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2018 Draft Preview No. 8 : Athletes in the Outfield

Flycatchers catching flys. Flies?

Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

That game last night sucked. It really, really sucked. Lots of things about it sucked; so many, in fact, that I’m not sure I could break them all down individually. Rather, let’s just stick to the original premise here, that the game as a whole sucked, and let’s all agree to that, alright?

Between last night and missing out on a couple victories against the Brewers this year (particularly in that second series, at Busch), I honestly don’t know what has been the most frustrating bit of the season so far, but it seems fair to invoke an old favourite of Tony La Russa and just go with, “Tied for first.”

What I do know is that games like last night’s are exactly the sort of contests you can’t afford to let get away, particularly when playing one of the teams you’ll likely be vying with for a playoff spot. It would be really nice to see Marcell Ozuna get going soon; zero production from the cleanup spot was not a problem many of us expected to see the Cards dealing with this season, considering the investment they made in a bona fide middle of the order bat, but that’s where we are.

Anyhow, I don’t want to talk about the shitshow from last night; I hope you’ll forgive me. What we have today is three outfielders drawn from the college ranks, all with high-level athletic pedigrees.

Steele Walker, OF, Oklahoma

5’11”, 190 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 30 July 1996

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I assume you mean other than the fact he has the name of a cheesy police procedural from the 80s, or maybe a Game of Thrones villain? Because he totally does.

But sure, there are other things to like about Steele Walker; plenty of things, in fact. Begin with the fact he looks like a long-term fit for center field at an average-ish level, with speed that doesn’t jump off the page but is still enough to allow him to cover plenty of ground. Combine it with the fact he has one of the better pure batting strokes in the draft, and you potentially have something good.

Really, all of the tools for Walker are more average to above, rather than elite, but that do-everything-well approach gives him a well-rounded game, and an ability to contribute in multiple ways. Prior to this season, he profiled as something like a Jon Jay type, able to play center by dint of 50-55 speed and offering most of his offensive value through bat control. This spring, however, he’s hitting for quite a bit more power — he had eight homers in about 250 plate appearances last year; he has hit eleven in less than 200 trips to the plate here in 2018 — and the offensive profile as a whole plays much better as a result. The plate approach is solid, though he’s traded a little contact for that power spike this spring,

The one weak tool in Steele’s bag is his throwing arm (again, a little Jon Jay-ish), and it he ultimately moves off center field it will probably necessitate him playing left rather than right. Still, that’s a relatively small concern for me, as I think an average center fielder moving to left should make him a plus there, though probably not any more valuable overall.

Walker feels, it must be said, very much like a Cardinal draft pick. Big college program in a tough conference, has a track record of hitting very well with wood bats (he played with Team USA last summer and was outstanding), and should move quickly through the system. Now, admittedly, that’s a little more the profile of a Cardinal draft pick under previous administrations, rather than the Randy Flores department, but I can still see the attraction. He’s cut from that Jon Jay/Stephen Piscotty/James Ramsey mold, and while that may not be the most exciting sort of player, there’s a ton of value to be derived from having that constant supply of talent coming through the system. And with the improvements he’s made to his offensive game this season, there could be more upside there than previously thought.

via Perfect Game Baseball:

He does get bonus points from me because I like players who carry their hands low in their batting stance.

Tristan Pompey, OF, University of Kentucky

6’4”, 195 lbs

Bats/Throws: Switch/Right

DOB: 23 March 1997

So, what’s so great about this guy?

If Steele Walker is the James Ramsey of this draft preview, then Tristan Pompey is the Scott Hurst, a guy with potential star-level tools but less certainty he’s going to turn them into actual production. He’s the younger brother of the Blue JaysDalton Pompey, whose own career has unfortunately stalled out, and has the same kind of upside it looked like his brother would have coming up back in 2014 or so.

Like Walker, Pompey has the defensive chops to handle center field, with better straight-line speed, but maybe a little less short-range quickness. He’s one of those very tall players who takes a while to get going, but once he’s up to top speed can cover a large amount of ground quickly. The arm is average, probably good enough for right, and he actually played more right than center early in his tenure at Kentucky, mostly out of deference to a teammate, rather than concerns about his range or ability.

I usually try to make player comps across racial lines, but there’s too much of Dexter Fowler’s profile in Pompey for me to avoid it. He’s a very patient hitter, with a little pop, who’s a more natural hitter from the left side of the plate. He has the physical tools to handle center field, and the speed to do some damage on the basepaths, He’s tall and lanky, with less functional strength than is maybe ideal, but manages to get the job done most of the time all the same. So we’re talking about a center field top of the order walk machine. Like I said, the comp is too easy not to make.

The big question with Pompey is whether he’ll be able to make enough contact as he moves up the ladder. He had a bad summer on the Cape last year, and there’s some question whether he’s really strong enough to hit well with wood. That’s no small concern, obviously, but he does so many other things well that some team will absolutely be willing to take a chance on him toward the end of the first round, I believe.

For me, the contact concerns are enough Pompey wouldn’t be my first choice. I like the overall game, certainly, but we’ve seen so many players undone by their inability to make contact consistently over the years. Case in point: Pompey’s own older brother. At the major league level, Dalton’s strikeout rate is close to 25%, and while he does a lot of things well on the field, he doesn’t do them at such a high level he can overcome that lack of contact. I worry about the younger Pompey having a similar issue, as while he’s shown occasional pop, it’s all been with metal bats and the over-the-fence power is very questionable. His toolset with a 15-20% strikeout rate plays; if he’s running a 25-30% K rate he may not be able to stay on the field.

Still, in spite of all that there’s real upside with Pompey. He’s such a patient hitter I could see him getting on base at a high clip even if the batting average is on the low side, and maybe as he continues to mature he goes from 10-15 homer upside to 20+. If that’s the case, I could see him becoming sort of a second-tier star, the kind of player perpetually mentioned on ‘most underrated’ lists, who fills out the fifth-best player on a championship team slot someday.

via Brian Sakowski:

Travis Swaggerty, OF, South Alabama

5’11”, 180 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 19 August 1997

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Of the three players covered here today, Swaggerty is undoubtedly the guy with the helium, whose overall athleticism and emerging performance has him climbing the ranks this spring. In other words, he’s sort of this year’s Andrew Benintendi, without the oddity of being a draft-eligible sophomore that half the league was surprised by.

Swaggerty is one of the most tightly-wound athletes in the draft this year. Walker is strong and compact. Pompey is graceful and loping. Swaggerty is explosive. He’s not big, but has plus bat speed that should give him at least average power down the road, I think. He’s a plus runner, the best basestealer of these three and probably the best center fielder. The arm is a 55, the speed a 60, the glove a 55, I would say. That’s a pretty great package, all things considered.

It’s on the offensive side of the ledger, though, where Swaggerty is at his most interesting. He’s an extremely patient, smart hitter, and is running a 22% walk rate at South Alabama this spring. He’s showing increased power, as well, with nine homers in 164 plate appearances. Mostly a slasher at the plate in the past, he’s staying behind the ball better this year and driving it, rather than leaning toward first as he finishes his swing. There’s 20/20 upside for Swaggerty if things come together, and that power-speed combo, combined with the defensive prowess, could make him a star. As such, he’s moving up boards in a hurry, having started out the season as probably a fringe first-rounder and now looking like a solid 10-15 range pick.

There is one fairly serious concern with Swaggerty, and that’s the level of competition he’s faced in college. Now, he did play for Team USA last summer, and performed very well, so there’s some data suggesting he can do it against higher level competition, but all the same South Alabama and the Sun Belt conference don’t exactly come with the same kind of cache as an SEC school or the like. How much that matters is ultimately up to the individual to decide, but I know there are teams who tread lightly in regards to players who may have been beating up on inferior competition in college.

For me, that’s not a huge concern, and I would jump at the chance to draft Swaggerty at 19 if he fell that far. If pressed, I’d say he’s probably off the board already at that point, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he weren’t. South Alabama has produced several big league players in the past, and I think Swaggerty is going to add to that legacy. And maybe in a big way. He hits from the left side, so the comp may not be immediately obvious, but the extreme patience, power-speed combination, and center field profile for Swaggerty all put me in mind of our own Tommy Pham. Maybe not quite as much pop, but the perfect world version of Swaggerty looks a lot like that.

via Vincent Cervino: