Monday, July 21, 2014

Thoughts on Hitting Prospects

The Giants have taken a lot of heat over the years for their supposed inability to transition hitting prospects to the major leagues and their mishandling of them when they get there.  A lot of that has to do with the failure of players like Lance Niekro, Brett Pill, John Bowker and Fred Lewis, hitters who had their ups and downs in the minors but became fan favorites for one reason or another.  The reality is they probably never had a chance and did not do any better in other organizations.  The Giants have also been criticized heavily for their handling of Brandon Belt who has improved noticeably at the plate under their guidance, current injuries notwithstanding.

I have long believed that while pitching prospects are always suspect, it is mainly due to injuries, but a healthy pitching prospect generally has an easier time translating their AAA numbers to the majors than do hitting prospects.  It kind of goes along with the theory that if a hitter and pitcher have never faced each other before, the advantage belongs to the pitcher.  It also very much goes along with the notion that if a hitter has a hole in his swing, MLB advance scouts will sniff it out almost immediately and even average MLB pitchers are good enough to wear it out.  Those holes often go undetected in the minors.

I came across a note in Rotoworld today about the struggles of Gregory Polanco, a highly touted hitting prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who is being held out of today's lineup due to his recent hitting struggles.  Polanco has an overall OPS of .655 since his callup, which is not terrible, but he just went 0 for 5 with 2 K's yesterday and is hitting just .194 with a .533 OPS in July.  Seems that those darn advance scouts have found that hole in his swing!

That got me to thinking.  What of the other highly touted hitting prospects to come up this season?  It seems to me most, if not all of them have struggled in similar fashion to Polanco.  Let's take a look at some who come to mind off the top of my head:

Here's a good one!  Just a couple of weeks ago, Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox was the latest greatest thing since sliced bread.  He just got send back down after hitting .235/.278/.382 in just 34 AB.  Here's what Rotoworld had to say about it:  "It's a shame the Red Sox didn't get Mookie Betts more of a chance.  In fact, if that is all they were going to with him, they should never have brought  him up in the first place."  Wow!  Does that sound familiar, Giants fans?  I don't think Brandon Belt's initial numbers were nearly as good as Mookie Betts and they got fried for sending him back down to work on some specific things.  After reading that, I can't help but think that the Red Sox must have seen something they want Betts to work on back down in the minors that will make him a better hitter next time.  Does that have a ring of familiarity too?

The Red Sox did not mind losing Jacoby Ellsbury in free agency because they had Jackie Bradley ready to take over in CF.  How has that gone?  .231/.309/.313 and a big part of why the Red Sox have struggled this season.

Oscar Tavaras of the Cardinals, the organization which does everything right?  He's started just 2 of the Cardinals last 6 games and Rotoworld is not thrilled about that either, saying Mike Matheny apparently prefers that boring veteran, Allen Craig who is not doing too well himself.  Oh yeah, Tavaras is hitting .190/.226/.266 and has not hit another HR since his first game against the Giants.  Remember that?

Another guy who was going to set the world on fire in that wonderful organization in Boston was Xander Bogaerts.  He's the guy who made Stephen Drew expendable.  He's hitting just .234/.310/.353 and another reason why the Sox are struggling.

George Springer is a success story, right?  He hit .294 with 10 HR's in May but has seen his numbers slip to .227 in June and .160 in July.

The next time you are tempted to criticize the Giants for their handling of hitting prospects, remember their successes with Posey, Sandoval, Belt and Crawford and lesser success with Hector Sanchez.  Think also about the above-mentioned prospects from other organizations with much better reputations for developing hitters.  Graduating a hitting prospect is just darn hard, that's all!


  1. well, popeye may be done, but that didnt stop sabey sabes from taking a flier on him

    ok guys....defend this one


    1. No thanks, I think this is a lame-o move. But if he starts hitting, they'll give it a shot. Most likely its just cover against teams trying to trade gouge in the next 2 weeks.

    2. Shankbone is probably right about motives. Besides, with a 1 Aug opt out, and with Uggla's salary coming from Atlanta, the risk is minimal. That seems to me all the defense needed.

  2. Nice post. I've thought a lot about this one. Should the Giants be chastised for not having a Polanco or a Taveras? Those are both great prospects, their version of Sandoval, a low six figure signing who's jumped way up. But why not just be happy for those orgs, and move on? The grass is greener crowd that critiques the Giants take lazy comps to the top 100 lists and call it a day. Nuclear wasteland!

    I'll give you one more - Cards GM was bemoaning the fact that the Cards have only had 2 30 HR hitters in 30 years of draft and development. 30 years! Those guys are the best in baseball.

    The show has a way of straightening out all the hype.

  3. Good post Drb.. I think its just plain hard for teams to develop hitting prospects. I'm sure that it takes time for a young rookie to come up and get comfortable playing in the major leagues and learning to adjust to what the pitcher is trying to do to get him out.... Its no surprise that a Polanco or Taveras is struggling, the key for them is learning to make successful hitting adjustments to pitchers with more experience then them... If they get sent down, its not the end of the world either.. I remember Matt Williams being send down early in the 89 season, only to come back up and contribute to the NL Pennant winning team in 89! I heard that Kolten Wong was sent down earlier this season since the Cardinals wanted him to figure a few things out, only to come back up in the past few weeks as one of the Cardinals hottest hitters.. I'm happy that Wong is putting together a pretty good rookie season considering that other more well hyped rookies you mentioned struggling right now..


  4. Here's one for ya. It comes from a very good source close to "Parney" (Vice President & COO at RVA). Hitters in Richmond have complained about the batter's eye screen in center field for a long time. When Parney asked to replace it, he was told no. The reason being is that the Giants have won championships with great pitching and great defense. I just filed that away when I was first told, but recalled it when I read DrB's post. May be something to it, maybe not.