Baseball isn’t like the other major sports in this country. First round picks don’t turn into MLB stars, or even MLB caliber players. Not only that, but we might not even know that until five or six years down the road.
College players tend to move through the minors faster than those out of high school because they have more experience and don’t need as much work in the minors.
The step up to professional baseball is a big one for the draftees. We want to see them succeed in the minors, but even more importantly we want to see how they adjust when they start to struggle.
Will these players turn into Buster Posey or Justin Smoak? Are these hot starts a sign of what they can do at the big league level? We wont know for sure for a while, but these hot starts are worth keeping an eye on.
Andrew Benintendi – OF
It might be a reach to call the seventh overall pick in the draft a breakout, but Benintendi is already showing the signs of a future star.
Benintendi was coming off of a great sophomore season in 2015 at the University of Arkansas where he hit 20 homers with a .376/.488/.717 slash line, yes a .717 slugging percentage. He led all of Division 1 with 20 homers and was third among qualifiers in slugging percentage.
Some scouts believed that Benintendi was the most advanced college hitter in the draft when the Red Sox selected him. He has a nice swing that can consistently get good contact to go along with his above average speed; he swiped 41 bases in 49 attempts over his two-year college career.
He didn’t get off to a fast start after he signed and was sent to the Red Sox Low-A affiliate.
Through his first month in the minors he amassed a .229/.396/.471 slash line with four homers.
Then in August Benintendi caught fire. In his next 14 games he hit .370/.426/.630 with three homers. The hot streak was enough to earn him a promotion to Greenville.
After his promotion he stayed hot and owns a .366/.439/.606 slash line with four homers.
After Benintendi’s rocky first month of professional baseball, he really turned things around. Since the beginning of August he has seven homers, 11 strikeouts, 15 walks, and a .368/.434/.616 slash line over 32 games.
While the numbers have been great, he has been doing it with a very high BABIP. Since his hot streak began in August, Benintendi has had a .358 BABIP which is right around what his BABIP was his final year in Arkansas.
A BABIP of that level still seems unsustainable, but even a drop of 30 points will still leave him with a good average.
His low strikeout rate to this point in the minors does not seem like a fluke because it coincides with what he did in college.
Benintendi could be the first of the high-end prospects from the 2015 draft to make an impact at the major league level, but the Red Sox will have to clear a space for him in the outfield for him to get a chance before the end of 2017.
Benintendi has the future potential to hit around 20 homers with a .300 average and some solid stolen base numbers. He should end up being one of the top players from the 2015 draft class.
Taylor Ward – C
Ward was a good, but not an exceptional, hitter in college. There was actually some concern when he was drafted that he might not be able to hit enough to stick at catcher and might have to move to the mound at some point in his career.
However, his stint in the minors to this point has taken away some of that worry. Ward has been on fire in the minors amassing a .348/.457/.438 slash line.
Ward has not hit for power to this point in the minors and I wouldn’t expect to it in the future. Through his college career he only hit 16 homers in three seasons.
One of Ward’s best assets is his ability to walk and limit strikeouts. When he was a full-time player in his sophomore and junior seasons at Fresno State, he owned an even one to one strikeout to walk ratio with 63 of each. Through 56 minor league games he actually has more walks than strikeouts, 39 walks and 23 strikeouts.
If Ward can continue what he has done at the plate in terms of his strikeouts and walks I think he will be a big riser in prospect lists by the end of the 2016 season, but I would keep expectations in check fantasy wise.
Paul DeJong – 3B
DeJong was a fourth round pick by the Cardinals this year after a nice college career at Illinois State.
He has been primarily a third baseman to this point, but unless his fielding improves do not expect him to stay there; he has 11 errors already this season.
However, for most of us, how well he plays defense doesn’t matter for this game we play. If he is forced to move elsewhere his bat might not play as well, but he can still hit.
DeJong is like many of the Cardinals players. He has the ability to hit for above average power and hit for a good average.
It didn’t take him very long to prove he didn’t belong in the Rookie League. In the 10 games he played he had a hit in each game and batted .486 with four homers.
He is still hitting after his promotion, not as well as before but no one should have expected him to hit .400. He currently owns a .292/.364/.44 slash line after the promotion.
Over the course of his first minor league season the fourth rounder is slashing .320/.399/.522.
DeJong has the potential to reach the mid 20s in homers in the majors with a solid average. It isn’t the worst thing to invest in a prospect that is in one of the best organizations in baseball.
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