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College First Basemen: 2008 to 2012

As I sat down over the weekend to at least begin to attempt to justify some of the odder placements from last Friday’s 2012 initial top 100 list, I found myself struck with the weirdest case of writer’s block I’ve ever experienced. There was plenty to talk about — a defense of Lance McCullers at the top, the super high top ten rankings of a pair of college guys from Texas schools, a higher than usual number of draft-eligible sophomores primed to crash the first round — but for some reason my mind kept coming back to 2008, the year I started to look at the draft less in terms of specific players I had personally seen play and more in a comprehensive, 30 team/50 round way. I’ve also always been a sucker for a good hook, so the allure of any type of draft-related “Year of the _____” appealed to me. The 2008 draft was built up as the “Year of the First Baseman,” and, though the results have been predictably mixed thus far, on balance I think the hype has been justified. I became so stuck on this one thought — early round first basemen of the recent past and how they stack up to the four first basemen on my top 100 — that I couldn’t get to anything else.

What I think I’ve always been fascinated about with respect to first base prospects is the high stakes gamble that comes with taking a first baseman early on draft day. If your athletic five-tool up-the-middle draft prospect doesn’t hit as expected, you’ve still got — wait, let me get my calculator — four tools, including defense and the ancillary positional value boost, remaining. If your first base prospect doesn’t hit (and hit a ton), then you’re left with nothing but regret. I also like the fact that college first baseman represent arguably the safest possible investment early on in the draft. Close reading shows that we’ve gone from “high stakes gamble” to “safest possible investment” in a single paragraph. Studies (that I can’t seem to be able to Google up right now) have shown that elite college hitters (with the numbers to back up said “eliteness”) tend to translate very well to the pro game. That’s what made 2008 so thrilling for me, I guess. Justin Smoak and Yonder Alonso had that power/plate discipline blend that made them look like ready-made big league regulars even on draft day. College teammates Brett Wallace and Ike Davis both seemed likely to settle in as starters as well. It wasn’t crazy to think Allan Dykstra and David Cooper would be hitting 25+ bombs a year. If any of their bats betrayed them, however, then poof! any hope of a real big league career would be gone.

As I’ve written before, this past year didn’t have a Smoak, Alonso, or even a Wallace, at least not until it became clear CJ Cron wouldn’t be capable of donning the tools of ignorance as a pro. Even still, Cron, as impressive a hitter as he is, was seen as a prospect closer in pre-draft stature to Davis than one of ’08’s bigger names. A comparison, rough as it is, between Baseball America’s very early draft preview (taken from the Prospect Handbook published in January each year) and this year’s current rising group of first base prospects (according to me) provides some context to the discussion. Included are only players who wound up as first, supplemental first, or second round picks:

Draft Year: Player Name (ranking)

2008: Smoak (3), Alonso (5), Dykstra (24), Wallace (28), Cooper (55), Davis (68)

2009: Rich Poythress (33)

2010:

2011: Cron (40)

2012: Jayce Boyd (25), Christian Walker (27), Richie Shaffer (38), Max Muncy (69)

The upcoming draft won’t have six college first baseman taken in the first round nor will it have two (or three, depending on how some felt about Wallace at the time) potential franchise cornerstones who happen to play first, but it does have a handful of young men who just might have enough bat to play first base everyday at the highest level. Without getting too deep into the scouting profiles of Boyd, Walker, Shaffer, and Muncy (plenty of time for that in the next 11 months, plus I’ve already gone into some detail on Boyd here and Shaffer there), I thought a “quick” look at how all twelve of these college first basemen stack up from both the statistical and scouting sides could be interesting.

To keep the comparisons going, I’ve provided the basic information for all eight of those first, supplemental first, and second round college first base picks from the past three drafts, plus the four players listed in my early top 100 for 2012. All stat lines are raw, unfortunately, as we don’t have access to park/league/schedule adjusted stats going back a few years. Keep in mind that the batting lines are also really tough to compare on account of the BBCOR bats debuting in 2011. Also included are quotes taken from the aforementioned Baseball America Prospect Handbook, as chosen by yours truly. All quotes for the prospects from 2008 and 2009 are from the prospect’s first year out of college. The CJ Cron entry has quotes pulled from Baseball America’s draft preview, and the quotes on the current college players are ones that I’ve managed to get on record from the always entertainingly nebulous “industry insiders.”

You may be wondering “what’s the point?” after reading though the comparison below. Truthfully, I’m not sure there is one. I had originally hoped some wonderful epiphany about college first base prospects would come to me, either in the form of a statistical trend or a certain scouting similarities. Heck, you know as much as I like to “force” comps that I’m dying to match up some of the 2008-2011 players with a 2012 counterpart, but I’m really not sure I see a fit. As it is, I think what we have here is context.

*****

Yonder Alonso | 2008 | Cincinnati | 1.7 | University of Miami

FR – .295/.373/.492 – 32 BB/37 K – 244 AB
SO – .376/.519/.705 – 64 BB/31 K – 210 AB
JR – .370/.534/.777 – 76 BB/35 K – 211 AB

  • “rare hitter who has both plus power and the swing and pitch awareness to hit for a high average as well”
  • “allergic to strikeouts”
  • “yet to prove that he can recognize and hit a quality breaking ball”
  • “below-average athlete and runner”
  • “soft hands and adequate range should allow him to develop into at least an average defender”

Justin Smoak | 2008 | Texas | 1.11 | University of South Carolina

FR – .303/.407/.586 – 40 BB/39 K – 244 AB
SO – .315/.434/.631 – 54 BB/40 K – 260 AB
JR – .383/.505/.757 – 57 BB/28 K – 235 AB

  • “well-above-average power”
  • “Gold Glove potential at first base”
  • “below-average speed”
  • “projects as a middle-of-the-order power hitter”

Brett Wallace | 2008 | St. Louis | 1.13 | Arizona State University

FR – .371/.439/.583 – 17 BB/26 K – 151 AB
SO – .423/.500/.719 – 37 BB/34 K – 253 AB
JR – .410/.526/.753 – 48 BB/33 K – 239 AB

  • “one of the best pure hitters in the minors”
  • “balanced, level swing creates consistent line drives”
  • “Think batting champ with the ability to be a big bopper”
  • “average arm and surprising footwork”
  • “below-average athleticism, speed, and agility”

David Cooper | 2008 | Toronto | 1.17 | University of California

FR – .305/.337/.404 – 9 BB/18 K – 151 AB
SO – .382/.450/.627 – 30 BB/21 K – 204 AB
JR – .359/.449/.682 – 37 BB/35 K – 220 AB

  • “tremendous barrel awareness and excellent hand-eye coordination”
  • “should produce high batting averages”
  • “could develop average power and hit 18-20 homers per season”
  • “below-average athlete and poor runner”
  • “offers limited range and slow reactions at first base”

Ike Davis | 2008 | New York Mets | 1.18 | Arizona State University

FR – .329/.387/.542 – 20 BB/58 K – 240 AB
SO – .346/.400/.532 – 26 BB/39 K – 231 AB
JR – .385/.457/.742 – 31 BB/34 K – 213 AB

  • “considered a slick defensive first baseman – the type who could contend for a Gold Glove some day”
  • “strong arm”
  • “below-average speed”

Allan Dykstra | 2008 | San Diego | 1.23 | Wake Forest University

FR – .324/.479/.670 – 51 BB/32 K – 185 AB
SO – .310/.479/.615 – 57 BB/33 K – 226 AB
JR – .323/.519/.645 – 62 BB/45 K – 186 AB

  • “plus-plus raw power and plate discipline”
  • “should hit for some average as well”
  • “above-average arm”
  • “below-average athlete, runner, and defender at first base”

Rich Poythress | 2009 | Seattle | 2.51 | University of Georgia

FR – .282/.354/.410 – 17 BB/31 K – 156 AB
SO – .374/.461/.626 – 46 BB/40 K – 265 AB
JR – .376/.473/.764 – 42 BB/39 K – 237 AB

  • “power is his standout tool”
  • “controls the strike zone and doesn’t try to pull everything”
  • “ought to hit for a decent average”
  • “below-average range and fringy arm”
  • “doesn’t have much speed”
  • “Some scouts who saw him in college wonder if his power will play against better velocity”

CJ Cron | 2011 | Los Angeles Angels | 1.17 | University of Utah

FR – .337/.380/.557 – 14 BB/31 K – 246 AB
SO – .431/.493/.817 – 17 BB/23 K – 197 AB
JR – .434/.517/.803 – 31 BB/21 K – 198 AB

  • “doesn’t move well at first base and is a bottom-of-the-scale runner”
  • “above-average hitter”
  • “legitimate 80 raw power that translates into at least above-average usable power”

*****

Jayce Boyd | 2012 | ranked 25th | Florida State University

FR – .326/.394/.507 – 27 BB/38 K – 227 AB
SO – .335/.415/.515 – 34 BB/32 K – 233 AB

  • “plus raw power, maybe a touch less”
  • “potential award winner with glove at first base”
  • “such a naturally gifted hitter that he could probably do it with his eyes closed”

Christian Walker | 2012 | ranked 27th | University of South Carolina

FR – .327/.384/.518 – 18 BB/18 K – 226 AB
SO – .361/.442/.556 – 32 BB/26 K – 241 AB

  • “plus hit tool with enough strength and loft to hit 20+ homers at next level”
  • “currently a shaky defender, but upside to be average”

Richie Shaffer | 2012 | ranked 38th | Clemson University

FR – .323/.415/.525 – 18 BB/36 K – 158 AB
SO – .315/.438/.577 – 44 BB/53 K – 222 AB

  • “recovered from broken hamate to show true plus power”
  • “good present defender with the chance to be excellent”
  • “strong arm”

Max Muncy | 2012 | ranked 69th | Baylor University

FR – .300/.374/.500 – 24 BB/48 K – 230 AB
SO – .322/.428/.511 – 37 BB/36 K – 227 AB

  • “far from the prototypical slugging first base prospect”
  • “good athlete, good defender, average runner”
  • “line drive machine who specializes in squaring up and making consistent solid contact”
  • “development of power will make or break him…bat currently profiles as much better at his high school position [catcher]”

2012 MLB Draft: All-ACC Prospect Team (Honorable Mentions)

I really wanted to finish up those College World Series previews in time for the weekend, but pesky real work obligations got in the way. They wound up being a lot more time consuming than I had anticipated, so with great regret I’m ditching the rest of the time-sensitive stuff and instead focusing on a more general 2012 approach going forward. In an effort to spotlight some interesting names heading into next year, I’ll be putting together preseason All-Conference (2012 Draft) teams throughout the summer. Like much of the content you’ll see over the next ten weeks there is no schedule, so be sure to check in early and often to see if your favorite conference has gotten any love.

To start off, here are 5 interesting ACC infielders who didn’t actually make the cut for my preseason All-ACC (2012 Draft) team…

Source: leebecker.com

Clemson SO C Spencer Kieboom | .300/.382/.382 – 23 BB/12 K – 170 AB

There is a lot to like about Spencer Kieboom. First, he’s got a good approach at the plate. Next up, there is his even better defense behind the plate. Finally, and best of all, there is his name, Spencer Kieboom. The first two may be more important with respect to his future in baseball, but I’d say that last quality alone is more than enough to get him on every early 2012 watch list.

Wake Forest SO 1B Matt Conway |.272/.361/.451 – 27 BB/31 K – 195 AB

Conway has the size (6-7, 250 pounds), plus raw power, and solid approach to hitting that help make him Wake Forest’s best prospect since Allan Dykstra in 2008. He also dabbles on the mound for the Demon Deacons; that’s both a terrifying thought for an opposing batter (not sure I’d be feeling 6-7, 250 pound lefty heat coming at me…) and a feat worth noting to highlight Conway’s better than you’d think athleticism and arm strength.

Clemson SO 1B Richie Shaffer | .333/.459/.613 – 47 BB/50 K – 222 AB

It was incredibly difficult to leave Shaffer off the big boy list, but tough decisions sometimes come with the job. If we were to smartly ignore the artificial restraints that such a list presents, however, we could focus less on the list itself and more on Shaffer the good defender with plus to plus-plus raw power and a plus throwing arm capable of hitting the low-90s from the mound. We could also talk about his outstanding sophomore year – who couldn’t love a sophomore who slugged over .600 while going up against the likes of Virginia, North Carolina, Miami and Florida State? – as well as his above-average defense, solid athleticism, pro frame speedy recovery from a broken hamate bone.

North Carolina SO 2B Tommy Coyle | .337/.429/.451 – 37 BB/21 K – 19/25 SB – 255 AB

Coyle has above-average speed and athleticism, a really solid line drive swing, and an outstanding batting eye. It is still really early in the process, but I think we’re looking at a player with the ceiling of a big league regular with the possibility of a utility future a realistic backup option. The similarities between Tommy and his Red Sox prospect brother Sean are striking, with the younger Sean holding the slight advantage as a prospect because of a touch more power upside. How cool is it to think that there is a chance both Tommy and Sean could be big league starting second baseman some day?

Virginia SO SS Chris Taylor | .320/.397/.426 – 25 BB/39 K – 10/14 SB – 256

As an unheralded – though still heralded enough to land at UVA — high school recruit, Chris Taylor has had to work his way up the depth chart over time. He now finds himself firmly entrenched as the Cavaliers starting shortstop and leadoff hitter. His athleticism, defensive versatility, and plus arm are what really set him apart from the field at this point in his development.