Understanding what type of player a prospect will become is one of, if not the, most important parts of baseball. Scouts, analysts, draft gurus, bloggers, executives all spend large chunks of their time projecting young players into major leaguers. We look at raw, unpolished talent and somehow forecasting what that player will look like 6-8 years down the road. We look at bodies and we look at frames. Further, we look at current tools, project future tools, look at comps. All in an effort to get some glimpse of what the future holds. Getting this right is what makes great teams great. Over the years, baseball has gotten pretty good at it.
But there’s a problem. And we’ve seen this problem manifest itself enough times before our eyes that I think we need to address it. The problem is power.
There may be no individual attribute to impact a player’s profile greater than power. Power changes how we see a player’s ceiling or potential. Its absence causes a player’s perceived upside to be lowered while its presence can do exactly the opposite. Slap hitters are nice but everyone wants their prospect to be that middle-of-the-order threat. And as we’ve grown in our understanding of how power impacts the rest of a player’s offensive profile – specifically walks – it’s become even more important.
Of course, power itself isn’t the actual problem. It’s this continuing and incorrect notion that we understand it. We understand it a very basic level. That is to say, we can see it when it’s already there. It didn’t take much of an eye to see Kris Bryant had power. Or Bryce Harper. First time scouts laid eyes on those guys it was comically obvious, so projecting it for the future was nothing but common sense. But that’s where our understanding stops. When it comes to projecting power that isn’t there yet, frankly, we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. And that’s the problem.
Look at this scouting report for Ozzie Albies from 2015 from MLB Pipeline:
Look at that power grade. 20. That’s as low as you’ll see. Look at the text itself. “…while power will never be a part of his game.” This was from one of the most reputable scouting services around. And there were plenty others that agreed. I’m not saying this was completely wrong at the time it was written but “never” is a big word. The certainty with which we use it when it comes to power is as foolish as it is common. Two years later, Ozzie is putting up good power numbers for anyone, not just guys his size. That makes this report, and the conclusions drawn from it, look ridiculous.
Of course, this isn’t just an Ozzie Albies thing. Jose Alutve was considered a lower upside player his whole minor league career. He never appeared on a Baseball America top 100 list. His “ceiling” was always limited because power was never going to be a big part of his game. Then he starting sending baseballs into orbit and now he’s an MVP.
Matt Carpenter was never much of a prospect. He was considered a role player or backup type. Then he developed power and he became an All-Star. Jose Bautista, Joe Panik, Paul Goldschmidt, Mookie Betts, Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson, Chris Taylor, Kyle Seager, Daniel Murphy, Brett Gardner all were at some point given a “low ceiling” classification. And they all hit for way more power than expected and turned themselves into good or great MLB players.
Guys get bigger. They grow stronger, mature physically, improve their hitting, change their approach, change their swing any of which can cause major improvements in a player’s power production. And we know it happens after the fact but we have no idea when or if it’s coming. A solid all-around player without much power is literally one adjustment or summer in the gym away from being an all-star. Or an MVP.
You might be asking what’s the point of this is.
Well, it’s not to tell you every light-hitting 2B is going to turn into an MVP candidate. But it is to remind you that basically every players “ceiling” is an all-star and every player’s floor is an absolute bust. I get why we use these terms but the truth is with so many players busting through those “ceilings” and waving as they fly by means we should probably stop pretending we know where a guy’s max is. Dansby Swanson hasn’t shown much power since getting to the major leagues but Swanson could hit 25 HRs one year. Scooter Gennett hit 27 last year. Johan Camrago could be elite. He could suck. When the one thing missing from a players profile is consistent power then we really don’t know what they are. Or what they will be. And we need to stop pretending we do.
Ozzie Albies looks like he’ll hit 30 HRs this year. Could win an MVP. Not bad for a guy with 20 power.