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2019 Draft Preview No. 8: A Trio of College Infielders

Two polished college hitters and one wild card highlight this latest installment of draft previews.

St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Today we have a selection of three college infielders, all cut from a similar bat-first, but not bat-only, cloth.

Chase Strumpf, 2B, UCLA

6’1”, 195 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 8 March 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Ten years ago, the Cardinals struck gold in the thirteenth round of the draft when they selected a bat-first third baseman who was a fifth-year senior out of TCU. Matt Carpenter had had a checkered injury history, including a Tommy John surgery, and while he showed remarkable awareness and control of the strike zone, the power was modest and his long-term defensive home was not a completely settled matter.

If there’s a player in this year’s draft who most reminds me of Carpenter in terms of plate approach, it might very well be Chase Strumpf. There are other hitters in the draft this year who are even more patient, mostly because they are such feared sluggers that pitchers avoid them (see below), but in terms of a player with middling power whose greatest asset is the way he manages the strike zone, Strumpf is that guy. The fact he’s an average defender at second base, rather than a question mark at third, and has no real injury history connected to his name, is why we’re talking about a guy coming out his junior year in the first two rounds, rather than a fifth-year senior going in the Albert Pujols Memorial spot.

Strumpf doesn’t have a ton of power, but he can go gap to gap just fine, and should produce a good number of doubles. And really, who knows what doubles/gap pop looks like at the highest levels nowadays considering how the ball is flying? If pressed to find a player who would most benefit from the livelier ball, Strump probably wouldn’t actually be my first choice; I would go for a contact freak like Braden Shewmake or someone if I were looking for the type of guy I’d target specifically to take advantage of the live ball. However, it’s also possible a player like Strump who is so good at managing the zone he attacks, even beyond simple ball/strike discipline, could get a big boost from the ball flying more as well. The current offensive environment makes these sorts of projections difficult to do, honestly.

In his sophomore season, Strumpf walked nearly as often as he struck out, but this year he’s taken that to an even further extreme, putting up almost identical K and BB rates this spring. (He’s struck out exactly once more than he walked, to be exact.) He’s actually hit for slightly less power than last season, which is somewhat surprising, but the career-high walk rate has kept him getting on base at a fantastic clip.

Nineteen is probably too early for Strumpf, but he would fit nicely as a second-round pick for the birds were he still to be on the board when their turn rolls around. He’s not flashy at second, and doesn’t have the arm to move to the left side of the infield, but he should be at least an average defender at the keystone, and with the kind of on-base skills he brings to the table, he should have one of the higher floors of any hitter in the draft outside the very elite names.

via Perfect Game Baseball:

Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Tech

6’2”, 215 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 12 February 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Remember a few minutes ago, when I mentioned there were hitters in the draft even more patient than Chase Strumpf? Well, here’s who I was talking about in particular at this exact moment. Josh Jung may not be the best college hitter in the draft this year, seeing as how Adley Rutschman is doing a full-on Matt Wieters at Georgia Tech impersonation and Andrew Vaughn’s combined production his sophomore and junior seasons have him in the conversation of all-time great college hitters, but Jung isn’t far off that level, and has pushed his own plate discipline this spring to a place very, very few hitters ever reach.

Physically, Jung reminds me a bit of Nick Senzel, another college infielder of a few years ago who put up ridiculous numbers with the bat his draft season. Jung is a little bigger, and a bit less fleet of foot (which isn’t saying a lot, as Senzel isn’t exactly Billy Hamilton), but watching Jung move around the diamond puts me in mind of the Reds’ first-rounder. He’s perfectly fine at third base, probably an average defender overall, with iffy range but an excellent arm. He’s better coming in on the ball than he is going side to side, at least in my estimation from watching him only very briefly. (Grains of salt and all that.)

The batter’s box is where Jung really shines, and I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s the hitter I might be most excited to see the Cardinals draft if he did, in fact, make it to nineteen. Yes, I know, the Cards are swimming in third base prospects right now, but Jung’s bat is special enough you take him and then figure out how all the pieces fit together. He isn’t a light-tower power guy, but he lifts the ball easily and makes loud contact from one foul pole to the other. He’s got that Paul DeJong opposite-field power thing going on, and opposite-field power is always going to jump out to me as an attractive hitting tool to possess.

Jung hits from an upright stance, with his feet relatively close together, and incorporates a simple leg lift into his swing to inititate movement. It’s a very repeatable, uncluttered swing that generates loads of contact, and high-quality contact at that. Watching Josh Jung hit is a vaguely zen experience, in that there isn’t a ton of extra motion, no hyperbole to the swing, yet he generates all the thump he needs. And speaking of zen, Jung’s plate approach is a thing of patient, exacting beauty. I don’t think he’s quite as natural as Strumpf when it comes to the feel for the zone; Jung isn’t as confident at the edges as the UCLA product. But what Jung has to an even greater degree is that stubbornness that the very best hitters have. He might not take the close ones with as much verve as Strumpf, but if a pitcher is pitching around him, Jung will absolutely refuse to get himself out. All spring long, pitchers have largely avoided challenging Jung, and he has let them put him on again and again, to the tune of a 20% walk rate.

I have my doubts that Jung will make it to the Cardinals’ draft slot next month. His junior season has been ridiculous in the very best way, and college hitters who perform like he has tend to jump up boards when the rubber meets the road and teams actually begin making their selections. I mentioned Nick Senzel as a comp earlier; he jumped all the way to the Reds at number two overall a few years ago, and while Jung almost certainly won’t go that high — there are simply too many good hitting prospects this year for him to get into the top five, I think — it wouldn’t shock me at all to see him sneak up into the top ten. If teams are not sold on his glove at third or think the power ends up average at best, though, there’s a chance he could slide just enough. I wouldn’t call it a good chance, but every June a couple players slip through the cracks, and Jung has just enough questions about his ceiling he could be a candidate. And as I said, if he did, you take him immediately, and worry about how he and Nolan Gorman and Malcom Nunez and Elehuris Montero all fit in the same farm system when you come to that bridge.

via FanGraphs:

Michael Toglia, 1B/OF, UCLA

6’5”, 205 lbs

Bats/Throws: Switch/Right

DOB: 16 August 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

So far today, we’ve covered two of the most polished college hitters in the draft this year, guys who play premium positions at an acceptable but not great level, but really excel with a bat in their hands. Mike Toglia, the second UCLA Bruin on the list here today, is a very different sort of animal.

Toglia is a very raw hitter for a collegian, but has incredible physical upside. He’s got big-time raw power from the left side of the plate, and good contact skills with about 50-55 grade power from the right. That’s not an unusual profile for a switch-hitter who throws right-handed, by the way, in case you were wondering. Something about the dominant hand being the bottom hand seems to give a little extra oomph to the swing in a lot of cases.

Anyhow, whereas Strumpf and Jung both play tough positions at a decent level, Toglia plays the least premium infield position, first base, but does so at a very high level. He’s got that easy grace around the bag that the best first basemen seem to, and his footwork is fantastic. He’s also played some corner outfield, but is nothing to write home about patrolling the wide green spaces. Thus, you have a player with some perceived versatility, but who would be much better off staying at the less premium position where he’s outstanding, rather than exercising that versatility and contributing less value, I think.

What’s interesting about Toglia is how young he is for his demographic — he won’t turn 21 until August — and how much room he still has to grow into his body. At 6’5” and just 205ish pounds, he’s got space on his frame for another 20+ pounds, and he already flashes 65 grade power from the left side of the plate. Drafting Mike Toglia is a very different proposition from drafting either of the other two hitters I’m covering here today, as he is much more of a project, and you’re betting on the physical upside, rather than going for something closer to a finished product.

The downside of that rawness is, well, the rawness. Toglia had an outstanding season as a sophomore at UCLA, but has regressed badly his junior year. His overall numbers haven’t tanked, largely because he’s hitting for more power than in the past, but his plate discipline has been extremely shaky. He’s striking out nearly a quarter of the time this spring, and his walk rate has plummeted from almost 17% in 2018 to just over 9% this year. For a hitter whose game will likely always involve a fair amount of swing and miss, that sinking walk rate is a definite red flag.

Toglia’s profile makes him hard to project heading into the draft, honestly. He has as much upside as probably any college hitter in this class — or at least as much upside as any once you get past the very top group that will all go in the top ~20 range — but has much higher risk attached than most players of his type. I could see him going in the second round, but I could also see him falling to the fourth. I don’t have a good feel for him at all at this point, but he remains one of the most intriguing physical talents available this year.

via Baseball.: