I currently have Kyle Tucker (Plant HS, Florida), Nick Plummer (Brother Rice HS, Michigan), and Trenton Clark (Richland HS, Texas) all in my unofficial tentative subject to change on a whim no good very bad top ten overall draft prospects. In terms of just looking at high school outfielders, I think after Clark there’s a drop, but not a particularly steep one to the next tier. That second grouping is probably the most interesting collection of players to discuss because it includes a greater variety of prospect types. There are speed guys, bat guys, big name guys, undervalued guys…you name it. We’ll get to them soon. After that, it’s a gigantic mashup of prospects that are truly “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” types. I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: there’s no such thing as a consensus draft prospect ranking. Every team values players, and player types, differently. It sounds so obvious to say, but when watching the draft unfold we actually learn a lot more about what the drafting teams are all about than how a given year’s drafted players are thought of. This logic can be applied just as easily to the internet experts (or wannabes, like me) who make pre-draft rankings. Clearly, my ranking Tucker, Plummer, and Clark in the first three spots says something about what I personally value in a high school outfield prospect in this particular draft. My preference for BATS over sure-fire center field tools doesn’t represent a baseball belief I hold in perpetuity. It exemplifies that in this moment of time, for a variety of contextual reasons, that’s where my preference lies. No more, no less. If Garrett Whitley, for example, winds up as the first high school outfielder selected, then I won’t feel any better or worse about this rankings. Reasonable minds can disagree on player value, after all. There seems to be more disagreement about the top of this high school class than any other spot and that in part is what makes this my favorite high school position group to discuss. And there’s arguably no more interesting player to talk about than the man atop the list, Kyle Tucker.
As of today, Tucker is my current second overall player and top high school prospect in this year’s draft. Coming to that realization got me was thinking about him the other day, specifically about who his game reminds me of on the pro side. That simple passing thought turned into a multi-day obsession with finding a reasonable comp for Tucker going forward. By now everybody has heard the swing comparisons to decent hitters of the past like Ted Williams and Ken Griffey Jr. Those are obviously lofty comps even when taken for what they are (swing only) and not what some fans might want them to be (Kyle Tucker = HOF LOCK!), but both make sense. I have a really hard time matching up Tucker’s unique upright approach with contemporaries in today’s game. The closest established big league player that I see in him is Adrian Gonzalez. I like the more powerful Jesse Winker comp (from BA, I think) that has been circulating for a few weeks. Ultimately, as a hitter and all-around prospect, he reminds me quite a bit of Christian Yelich with more power.
Yelich is a fascinating player to be compared to because, based entirely on anecdotal evidence, there doesn’t appear to be much of a consensus on what kind of player he is or will be just yet. That’s not atypical for a 23-year old player, but Yelich has already put up a 4.3 fWAR season so you’d think the dissenters wouldn’t have much to back up their anti-Yelich (as a star/future star) views. As a staunchly pro-Yelich loudmouth, I’ve argued on his behalf in real life more times than a so-called adult with a wife, job, and mortgage should admit that he’s a future batting champ capable of ripping off a string of seasons like his 2014 campaign with the chance to grow into more power as he fills out physically and makes a few slight adjustments to his swing. The argument against him has been based largely on favorable BABIP luck (counter: he’s the kind of hitter immune to that, as his minor league numbers indicate) and that burgeoning power being more theoretical than grounded in reality. I don’t have much of a counter to that last point, at least from a statistical point of view. In fact, the numbers suggest that Yelich has even more work to do in the power department than I would have assumed at first blush. The only player with a higher K% (22.3) and lower ISO (.111) since his debut is Michael Bourn. That ISO is also the 23rd lowest of all qualifying players (158 total) in that same span. Yikes. What side was I on again?
Thankfully, Yelich does a lot of other things really well and has plenty of time (he’s a relative baby at 23) to improve in the areas he’s short in. I’ll also continue to hedge my bets by calling Tucker a more powerful version of Yelich, so that covers my backside when it comes to guessing on long-term power upside. Still, even after all those ups and downs in Yelich’s game, in a first round only re-draft of the 2010 class, I have to imagine that he would go in the top five. I’d say he’s only clearly behind Bryce Harper, Chris Sale, Matt Harvey, and Manny Machado right now. You can’t really compare draft class to draft class, but it’s still comforting to have Tucker as high as I do knowing that Yelich, his closest comp as I see it, would have been justified being taken in a similar range in his draft year. Calling Yelich a top five talent in that class at the time would have been incredibly bold, but also incredibly smart in hindsight.
The twist in all of this is that I am Team Yelich now, but was actively rooting against my hometown team selecting him back in 2010. If that whiff makes you want to quit reading now, I wouldn’t hold it against you. Mike Trout will forever be my big miss of all big misses, but Yelich is up there. I really didn’t think he’d hit enough to play first base in the pros, a position I thought he’d be locked into because of average at best athleticism and a really wonky throwing motion. Shows what I know. Early on the process, I did write this…
Yelich is like the hitting version of Stetson Allie, an up and down prospect that can look like a late first rounder one day and a fifth round lottery ticket on the next.
…which felt like a fair assessment at the time and hasn’t aged too badly in the past five years. I mean, he was inconsistent at the time, and I at least acknowledged the possibility of him ending up in the first round fairly early on in the draft cycle. Ranking him 43rd overall that year, directly behind fellow high school bats Kris Bryant, Marcus Littlewood, Chevy Clarke, and Brian Ragira, is tougher to live down today. One out of four ain’t bad, I suppose.
I’ll turn thirty exactly six months from yesterday. While thirty as a number sounds older than I feel, there’s really no denying the inevitably of going from young and full of fresh ideas about the game (and life, I guess) to old and cynical and perhaps even untrusting of some of the new stuff being presented by those who came after you’ve already tried to make your mark. I’m obviously not a crusty old scout who thinks things were better in my day nor do I buy into the belief that there is any one right way to credibly assess a player’s future in this sport. I do my best to apply logic and reason, professional experience and firsthand accounts, and statistical analysis and new biomechanical studies into my analysis. There’s no one right way to do this. Still, I can’t help but get a little bit of a laugh out of the generation behind me – I’ve argued with others before about the need for changing the definition of a “generation”; I think technology moves too quick to stick to the old definition (a biological generation is considered to be 20-25 years), so I propose moving it closer to every graduating class or so (we can round it up to every 5 years to make it nice and neat) because that’s what most people mean when they talk about generations today anyway – that has made going to games and writing about them as technically as possible and full of baseball cant a “thing.” Unbelievably enough, this sells!
Jargon that isn’t used anywhere but the internet baseball community (i.e., not by actual baseball scouting departments) is held up with the highest esteem by certain editors, quick to scold any outsider who they’ve deemed unworthy of writing about baseball because they haven’t been to X amount of games on Cactus League backfields, at many of the biggest prospect outlets. You probably shouldn’t hire somebody to head your prospect coverage who is literally the type of person you’re complaining about – made-up scout quotes are so lame, at least try to mask them with a different voice other than your own, man — ruining your most special internet baseball club, but whatever. Going to games is massively important. Developing a network of people you trust in the game is massively important. Doing the total wannabe scout thing and breaking down every big of a player’s mechanics to the prove you really did see him up close enough to make a grand proclamation about his future (inconsistent frontward facing load with too much pronation and an unappealing bat wrap with fat hands that will give him trouble against better pitching even though he’s currently hitting .350/.500/.650 against the equivalent of A-Ball competition = NP!) is just not necessary. The arrogance of those who do it that way and demean anybody who doesn’t is breathtaking.
This brings me back to a hobby of mine. I watch baseball, I listen to baseball, I play baseball, and I write about baseball. When I’m not doing those things, I’m reading about baseball. No, I’m not Adam Jones, but the overarching impact this game has on my life is kind of funny now that I’m seeing the preceding few sentences in print and realizing how tight a grip baseball has on me. Still, I love reading about baseball with the specific focus on the history of scouting whenever possible. Everybody loves Dollar Sign on the Muscle (and rightfully so, it’s a yearly read that is as important and great as you’ve heard), but there are a ton of other books written in a similar vein including my personal favorite Prophet of the Sandlots, a book as interesting for the character study of the late Tony Lucadello as the baseball wisdom interspersed throughout. You can get it used for a penny on Amazon, by the way. Anyway, at no point in any old scouting report – you can also read a ton of old reports through the magic of the device you’re currently reading this very post on – have I ever read any of the stuff that sells as expertise on the internet today. I’m not saying that those who write in that style today are wrong for doing so – I kid about some of the technical jargon used to make baseball try to be more important than it is, but those that are good at it find a way to cut through the extra fluff and paint a great picture of what a player looks like while swinging or throwing that is almost as good as seeing the guy for yourself – but merely pointing out that those who fall on the side of believing that “this is how scouting reports are supposed to be written” couldn’t be more wrong. There’s no right or wrong way to write about prospects. There’s no right or wrong way to attempt to write a scouting report. Write what you see, hear, and think, and eventually the work you’ve put in (or not) will become evident.
All of this brings me back to Kyle Tucker, somehow. Tucker can hit. He can really, really hit. We can get deeper than that if we really have to, but I don’t personally find it necessary. I swear I had no idea of the HS connection at the time, but his feel for hitting instantly reminded me of Wade Boggs the first time I saw him. Obviously the extent of such a comp is quite limited, so just think bat control and the ability to consistently catch the ball with the fat part of his bat. The way he keeps his hands and head back is pretty special for a young hitter. The rest of the tools will all play, though I’m less bullish on his long-term future in center than most. Typically when the pre-draft chatter about an amateur is along the lines of “you know, he just might be athletic enough to stick in center,” then the opposite winds up being true. I think as his lanky frame fills out he’ll lose enough speed to make left field his primary home during his best offensive seasons. Even as a corner outfielder, I think he hits enough to be a well above-average regular with surges of stardom sprinkled throughout a long career. You know, a little bit like what I expect out of Christian Yelich (except with more power).