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2019 Draft Preview No. 4: Bats Galore

Bringing the thunder in June.

St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Morning, all. Since I don’t really have anything nice to say about the weekend series just completed — not a great way to start off the season, 2019 Cardinals and 2019 bullpen and 2019 Greg Holl- I mean, 2019 Andrew Miller — let’s do a draft post this fine Monday morning.

We’ve got bats. Bat-first, bat-only, however you want to think of it. If you’ve been reading these for years, you know the drill. If you haven’t, these are players in the upcoming draft for whom the swing is the thing, and don’t have a whole lot else going for them in their profiles. Three of them, on deck, right now. Let’s rock.

Michael Busch, 1B, University of North Carolina

6’0”, 207 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Right

DOB: 9 November 1997

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Busch is originally from Minnesota, and so suffered the fate of many other very talented but geographically disadvantaged players: because he’s from a cold weather state, he didn’t get a whole lot of scouting run coming out of high school, and so headed off to college. In this case, that’s probably the best thing that could have happened to him, though, as he has exploded since getting to Chapel Hill, so things have worked out just fine.

If you’re looking for the most natural hitter in the 2019 draft, Busch might just be your guy. He has phenomenal natural balance in his swing, is good at both making contact out front and waiting on pitches without getting caught going forward too early, and doesn’t have to pull the ball to be able to put a charge in it. He also happens to be one of the most patient hitters in the entire draft this year, pushing a walk rate over 21% so far this spring after being over 16% each of his first two seasons at UNC. As a hitter, he very strongly resembles Matt Carpenter, in point of fact, with perhaps a bit more natural bat speed. Of course, what has made Carp so special in professional ball is how he has mastered the mental side of the game, and continued to adjust and improve his hitting over time. It’s hard to project that part of things, so I’ll leave off beyond pointing out that the way Busch approaches his craft reminds me a lot of Carpenter, at least as he is right now in college.

The down side with Busch is that he also resembles Matt Carpenter on the other side of the ball. In the same way that Carp has moved around the diamond in order to keep his bat in the lineup but isn’t really a great defender anywhere, Busch has stayed primarily at first base up until now, because his athletic abilities don’t really lend themselves to other positions all that well. His arm isn’t really strong enough for third base, he’s not as mobile as you would like out of a second baseman, and he doesn’t have the speed to profile particularly well in the outfield. He’s a touch below average on the bases, but not a clogger by any means. He did play some second base in the Cape Cod League last summer to get more at-bats, and there might be some hope of pushing him there in pro ball. Think of how the Rockies are trying to find playing time for Ryan McMahon; that’s basically the story a club would be looking at with Michael Busch if they already had an entrenched first baseman. Busch also isn’t as big as a prototypical first baseman, as his listed six foot height is probably a little generous and there might be some concern about his reach. Personally, I’m not really worried about that, but teams may be.

Busch is that classic hitter without a position that the Cardinals have had so much success drafting in the past, with guys like Allen Craig and Carpenter excelling despite serious defensive questions. Usually, though, those draft picks come in the later rounds, whereas Busch is so notably good that he’ll almost certainly go in the first 30-40 picks despite those limitations. Still, depending on what’s available on the board come pick nineteen in June, the offensive ceiling for Busch might just be too good to pass on.

via Vincent Cervino:

Rece Hinds, 3B, IMG Academy (FL)

6’4”, 210 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 5 September 2000

So, what’s so great about this guy?

One word: power.

Rece Hinds, the only high-schooler featured in this particular grouping, might be the king of the raw power rankings in the 2019 draft. It is legitimate light-tower power, as he can put the ball out of pretty much any park he might ever play in. From right-center to the left field foul pole, Hinds can clear the wall at will.

There are concerns, though. It’s not clear Hinds is a good enough hitter to really take advantage of that power most of all; whereas in last year’s draft Nolan Gorman was the kid with the thunder but also showed good feel for hitting and has the natural platoon advantage much of the time, Hinds is a right-handed hitter and doesn’t really show much in the way of ability to adjust at the plate. He hits with a relatively simple setup and load, but he’s very upright and somewhat stiff. Pitches that come into his zone get demolished as a matter of course, but anything with a wrinkle or spinning off the plate can make him look very foolish.

There’s also the matter of Hinds’s position, which for now is third base but may not be always. He’s a below-average runner and already a physical huge person, and it’s possible he may go from 6’4” and 210 pounds to more like 240 when he’s done growing and filling out. Maybe he can get bigger and maintain his mobility as it is now, but he doesn’t have much room to slow down before fringey defense at third becomes no defense at all, and he ends up across the diamond at first base.

Hinds isn’t quite as tall, but he puts me in mind a bit of former Brewers and Mariners slugger Richie Sexson in the way he hits. Now, that’s not a negative; there were times during Sexson’s career when he was extremely productive as a big leaguer. But he was also mostly a mistake hitter, one who waited on a pitcher to leave a fastball over the middle of the plate, and was generally a limited player for most of his career. If you’re looking for the downside of this kind of profile, look no further than recent Cardinal minor leaguer Austin Wilson, who was very much the Rece Hinds of the 2010 draft. Wilson has always had incredible raw power, but lacks the contact ability and feel for adjustments to really excel as a hitter.

The ideal outcome for Hinds is probably something like latter-career Jack Clark, who learned to live with his limitations as a hitter by simply refusing to swing at anything not to his liking. Clark always had contact issues relative to his era and was always down at the bottom of the defensive spectrum, but leaned into what he did well and compensated for his weaknesses by doing so. A Rece Hinds who does that could be a big time bat in the middle of a major league lineup. For my money, though, there are other players with fewer question marks I would go for first.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

Andrew Vaughn, 1B, University of California

6’0”, 215 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 3 April 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I saved the best for last in this post, as Andrew Vaughn is essentially the Platonic ideal of the type of player we’re talking about here today. He’s a first baseman, albeit a fairly solid one, and thus is not really contributing much in the way of defensive value. He’s not good at all on the bases, being significantly slower than Michael Busch, and isn’t rangy enough to even think about playing in the outfield. Andrew Vaughn had better hit, because he doesn’t do a ton else to help his team win.

But my god, can he ever hit.

Vaughn is basically this year’s version of Seth Beer; he’s a near-perfect college hitting machine who has no real weaknesses in the batter’s box and tons of them everywhere else. But when he has a bat in his hands, there is no more feared player in college baseball than Andrew Vaughn. He has tremendous natural bat speed, and despite a lot of moving parts in his swing never really has any trouble timing things up. He doesn’t strike out much considering how patient he is, and can hit the ball out to all fields. Whereas a guy like Rece Hinds is capable of incredible moon shots but hasn’t yet figured out how to translate batting practice power into games just yet, Vaughn hits lots and lots of homers with arguably less raw power because he hits everything on the nose.

He doesn’t hit from as exaggerated a crouch, but there’s probably no hitter Vaughn puts me more in mind of than Jeff Bagwell. That same kind of slashing, top-hand heavy swing that produces hard line drive contact seemingly at will, with a similar hand load and explosive bat speed. Vaughn is also an incredibly patient hitter, one who is currently walking near twice as often as he is striking out in the Pac-12. The one way in which he’s not a good comp to Bagwell is in terms of speed; anyone here who realised or remembered Jeff Bagwell had two 30/30 seasons, raise your hands. I certainly didn’t. Andrew Vaughn is not going to swipe 30 bags in a season. He may not swipe 30 in a career, to be perfectly honest.

Vaughn is really an interesting player in the draft this year, as he pushes the bounds of just how good a hitter can be in college, but his overall profile is one we’ve seen teams shy away from taking at the top of the draft that often. The first ten picks of the draft are usually loaded with position players who sit at the top of the defensive spectrum or play elite defense in, say, right field. First base types have become much more rare at the very upper end of the first round, yet Vaughn’s performance is so ridiculous that it’s very hard to see him as anything but a top 5-10 talent. How that plays out come June will be very intriguing, at least to me.

via Baseball America: