A few days ago, I wrote a piece looking back on the 2008 draft class, and the very unusual preponderance of bat-first and bat-only prospects in same. That piece was initially planned to be the preamble to the scouting reports I’m writing here today, but then metastasized into its own thing, which it really probably should have been in the first place, considering how fascinating I’ve always found that particular draft class due to its very odd composition. So just in case you haven’t read that previous piece, you might want to for a little longview consideration of how prospects whose sole tool is the bat tend to work out.
With that said, here are three notable offense-first prospects to be found in the 2018 edition of the draft. Draw your own conclusions about how they should be valued.
Luken Baker, 1B, Texas Christian University
6’4”, 265 lbs
So, what’s so great about this guy?
Back in 2015, Luken Baker was a two-way star out of a Texas high school, and I actually preferred him as a pitcher. He had big time power potential as a hitter, sure, but could also push his fastball into the mid-90s, with a sound delivery, good sink, and a slider that occasionally showed good shape, if not any sort of consistency. He told teams at the time not to draft him, because he was strongly committed to TCU. Now he’s back, having abandoned pitching after a muscle strain in his arm his freshman season, and looks poised to push his way into first-round consideration.
Baker is physically huge, roughly Lance Lynn-sized, and he swings a bat the way you would expect a man his size to. He takes an aggressive hack from the right side, and the power potential is among the best in this year’s draft. I would put a 65 on the raw, and he has enough feel for hitting there’s a chance he gets to most of that in game. That being said, he definitely has some swing and miss to his game, and if there’s going to be a derailment I would expect it to have something to do with contact issues.
Baker also just happens to be one of the more patient hitters you’ll see in the amateur ranks, walking in roughly 20% of his plate appearances his sophomore season. To date, he’s walked at a higher rate than he has struck out, but it’s worth pointing out the number of hitters we’ve seen who put up very good contact numbers in college with metal bats, then struggled once they got into the pros and suddenly had to hit with wood.
Probably my favourite part of Baker’s offensive profile is his willingness to use the big part of the field, working from gap to gap as often as he tries to pull the ball. He has power to the opposite field, doesn’t have to sell out to the pull side, and just generally shows a sound approach at the plate. It’s hard for me, in fact, to really find much fault with Luken Baker’s offensive game, beyond being a bit concerned about his contact rate declining once he moves into professional ball.
Which is good, because he really doesn’t offer much beyond what the bat brings, which is, of course, both the theme of today’s scouting reports and the risk with all these players. Baker, being Lance Lynn-sized, is limited in terms of his mobility, even at first base. He does have the plus arm that helps him turn those few double play chances first basemen occasionally get, but he’s just not a great fielder overall. He’s slow, as well, offering no real value on the bases beyond getting on them in the first place. I suppose if a team really wanted to try the two-way thing, a la Jordan Schafer, they could find worse candidates than Baker, but it’s hard to imagine a club pushing such an experiment with as valuable an asset as an early round draftee, rather than a marginal major leaguer just trying to find a way to stick on a big league roster.
The bat will have to be very good to carry Baker, as he’s a minus defender even at first base, though maybe he plays up to average with coaching and polish over time. The thing is, his bat just might be that good, if he can make enough contact to bring his prodigious power potential into play. The power, the patience, the swing and miss, and the big body that limits his defensive ability could all combine to make him something like a right-handed Adam Dunn down the line.
via The Prospect Pipeline:
Triston Casas, 1B/3B, American Heritage High School (FL)
6’4”, 235 lbs
DOB: 15 January 2000
So, what’s so great about this guy?
Hey, kids! Do you really love Joey Gallo, but are sick and tired of him being a Texas Ranger, instead of on your favourite team? Well then, have I got a prospect for you!
That really is the story with Triston Casas, whose overall game is almost eerily reminiscent of that of Gallo, one of the most extreme prospects I can ever remember writing up since I began doing these scouting reports a decade ago. Casas has the same kind of power-focused uppercut swing, a similar all-or-nothing ethos when applying that swing, and a similar propensity for swinging and missing as Gallo at a similar age. There’s really no other hitter in this year’s draft class who shows off the same kind of light-tower raw power Casas will flash in batting practice, a fact made even more remarkable by the fact he’s only barely eighteen years old. Terry Fuller had this kind of raw power as a high schooler, but they don’t come along all that often.
Casas isn’t a hacker; he goes up to the plate with an idea what he’s doing, which is encouraging from a high schooler. He attacks pitches inside the zone aggressively, but actually appears to have relatively strong pitch recognition when it comes to laying off the junk pitchers want him to chase. That being said, I wonder about his ability to hit top-quality velocity, or if he ends up more the kind of hitter who feasts on weaker fastballs and ambushes offspeed pitches. Even it he does end up developing along that route, there’s plenty of reason to believe a guy capable of creating this level of danger inside the zone could force pitchers to work him carefully, and hopefully then take the walks coming his way once he earns their respect and fear.
Of the three players I’m covering here today, Casas is the only one I think has a chance to play somewhere other than first base long term as a pro, and even for him I think first is probably the best fit. He does, however, have a strong arm and moves around well enough for now that he’s seen time at third base, and maybe that’s an option over the long haul. He would probably not be a good defender, but as in the case of Pedro Alvarez, if a team wants to keep a guy’s bat in the lineup they may be willing to live with some holes in his game. Casas is a below-average runner, though not a base clogger.
Triston Casas will be a really fascinating prospect to watch in pro ball, as he very much represents the kind of new-school grip it and rip it approach that characterises so many of the young hitters in the game. Cody Bellinger, Joey Gallo, Matt Olson, players of that ilk. Adjust the sliders in terms of patience however you like, but these are players not at all concerned with two-strike approaches or contact rates, so long as the contact they do make is as productive as possible. Casas seems cut from the same cloth, and I’m honestly curious if we’re going to see more and more of this type of prospect flood into the game as teams move to a new paradigm, or if the simple fact of the power revolution leveling the field will make clubs search harder for other tools, with the belief they can tease out power from players of other sorts. After all, it seems teams are doing that now, and if you can pull 20 homers a year from your second baseman, is Triston Casas the kind of player you prioritise?
Seth Beer, OF/1B, Clemson
6’2”, 195 lbs
DOB: 18 September 1996
So, what’s so great about this guy?
If I had been writing this at this time last year, Seth Beer would likely have been a lock for the top ten picks in the draft, maybe top five, and the Cardinals would never have had any chance at drafting him. Such was the impression Beer made in his historic freshman season at Clemson, which saw him post a 1.235 OPS, walk more than twice as often as he struck out (62 BB to 27 K), and just generally make the rest of college baseball look like it wasn’t trying all that hard.
And then, a funny thing happened in Seth Beer’s sophomore season. He was really good. A 1.084 OPS, 64 walks to 35 strikeouts, sixteen home runs in 299 plate appearances. Those are, by and large, spectacular numbers for a hitter. Seth Beer in 2017 was very, very good. He was not, however, transcendent, not in the same way he was in 2016, and it was much easier for people to see the weaknesses in his game than it had been before.
Beer is, in all likelihood, the best hitter in college baseball right now. His walk to strikeout ratio for his college career is better than 2:1. His ISO in his slightly disappointing sophomore campaign was .308. His strikeout rate in his college career is just about 10.5%. This is what it would look like if Joey Votto had gone to college.
The downside is that, for all the prowess he’s shown with the bat in college, Beer has a fairly terrible track record of hitting with wood, having struggled two years in a row playing for Team USA. He also wasn’t all that impressive hitting with wood back on the showcase circuit when he was in high school. When a player shows such a divide between what he does with metal and what he does with wood, there are going to be questions.
And those questions are scary, because if Beer doesn’t hit he’s not going to make it. He’s a well-below-average runner, has no real business in the outfield, and adds nothing on the bases. He’s about as bat-only as a bat-only prospect can possibly be, and the fact that bat comes with questions attached has to give teams considering him in the first round pause. He does have a pretty good throwing arm, which I suppose qualifies as a non-bat tool he possesses. He has plus power potential, though admittedly not in quite the same class as the other two players featured here today. Beer gets to more of his power in game, though, which is, all things considered, better than hitting 450’+ batting practice bombs.
Beer is going to be one of the most difficult prospects in the draft this year to pin down, because his value is so tied to his bat, and until he proves he can hit with wood there are going to be questions. A team that believes he truly is an elite offensive talent would be thrilled to grab him with even a top fifteen pick, I believe, where a more skeptical club could easily see him as undraftable before the middle of the second round.
So, the question: would I draft him, specifically in the slot where the Cardinals will be drafting?
Yes. Yes I would. He’s not a can’t-miss hitting god the way he looked his freshman season, but this combination of plate discipline, contact ability, and power potential is special.