Thursday, September 11, 2008 | By Alex Eisenberg
Is it possible the best shortstop in last June's draft will be somebody not named Beckham? Obviously it's too early to tell, but the possibility is real. Niko Vasquez, the St. Louis Cardinals 3rd round draft pick and the No. 91 pick overall has more upside than the close to MLB-ready Gordon Beckham and has more polish than the raw, but very toolsy and athletic Tim Beckham. Vasquez was a projected first rounder but dropped due to signability reasons.
Tim Beckham was the draft's best prospect according to many, but I felt he had issues with his swing that he would need to work on. Not surprisingly, Beckham has struggled with the adjustment to pro ball. However, the tools are there to succeed.
On the other end of the spectrum is Gordon Beckham. Gordon was the polished college bat that put up huge numbers as a Bulldog from Georgia. He was expected to move quickly, but his upside was questioned. Concerns about his defense were noted as well.
Between the Beckham spectrums is Vasquez.
Vasquez is coordinated and fairly agile with a strong arm at the shortstop position, but questions about his overall foot speed lead some to doubt his ability to stay at the position. He hasn't appeared to have had many problems thus far in his young career, however.
Should Vasquez stay at shortstop, his bat could have borderline All-Star value.
Vasquez has a swing that should generate solid power going forward though he needs to clean up his mechanics a bit. He starts with bat on shoulder, and then proceeds to bring his bat to a more vertical position while simultaneously moving the elbow back just slightly.
The load is made when Vasquez moves his hands up, which coincides with his stride into foot plant. Notice the bat stays--for the most part--close to the body. As the body is moving forward, the bat is moving along with it.
One purely observational thing I noticed watching Vasquez was the inconsistency from at bat to at bat in terms of his mechanics. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I would like to see a bit more consistency.
At toe touch, Vasquez has a knee twist to kick start his hip rotation. If he isn't careful, he leaves himself vulnerable to opening up his hips too soon with the way he plants. You can see this somewhat more in the clip on the left.
The weight is transferred forward to the front leg as the front foot plants. Just before planting, the hands--along with the bat--begin their first aggressive movement forward. It's at this point his hands do occasionally separate from his body, making his swing a bit longer than it could be.
Vasquez turns his hips on a firm front leg, which helps him generate power from his swing. One slight concern--and it may be from these particular swings the video provided--was how he would make contact a little too far out in front. This isn't a case of a player looking to achieve extension because he's not slapping/throwing his hands at the ball. It's more a case of Vasquez starting his swing a little earlier than he needs to. He needs to wait on the pitch a little longer and give himself more time to recognize the pitch type and location.
Lastly, Vasquez has the swing plane to generate a sufficient number of fly balls. The more fly balls one hits, the more likely that hitter will hit for power. In the clips provided, Vasquez was able to get the ball on the sweet part of the bat, which gave the appearance of the ball "jumping" off his bat.
Vasquez has the ability to make hard contact, judging by his .404 BABIP in Johnson City. The .142 ISO-power is solid for a player his age and that number should be increase in the future as his frame fills out.
Perhaps the statistic people should be most excited about is the 11.4 BB%. This shows a willingness to take a walk, work the count, and remain disciplined at the plate.
The K% of 22 is a little higher than ideal. This may be from a slightly longish swing as well as his tendency to get a little too far out in front. I'm also sure he is still learning how to recognize the spins of different pitch types.
Vasquez struggled after he was promoted to Quad Cities. It was only 44 PAs, but no matter how you look at, a .359 OPS and 38.6 K% is awful.
Vasquez has a great deal of upside, with the potential to be a top-7 or so player at the shortstop or second base position. If shifted over to third base, Vasquez's value drops, but the potential to be an above average player is still there.
However, much is still unknown about Vasquez. You'll likely see him pop up in the 5 - 12 range on most Cardinal prospect lists because of his "newness" factor. Should he prove himself at higher levels next year, as it is expected he will, Vasquez could be in for a major rise on the prospect lists around the country.
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