There are too many quality outfielders in the SEC in 2016 that my tiny brain can’t process them all. Hopefully you don’t have that same problem, but on the off chance that we’re all in this together I’ve assembled a very quick, very unofficial, and very rudimentary scoring system that can help us understand these 2016 SEC outfielders a little bit better. The full list of SEC hitting prospects can be found here, but today we’ll focus on the players ranked second through nine. We’re going to make up some arbitrary categories, give out some points, and see if we can get to the bottom of the SEC outfielder pile.
(3) Reynolds, Thompson-Williams, Palacios, Cone
(2) Robson, Fraley, Grier, Jackson, Woodman, Reed
(1) Banks, Bonfield, Rooker, Ring, Wrenn
Fairly self-explanatory, right? All we’ve done is group each player by how he has performed the 2016 so far. You can quibble with these placements if you want, but you’d be wrong. It should be noted that this is the only part of this exercise that has rankings within the rankings, i.e., Palacios has been better than Cone but not quite as good as Thompson-Williams. Speaking of those three, I’m not sure how many people outside of SEC country fully realize how good they have been this year.
(3) Reynolds, Fraley, Woodman, Banks
(2) Reed, Grier, Wrenn, Robson, Jackson, Cone, Ring
(1) Thompson-Williams, Palacios, Rooker, Bonfield
Same idea as above, but stretched out to include the player’s overall body of work at the college level. This is a little bit trickier because it’s not solely performance-based. Guys like Thompson-Williams and Palacios get dinged for having done it less at the D1 level than some of the players above them. So you get points both for production and longevity. I don’t love it because it ignores junior college numbers, but I think it more closely mirrors how these players will be evaluated by pro teams this June.
(3) Reed, Thompson-Williams, Grier, Wrenn, Robson
(2) Reynolds, Fraley, Woodman, Banks, Rooker, Jackson
(1) Palacios, Cone, Ring, Bonfield
This is obviously the most subjective category one could come up with. You can quibble with these placements if you want…and I wouldn’t argue too much. My emphasis was on finding guys with multiple plus tools (e.g., Reed’s easy plus CF range and plus to plus-plus speed) who stood out for having athleticism that separated them from the rest. If it helps, think of this category more of the raw power/speed/arm/athleticism subsection of a larger tool-based evaluation.
(3) Buddy Reed, Jake Fraley, Dom Thompson-Williams, Anfernee Grier, JB Woodman, Stephen Wrenn, Jacob Robson, Gene Cone, Jake Ring
(2) Bryan Reynolds, Brent Rooker, Vincent Jackson
(1) Nick Banks, Josh Palacios, Luke Bonfield
Three for being a sure-thing center fielder, two for being a likely center fielder (with lots of upside in a corner if it comes to it), and one for being locked into a corner from the start. This was pretty simple. Reynolds and Jackson were the toughest guys to bump down a level, but both have just enough whispers about their long-term defensive homes that I swallowed hard and knocked them to the two-point group. Plus I didn’t want Rooker to be lonely.
(3) Reed, Grier, Wrenn, Robson
(2) Reynolds, Fraley, Thompson-Williams, Woodman, Cone, Ring
(1) Banks, Palacios, Rooker, Jackson, Bonfield
I wanted one more category, but couldn’t think of one good enough to include. After reaching out to a few people with the annoyingly vague question of “hey, what characteristics would you use to separate a bunch of similarly talented 21-year-old outfield prospects?,” the best I could come up with was a kind of all-encompassing category we’ll call physical projection. Physical projection can mean a lot of things to many different people; solely for the purpose of today’s exercise, we’ll define it simply as “capacity for growth.” In other words, which player has the most room to grow from whatever they are now to whatever they may eventually be. There’s some overlap here with the tools category, but the way we’re defining projection corrects for that to a certain degree. There’s also some correlation between projection and defense, though that probably comes from using athleticism as a proxy for both larger categories.
If we add up our points from each category, we get three pretty clear prospect tiers. Going off this data alone, we get the following…
Tier 1: Reynolds, Reed, Fraley, Robson
Tier 2: Fraley, Thompson-Williams, Woodman, Wrenn, Cone
Tier 3: Jackson, Ring, Banks, Palacios, Rooker, Bonfield
If I were to look at my rankings from yesterday – done before this silly little exercise – and put players into tiers, I’d go with the following…
Tier 1: Reynolds, Reed, Fraley
Tier 2: Thompson-Williams, Grier, Woodman
Tier 3: Banks, Palacios, Wrenn, Rooker, Robson
Tier 4: Vincent, Cone, Ring, Bonfield
I cheated by adding a fourth tier, but I feel pretty good about that tiered list. It kind of works out in terms of round value, too: Tiers 1 and 2 align with rounds 1 and 2, respectively; Tier 3 fits in that round 3 through 5 range; Tier 4 is more of the round 6 through 10 range. It’s not perfect, but it’s not terrible. The one name that sticks out as being particularly tough to place is Cone; he has likely played his way into the third tier and will probably be there before June rolls around.
I’d like to spend more words on the outfielders ranked three through nine, but not before getting a little more in-depth on the top name in the top tier. Bryan Reynolds’s physical tools are all at least average, though there are none that I’d hang a plus on without some serious cajoling first. If we compare him to the guy directly behind him in the rankings, Buddy Reed, he’ll lose any athletic head-to-head battle. Furthermore, his defense in center is a bit of a long-term concern for me, but smarter people than I have said he’s actually better – more instinctual, quicker reads, just more natural all-around – in center than he is in a corner. I haven’t seen enough of him to say either way, but it’s an interesting view to consider. Thankfully, despite those concerns, the man can flat hit. Speed, defense, and arm strength are all important, but the bat will forever be king. Offensively, Reynolds actually reminds me a lot of a far less heralded 2016 draft prospect…
.348/.481/.582 – 37 BB/36 K – 9/12 SB – 141 AB
.331/.463/.608 – 36 BB/38 K – 4/8 SB – 148 AB
Bottom is Reynolds. Top is none other than Tyler Ramirez. I’m not sure what that means – besides the unsaid obvious that I can’t not say any longer: Ramirez is wildly underrated nationally – but it’s interesting to me. Another fun yet ultimately pointless (or not) comparison…
.350/.438/.654 – 38 BB/41 K – 14/16 SB – 237 AB
.331/.463/.608 – 36 BB/38 K – 4/8 SB – 148 AB
Bottom is still Reynolds. Top is star of last year’s Vanderbilt team and eventual first overall pick, Dansby Swanson. I’m not sure what this means – if anything – but it felt close enough to point out. Even if the takeaway is something as simple as “damn, Vandy sure knows how to recruit and coach up hitters!,” then I’ll consider this worth the twenty seconds it took to look it up.
Reynolds’s numbers – again, the ones on the bottom in the two comparisons above – are undeniably excellent. One of the few concerns I have about the Vanderbilt slugger is his propensity to end long at bats with short walks back to the dugout. Strikeouts at the big league level don’t bother me in the least, but they mean something more at the amateur and minor league level. Some of this concern is mitigated by Reynolds’s high walk totals, but the high strikeout/high walk college hitter archetype is one that has seen mixed result at the pro level in recent years. It’s also one that I still don’t know what to do with as an evaluator. There are four basic types of hitters when it comes to strikeouts and walks…
High strikeout and high walk
High strikeout and low walk
Low strikeout and low walk
Low strikeout and high walk
This obviously ignores a middle ground, but sometimes sacrifices must be made in the name of simplicity. Reynolds obviously falls in that first category. As would DJ Stewart, perhaps a cautionary tale from last year’s draft. But then we have the Dansby Swanson example staring us in the face just a few centimeters above as a potential counterpoint. Kevin Newman and Scott Kingery did it in different ways, but both would ultimately fall in the low strikeout and low walk group. Same with Kyle Holder. Perhaps there’s a pattern there – hint: all are middle infielders – that can be applied going forward. Donnie Dewees, decidedly not a middle infielder, stands out as one of the rare low strikeout and high walk prospects from last year. Brendon Sanger, an outfielder like Dewees, also fits. There aren’t too many low strikeout and high walk prospects out there, so finding ones with solid tools like Dewees and Sanger last year is pretty exciting. For as much as I like this class, there aren’t a ton of examples of the low K/high BB hitters as of yet. We’ll see if some hit their way into that discussion over the final few weeks of the college regular season.
Brief (arguably unnecessary) diversion aside, I have long wondered which of the two middle-ground approaches (high strikeout and high walk versus low strikeout and low walk) lays the groundwork for the best long-term hitting prospect. We know high K/low BB is scary. We know low K/high BB is exciting. But what of the high K/high BB and low K/low BB prospect archetypes? The former speaks to the ability to work deep counts, a comfort level hitting with two strikes, and the obvious on-base skills that come with piling up free passes. The latter is indicative — not always, but generally – with hitters who make lots of good contact, attack early in the count, and have confidence in their wheels to help steal some hits and extra bases along the way. Again, we’re generalizing (or, more accurately, theorizing), but I think the high K/BB players tend to be the ones we associate with better plate discipline (and often power along with it) while the low K/BB players tend to be contact kings with higher batting averages and better speed. Two different paths to prospectdom, I suppose.