While the 2011 draft is shaping up to be a very talented overall class, there seems to be a shortage of impact high school bats. This isn’t to say the ones available aren’t of quality, but there is a lack of top-notch depth in this class.
I scout high school hitters differently than college-level hitters. It’s important not to get too caught up in their mechanics, beside any red flag check points that you may have. Raw skills are accepted as a typical companion to elite tools.
As we prepare for the 2011 MLB Draft (June 6-8), here’s an overview of the offensive potential and possible challenges ahead for 10 standout high school hitters. I've hyperlinked video of each player to his name.
Bubba Starling (OF, Gardner Edgerton High School, Kansas) - For a player known more for his tools than his skills, Starling has shown me a more advanced hit tool than he’s given credit for. Is he raw? Yes. However, I’ve seen some swings from him that only real hitters can make. Currently a front foot hitter, Starling will certainly have that worked on once he gets to pro ball. Starling’s trigger currently brings his hands in very tight to his body, causing him to sometimes cast out and away from his body, which has resulted in too much pull-side contact. With time, he should learn how to clear his hands and free them up, giving him the ability to consistently drive the ball straight away. Starling is an outstanding athlete showing current strength and the frame to add more. He has plenty of neccessary quick twitch muscles and explosive wrists. Starling’s swing is very simple overall, and he should respond well to some simple adjustments. Patience will be needed with him while he figures it out, but the tools are there, and I believe the skills will be brought out with the proper adjustments.
Francisco Lindor (SS, Monteverde Academy, Florida) - A premium athlete in a small, but quick twitch filled body, Lindor has better pop than you’d imagine at first glance. The switch-hitter has solid bat speed from both sides, but seems to have different approaches for each side. His righthanded swing is geared for power, while is lefthanded swing has a flatter plane and his approach seems to be more focused on contact. Lindor has made several adjustments to both swings over the past year, showing the mental capacity to understand his strengths and what he needs to improve. A rhythm hitter, Lindor often hits from a slightly unbalanced base. Swinging wood every day in pro ball should help him learn to keep his legs underneath him and give him a consistent base to launch from. His hand speed and quick wrists should help him maintain solid-average numbers and his bat should help him post high double totals with a bit of home run pop.
Josh Bell (OF, Dalla Jesuit, Texas) - I asked a scout this winter about Josh Bell and he said ‘Cliff Floyd as a switch-hitter’. Bell is strength personified, yet has a frame that figures to add plenty more. Usually long and lean athletes with long arms have trouble keeping their arms out of their swing and getting too extended away from their body, but Bell maintains a short and compact hand path. He has very strong hands and a good idea on how to use them. Leverage is the biggest thing Bell needs to work on, which usually comes with age and experience. He isn’t the smoothest of hitters but isn’t awkward or uncoordinated. Though he could stand to improve his weight transfer during his unload, Bell loads his lower body very well. He won’t be known for his ‘pure’ hitting skills at the next level, but simply calling him a ‘slugger’ downplays his offensive capabilities. This kid can hit and hit for plenty of power. Whether or not Bell follows through on his commitment to Texas, somebody is bound to be heartbroken over not getting the chance to sign him.
Billy Flamion (OF, Central Catholic High School, California) - Flamion offers things to dream on, and others to be concerned about. Bat speed and above-average pull side power are the former. How he’ll cover the outer half and consistency as a hitter is the latter. Flamion has a relatively short swing with quick hands that enter the zone very quickly. His trigger is very short and aggressive, helping him build steam without length, which is always a good thing. However, his swing path is very pull-side oriented, and he will need work on getting to a consistent launch position that will give him the ability to at least battle on the outer half. If you were to look at his happy zone on a PitchTrack-like tool, it would form an upside down L -- sorry folks, I don’t do the whole inverted letters shenanigans -- touching all areas at the top of the zone and inner half. Pitch Flamion in and he’ll burn you, but how he covers the outer half will determine his success. If he adjusts, his bat speed and aggressive trigger should lead to solid power numbers across the board.
Javier Baez (SS/3B, Arlington Country Day School, Florida) - Baez is a guy you can break down by his mechanics a bit, as there are certainly some things to take a deep look at. The power and bat speed are there to be an impact bat at the major league level, but how he gets his bat speed makes me wonder about his ability to consistently square up advanced pitching. Baez starts with his hands close to his head and has a full, long load behind him, with plenty of arm involvement along the way. This is great for bat speed but not so great for keeping the swing compact. Personally I'd like to see what Baez looks like with a tight and aggressive 'hand-pump' trigger -- some people might call this a 'hitch', but it isn't. Such a move should help cut a chunk of length from his swing yet give him the same bat speed. There may be a bit of extra barrel awareness thrown in as an added benefit. Baez does know how to use his hands, gets very good extension, and does a good job of letting his hips get rolling before his hands come through. The pitch down will be a strength for him, but hard stuff up might cause trouble. It’s easy to say ‘he’ll learn how to shorten up,’ but that doesn’t answer if he can shorten up and still maintain his current bat speed without using his arms to generate it. The last thing you want to do to a hitter is make him short and turn him into a Judy simply so he can make more contact. His frame won’t hold a ton more strength, even if he does move to third base -- like some people project -- and can bulk up a bit there. How Baez adjusts the length of his swing and whether or not he can maintain his bat speed will determine his future.
Dan Vogelbach (1B, Bishop Verot High School, Florida) - Vogelbach is a guy you just sit back and enjoy watching hit (Need a beer to enjoy during it? Check out Beer Scouting!). His tool is his power, and he knows it. Vogelbach has an easy swing, shows even easier power, and is a guy you simply just don’t want to miss up in the zone against. His swing is pretty short and direct, which is a must for a player with his body type. Vogelbach doesn’t have what one would call an ‘athletic’ body, and while he’s worked hard to get in better shape, he has to let his hands be free and clear or his body will keep them from getting through the zone. I’m sure there will be some lazy Prince Fielder comps thrown about during Vogelbach’s career, (bad body, big power) though Vogelbach lacks Fielder's hit tool. Vogelbach’s work ethic and plus-plus raw power (508 feet!) are attributes you can’t teach a player. How he learns to become a hitter for average will decide if he’s a minor league folk hero or a major league home run title contender.
Blake Swihart (C, Cleveland High School, New Mexico) - A switch hitter with strength and loose actions, Swihart is bound to have some Mark Teixeira comps thrown his way, if they haven't started already. While there are some style similarities, the comp should end there. Swihart is a much different hitter than Big Tex, featuring a line drive swing plane that has some loft in it. Swihart has the bat speed and strength to offer easy 20+ home run power. Swihart has very consistent timing of his foot-plant, giving him plenty of chance to stay in the zone and not get caught on his front side. Getting to and launching from a solid base is Hitting 101, but it's always a good sign to see a young hitter who understands how to get to this position and let his strength and bat speed take it from there. With time, Swihart should learn to gain some more leverage and how to work his legs more, letting him tap into his above-average raw power on a more consistent basis. Swihart has a pull approach from the right side, but his lefthanded side has more of an all-fields approach. Should he learn to hang in longer and drive to right-center vs. left handed pitching, his raw power would become more dangerous from that side. Add up the power totals from the right side and his well rounded totals from the left side at the end of the year, and Swihart could offer some serious punch out of the catcher position.
Brandon Nimmo (OF, East High School, Wyoming) - Nimmo has a classic and smooth lefthanded swing that is sure to -- fairly or unfairly -- bring about plenty of John Olerud comps (I feel that Marlins prospect Christian Yelich is much closer to Mr. Olerud, as a matter of fact). Nimmo's swing is very short and compact, with a line drive plane and enough lift to give the opposing outfielders plenty of leg work in the gaps. One might question the competition a high school player from Wyoming would be facing, but Nimmo is no stranger to the showcase and Legion ball circuits, giving him both exposure and tough pitchers to square off against. I've seen Nimmo working with two different triggers, one with a brief pause from load to unload, and one that is much more dynamic. I prefer the latter. It's much more efficient for the load-unload move to be a completely seamless solitary movement. Nimmo needs to work on finishing his swing and hitting behind his front leg more consistently. Typically, he'll go from contact to running out of the box too quickly -- more like a contact-oriented singles hitter -- cutting short his extension and not getting a full weight transfer. This is a relatively easy fix and should allow him to make his power more useable. Nimmo has an excellent all-fields approach with a focus on center field to left. With a bit of work on the lower half, his short stroke could make him a line drive and doubles machine.
Austin Hedges (C, JSerra High School, California) - I don't think I've ever used a high school player as an example of 'How it's done' but if you ever wanted to see what I feel is the 'ideal' trigger, then just watch this. Activate the hands aggressively, engage the muscles of the upper body, let the hips get going underneath, all without adding any unnecessary length to the swing? That, my friends, is 'How it's done'. Hedges has a couple things working against him -- his body isn't very projectable and his swing doesn't have a ton of room to improve as it's already quite dandy -- but with that kind of efficiency, he doesn't need to be 'projectable'. I'll never, ever say any high school hitter's swing is 'perfect' (or any Major Leaguer's, for that matter) but the only thing to quibble over what Hedges needs to work on would be how he works his lower half. A little bit more load in his back leg and a better drive out of his rear hip, and his hit tool will take care of the rest. Throw in the fact that Hedges is a ball of energy behind the plate with some serious defensive tools -- he should stick long term at the position -- and his bat gets even more intriguing. Give Hedges some time to iron out his lower half, and then just enjoy watching him play pepper with the fences.
Jake Hager (SS/3B, Sierra Vista High School, Nevada) - Any hitter who has a compact stroke and an idea how to use his top hand will make me take notice. Jake Hager is one of those types of hitters. The equation is simple -- the less length in your swing, the more contact you will make. The more top hand in your swing, the harder that consistent contact will be. Hager has easy and clean actions at the plate, and gets his barrel through the zone very quickly thanks to, you guessed it, his top hand and short stroke. Hager is, however, walking a fine line between being top hand dominant and a top hand dictatorship. I would like to see him get more out of his bottom hand, especially into and right after contact. Rarely does he get full extension, and should he learn to get long out in front of him, the balls he strikes well should have a lot more carry into the gaps, which is never a bad thing -- unless a Franklin Gutierrez army of clones are standing in the tall grass, that is. Hager can cover the pitch up in the zone. How he covers the bottom of the zone will determine how well he hits for average. There is some room to fill out in his frame, and it should hold extra strength well. I'd like to see Hager get a little more aggressive with his hands at launch and get his bottom hand a bit more involved to help in the extension department. Add a little bit of strength on top, and Hager's power would really start to play up, making his very good hit tool that much more dangerous.