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2019 Draft Preview No. 3: Favourites Two — Playing the Hits

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The author trots out hitters he likes very much, very far away from draft day.

MLB: All Star Game-Home Run Derby Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When last we looked at the 2019 draft class, it was through the lens of the pitching prospects I’m most intrigued by at this early date, with months still to go and time to analyse all the potential players possibly worth paying attention to. This time, we’re going to hit some hitting prospects I’m very excited by for one reason or another.

Braden Shewmake, SS, Texas A&M

6’4”, 190 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Right

DOB: 19 November 1997

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Well, first off let’s start off with what isn’t so great about Braden Shewmake, or at least the place where there is the strongest area for improvement. Someone needs to get Braden Shewmake a sandwich. Or a piece of pizza. Or maybe a whole pizza. Maybe multiple pizzas. Point is, Braden Shewmake needs to put some more meat on his bones, any way he can. That listed 190 actually looks heavy; if I had to guess I’d peg Shewmake at 6’3” and 170. He needs weight, and he needs strength if he’s ever going to reach the heights to which I think he could aspire.

Now for the good stuff: Braden Shewmake is a middle infielder, and Braden Shewmake can really, really hit.

One of the things I’ve become more convinced of over the years of doing these draft reports is that there are lots and lots of things that can be taught, lots of things that can be improved, and tons of things that players can improve upon if they are willing to try and do so, and manage to find a situation that really fits them. Pitchers seem more malleable than hitters, even nowadays, probably due to hitting still coming down to pure reaction while pitchers have the ability to initiate action on their own, but even hitters can make huge changes and improvements if they find the right combination of opportunity, coaching, and motivation. However, at the most basic level of baseball there are some skills that are completely immutable, that must be natural. Arm strength can be improved, but not created. Foot speed is the same. You can get faster, but have to naturally be fast.

Perhaps the ultimate example is hand-eye coordination. Hitters can get better at putting the bat on the ball, but the base truth of hitting is that putting the bat on the ball is innate. You can improve the skill if you have it, but 99% of us don’t have it to begin with, at least not at the threshold needed to begin with. And then there are people like Braden Shewmake, who have the skill in such abundance as to make the 99% look like an entirely different species.

When it comes to putting the bat on the ball, Shewmake is a natural, and while he does not presently have great power, he’s also got the frame and size that suggests there should be more oomph coming down the road when he gets that sandwich, or that pizza, that we were just talking about. He sprays the ball to all fields, with an outstanding ability to stay on a pitch and send it wherever it’s thrown. He’s particularly impressive when it comes to hitting offspeed pitches to the opposite field, rarely getting fooled and showing an incredible innate feel for barreling even tough pitches one would usually expect to see an amateur struggle with.

There is a downside to Shewmake’s almost entirely contact-oriented approach, and it’s that he actually somewhat sabotages his own power potential by the way he hits. His hands tend to drift a bit, rather than him simply loading and then aggressively attacking the pitch. Part of why he’s so great at going the other way with the ball is a tendency to ‘catch’ the ball with the bat, rather than engaging his swing and letting the fat part of the bat come through the zone naturally and hopefully do some real damage. There’s also a bit of that extreme contact hitter thing going on with him in that he can make contact with basically any pitch thrown his way, regardless of whether or not that pitch is one he should swing at or let go. In order to take the remarkable talent in his hands and turn it into true offensive production, Shewmake needs to become paradoxically both more patient and more aggressive, learning not which pitches he can hit, but which pitches he should hit, and then attacking those pitches, rather than simply putting them in play because he can.

At Texas A&M, Shewmake plays shortstop, but his arm is a little underpowered for that position long term, I think. Still, he moves around so well even at his size that I feel he should stay up the middle, probably moving over to second base. He’s a little better than average in terms of foot speed, but nothing to write home about necessarily.

Essentially, what you have with Braden Shewmake is something like a Max Schrock starter kit. The difference is that where Schrock is 5’8” and physically maxed out, Shewmake is a legit 6-3 or 4, and has room both to add strength and refine his approach to create greater production. The perfect world version of Shewmake probably doesn’t maintain a 5-7% strikeout rate, but also probably trades in some slapped opposite-field singles for gapped doubles and 15+ home runs annually. He’s one of the most natural hitters in the draft this year, has the defensive chops to play an up the middle position on the infield, and has plenty of growth potential built in to both his body and his approach. That’s why he’s one of my very favourite hitting prospects in this draft class.

via Perfect Game Baseball:

Kameron Misner, OF, University of Missouri

6’4”, 220 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 8th January 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Kameron Misner, in addition to being a Missouri native and current MU Tiger, both of which tend to ingratiate a player to me personally, at least a little, is also one of the most impressive all-around players in this year’s crop of players, full stop. He’s not quite as big as Dave Winfield, but that’s the kind of do-everything physical talent that I think of when Kameron Misner is playing. The Jason Heyward who still knew how to hit isn’t a bad comp either, though it’s been so long since we’ve seen that guy it’s a little tough to really remember how Heyward played once upon a time. If you want a white player, think of the Cardinal version of JD Drew, only bigger. (And hopefully without the crippling curveball allergy.)

Misner does basically everything on the baseball field. He has huge raw power, a swing that generates easy loft from the left side of the plate, incredible patience and discipline, plus speed, a big throwing arm, great range in right field (he could possibly handle center, but really feels more like that prototype physical right field beast), and probably smells nice too. That last one I can’t really vouch for; if you scout players by smell they don’t usually let you back in the stadium. But still.

There are a couple reasons why Misner is ‘only’ seen as a first-rounder, rather than a top five lock, and they have to do with geography and a little bad luck. He’s from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, which is far from a baseball hotbed, and so was lightly scouted coming out of high school. (I had his name on a spreadsheet of players to look in on as potential late-round guys, but never got around to actually checking him out.) He also goes to Mizzou, which is a strong baseball program, but not a dominant one like the Florida schools or Vanderbilt. (It is in the SEC, however, which gives Misner instant credibility in terms of quality of competition.) Perhaps most importantly, though, Misner missed nearly half the season in 2018 after breaking his foot via foul ball, and didn’t play on the Cape or anywhere else during the summer. There’s very little track record of his hitting with wood, and while he was laying waste to the SEC last spring he didn’t show up on television for conference tournaments or anything like that.

Even so, the real problem I have with Misner is that I generally try to gear these draft reports toward a Cardinal perspective, as in, I mostly cover players I think the Cards have a shot at drafting in June. Unless something bad happens for a second year in a row to Kameron Misner, he will not make it anywhere near number nineteen. So, you know, hey Kam. Break a leg. No, I don’t mean good luck.

If one wished to poke holes in Misner’s game, probably his biggest issue right now is the gap between his raw power and what he actually generates in games. In batting practice and on the occasional moonshot, he’ll showcase 70 grade pop, but in games he’s generally much more conservative in his approach and looks more like a 55 game power guy. He’s one of the most patient hitters in college baseball, occasionally to the point of almost being called passive. Personally, I don’t worry that there’s a bit of Matt Carpenter in Misner’s approach, but it’s honestly very hard to find things not to like about what he brings to the baseball field. The Tigers have had him take some grounders at first base as well as playing the outfield, but I think long term his speed and range are too good to move him to the dirt, given he throws left-handed.

If Misner is healthy all spring and produces the kind of numbers he’s capable of, I think he goes in the top six or seven picks come June and the Cards never get a shot at him. I would say stranger things have happened, though, and cite Nolan Gorman, but Gorman was a high schooler and thus a much more volatile commodity than an SEC-honed on-base monster who also plays a plus right field.

via D1Baseball.com:

Jerrion Ealy, OF, Jackson Prep (Mississippi)

5’10”, 190 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 19th August 2000

So, what’s so great about this guy?

If Kameron Misner is maybe the most impressive all-around athlete in the college ranks this year, Jerrion Ealy is the guy who stands out for pure explosiveness, and the ceiling that explosiveness makes possible.

Ealy is also this year’s version of Kyler Murray, as a two-sport standout who has committed to Old Miss to play both baseball and football. That certainly complicates his draft stock, much as we’ve seen with the will-they-or-won’t-they dance the Oakland A’s have done with Murray over the past year. (My own personal opinion? Come back to baseball, Kyler. You’re going to get killed in the NFL.) Any team wishing to take Ealy has to be confident they can buy him away from that dual-sport commitment, and that’s a tough ask.

On the other hand, Ealy has the kind of physical tools that could make such an investment absolutely worth it. He’s a top of the scale runner, probably a 70-75 grade, and can not only handle center field but makes it look easy. At 5’10” and 190 pounds he’s not huge, by any means, but he’s got the sort of compact strength that should lead to above-average power down the road. He could also put on another ~20 pounds without impacting his quickness and flexibility, as well, I think.

The swing is relatively simple right now, with a simple step and load mechanism that allows Ealy to get the bat on the ball pretty consistently. He’s not the most polished player, which isn’t surprising given his two-sport background, but he also has better feel for the zone and the game in general than you might expect from an eighteen year old who has been dividing his attention up until now. In short, Ealy is going to be a bit of a project, but the big hurdle is trying to discern whether he’s signable, rather than whether or not his game looks like it will translate.

Physically, Ealy reminds me of Harrison Bader, but he’s a more natural hitter than Bader, and I don’t worry so much about him making contact. Maybe that sounds hyperbolic, to call a high school kid a better version of a current major leaguer with at least some exceptional tools, but Ealy absolutely has that kind of talent, and less downside risk than I think is normally the case with these two-sport projects.

Ealy is going to be one of the more fascinating players to follow this spring, at least for me, and I can’t wait to see where he goes on draft day. I really have no idea at this point whether any team will be willing to use a first round pick on a player whose signability is so clouded, but if a club felt like they could get him inked and into their system, I have to think they’d be willing to take the plunge and spend a very valuable pick to get that deal done.

via Baseball Factory: