Called Up: Bo Bichette

Bo Bichette was ahead of his time. When he first hit the national scouting radar on the summer showcase circuit after his high school junior season, it was before the fly ball revolution had fully penetrated the big leagues. The 2016 draft class included a number of players who would be looked at differently just a few years later, as front offices saw the value of a big leg kick and an uppercut, high-intent swing (when it came with tools and performance). Bichette, Kyle Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, and Joe Rizzo all come to mind, with a number of others partially-qualifying like Josh Lowe, Will Benson, and Pete Alonso.

I remember talking with some scouts in 2015 who only got on Bichette, Kiriloff, and Rizzo at end of a summer of positive performance because their swings were of the aforementioned type, the kind scouts didn’t want to like until it was proven that they should.

Bichette got the short end of the stick even from this group, despite having the most defensive value, a pro lineage from his father Dante, solid game performance, and close to, if not as much raw power as all of them. Lowe went 10th, Lewis went 11th, Benson went 14th, Kiriloff went 15th, Rizzo went 50th, Jones went 55th, and Alonso went 64th; Bichette went 66th.

The other variable was the career of Bichette’s little brother, Dante Jr., whom the Yankees took 51st overall in 2011. Dante had a similar-looking swing and similarly solid amateur performance; he played the infield and by draft day 2016 was in Double-A, one full season of plate appearances from being out of baseball. Just 12 months after Bo Bichette’s draft free fall, scouts still pointed to Dante Jr.’s career and Bo’s loud swing mechanics as the reasons they missed on Bo so badly. Here’s video of Bichette playing in a high school tournament that was held at the Blue Jays spring training facility near his home:

Bo has toned down his swing a good bit since then and, funnily enough for a guy who as an amateur was seen at the far end of the spectrum when it came to high effort, big raw power, and fly balls, doesn’t lift the ball that much in games now. His career high for homers in a season is 14, but he’s consistently been young for his level, playing shortstop and keeping his strikeout rate below 20% for his entire career. Scouts knew Bichette had some bat control hiding under the big swing, but it’s really shined through as he’s adjusted his offensive game.

After signing and having a loud debut, Eric ranked Bichette 10th in the Jays system, at the top of the 40 FV tier, noting some of the developments I’ve referenced:

I was skeptical of Bichette pre-draft. He has exceptional bat speed and above-average raw power, but each time I saw him as an amateur he struggled to keep his eccentric swing under control. I saw lots of ugly swings and misses, and poor contact. He was a star at other events, arguably the best performer at the Metropolitan Classic late in the summer, and there were scouts who didn’t care that his hands were noisier than a Dinosaur Jr. concert and just thought he had great natural hitting ability. Scouts who saw Bichette after he signed noted that his exaggerated leg kick was not always present, a sign that Toronto may actively be working to quiet things down.

Eric also touched on the other issue in projecting Bichette: most scouts thought he’d settle at second base or third base at this juncture:

Bichette is going to begin his pro career at shortstop, but he’s very unlikely to stay there for too long. His footwork is fine for the infield and his body and defensive actions were better as a senior than they were the summer before at Area Codes. He has a shot to stay on the infield either at second or third base, but he’s already a fringe runner with a similar physical build to his father and brother and likely to fill out and slow down as he gets older.

After his full season debut saw Bichette dominate Low- and High-A in his age-19 season (alongside teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr.), Bo made a big jump in our rankings, jumping to a 60 FV, second in the system behind Guerrero and ninth in our Top 100. Our tone changed a bit with more performance and in-person looks to consider:

Many teams didn’t take him seriously as a top-two-round prospect, partly souring after his brother busted with a similar swing, but Bo has rare bat and body control along with good enough pitch selection to make his approach work, something his older brother did not. Like Guerrero, Bichette doesn’t lift or pull the ball as much as you’d think given his swing, so there’s more game power to tease out of his approach, and we think he’ll trade some contact to do that. Bichette is playing shortstop now but likely will not at higher levels, with second base the most likely fit. In either case, he has the tools to play any corner position, and his bat profiles anywhere.

Last year, Bichette posted a solid age-20 season in Double-A and held his spot as a 60 FV, second behind Vlad and ninth in the top 100. We still didn’t feel sure about whether he’d continue to wear out the gaps in lieu of becoming more of a pull/lift hitter, or his ultimate best defensive fit:

We remain skeptical of his long term viability at shortstop, where he continues to see most of his reps, but his arm is plus and teams are growing increasingly willing to put players with limited lateral quickness at short if it means shoehorning a special offensive talent into the position, and Bichette is one. Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter where he ends up playing defense because his bat is likely to profile. He has scintillating bat speed, and Bichette’s hand-eye coordination and bat control are an effective foil for the garage band noisiness of his swing, which hasn’t negatively impacted his ability to make contact in pro ball. Bichette ditches his leg kick with two strikes, something we’re not certain is all that helpful based on visual evidence. Ideally, Bichette will start lifting the ball more often (he has a league-average ground ball rate right now) and turn some of these doubles into homers, but it’s hard to justify making a change when he has been wildly successful so far. Status quo Bo is still a doubles machine who probably stays on the infield, and is a likely All-Star.

Clay Davenport has the best publicly available minor league defensive metrics (adjust the year in the URL to see older versions) and Bichette has consistently been average to a hair above in his pro career by that measure. Progressive clubs (Toronto qualifies) tend to care less about range when there are instincts, work ethic, arm strength, and big offensive output, especially when shifting can hide some range problems. We’ve seen some players projected to move off of shortstop beat our defensive expectations when they fit some of these criteria (Xander Bogaerts, Corey Seager, Paul DeJong among others), so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Bichette turn in what our metrics would call average shortstop play for the first part of his career. If he can do that and also begins to pull and lift the ball more, Bichette could be among the best at his position in the big leagues.

We hoped you liked reading Called Up: Bo Bichette by Kiley McDaniel!

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Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

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Bo knows the big leagues now.

Thank you, Mr. Sogard, for playing well enough to make room for him.