Editor’s Note: the red baron has once again written up a very large number of prospects, done a great job on them, and combined them in just a few posts. You can read those posts, including a dozen reports on players who just missed the list by going here. This post contains a write-up of just a single prospect in a perhaps easier to digest form.-CE
#3: Harrison Bader, OF
6’0”, 195 lbs; R/R; 3 June 1994
Relevant Stats: .214 ISO, .349 BABIP, 143 wRC+ (Springfield), All Worse Numbers (Memphis)
So, what’s so great about this guy?
I went back and forth endlessly in my head over whether to put Carson Kelly or Harrison Bader higher on this list, and I’m not sure I’ve settled on Bader as the better prospect yet. Considering Kelly plays perhaps the most difficult position to fill in all of baseball, I should probably give him the nod. But, I’m putting Harrison Bader’s multifaceted impact potential at number three, and hoping he doesn’t make me regret it in 2017.
Bader had one of the louder debuts of any 2015 draftee, beating up Low-A competition to the tune of a 152 wRC+. His success was driven by power, an elevated BABIP, and a solid strikeout rate. How much of that would carry forward was one of the bigger question I had about the system in general last year.
To begin 2016, the Cardinals did something unexpected. They pushed Bader, and they pushed him hard. He, along with Paul DeJong, who we’ve already covered in a previous volume of this now-voluminous list, were both assigned to Double-A Springfield to begin their first full professional seasons. DeJong, as we talked about, struggled out of the gate, striking out far too often and fighting to tap into his power potential, before righting the ship and turning his season into an ultimately productive one. That’s about what you would expect from a first-year player jumped all the way to Double-A, honestly.
And it’s not at all what Harrison Bader did.
Bader started off the year like a house on fire, battering Texas League pitching from pillar to post, knocking hell out of the ball on a nightly basis. He wasn’t taking walks, but it didn’t matter. When you’re hitting the ball as hard as Harrison Bader in the Texas League, walks are an afterthought.
And then, Bader was promoted to Triple-A Memphis. And things went bad.
Older, more experienced Pacific Coast League pitchers (remember, many of the pitchers you see in Triple-A are major league veterans), executed the equivalent of baseball judo on Bader, turning his aggression against him. His walks didn’t really change all that much. His strikeout rate actually fell slightly. But where Double-A pitchers had challenged Bader and paid the price, Triple-A pitchers consistently worked him out of the middle of the plate and let Bader get himself out. His power virtually disappeared, and his BABIP dropped off the table. It wasn’t just bad luck, either; I watched most of those games, and I can tell you that Harrison Bader was swinging at all the wrong pitches, and the results were absolutely deserved.
Bader finished up his year with a mostly-successful trip through the AFL, posting a 116 wRC+ in 86 trips to the plate. He cut his strikeouts in the desert, which was good, and hit the ball hard for the most part, which was also good. He didn’t elevate the ball all that much, and so the home runs weren’t there, but I’ll take the results against the best the minors have to offer in his first full season.
Harrison Bader, to put it lightly, is an aggressive player. You know that guy in the wheelchair on Family Guy, the one played by Patrick Warburton? I’m relatively certain Bader’s personality isn’t actually all that similar to the character, but I can’t help but imagine him internally screaming something along the lines of, “LOCK AND LOOOAADDD!!!” before every at-bat. He’s aggressive in attacking pitches in the zone, takes a mighty hack, and impacts the baseball when he makes contact. He doesn’t work counts, he doesn’t work walks. Harrison Bader wants to fucking kill that baseball. Which baseball? Doesn’t matter. Any baseball. Every baseball.
On the bases, he’s just as aggressive, and it has very much the same sort of effect. He stole eleven bases in 82 Double-A games, which is good! That’s close to a 20 stolen base pace, which would make him a 20/20 player pretty consistently. The bad news? He was also caught ten times to those eleven steals. Stealing bases at just above a 50% clip isn’t going to get it done.
In the field, Bader has the chops defensively to handle center field, I think. I don’t know that he’s going to be a plus defender out there, but I think he can play it as well as Randal Grichuk. (That’s also not the only similarity to Grichuk you may note in Bader’s profile.) He has the arm to play right, and if moved to a corner outfield spot I think he could be a plus.
The big step Bader needs to take is in harnessing that natural Kurt Angle he has within him, and learning to channel it. Some plate discipline would go a long, long way toward turning him into the player he has the talent to be, even if I don’t think he’s ever going to be a particularly high on-base guy. He hits the ball hard enough I could see him as a true talent high-BABIP guy, and he’s going to get his share of extra base hits, too. But Triple-A pitchers showed me something about Bader, and hopefully showed him something about himself as well: Smart pitchers are going to take advantage of him unless he learns to harness that aggression. And at the big league level, every pitcher is smart.
Player Comp: Bader will probably never walk much, and he’s probably always going to strike out a fair amount. His value is going to come primarily from damage on contact, and contributing on defense. With that in mind, something like the young, good version of Matt Kemp is probably the perfect-world scenario for Bader. Consistently high BABIPs and high slugging percentages just because everything he hits, he hits hard.
via 2080 Baseball: