Breaking down the draft, Part 1

Welcome to the first article in the THT Draft Review Series. For guidelines and disclaimers, as well as scouting reports on draftees Tim Beckham, Pedro Alvarez, Brian Matusz, Buster Posey, Gordon Beckham, Aaron Crow and Justin Smoak, please see THT’s Draft Primer. With that said, let’s get started:

3. Eric Hosmer | 1b | Kansas City Royals

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The mechanics of Hosmer’s swing seem to vary a bit from swing to swing. There are times when his swing gets a bit long; he ends up relying mostly on his arms to produce a powerful swing. Players with long swings can put up excellent numbers and hit bombs against amateur pitching, but they often struggle against better competition. However, the length in Hosmer’s swing comes and goes, and his swing isn’t so long that any adjustments will be extremely difficult.

Now, one of the first things that jumped out at me watching Hosmer is the aggressive hack that Hosmer takes. He swings with intent, and although this tendency could give him problems at times, I love it.

Hosmer does a good job carrying his weight forward. As he strides into foot plant, we can see his loading process as he lowers his hands, which helps him generate excellent bat speed; however, it is this loading process that adds some of the length to his swing. The below clip helps to show what Hosmer does to create a longer swing:

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You want everything moving together, but Hosmer adds an extra component to his swing. However, to his credit, he also “lets the ball travel deep.” You’ll hear me invoke this saying a lot because letting the ball travel deep into your hitting zone is a trait possessed by most of the elite power hitters in the game. This gives you an indication of the kind of bat speed Hosmer possesses.

Hosmer has legit power, but he is going to have to hone his swing before he can handle higher levels of competition. Along with a tendency to have some length in his swing, he can get a little too handsy, meaning that his hands get out in front of hip rotation (producing “extension”) when they should be turning together. It doesn’t look to me like he is trying to extend; he is just a little too eager to get out in front. Perhaps he could adjust his hand placement and bat angle to create a swing path that will make it easier to keep his hands back.

If Hosmer can make the necessary adjustments (an easier task given his overall athleticism), fill out his frame as expected, and display what most scouting reports say is an excellent approach at the plate, the Royals might just have a star on their hands.

Grade – B

6. Kyle Skipworth | C | Florida Marlins

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I really like Skipworth’s swing: very simple; the hands stay relatively quiet and the hips stay closed until just before foot plant. At foot plant, the hips rotate and bring the arms along for the ride, and contact is made deep in his hitting zone. I’ve talked about “scap loading” in pitchers and the ability that it has to generate velocity. Hitters have a similar action, and the below clip illustrates this:

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Just like a pitcher needs to horizontally load the arm rather than reach straight back to generate velocity, a hitter needs to do the same thing to generate bat speed, while maintaining a short swing.

Let’s go back to that first clip of Skipworth. Compare the first move that Skipworth makes at foot plant with the first move that Hosmer makes when his swing tends to get long:

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Hosmer adds an extra component to his swing, whereas Skipworth’s body and bat are moving forward and together as one unit.

Questions

Skipworth has the arm to stay at catcher, but does he have everything else—game calling, pitch blocking, technique, etc.? There is also the question of whether he will outgrow the position.

If Skipworth can stay at catcher, his bat could have premium value, but if he is forced to move to first base or a corner outfield spot, his bat becomes merely above-average. His power potential looks to be around 20-25 home runs, but that outlook could change depending on his physical maturation.

Nevertheless, a lot of upside with this pick.

Grade – B+

7. Yonder Alonso | 1b | Cincinnati Reds

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The No. 1 first baseman off the board, Alonso is already physically mature with a heavy lower half.

Alonso has an open stance in which he holds his hands high. He keeps the bat and body connected as he strides forward and lets the ball travel deep into his hitting zone. Some players have problems with opening their hips too soon, but Alonso is the opposite: At times, he doesn’t allow his hips to completely rotate, and that could be because he transfers his weight forward a tad early. He still turns his hands and hips together on a firm front leg, but this early weight transfer might explain why much of his power is to the opposite field. To give himself more power to the pull side, Alonso will need to have a more efficient transfering of his weight.

More impressive than his power potential is the overall approach that Alonso takes to the plate. Alonso is extremely patient at the plate, waiting for just the right pitch to drive.

Defense

As a pro, Alonso will be limited to first base. His defense can’t really be considered more than average, and although he makes the plays he can get to, his range is limited. No matter the position, Alonso’s bat will have to carry him.

Certainly, the Reds got a good player in Alonso, but I have Justin Smoak rated higher, and there are questions about what the Reds plan to do with Alonso since Joey Votto is currently occupying first base. However, that is a question to be answered in a year or two. Although I do have some questions about Alonso’s fit in the Reds organization, he still qualifies as a good, safe pick, but not a pick with a huge upside.

Grade – B

10. Jason Castro | C | Houston Astros

The first reach of the draft. Castro is viewed as an offensive-minded catcher and considered athletic for his position. The video provided did not have a clip of Castro really driving the ball, so I am wary of drawing absolute conclusions about him, but of the swings I did see, I wasn’t that impressed, though he does give Houston coaches something to work with.

There were two instances in which Castro did things that always help reduce the power potential of a player. Both clips you can see below:

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The clip on the left shows Castro opening up his hips too soon simply by planting his foot in a direction pointed outward toward the pitcher. See how the knee spins open at foot plant, taking the hips with it? This approach neutralizes many of the rotational forces one needs in order for a swing to produce power.

Another problem is with Castro’s efficiency, and this is illustrated in the clip on the right. Although he does carry his weight forward and manages to keep his hands quiet and his swing short, the movement from stride to toe touch to foot plant isn’t always graceful. It’s like a chain of events; each event needs to be in sync with one another.

Watch the stride forward: About two frames before foot plant, his hips should have just begun rotating and the bat should have made its initial movements forward. At foot plant, the bat and the hips should be rotating and moving forward in full force. In Castro’s case he waits for his foot to fully plant before making those initial movements forward, making for an inefficient swing.

Other notes

I appreciate that the next best available catcher (if you aren’t counting Brett Lawrie) was not first-round material. But the Astros are an organization that simply needs more talent in their minor-league system. The Astros say that they took the best available player, but I think this was really a pick about signability.

The Astros must also hope Castro is more than a one-year wonder. Castro had a disastrous sophomore year, but he bounced back with a solid Cape Cod League and junior year; still, he hasn’t really displayed more than average power during that time. Another concern is Castro’s batting eye. Granted, he is a high-contact hitter, but this past year, he drew just 19 walks in 218 appearances (8.7%).

Castro’s bat should play fine at catcher, where he is noted as average-to-above-average across the board. If for some reason Castro is pushed off catcher and forced to play first, I don’t think that he’ll develop the power to play every day at that position.

Grade – C-

12. Jemile Weeks | 2b | Oakland Athletics

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Weeks has a nice swing from both sides of plate, but if you’re expecting a lot of power, this isn’t the guy to give it to you. His power hitting is limited for a few reasons:

Approach – Weeks has more power than he lets on, but that power takes a back seat as Weeks usually is more line-drive-oriented.

Contact point – Take note of where Weeks makes contact with the ball. As I said earlier, you want the ball to travel deep into your hitting zone. Making contact out in front is a good way to sap your power.

Size – Weeks isn’t very big and he doesn’t have the raw strength of your average power hitter

On the other hand, Weeks possesses a pretty good turn through the ball from both sides, and he generates good bat speed with quick wrists. Sometimes he lets his hands get a little too far out in front, but he also shows off the bat speed that would allow him to let the ball travel deeper into his hitting zone if he permitted it to.

In terms of swing plane, Weeks generates more loft from the left side of the plate, whereas his right-side swing follows a fairly linear swing path.

Weeks doesn’t do many things great, but he does a lot of things well, and although he might be an over-draft at No. 12, he still has the potential to move quickly through Oakland’s system and eventually become an everyday player at second base.

Grade – B-

13. Brett Wallace | 3b/1b | St. Louis Cardinals

Wallace is an advanced hitter, but he has a bad body and a heavy lower half. However, he is more athletic than he looks, and he isn’t exactly the plodder on the base paths that one might expect.

The good news is that Wallace wasn’t drafted for his athleticism, or his speed, or his defense. He was drafted for his bat. The scouting reports praise Wallace for his advanced approach at the plate. He shows off an excellent batting eye, uses the whole field, and can hit a variety of pitches.

Let’s break down his swing:

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Wallace keeps a short swing with a simple loading of the hands. He generally keeps his hands back, letting his hips and hands turn together using his front leg as a solid base on which to turn.

To Wallace’s right, you’ll notice another bad-body, great-hitting player: Prince Fielder. I selected Fielder because I wanted a guide to how Wallace could improve his power output down the line. Instead of the high (more vertical) leg kick and stride that Wallace uses, I would look into the possibility of Wallace’s using a shorter leg kick but longer stride (more horizontal) into foot plant, similar to the way that Fielder strides into foot plant. This change would allow Wallace to carry his hips forward for a longer period than he presently does, building up more momentum as he prepares to swing and giving his lower body more of a role in generating power. He has a powerful set of legs; he should get the most from them.

Wallace’s power projects out to about 20-25 home runs with a lot of doubles and the ability to hit for a moderately-high average; however, with further improvements, he could bump that power up to 30 home runs.

Final thoughts

I would leave Wallace at third base. His bat could allow him to be a top-12 or so player at third base, whereas a move to first base would drop the value of his bat, though not enough to make him not an everyday player.

This was a safe pick for the Cardinals, and if things play out like they should, Wallace shouldn’t take too long before being ready for big-league pitching.

Grade – B

14. Aaron Hicks | OF | Minnesota Twins

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The Twins chose Hicks as a hitter, but hitter or pitcher, Hicks has first-round talent. First, you can see the potential just ooze out of Hicks: a lot of athleticism; a frame with plenty of room to fill out; and a swing that can be worked on to produce a lot of power down the road from both sides of the plate.

Hicks shows fast hands, strong wrists and a fast bat. When he is efficient with his mechanics, his swing can pack a lot of pop. He aggressively turns his hips and lets the ball come to him, though there are times he can get a little handsy with his swing.

There are also times when Hicks opens up too early. Like Castro, he plants his front foot in a position that makes his hips vulnerable to opening too soon.

Other occasional problems:

Leaking – His body is still moving forward at foot plant, which can hurt a player’s ability to generate power.

Swing length – You can have an easier time seeing this in his left-side swing: His arms get a little separated from his body for a longer swing, and a longer swing means that he has to swing earlier than he would like because the bat has a longer distance to travel.

So he has all these problems, but why do I still really like this pick? Because Hicks has the components for a powerful swing: the weight transfer, the aggressive hip rotation, the hips and hands turning together (at times) and the sight of seeing the ball jump off his bat. There are smaller things that need to be worked on, but Hicks’ tools are phenomenal, and his athleticism should help with any adjustments he needs to make.

Personally, I like Hicks’ left-side swing better than his right-side swing—his swing from the left side is longer, but he has better loft on his swing plane, and he does a better job of keeping his hands back.

I’ve seen reports on a need for Hicks to improve his pitch recognition, so the coaches in the Twins organization are really going to have an interesting time turning this tremendous athlete into a complete player. One piece of advice if I were the Twins: Don’t teach Hicks to hit the ball on the ground and “take advantage of his speed.” Teach him to drive pitches over the outfield wall.

As a center fielder, Hicks won’t have to put up huge numbers to be a good everyday player at the big league level. The Twins are known for their fascination with toolsy and athletic outfielders, but Hicks has the most talent of any Twins draft pick since Joe Mauer in 2002.

Grade – B

15. Ethan Martin | 3b | Los Angeles Dodgers

Carlos Gomez actually scouted Martin one year ago in his article on the East Cobb Braves. Here is what he said at the time:

That’s a powerful swing. Martin has a simple, no-nonsense stance at the plate. While his swing has just a little length to it, Martin’s swing has “power” written all over it. Notice how well Martin loads his hands, carries his body forward and turns violently against his front leg. Focus on how quickly he rotates, as his hips and hands turn together into contact.

What adjustments has Martin made since then? The swing on the left is Martin in 2006, the swing on the right is more recent:

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His stance isn’t as wide, and he has moved the bat closer to his body at start-up. Gone is the long stride into foot plant, replaced by a very simple raising of the foot (without the toe actually leaving the ground) and then a hard plant just as the hips start their rotation. It reminds me a lot of the batting stance used by David Wright back in 2005. You can see the Wright swing in this article by Jeff Albert done last year. From what I can tell, Wright carried his weight forward for a longer period and created a little more distance for his hips to rotate, so Martin’s swing doesn’t have the same power capabilities as Wright’s, but with some adjustments Martin could reach that level.

With his adjustments (his hand placement, for instance), Martin was able to shorten his swing while preserving most, if not all, of his previous power production. Martin also rotates the hands and hips together and lets the ball travel deep into his zone.

A good athlete (and also a top-rated pitcher), Martin has a strong and accurate arm from third base, which is where I believe the Dodgers are planning to put him (correct me if I’m wrong).

Martin is a little raw in departments such as pitch recognition, but his talent is undeniable. Given the track record of the Dodgers since 2002 in drafting highly rated bats (Loney, Kemp, Laroche, DeWitt, Bell, etc.), I wouldn’t bet against Martin’s following a similar path.

Grade – B+

16. Brett Lawrie | C/3b | Milwaukee Brewers

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A very intriguing pick by the Brewers. If Lawrie can stay at catcher, they have a steal, but even if he has to move off catcher, he should be perfectly playable as a third baseman. His athleticism gives the Brewers plenty of options on where to play him.

The more I watch Lawrie’s swing, the more I like it. He powerfully loads his hands without letting his swing get too long; he carries his hips forward as he takes a long stride into foot plant; and he takes an aggressive hack on the ball after letting it travel deep into his hitting zone.

Yes, there are times when Lawrie opens his hips up a little early, and he can be inconsistent with his mechanics; the bottom line, though, is that you want to draft players who need as few adjustments as possible. Lawrie should have no problem making any needed adjustments because of his athleticism and because the adjustments he needs to make are relatively small.

Lawrie is considered one of the more advanced amateur bats in this draft, and he should hit for a solid average with plus power to all fields. He’ll need more development as a catcher, but if they move him off the position, his bat could carry him quickly through the Milwaukee system.

Grade – B+

17. David Cooper | 1b | Toronto Blue Jays

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If I could use a cliche to describe Cooper: solid but unspectacular. He lets his swing get a little long at times, but he also lets the ball travel deep in his zone, and he is able to put a solid swing on the ball. As he plants his front foot, there are times when he opens up too early (you can see this in the clip above); but when Cooper keeps his hips closed, he has good power to all fields.

The calling card for Cooper is a very professional approach at the plate: willing to take a walk, use the whole field, and then drive the ball when the pitcher misses his spot.

Cooper’s future position will be first base (where he is an average defender at best) or at DH. He has already filled out his body, and though there might a little more room for him to put on some size, his upside as a player is fairly limited.

Nevertheless, the Blue Jays shouldn’t have to wait long to see if they’ll get a good investment on their 2008 first-round pick. If things go right, Cooper should give Toronto average production from the first-base position within the next two or three years.

Grade – B-

I hope to bring Part 2 next week. We’ll cover picks 18 (New York Mets) through 27 (Minnesota Twins). I again ask my readers to send me requests for players they would like to see broken down at draft.request@gmail.com.

References & Resources
MLB Scouting Bureau
ESPN Scouting Reports
MLB Advanced Media
Perfect Game

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