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2019 Draft Preview No. 6: College Shortstops Galore

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St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

I’ve written already about how the demographics of the 2019 draft are a little odd; two catchers likely in the top five or ten picks, very little college pitching toward the top, and maybe half a dozen college shortstops in the first round or supplemental range just makes for kind of an unusual crop of players.

Actually, though, that was the case at the beginning of the spring; at this point, the draft board is looking less iconoclastic by the moment, though even now there’s still a heavy tilt away from college pitching at the top. Adley Rutschman appears to be a lock for the top spot on draft boards, if not necessarily the actual number one overall pick, as he is Matt Wietersing the hell out of college baseball this year, but the other catching prospect at the top, Shea Langeliers, has hit reasonably well but not great, and it’s likely his value will be a bit more in the eyes of various beholders, rather than patently obvious to all. The weirdly large crop of college shortstops has seen some attrition as well, with one of the players I’m covering here today in particular having a brutal season and thus dropping like a stone on many boards. A few college arms have moved up, the result of both solid performances and simple equilibrium. It’s still a somewhat unusual draft class to my eye, but not as eccentric as it could have ended up.

Anyhow, with that quick update on the overall state of the draft class out of the way, let’s talk about some of those college shortstops, shall we?

Will Wilson, SS/2B, North Carolina State

5’11”, 175 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 21 July 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Anytime an up-the-middle player shows an ability to hit for power, he’s going to get noticed. The body types most typically found in those middle of the field players tend to usually not lend themselves to big time pop, so when a guy does show that pop it stands out. Such is the case for Will Wilson, who has created a fair bit of helium for himself this spring by slugging thirteen home runs in less than 190 plate appearances for NC State, after thumping fifteen bombs as a sophomore (272 PAs).

What’s especially intriguing about Wilson is that he does not possess an atypical body for a middle infield type; i.e. he’s not an unusually big dude a la Troy Tulowitzki, or even Paul DeJong, who has athleticism that keeps him up the middle. Rather, he’s cut from the cloth of the normally-proportioned middle infielder who packs unusual physical strength into that frame. Think of a guy like Alex Bregman, whose major league career ISO is .216 despite being rather generously listed at six feet even and 180 pounds.

The downside with Wilson is he does not possess the ridiculous bat control of Alex Bregman or Jose Altuve; rather, he has some definite swing and miss to his game, which could become an issue down the road. He has improved his approach at the plate this spring, showing more patience than in the past, but still, a near-20% strikeout rate in college can balloon in a hurry once a player gets into the pro ranks. The good news on that front is that Wilson has looked good hitting with wood, so perhaps there’s less concern over how his swing will translate than in some cases.

The other downside with Wilson is that he’s not nearly as fast as he looks like he should be; he’s got a bit of a Skip Schumaker or Jon Jay thing going on there. A 5’11” middle infielder should run well, you would typically think, but Wilson is about an average runner at best, and probably a touch below. He’s not the rangiest at shortstop, either, and probably fits better at second long term. His arm is not a great fit for third, so moving to the right side of the diamond is a more realistic option than moving to the corner, I think. The good news is that he can handle short well enough for the moment, and could probably be a plus defender at second. It’s the bat which will get Wilson drafted in the first 20 picks come June, most likely, but the bat isn’t the only good quality he possesses. A 50 hit, 55 power guy who could play 55 defense at the keystone is a hell of an asset, and I think that’s exactly the profile Will Wilson is tracking toward.

via 2080 Baseball:

Bryson Stott, SS, UNLV

6’3”, 200 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Right

DOB: 6 October 1997

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Stott is the other college shortstop in this year’s class who has major helium, and if anything he has even more than Will Wilson. Whereas Wilson looks like a shortstop but may not have quite the range or arm to actually stay there long term, Bryson Stott looks like a third baseman but is a very good bet to stick at short all the way up the ladder. He’s an above-average runner, has a 55-60 grade arm, and while he doesn’t have the kind of spectacular athleticism of a Brendan Ryan that stands out even at short as something remarkable, he makes all the plays he should make at the position, and occasionally pulls a rabbit out of a hat you didn’t see coming.

Offensively, Stott is a very different kind of hitter from Will Wilson, but in another way has made his jump up draft boards in essentially the same way Wilson has. Both players essentially doubled down on what they do well. In the case of Wilson, he’s hit for more power than ever before while maintaining a good enough contact rate so as to let the pop play. In Stott’s case, he’s taken an already disciplined plate approach to a ridiculous level, nearly doubling his 2018 walk rate and posting a 44:31 walk to strikeout ratio in 215 plate appearances.

He’s shown a bit more power, as well, slugging seven homers this spring compared to his previous high of four in his sophomore season, but huge raw power is probably never going to be Stott’s calling card. He’s a bigger athlete, but his swing is really not built for mashing home runs. Stott’s game is all about controlling the strike zone and stroking line drives to the gaps, and I would much more expect to see a 40-50 doubles season from him than I would a 30 homer campaign. Then again, the ball and the data in MLB are all pointing toward loft, so it’s not out of the question he could end up moving his approach toward power. After all, he feels very much like an early-career Matt Carpenter as a hitter right now, and we see how Carpenter altered his approach to make himself into a different sort of hitter as he got older.

Stott is a really fascinating prospect, as he isn’t flashy in any way, but is one of the best players in college baseball all the same. It’s like if Joey Votto was an average to maybe even slightly above defender at shortstop somehow. And yes, that is as attractive a prospect as it sounds like.

via Baseball America:

Will Holland, SS, Auburn University

5’10”, 180 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 18 April 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

The first two players I’ve talked about today have been rising prospects this spring, albeit for different reasons. One is probably a second baseman but is making some of the loudest contact in college baseball, while the other is much more likely a shortstop and is getting on base nearly half the time he comes up in 2019. Now we turn to the other side of the coin, and we find Will Holland, who came into the spring at least as good a prospect as Will Wilson, probably more highly thought of, and in a similar neighbourhood as Bryson Stott, depending on what kind of player you prefer in your draftable middle infielders. And now? Well, let’s say Will Holland has not made himself any money this spring, and leave it at that.

Here’s the thing about Holland: he is the most dynamic athlete of the three players I’m covering here today, and by a fairly wide margin. Wilson is stronger than his frame but not especially rangy or fast, Stott is nimbler than his frame but is by no means twitchy or explosive. Will Holland, on the other hand, is a truly dynamic athlete. He’s a plus runner, has plus bat speed despite a modest frame, possesses an above-average throwing arm even by shortstop standards, and can make highlight reel plays to both his left and right. If Harrison Bader were an infielder, he would be Will Holland, is what I’m saying.

Unfortunately, that comparison cuts both ways, because there is some serious questioning going on right now about whether or not Will Holland can actually hit. And honestly, ‘questioning’ might be a bit generous for what is going on in terms of Holland’s bat.

His freshman season in the SEC, Holland struggled with the bat. His strikeouts and walks weren’t bad for a kid in his first season playing against such high-level competition, but he really just didn’t show much ability to consistently drive the baseball. In 2018, though, the sophomore version of Holland did everything he could to put himself on the map as a player. He cut his strikeout rate a bit, maintained his walk rate, and knocked twelve home runs in just under 300 trips to the plate. He didn’t necessarily look like the sort of player who was ever going to be an on-base machine, but he played plus defense and showed off a power-speed combo that hinted at a 20-20 player somewhere down the line.

Unfortunately, Holland’s junior season has been much more like his freshman season than his sophomore campaign, as his power has more or less disappeared, he’s actually posting the highest strikeout rate of his college career, and while his walk rate has also increased it hasn’t been nearly enough to offset all the other things that have gone wrong. To his credit, he is walking more and has stolen thirteen bases in sixteen tries, so it isn’t as if he’s not fighting. It’s just...fighting is not the same as succeeding.

The issue, at least to my eye from watching a moderate amount of video on Holland, is that he seems to pop the ball up, a lot. Like, a lot a lot. He hits from a crouch and lays the bat flat on his shoulder, sometimes even pointing the barrel downward a la Paul Goldschmidt, but I don’t think he really engages his lower body as much as he could, and oftentimes seems to be rushing to try and get his bat into position. Other times he starts his load early, but then seems tentative and lost on how to actually initiate his swing. Most of all, I think he may just have a chase problem with the ball up. Kolten Wong struggles with a similar thing at times, going after pitches at his shoulders he should really just let go, and Holland seems to be swinging under a whole lot of high pitches in my viewings. There’s some real work that needs to be done on his swing, I think, before he can get himself going in the right direction offensively.

The good news for Holland is that he does so many other things well that the bat has a little less pressure on it than many other prospects. Another Kolten Wong comp is in the offing here, in that even in seasons when Wong has posted a below-average hitting line he has been a pretty valuable player because of what he does with the glove and with his legs on the bases. Now, to be fair, Holland in 2019 is a much shakier hitter than Kolten Wong has been in his big league career, but the point still stands. When a player has so many ways to contribute value as a Will Holland or Kolten Wong, they don’t have to hit in order to stay on the field. They have to hit more than Will Holland is right now, but they don’t have to hit nearly as much more as a lot of other players.

Coming into the spring, Holland looked to me like a back third of the first round talent. Not a guy you jump on at fourteen, but if he’s sitting there at 26 you feel pretty good about the upside. With his offensive performance this spring, he’s cost himself a lot of draft position and quite a bit of money, too. Now I think he’s a guy you pop in, say, the third round and stick him with your best hitting instructor in extended spring training to see if you can unlock the physical talents. The payoff could still be substantial if you can get him pointed in the right direction, but it’s not going to be a quick or easy process.

via Perfect Game Baseball: