I’m not usually compelled to make a seven-hour round trip to scout one player, but that’s what I did last weekend when I drove from my home in Raleigh, N.C., to Columbia, where South Carolina hosted Louisiana State in both teams’ final regular season series before the SEC tournament. The featured attraction was LSU shortstop Alex Bregman, who ranks No. 4 on Kiley’s draft board and went sixth in his mock draft at the time of this writing.
A 29th-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2012, Bregman has been hitting from the moment he stepped onto campus in Baton Rouge, winning the Brooks Wallace Award as the nation’s best shortstop in his freshman year. Offensively, he took a step backwards in his sophomore campaign, but seems to have added a bigger power element to his game as a junior this season, slashing .329/.417/.577 with nine home runs and 29 stolen bases through 55 games.
A native of Albuquerque, N.M., he grew up playing travel ball with Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart. Because of that friendship and the fact that the organization drafted him three years ago, it’s hard to see Bregman falling past Boston at seventh overall. But as Kiley noted in his most recent mock draft, teams ahead of Boston have eyes for him as well.
Listed at 6-foot, 186 pounds, Bregman has a compact and athletic frame. He has strong wrists and short arms that make staying inside the ball easier and allow for quicker glove-to-hand transfers, but he also has short legs with a low waist, creating the appearance that he isn’t quite as tall as his listed height. He’s a quick-twitch athlete who plays the game with high energy. I dislike calling players “gritty” because the word is often deployed as a lazy and cliché substitute for actual baseball skills, but he does have that dirtbag quality that helps his natural talent play up.
Note: This video is in chronological order, covering Kiley’s look at Bregman the last three years and Jesse’s recent look. The video starts with footage from Bregman’s freshman year, then that summer for Team USA, then his sophomore year, then that summer for Team USA, then goes into this spring starting with the defensive clips.
Offensively, Bregman wasn’t at his best in my only look at him, taking a quiet batting practice before going 1-for-4 with a walk. But despite his trouble squaring up anything on this night, he showed the kind of swing and batting tools you often find in future plus hitters.
He sets up in a right-handed stance that spans just a bit wider than the length of his shoulders. From high hands, he loads modestly and his hips and shoulders sync together, the lack of separation limiting the power he would be able to generate otherwise. But trading sock for simplicity works for Bregman, whose bat stays in the zone thanks to inside hands that produce a flat, contact-oriented swing path with good — but not exceptional — bat speed. His swing is one of the purest in the draft class, and with average power potential, he’s one of the three most offensively skilled talents available at a middle infield position.
In my look, he was coming off of an 0-for-5 performance the night before and may have been pressing somewhat, which appeared to be the case in his second at-bat when he rolled over a slider that he poked toward his pull side. He appeared more disciplined at other times, showing the pitch recognition that has guided him toward a 32-to-19 walk-to-strikeout ratio this season and an impressive three-year track record in Baton Rouge.
Bregman’s ability to play shortstop long-term is a very polarizing topic in the scouting community. Detractors say that his limited lateral quickness is better suited for second base, while optimists laud his soft hands and think his instinctual approach to the game will make up for the range deficit. After watching him take infield and make both routine and difficult plays in the game, I fall in with the optimists.
Yes, Bregman has less range than the average major-league shortstop. But he also has a sure glove, smooth actions, average arm strength, a natural feel for playing the position, and a reportedly furious determination to remain a shortstop as a pro. During infield, I saw more flash than I expected to, which carried over into the game when he ranged left on a hard-hit ground ball, picked it with a clean backhand and fired off-balance to first for the out. In general, I think he fields the position much easier than he’s often given credit for, but even if he can’t stick at shortstop, then he’ll certainly play above-average defense at second base. I got one true home-to-first reading at 4.36, although his run grade approaches average once he’s underway.
Bregman may not be a top-10 pick in a more typical draft year, but that’s what he’ll be in June due to a sheer lack of top-flight talent and injuries to some prospects that would have gone in that range. He lacks the upside I want in a player who will be selected so highly, but he’s one of the draft crop’s safest bets to hit in the big leagues and has a chance at playing a premium defensive position. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits at the top of an order for a decade and makes an all-star team in a peak year, but as a bad-case scenario, he should be an everyday regular who offers some defensive flexibility up the middle.
Hit: 35/60, Raw Power: 45/50, Game Power: 30/50, Run: 50/50, Field: 50/55, Throw: 50/50, FV: 55
More high follows from LSU:
– At the plate, in the field and on the base paths, LSU center fielder Andrew Stevenson stood out in every phase of the game. His whippy swing is unorthodox and he has below-average power, but he has a knack for barreling up pitches with good bat speed and an ability to go the other way. He’s also a 60 runner (4.03 from home to first) with fast-twitch athleticism and savvy instincts, giving him a chance to be a plus defender in center field, even if his arm strength is below-average. A spark-plug type player who profiles at a premium defensive position, he should land somewhere in the third or fourth rounds. Among players not expected to be among the top 50 picks, Stevenson is the college position player I’m highest on relative to the industry.
– LSU’s Kade Scivicque offers a backup catcher’s profile with adequate receiving skills, average arm strength and a chance to hit. He has fair bat speed with some length to his swing, but his sound approach and level path could translate to above-average production at his position. His first action step as a pro will be to improve his footwork — which took a step forward this season as a result of a more disciplined offseason training regimen — and he should hear his name called in the 6th to 10th rounds.
– LSU freshman right hander Austin Bain is back in the Tigers’ weekend rotation and tossed 6.2 innings when I visited Columbia, allowing just four hits with two earned runs on one walk and seven strikeouts. He sat 91-92 mph in the early innings and touched 93 before ticking down later in the start with a 74-75 mph downer hook that shows bite and depth. With a clean motion, feel for pitching and projection remaining in a 6-foot-1, 186-pound frame, he’ll be on scouts’ radars for the 2017 draft.