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Kris Bryant and HS C/3B Success Rates

It’s Friday, so it’s time to go with something a little lighter than the usual three thousand word prep prospect ramblings that have peppered the site over the past two weeks. That wave of high school analysis on the site of late – we’ve covered catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, and third basemen so far – makes it as good a time as any to share one of my favorite high school scouting blurbs in recent memory. Here’s a snippet from a report about a guy you might know

The power, however, mostly shows up during batting practice or when he has a metal bat in his hands. There are a lot of moving parts to his swing and he has trouble barreling balls up with wood, so how much usable power he ends up having is a big question. He has a long, loopy swing and he never changes his approach when he’s struggling. He’s athletic for a big guy and may be able to handle third base. He has the arm for it, and some scouts said they wouldn’t be shocked if he eventually ended up on the mound.

Scouting, man. It’s all just a big guessing game. Especially with HS hitters. Don’t let anybody ever tell you different. All anybody does is make their best informed guesses and then move on to the next player.

Speaking of Kris Bryant (the HS hitter above was Kris Bryant, BTW), here’s how his draft year stacks up with a few of this year’s draft top bats…

.329/.493/.820 – 66 BB/44 K – 7/11 SB

That’s Bryant.

.411/.551/.822 – 40 BB/25 K – 0/1 SB

This is Will Craig, the guy I haven’t shut up about all year. He’s finally moved up on the “expert” lists from that fifth round area before the year to a potential mid- to late-first round pick. Still like my AJ Reed comp for him. He shares at least some similarities to Bryant in that a) he’s a college third baseman, b) he’s got a good enough arm to moonlight on the mound, and c) he’s chock full of righthanded power.

.387/.560/.655 – 59 BB/33 K – 0/3 SB

This guy is my favorite hitter in the draft, Zack Collins. He’s the one I’ve comped to Schwarber stylistically. I actually think Collins is the better catcher and could stick there as a pro. Still might be best moving him out from behind the plate. I’ve just come up with a terrifying comp for him…Joey Votto. Maybe he’s one of those hitters that we shouldn’t compare young guys to, but then again…at the same age, Votto hit .256/.330/.425 with 52 BB/122 K in A+ ball. I could see Collins going to A/A+ this year after the draft and doing similar stuff.

.419/.547/.753 – 56 BB/42 K – 6/11 SB

Arguably the closest comp to Bryant statistically is Kyle Lewis. Most walks, most whiffs, and some degree of a speed component. They also both played slightly lesser conference competition than their peers. I still kind of think that he’s got a lot of Yasiel Puig in his game — both the good and the bad — but that’s admittedly a minority view. Jermaine Dye is a good one put out there by Frankie Piliere. I’ve also heard Derek Bell, a name that I like because I think it fits fairly well and because any excuse to look up Derek Bell again gives the mid-90s sports nostalgia part of my brain a jolt.

Now it should be clear that none of these guys is Bryant. And I should also make clear that the high school scouting report quoted above was for entertainment purposes only; nobody in their right mind would compare a prep slugger yet to fully realize his potential to a more fully formed college hitter.

Bryant’s funny in hindsight high school scouting report isn’t really related (all that much, anyway) to the player he would eventually become. The fact that I went from Point A (it’s damn hard to get a read on HS hitters no matter how good you are at this) to Point B (hey, I’m just now realizing we have some strong statistical performers in the college game that should be held up against the recent gold standard in college hitting) using Bryant in both was honestly just a fun coincidence.

That said, it was pretty funny to look up the numbers of Craig, Collins, and Lewis and see all sorts of impressive BAs and OBPs…and then realize that those things actually work against them when trying to compare them to Bryant. Bryant’s power production as a college junior was just unreal: a 491 ISO is Ruth/Bonds/McGwire territory. Craig comes closest and he’s still almost one hundred points away. I guess this is the point where I should mention that Bryant was playing in some homer friendly parks in the WCC while Craig gets to play a ton of games at a very hitter friendly park at Wake Forest. Without access to College Splits I can’t really say how much those factors have impacted each player’s performance, but I think somewhere between not at all to a ton is fair. But still! Craig’s numbers look closest at the surface level, so if you really wanted to be that kind of draft fan…

So, yeah, none of these guys is Bryant. Thankfully, not being Bryant is not the standard that big league teams hold young power prospects. Each guy is good with his own pros and cons. All should be first round picks and an argument can be made that all belong in the top ten.

*****

I’ve mentioned explicitly how high school first basemen and second basemen have been a historically risky draft proposition. I’ve mentioned the opposite being true for high school shortstops. I’ve implied that prep catchers might be a bad investment. Time to look at that in a more concrete way; here’s what I’ve got…

2011 – Blake Swihart and Greg Bird (Austin Hedges)
2010 – N/A
2009 – JR Murphy, Wil Myers, Max Stassi, and Tucker Barnhart (Steven Baron)
2008 – Christian Vasquez (Kyle Skipworth, Adrian Nieto)
2007 – Devin Mesoraco, Travis d’Arnaud, and Derek Norris (Austin Romine, Juan Centeno)
2006 – Hank Conger
2005 – (Brandon Snyder, Bryan Anderson, Josh Thole)
2004 – Neil Walker, Lou Marson, Martin Maldonado, and Tyler Flowers (Angel Salome)
2003 – Daric Barton and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Steven Lerud)
2002 – Joey Votto and Brian McCann (Kyle Phillips)
2001 – Joe Mauer, Rene Rivera, and Geovany Soto
2000 – Yadier Molina and Mike Napoli

The first set of names are players who have accrued positive value in the big leagues so far while the names in parentheses have reached the majors but have career negative rWAR. I went back to 2011 as a starting point to allow recent draftees the appropriate time to develop in the minors. That conveniently left us with pretty numbers: in the last twelve drafts we can fairly draw conclusions from, there have been 24 positive value drafted and signed catchers. That’s two per class. Turns out I’ve made similar assertions in the past…

All of the caveats from above (historical trends aren’t more important than individual prospects being the most relevant and most important here) apply, but taking into everything else into account we can guess that the following will wind up as true in 2015…

1) The first high school catching prospect should expect to be off the board around the mid-20s in the first round.
2) There will be other quality catching prospects (perhaps up to five) off the board through round four, but not so much after that point.
3) Only two of said prospects should be expected to have meaningful MLB careers as catchers.

This is once again the point in these historical draft trend conversations, in much the same way that I did above a few years ago, that I want to make very clear that I think these look backs are more interesting conversation-starters than definitive conclusions meant for predictive purposes. Just knowing that something happened is not the same as understanding why it happened. I think there are some pretty compelling theories that explain some of the “why” with each of the positions that seem to flop hardest, but past draft history shouldn’t dictate future draft decisions.

Since we’re on the subject of draft trends anyway, here’s a list of high school third basemen since 2000 who have reached the highest level of professional ball…

2012 – Joey Gallo
2011 – Tyler Goeddel
2010 – Nick Castellanos
2009 – Nolan Arenado and Matt Davidson
2008 – Brett Lawrie
2007 – Matt Dominguez, Jake Smolinski, Matt West, and Steven Souza (Josh Vitters, Neftali Soto, and Will Middlebrooks)
2006 – (Ryan Adams)
2005 – Chris Carter and Alex Avila (Josh Bell)
2004 – Billy Butler, Nick Evans, and Russ Canzler
2003 – Ian Stewart (Jamie Roman and Travis Schlichting)
2002 – (Brock Peterson)
2001 – David Wright (Matthew Brown)
2000 – Edwin Encarnacion (Scott Thorman)

There have been eighteen positive value drafted and signed high school third basemen since 2000. There have been twenty-eight total big league third basemen out of the same group. Of the eighteen positive (or neutral for the sake of this discussion) players, Davidson, Castellanos, Goeddel (0.0 rWAR), and Russ Canzler (0.0 rWAR) all just barely stayed out of the negative. Many have needed position switches to first base or an outfield corner while one (West) has made his contribution on the mound.

With nothing remotely conclusive about these conclusions, I think we can say that high school catchers, first basemen, second basemen, and third basemen are historically questionable selections. High school shortstops, on the other hand, are where the money is at. Hardly a breakthrough observation, but interesting that recent outcomes bear it out.

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