At birth, Alex Bregman was touched by the Baseball Gods. He is not very big, not very fast, not especially graceful, and yet he somehow finds a way to do everything you can ask of a baseball player. He turned an unassisted triple play at age four. He was already very clearly the best high-school baseball player in the history of New Mexico before his senior year when a bad hop broke a finger on his right hand, ended his season, and irreparably harmed his 2012 draft stock.
Pre-draft, Bregman’s camp promised he would not sign should teams fail to select him in the first round. The Red Sox called his name in round 29 and were rebuffed. Bregman matriculated to LSU, where his list of accolades grew. First Team SEC, First Team All American, Collegiate National Team. And all of that as a freshman. When 2015 rolled around and he was draft-eligible again, Bregman was a divisive prospect despite his success largely because there was no consensus about his long-term ability to play shortstop. He didn’t have no-doubt shortstop speed and, while his arm was fine for the left side of the infield, it wasn’t the kind of elite arm strength that allows some players to hide their lack of range. Additionally, Bregman had virtually no positive physical projection remaining and wasn’t hitting for the sort of game power at LSU that would allay concerns about his offensive profile should he have to move off of short.
That’s not to say scouts didn’t like Bregman — he’s always been adored — but it’s hard to justify drafting a second or third baseman with fringe to average power projection in the top three picks. None of it has mattered. Houston bought in, drafted him #2 overall in 2015, gave him nearly $6 million to sign and, 13 months of raking later, they have a big leaguer.
For now, whether or not Bregman can play shortstop long term is largely irrelevant. I do think he’ll be passable there (the sources I’ve spoken to mostly grade him in the 45-50 range, defensively) Bregman’s role upon call-up is mostly going to be third base or left field with some DH and middle infield sprinkled in when Houston needs it. There may be the occasional tactical hiccup brought about by inexperience at those newer positions, but Bregman has the physical tools to be at least average at both spots and is very much the proverbial baseball rat who possesses instincts for all things baseball. He’s an average runner (with a bit of a waddling gait) with an above-average arm and a flare for the occasional dramatic play.
Of course, the most important and impressive aspect of Bregman’s game is his bat. Bregman’s barrel is quick into the zone and he has excellent bat control, aided by a unique ability to adjust his lower half to help him get to pitches down. During the Futures Game, he somehow got to a 98-mph fastball in on his hands and roped it the other way for a gap-rolling triple. His bat path has always been of the ground-ball and line-drive variety, only ramping upward into a power-generating plane out in front of him. But Bregman’s timing and ability to impact the baseball at a spot that creates airborne contact is improving and, along with a shorter stride that has allowed him to get his hips into his swing much more this season, it’s a big reason he’s hitting for more power. His FB% has risen from 32% in 2015 to 37% this season.
Consider his spray chart from this year:
Compared to last:
I think the spike we’ve seen in Bregman’s power this season is real. Not only do we have some tangible mechanical evidence to support the increased pop, but the difference in charted hit locations between ’15 and ’16 per MLBfarm.com are far too different to ignore. I think it’s likely that Bregman’s approach will eternally prioritize contact, but also that this newfound proclivity for power combined with Houston’s Crawford Boxes will lead to 20-plus annual homers. I don’t think Bregman has or will have plus raw power, but I think the quality of contact he makes combined with Minute Maid Park’s short porch in right field might allow him to have plus power output.
While Bregman’s immediate impact will be as a pitch-mashing Swiss Army knife, I do think he’ll be Houston’s everyday shortstop on Opening Day of next year. Having scouted Carlos Correa in person this season, I believe Bregman represents a defensive upgrade there, however marginal. I don’t think it makes sense to make that change right now. Forcing Correa to learn a new position (he’s never played anything but shortstop) on the fly in the middle of a playoff race makes little sense, and removing his bat from the lineup so he can learn third base in a brief minor-league stint is such a laughable idea that I hate myself for even giving it half a sentence’s worth of thought. Rather, considering the way the pieces of Houston’ infield might be shuffled about during the offseason is necessary to present you the tool grades for Alex Bregman, for which I consider him at shortstop.
Raw Power: 50/50
Game Power: 50/60
Translated, that’s about four wins annually. I think Bregman is a .300-hitting extra-base machine who yanks out about 20 homers per year while playing passable defense at short and an endearing brand of baseball.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.