JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman (2015)
JR OF Andrew Stevenson (2015)
JR OF Mark Laird (2015)
JR C Chris Chinea (2015)
SR 1B Conner Hale (2015)
SR OF Jared Foster (2015)
SR C Kade Scivicque (2015)
SR OF Chris Sciambra (2015)
SR RHP Brady Domangue (2015)
SR RHP Zac Person (2015)
SR LHP Kyle Bouman (2015)
rSO RHP Hunter Newman (2015)
rSO RHP Russell Reynolds (2015)
JR LHP Hunter Devall (2015)
SO OF Jake Fraley (2016)
SO LHP Jared Poche (2016)
SO RHP Parker Bugg (2016)
SO 2B Danny Zardon (2016)
SO 2B Kramer Robertson (2016)
SO RHP Collin Strall (2016)
SO RHP Alden Cartwright (2016)
FR RHP Alex Lange (2017)
FR RHP Jake Godfrey (2017)
FR LHP Jake Latz (2017)
FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann (2017)
FR C Mike Papierski (2017)
FR RHP Austin Bain (2017)
FR SS Grayson Byrd (2017)
FR RHP Doug Norman (2017)
FR OF Beau Jordan (2017)
FR C/1B Bryce Jordan (2017)
There seem to be a pair of highly defensive sides developing when it comes to making a definitive declaration about JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman’s eventual defensive home. One side — the college baseball writers — seem personally offended whenever the other side — the draft writers — suggest Bregman will have to play anything but shortstop as a professional. The whole disagreement speaks to the uneasy relationship so many — players, coaches, parents, fans — have with balancing enjoying the college game for what it is with understanding the different level of analysis needed to determine the likelihood a player’s tools will continue to grow into skills when bumped to the professional game. Part of the logic from the college baseball watching side makes sense to me — bat, ball, glove…baseball is baseball, so if you can play then you can play — but scouting strictly based on performance and outcomes is a very bad road to travel. In any given at bat, game, or season, sure, the outcome trumps all else. If you get the big hit, big run, or big win, then, in that defining moment, it only should matter that it happened, not how it happened. But when trying to make projections about an all too uncertain future, understanding why and how something happened is ultimately far more valuable. Sometimes a limited process can get you desirable outcomes, but eventually that’s going to catch up with you.
I’m not writing all this to say that Bregman’s current success at shortstop in college masks the physical limitations that scouts see when trying to project a big league future for him. That does seem to be the consensus view of those on the side who watch and follow college baseball solely to find the next generation of professional players, a group of which I’ve made no bones about being a part of. I, however, am not yet willing to go there because I honestly don’t yet know what to make of Bregman’s defense. The safe bet would be to write him off as a future shortstop and go forward thinking of him as a second baseman. Forced to guess, I’d say that’s his most likely outcome. That doesn’t mean I think it’s crazy to think he could start his career off at shortstop for a few cheap, cost-controlled seasons. Thank goodness we all have another season’s worth of games to evaluate him before making a “final” decision (note: this decision is in no way final and can and likely will be changed multiple times early on his pro career, if not on the actual field than certainly in the internal conversations had by the player development staff of whatever team selects him) on his future. Ultimately, I think his defensive future will come down to a fairly simple either/or: you can have a slightly below-average shortstop with the chance to play his way to average before his lack of foot speed necessitates a move back to second OR you can have an average to above-average second baseman with the chance to play his way to plus with continued work on developing the finer points (e.g., footwork around the bag on the turn, positioning with each hitter, improving the first step on a ball hit to either side of him) of the position.
Wherever he lands defensively, Bregman is going to hit. The ability to play one of the middle infield spots and hit while doing it is what makes him as close to a first round lock as there is in this college class. If that sounds like exceedingly simple analysis, well, that’s because it is. He has an easy to identify above-average or better hit tool, average to above-average speed that plays up due to his impressive feel for the game, average raw power with an emphasis on splitting the gaps, plenty of bat speed, and a consistently smart approach at the plate. There aren’t a lot of holes you can poke in his game from an offensive standpoint. One thing I’ve found particularly fascinating about Bregman as a prospect is the response you get when his name comes up within the game. I think I’ve heard more comps on Bregman than literally any player I can remember. Something about his game just evokes that “every man” feeling deep inside talent evaluators, I guess. Take a look at the list I currently have of comps I’ve personally heard for Bregman: Mike Lansing, Mark Ellis (BA has used this), Robby Thompson, Orlando Hudson, Tony Renda, Randy Velarde, Bill Mueller, Jose Vidro, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Baerga, Ray Durham, Jhonny Peralta, and Mark DeRosa. There’s also the increasingly popular Dustin Pedroia comp, which makes sense on the surface but is a scary comparison for anybody due to the unique set of circumstances (or, more plainly, an obsessive/borderline maniacal drive to be great) that has led to Pedroia’s rise in the game. I’ve also heard the cautionary comp of Bobby Crosby, though I’m not sure I buy the two being all the similar at similar points in their respective development. A statistical look comparing Bregman and Crosby makes for an interesting conversation starter (if, you know, you’re friends with other obsessive college baseball/draft fans)…
AB: .344/.408/.504 – 51 BB/46 K – 28/35 SB – 526 AB
BC: .340/.417/.496 – 70 BB/103 K – 40/51 SB – 635 AB
Top is Bregman so far, bottom is Crosby’s career college numbers. It would have worked better if I had left out the BB/K ratios, but that would have been intellectually dishonest and I’m far too morally upstanding to stoop to statistical manipulation to make a point. I’d never dream of doing such a thing. Hey, look at this comparison…
AB: .369/.419/.546 – 25 BB/24 K – 17/18 SB – 282 AB
AH: .329/.391/.550 – 20 BB/20 K – 10/11 SB – 222 AB
The top is Bregman’s first year at LSU, the bottom is Aaron Hill’s first year at LSU. Notice how I didn’t say freshman year: Hill transferred from Southern Illinois to LSU after his freshman season. Since we’ve already gone down this dark and twisted road of statistical manipulation, let’s go even deeper…
AB: .316/.397/.455 – 27 BB/21 K – 12/18 SB – 244 AB
AH: .299/.375/.463 – 15 BB/27 K – 6/7 SB – 134 AB
Those would be Bregman and Hill’s “other” college season; more specifically, you’re looking at Hill’s freshman year at Southern Illinois and Bregman’s more recent season. I’m not sure what could be gained from comparing these two seasons, but, hey, look how similar! Jokes aside — though, seriously, those are some freaky similar numbers — I think the comparison between Alex Bregman and Aaron Hill is probably the most apt comp out there at this point. If the numbers don’t sway you, just check Hill’s playing card from his draft year at Baseball America…
In a draft thin on shortstops, Hill is one of the few with legitimate offensive potential. There are questions as to whether he can handle that position all the way up to the majors, but he’ll get the shot to prove he can’t. His instincts and gritty makeup get the most out of his tools–which aren’t lacking. He has enough arm to make plays from the hole, along with range and quickness. He’s not flashy but gets the job done. At worst, the Southeastern Conference player of the year will be an all-around second baseman. Offensively, he has a beautiful swing, above-average speed and control of the strike zone. He doesn’t have plus home-run power, but he can hit the occasional longball and line balls into the gaps.
I don’t normally post full sections like that, but come on! Replace Hill for Bregman and that’s pretty much spot-on! Well, the bit about this being a draft thin on shortstops might not work that well — if the 2015 draft is strong at any one position player group in the college game, it’s shortstop — but still. Interesting to me that this quick scouting report glossed over Hill’s offensive promise much in the same way I coincidentally (I swear!) did with Bregman above. It’s almost as if it was a foregone conclusion that Hill would hit enough to play somewhere, just like how many, myself included, view Bregman today. I like Bregman to hit a little bit more than Hill, run a little bit better than Hill, and field a little bit better than Hill. Otherwise, I think the comparison is pretty damn good.
JR OFs Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird are both elite runners and defenders in center field. I prefer Laird by the tiniest of margins (little more patience), but both have skill sets that will keep them employed for years in the minors, perhaps even long enough to one day break through at the big league level as a fourth/fifth outfielder. Stevenson might actually be the better bet going forward, but it’ll take flipping his BB/K numbers around (25 BB/53 K career mark) to really take off as a prospect. It’s incredibly difficult to predict a sudden jump in plate discipline, but I think there are some interesting indicators in Stevenson’s approach that could help get him where he needs to be. SR OF Jared Foster might get squeezed out in this crowded outfield yet again — SO OF Jake Fraley (.372/.419/.521 in 121 freshman AB) needs time, too — but he’s a great athlete who can really run and throw. It’s hard to imagine a better defensive outfield in the country than Stevenson, Laird, and Foster. For as much as I believe Stevenson is on the verge of a breakout season, JR C Chris Chinea’s expected 2015 should rival whatever he winds up doing. Chinea is a strong, mobile defender behind the plate who has held his own as a hitter in limited at bats to date. If he gets steady time — the underrated SR C Kade Scivicque could stand in his way — then I could see his patient approach and big raw power leading to big things at the plate. SR 1B Conner Hale had a similar offensive season to Scivicque’s 2014 and if the two build on those performances, it would be a surprise to see them passed over as senior signs this June.
There’s no Aaron Nola in this year’s pitching class, but rather a collection of good but not great arms with varying degrees of pro upside. If healthy, rSO RHP Russell Reynolds (88-93 FB, chance for two average or better offspeed pitches) might be the best prospect. A case could also be made for another inexperienced pitcher, rSO RHP Hunter Newman. Newman’s fastball is in that same range, but he’s flashes a better breaking ball (mid-70s CB with plus upside) and brings a frame with more projection (6-3, 185 pounds) to the mound. SR LHP Kyle Bouman and RHPs Brady Domangue and Zac Person all live in the mid- to upper-80s with nice offspeed stuff. Person’s numbers jump out (9.32 K/9 and 3.86 BB/9 in 28 IP) over the rest, but all have at least a chance to be senior signs with big years.
With Bregman this year and guys like SO 2B Danny Zardon, SO 2B Kramer Robertson, FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann (if he’s not a star for this team, I’m quitting the internet draft game), and FR SS Grayson Byrd all in the pipeline, LSU has a chance to be known as “Middle Infield U” in the coming years. They’d have the chance to continue in the tradition of Ryan Schmipf, DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Hanover, Raph Rhymes, Austin Nola, and Jacoby Jones as recent Tiger middle infield prospects (yes, I realize I’m cheating some by including Rhymes and Jones) turned professional ballplayers. And even though the talent on the mound this year won’t blow you away, LSU also always seems to have a steady stream of useful arms coming through the program. Look at some the underclass talent poised to take over in the next year or three: SO LHP Jared Poche, SO RHP Parker Bugg, SO RHP Alden Cartwright, FR RHPs Alex Lange and Jake Godfrey, and FR LHP Jake Latz. This team is loaded.