For better or worse, I have a tendency to stick with guys I’ve long liked. Though it may not be the perfect example of that line of thinking, the relatively high placements of SS CJ Hinojosa and 3B David Thompson on my current college hitting big board reflects as much on the promise each player once exhibited (fourteenth and fifty-sixth on the final 2012 board here, respectively) than anything either guy has done through two years of college ball. That’s not to say that Hinojosa and Thompson have disappointed at Texas and Miami. It’s true that both players were better as freshmen than sophomores, though Thompson’s second season struggles can be explained in part to battling injuries. Even if they haven’t quite lived up to the considerable expectations placed on them by internet know-it-alls like me, both have shown plenty of flashes of the ability that once made them potential stars. Both have the talent to get back into the first round conversation with springs that line up with their ability.
At face value Hinojosa’s raw tools and production to date don’t blow you away. His physical abilities defensively work as well as they do because of exceptional first-step instincts and a keen awareness of situational baseball. All of that belies his as yet untapped talent as both a hitter and a fielder. I’m not a scout nor do I have any serious aspirations to be one. I do, however, watch an unhealthy amount of baseball, so I’d like to think I’ve picked up on a few things over the years as a reasonably intelligent person. Even after years of closely watching the game, assessing bat speed remains one of the most nebulous concepts for me. Many of the professionals I’ve talked to over the years have made me feel a bit better about this, as many have agreed with my take that judging bat speed is the closest baseball gets to Justice Potter Stewart’s obscenity threshold test of “I know it when I see it.” Not everybody I’ve talked to has agreed with me on this, but Hinojosa’s bat speed falls in the top tier of all college prospects in this year’s class (if we expanded that search for all of college ball he’d be joined by exciting 2016 prospects like Pete Alonso, Sheldon Neuse, and Kyle Lewis). Plus bat speed with a whole bunch of 50’s and a high degree of certainty of sticking up the middle defensively makes for a pretty enticing pro prospect.
From this very site back in April 2012…
At his best, Hinojosa swings the bat with some of the most fluid yet chaotic yet silky smooth violence you’d ever like to see – his level swing and crazy bat speed epitomize the old John Wooten quote “Be quick but don’t hurry.” Defensively, I think he’ll stick up the middle fairly easily, but he’s one of those “tweener” types for some. Tweener is normally a pejorative turn, but in this case I’d say that the two things that Hinojosa is between are average or better shortstop and potential Gold Glove winning third baseman. His strong commitment to Texas and a season-ending shoulder injury should push him down the board, but I’d take him in the first if I thought he could be convinced to sign.
I’m surprised to have never seen this comparison before, but Hinojosa as a draft prospect reminds me in many ways of former Texas infielder and eventual late-first round pick Omar Quintanilla. That’s the kind of draft ceiling (Quintanilla went 33rd overall) that I think currently makes sense for Hinojosa. Things didn’t work out as hoped for Quintanilla professionally, but that’s hardly a red flag worth stressing out about when evaluating Hinojosa. I have one buddy in the game that likes Hinojosa as much as I do (perhaps even more), and he threw out an Edgar Renteria statistical comp (.280/.340/.400 with 10 HR, 30 2B, and 20 SB) as an absolute best-case scenario ceiling. I’d love to go there, but can’t quite see the bat reaching those heights (to say nothing of the overly generous stolen base totals). If you knock just 5% off of those totals, however, you get a rough line of .265/.320/.380, which feels more within reach. If 95% of Edgar Renteria doesn’t capture the imagination, then think of it as an outcome that should fall within the same ballpark of Erick Aybar’s offensive value. My favorite comparisons guard against my optimism (to a degree) that Hinojosa is a shortstop forever and always, and take a wider look at his long-term professional future. The two most logical career paths for him would resemble something like what Marco Scutaro (an all-time favorite of mine) and Julio Lugo managed to do in in the big leagues. A Scutaro/Lugo comp combo gets you to a .270ish/.335ish/.385ish type of hitter with a long career as a player capable of playing both second and third effectively (plus some outfield here and there) in addition to being able to hold it down at short. Maybe there will be flashes of putting it all together mixed in along the way like Scutaro’s run from 2008 to 2013 or Lugo’s from 2003 to 2006, but the real legacy of this hypothetical career path is in the steady yet unspectacular play and consistent professional approach to the game. I actually really like the Scutaro comp the more I think about it, so, if you’re the type that thinks throwing multiple comps out and seeing what sticks is a little too easy (I get it, it’s cool), then consider Scutaro my one official player comparison for Hinojosa.
(While on the subject of Hinojosa comps, here’s one from one of the best in the college business, Aaron Fitt: former Arizona Wildcat and current member of the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system SS Alex Mejia. That’s a really good comparison, and certainly more grounded in reality than a lot of my more optimistic guesses. I can’t quibble with it, though you can check the archives and see that I was never all that thrilled about Mejia — certainly not like I am about Hinojosa — as a prospect back in the day. I’ll counter his Mejia with another contemporary comp out of Arizona: Kevin Newman. This year’s class has an unusually high number of head-to-head prospect battles with seemingly very similar players, so it’ll be a lot of fun to see how pro teams go about differentiating guys like Hinojosa and Newman, Ben Johnson and Steven Duggar, Giovanni Brusa and Kyri Washington, etc.)
Thompson is a harder player to assess right now because a) we’re still waiting to see him at 100% and b) as one of the draft’s better prospects who isn’t a 2B/SS/CF type, he carries the burden of the needing his righthanded bat to do major damage and fast. I know comps aren’t for everybody, but I’ve always liked them for a variety of reasons. In the case of Thompson, I think the thought exercise of coming up with players with similar athletic backgrounds, physiques, and developmental challenges can be used as a jumping off point to help determine what kind of prospect we’re dealing with. If comps aren’t your thing, that’s cool; I suggest reading the following paragraph from my Miami preview a few weeks ago and calling it a day.
Outside assessments of his raw talent, physical abilities, and professional baseball projection aside, JR 3B/1B David Thompson is a really easy person to root for. Hey, I said I don’t root for teams, but I certainly root for players. I’ve not once heard a negative word uttered about his makeup, both on-field and off, and the hard work and perseverance he’s demonstrated in repeatedly battling back from injuries, including remaking his swing after tearing his right labrum in high school, are a testament to his desire to make it no matter the cost. The fact that he went down from surgery to correct complications from thoracic outlet syndrome in late March of last year only to come back to finish the season by mid-May (he even had a huge hit in their Regional matchup against Texas Tech) tells you a lot about his will to compete. Through all the ups and downs physically, his upside on the diamond remains fully intact from his HS days — I had him ranked as the 56th best overall prospect back then — and a big draft season is very much in play if he can stay healthy throughout the year. The bat will play at the next level (above-average raw power, plenty of bat speed, physically strong, plus athleticism, knows how to use the whole field), so the biggest unknown going into this season is where he’ll eventually call home on the defensive side. I’ve liked his chances to stick at third since his prep days; failing that, I’d prioritize a home in the outfield (he’s not known for his speed, but the athleticism and arm strength should make him at least average in a corner) over going to first, where, overall loss of defensive value aside, at least he’s shown significant upside. His strong showing at the end of the summer on the Cape is an encouraging way to get back into the grind of college ball, though he did appear to sacrifice some patience at the plate for power down the stretch. If he can find a way to marry his two existences — college (approach: 35 BB/45 K in his career) and Cape (power) — in this upcoming season (like in his healthy freshman season), Thompson should find himself off the board early this June.
Now to work backwards a bit to see what recent(ish) prospects Thompson can be measured up against. There have been a fair number of R/R former quarterbacks that have made an impact on professional ball in recent years. Josh Booty and Drew Henson were flops, though extenuating circumstances undoubtedly played a factor in each player’s development. The final word on Josh Fields’ career winds up being a tougher call because there’s little reason to call his career a success (getting bounced from the league at 27 is less than ideal), but he did manage to hit a little bit (.421 career SLG) in just under 800 lifetime plate appearances. If you can go back in time to 2004 and remember how we viewed Josh Fields back then, I think you might agree with me he’s a reasonable comparison for Thompson as a draft prospect. This Scout’s View (it looks like a broken link, but it’s there on the right sidebar) from the March 17, 2004 edition of Baseball America was written about Fields, but could just as easily be written about Thompson today…
He’s going to be a guy with power. He’s got bat speed and strength. He’s not making the kind of contact you hope he will in the future, but he hasn’t played collegiately a lot, and he hasn’t played in the summers to my knowledge, or in the fall (because of football). He’s basically played spring to spring. I think he won’t be a tremendous average hitter, but he will make enough contact to get to his power.
(Defensively), he just needs to continue to make improvements. I don’t see him needing to move if he works hard. His hands and feet are a little rough and his arm is erratic and no better than average. He’s got to work to stay there, but just being around him and knowing his makeup and work ethic, I think he’ll work at it. He’ll be adequate, and when I say adequate, you’re going to give a little bit because of the bat and power you think he’ll have.
As much as I’ll defend Fields as a better player than teams realized, a comparison to him knowing what we now know about his future reads more like a cautionary tale rather than a compliment. But much like comparing Hinojosa to Quintanilla, the comparison itself isn’t designed to predict a pro future but rather to demonstrate a similarity in perceived draft stock. Fields went eighteenth overall in 2004. A mid-first round selection feels like a fairly generous ceiling for Thompson at this point, though it’s not inconceivable he’ll play himself into that range come June.
Another R/R former QB that shares some traits with Thompson is former Clemson football and baseball star Kyle Parker. Parker went 26th overall in 2010. I currently like Parker more than most, so getting a bat like that who has a good shot to play third base (failing that, an outfield corner) intrigues me. Perhaps the best comparison for Thompson in terms of potential professional production is yet another former QB, Eli Manning’s backup at Ole Miss Seth Smith. Smith is a L/L guy, but his career 162 game averages of .265/.350/.450 with 16 HR, 30 2B, 50 BB, and 100 K look like attainable benchmarks (maybe a touch more power, closer to the 18-22 range) for Thompson as a big leaguer. With all college statistical comparison caveats in mind, join me in gazing at Smith as a Rebel (top) and Thompson as a Hurricane (not top)…
.338/.410/.473 with 78 BB/76 K (751 PA)
.286/.372/.434 with 37 BB/50 K (375 PA)
It wouldn’t be a major upset if Thompson closed that performance gap on Smith here in his junior season and went on to have similar success as a big league hitter. With average-ish defense at third, that’s a really nice prospect. Even if he has to play in an outfield corner (like Smith), he’d still hold considerable value.