Checking in on Last Year’s First-Round Hitters

With the amateur draft just around the corner, I thought it would be worthwhile to check in on some of the players selected early on in last year’s amateur draft. At this point, most of these players have something close to a year’s worth of games under their belts. Obviously, all these players remain very much at the beginning part of their respective careers, and still have plenty of developing left to do. Their futures are far from set in stone. Still, their stats from the last calendar year should be able to give us a general sense of how good they are now and, by extension, how good they might ultimately become.

Let’s set the pitchers aside for now, and start off by looking at the first eight hitters taken in the first round last year. I’ll certainly take a closer look at some of these players in the future once they have larger bodies of professional experience against more advanced pitching. This is especially true of the ones who are performing well, and will likely be knocking on the door of the big leagues in the next year or so.

Kyle Schwarber, C/OF (Profile)
Team: Chicago Cubs   Age: 22
Stats: .322/.426/.606 between A-, A, A+, AA

Schwarber’s been stupid-good at the plate since the Cubs took him fourth overall in last year’s draft. He hit .330/.419/.611 across three levels of A-Ball last year, and has picked up right where he left off this year by hitting .305/.440/.595 through 41 Double-A games. His 191 wRC+ is easily the highest in the Southern League, and is the third highest in all of Double-A — behind Carlos Correa and Joey Gallo.

Schwarber’s produced an outrageous .284 ISO since he went pro last year, so power is clearly his thing. However, he also draws ample walks — which is a meaningful statistic at the Double-A level — and does so without striking out all that often. Basically, he’s does it all at the plate. It remains to be seen where Schwarber winds up defensively, and how well he’ll be able to fake it at that position. Wherever he plays, though, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which he doesn’t hit.

Nick Gordon, SS (Profile)
Team: Minnesota Twins   Age: 19
Stats: .226/.291/.274 between R, A

While Dee Gordon’s been hitting close to .400, his little brother Nick has found it difficult to do much of anything in the low minors. After hitting an acceptable .294/.333/.366 in Rookie-ball last year, the younger Gordon has really struggled to adapt to full-season ball. He’s hit a weak .226/.291/.274. There’s something oddly depressing about a triple slash where all three numbers start with “2”.

Gordon’s biggest flaw has been his lack of power. Not only does his ISO sit at a pathetic .049, but he’s also running a .282 BABIP, which suggests he’s just not hitting the ball all that hard. Kiley gave Gordon’s game power a future value of 50 heading into the year, so power is supposed to be a part of Gordon’s game. But for whatever reason, it just hasn’t shown up yet. Even for a middle infielder, six extra base hits in nearly 200 plate appearances is unacceptably bad. Gordon’s still 19, and has plenty of time to turn things around, but there’s no denying his full-season debut has been quite the let-down.

Alex Jackson, OF (Profile)
Team: Seattle Mariners   Age: 19
Stats: .203/.283/.315 between R, A

Nick Gordon’s had a rough full-season debut, but his ineptitude hasn’t held a candle to Jackson’s. After a strong — albeit strikeout heavy — .280/.344/.476 showing in the Rookie-ball last year, Jackson was horrendously bad in Low-A before the Mariners sent him back to extended spring training with a shoulder injury.

Jackson’s 29% strikeout rate, 5% walk rate, .056 ISO and .230 BABIP are all well worse than the Midwest League average. If he had just one or two of those marks, it would be worth fretting over. But all four of those together? That’s about as bad as it gets, especially for a guy who profiles as a corner outfielder. It’s hard to know how much of Jackson’s struggles are attributable to his shoulder injury, so I’m hesitant to hold his 2015 performance against him. But he’ll certainly be one to monitor once he returns to action, as he’s been a pretty big disappointment so far.

Michael Conforto, OF (Profile)
Team: New York Mets   Age: 22
Stats: .311/.381/.464 between A-, A+

Conforto has gotten off to a booming start to his pro career. After an exceptional three years at Oregon State, Conforto closed out his draft year by tearing up the short-season New York-Penn League to the tune of .331/.403/.448. As a first-round college bat in a short-season league, dominance was expected from Conforto last season. Nonetheless, it was reassuring to see him transition so well into pro ball. Even more reassuring is that he’s continued to dominate following a promotion to High-A. Through 44 games this year, he’s hitting .291/.360/.480.

Already 22, Conforto’s a little old for the Florida State League, so his performance at Double-A should be the real test. But it’s hard to argue with his offensive showing so far. He puts the ball in play (14% strikeout rate) and also hits for a good amount of power (.154 ISO). That’s a good combination of skills to have.

Max Pentecost, C (Profile)
Team: Toronto Blue Jays   Age: 22
Stats: .324/.330/.419 between R, A-

Pentecost got off to a solid start to his professional career by hitting .324/.330/.419 between Rookie-ball and short-season A-Ball last year. Unfortunately, offseason shoulder surgery has prevented him from appearing in a single game in 2015. It’s hard to glean much from his 109 plate appearances from last year, but his lack of power (.095 ISO) and walks (2% walk rate) stick out as potential red flags.

Trea Turner, SS (Profile)
Team: Washington Nationals   Age: 21
Stats: .329/.408/.463 between A, A-, AA

Turner was dealt to the Nationals last offseason as part of the Wil Myers trade, but must remain in the Padres system until one year has passed since the draft. Given his performance so far, San Diego might wish they had held on to the 22-year-old. After hitting an awesome .321/.401/.435 across two levels of A-Ball last year, Turner’s hitting a similarly awesome .344/.422/.522 in Double-A in 2015.

Kiley gave Turner a future power grade of 40 heading into the year, so Turner was never supposed to produce more than a smattering of pop. However, he’s exceeded those expectations this year by belting 17 extra base hits — including five homers — in his first 42 games. All in all, Turner’s offensive exploits are very encouraging, especially coming from a shortstop who’s a 70 runner.

Casey Gillaspie, 1B (Profile)
Team: Tampa Bay Rays   Age: 22
Stats: .259/.343/.423 between A-, A

Gillaspie turned in a respectable .262/.364/.411 showing in the New York-Penn League last year, where he showed modest power (.148 ISO) and ample walks (14% walk rate). Although he was a college bat, the Rays opted to take things slow with the 22-year-old in 2015. They sent him to Low-A Bowling Green rather than hitting him with the challenge of High-A. Through 41 games, he’s hitting .275/.329/.477.

On the surface, Gillaspie’s wRC+s of 129 and 131 from these past two years seem solid enough. However, for a 22-year-old first baseman, these marks are a little underwhelming. Gillaspie’s a bat-only prospect, and based on his pro debut, his bat is still a few years away from being ready for the big leagues. Given his age, this doesn’t bode particularly well for his future prospects.

Bradley Zimmer, OF (Profile)
Team: Cleveland Indians   Age: 22
Stats: .311/.411/.508 between A-, A, A+

Between this year and last, Zimmer has over 300 professional plate appearances under his belt, and he’s done nothing but rake. After hitting an impressive .305/.406/.493 last year, Zimmer’s really taken off in 2015. Through 44 games in the High-A Carolina League, he’s hitting .319/.417/.528, and has also stolen 19 of 20 on the basepaths.

Zimmer remains untested against high-minors pitching and, as with pretty much all prospects, the high minors will be the real test. However, given his performance, I’d be surprised if he weren’t promoted to Double-A relatively soon.  But thus far, Zimmer’s been about as good as can be expected. He’s demonstrated a remarkable combination of power, speed and plate discipline, and should continue to do so as he ascends to the majors.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Any thoughts on Alex Blandino? Appears to be doing well in FSL.