April 23, 2008 | By Alex Eisenberg
We have two center field prospects. Opinions on both players are divided amongst talent observers, but the two prospects have gotten off to very different starts. We break down both Tyler Colvin and Dexter Fowler below:
The biggest concern for Colvin is his strike zone judgement. He has played at three levels since being drafted in 2006 out of Clemson. His BB%'s are as follows:
2006 (SS) - 5.9%
2007 (A+) - 4.5%
2007 (AA) - 2%
2008 (AA) - 6.3%
These numbers show a very poor showing of plate discipline. The problems are exacerbated in that Colvin is not a true contact hitter. His K% for the three levels listed above are between 18 and 21. The significance of this is that Colvin will need to hit for a high average to maintain an acceptable OBP. The strikeouts put a cap on his batting average.
As for the type of contact Colvin makes, his BABIP was .356 in A+ Daytona and .337 at AA Tennessee. Those are solid rates, but don't stand out when you compare them to other top prospects or other prospects that can RAKE. If you expect Colvin to be a .270 hitter in the majors, we shouldn't expect his OBP to be any more than .300.
Colvin's power is solid, but unspectacular. His ISO-power was .215 in SS Boise, a pitcher's park. However, as a first round draft pick out of a big name college, Colvin is expected to dominate SS ball rather than put up merely solid numbers.
In Dayton, a park better-suited for hitters, his ISO was .208. Promoted to Tennessee, a homer-friendly, but otherwise pitcher's park, Colvin saw his ISO drop to .158.
There are some concerns that Colvin will not be able to stay in CF and the Cubs might move him to a corner spot anyway because of Felix Pie patroling CF. We all know the value of a player drops when moving from a premium defensive position to a more offensive-oriented position. As I was trying to verify whether Colvin would be able to stay in CF and then determine what effect a change of positions would have on Colvin's value, I ran across this Kevin Goldstein piece, which answers both my questions:
"I’m going to pick on Colvin here because I just talked to a scout about him, who questioned whether or not he has the skills for center field, but this could really apply to any minor league outfielder who might have to move to a corner in the end, of which there are many...Taking his current batting line, he’d be above-average offensively as a center fielder, enough to be considered one of the betters ones around, but if he’s forced to a corner, and most likely right field because of his plus arm, he’s suddenly a liability with the bat and a below-average player for the position."
If he has a projected line of .270/.310/.410, which right now I would call generous, then he could be considered a major league starter in CF, though he would fall between bad and average. If he were shifted to a corner outfield spot, Colvin would be worse than bad (based on the scale Goldstein provides, which is in his article).
Whether Colvin can stay in CF is up for debate, but he is a good athlete overall which does help his chances. He put on some muscle between 06' and 07', so he could still fill out some more and improve his power down the road.
Colvin's swing looks a little bit long, as he lets his hands disconnect from his body as he plants his front foot. He has a wide stance where he extends his front foot before rotating his hips. This looks like it could hinder his ability to completely transfer his weight forward.
Colvin does generate pretty good bat speed. While he could stand to let the ball travel a litle deeper into his hitting zone, he isn't as handsy a swinger as he was in college, where he would "throw his hands at the ball". He loads his hands well, but that does add to the length of his swing.
Colvin showed that he hit lefties much better than righties in 2005 (though the sample size is small), but showed the opposite last year. Colvin's power came predominately against righties in Dayton (.234 ISO against RHP vs. .113 ISO against LHP) and the same held true in Tennessee (.207 ISO against RHP vs. .083 ISO vs. LHP).
The list of players with poor plate discipline and average contact skills that become successful major leaguers is a short one. Ask yourself how many players we have seen that have gone on to have successful major league careers with K:BB ratios of 10:1, especially ones that don't have any one particular plus skill.
However, we see breakout performances from athletes that come out of nowhere because they finally "put it together". The same could be said about Colvin, but for now he looks like a potential fourth OF with the upside of a possible left handed side of a platoon.
6.5 Upside, Low Probability
4 Downside, Average-High Probability
Fowler mysteriously regressed last year after a solid 2006 season. His ISO-power dropped from .166 to .094, though this was partly due to moving from a hitter friendly park in Ashville to a ballpark that truly suppresses homeruns in Modesto.
One thing Fowler did a lot last year was keep the ball on the ground as his GB% increased from 50% to 62%. This alone is enough to suppress a player's power. Determining whether those GBs were hit hard is difficult, but we do know that he had a batting average of .291 on those ground balls, which is not necessarily great for a player with Fowler's speed.
Fowler's HR/FB ratio was just 7.5% in Ashville and last year dropped to 5.2% in Modesto, but again we should consider the park effects.
All of this sounds so negative, but not so fast. Fowler has gotten off to a torrid start to begin the 2008 season. The numbers:
.306/.386/.565/.951, 3 HRs, 3 3bs, 51 GB%, 72 PAs
Fowler is very interesting in that he became a switch hitter (he is a natural right hander) when he entered pro ball, something I would think is very difficult to do. Interestingly enough, I liked his left-side swing better than his right-side swing.
Credit to Minor League Baseball
And then I found this quote from the Rocky Mountain News, which makes a ton of sense as to why Fowler hits left handers better:
"A natural right-handed hitter, Fowler has made great progress from the left side. Jimmy Johnson, the Rockies roving hitting coordinator, said Fowler's left-handed swing, stance and balance are better left-handed because he has been molded and developed from that side from scratch, beginning in the instructional league two years ago, and didn?t have to break any bad habits."
From the left hand side, Fowler does a good job of carrying his weight forward. What I see is a swing with a lot of potential but also a swing that needs some tweaking. Specifically, his swing is a bit handsy in that he tries to get "extension". This means he isn't letting the ball travel deep into his zone. Rather, he is bringing his hands to the ball instead of letting the ball come to him. What he should be doing is letting the ball come to him and then turning his hands and hips together.
However, from the right side, his swing is pretty bad. Very handsy, very lungy. Lots of extension. Little weight or momentum shift and a swing plane that generates a lot of ground balls. However, given the results of this year, Fowler would have had to make some adjustments to his swing from a year ago.
Unfortunately, I do not have video of Fowler this year and when I get my hands on some, I will be sure to show you the adjustments made by Fowler as he has shown a lot of pop so far this year.
Fowler has displayed an excellent batting eye and improved greatly last year, going from a BB% of 9.4 to 14.7 in 2007. So far in 2008, his BB% is 13.2. This is significant not only because the ability to get on base is crucial to scoring runs, but because of his speed, he can turn a walk into a double, or even into a triple.
Fowler is also an excellent athlete with defense that people see as gold glove caliber. Fowler also draws rave reviews for his work ethic and intelligence as evidenced by the numerous Ivy League schools he had pursuing him out of high school.
While we see a line from last year that doesn't look that great on its surface, his April line was .179/.319/.256/.576, which made his overall numbers look worse than they actually were. His May line was .301/.438/.408/.846 and his June line was .349/.438/.408/.846 before breaking his wrist, which ended his season.
Fowler's hot start may be just that: a hot start. However, Rocky fans have to be excited with the prospects of a gold glove CF that shows the ability to take a walk and hit for power. Not only has Fowler started to realize his potential, Fowler still has considerable growth left to fullfill as a player.
8.5 Upside, Low Probability
7 Mid-Level, Low-Average Probability
5 Downside, Average Probability
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