well, you get the picture, right?
via Southeastern Louisiana Lions: