Infielder Nick Senzel has been an impact player for Tennessee ever since he arrived in Knoxville, but his draft stock took a major jump forward last summer when he was named MVP of the Cape Cod League and positioned himself as a first-round candidate heading into the spring.
He’s built on his momentum in his first 12 games this season, hitting .396/.500/.521 while answering some questions about his glove and where he’ll play at the next level. I caught Senzel when the Volunteers visited East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., as part of the 13th Annual Keith LeClair Classic last weekend. The video below starts with his pre-game batting practice in ECU’s indoor cages, then moves to pre-game infield and concludes with his first three at-bats from the game.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Senzel has a muscular, pro build that looks about five to 10 pounds denser. He’s barrel-chested with broad shoulders and, in general, well developed and proportioned. Though he won’t get much stronger than he already is, you probably don’t want him to, either, as added mass would just limit his flexibility and medium-twitch athleticism.
Senzel has the tools to hit for both average and power thanks to his feel for the barrel, natural strength and advanced strike-zone awareness. Equipped with a fluid swing that produces frequent hard contact and few misses, there’s a model illustration of his cut featuring a nice hand path at the 1:11 mark in the video. You’ll see that his first hand movement is down, which puts his bat on plane with the ball early and results in a frozen rope to the right of the shortstop.
Above is a freeze frame from that swing, which depicts good balance near the point of contact, as well as his ability to keep his hands inside the barrel and use the middle of the field. Notice in the video that his swing starts and finishes at basically the same speed; this happens because he stays inside the ball through contact as opposed to letting the bat whip through the zone. The benefit of this is that he’s able to use the entire field, but it’s also the reason why his above-average raw power doesn’t convert fully to games. At the time of this writing, Senzel has played 114 games for the Volunteers and hit just four home runs with a .466 slugging percentage. He definitely has enough strength and bat speed to hit 15-18 homers annually in the major leagues, but he may have to sacrifice some of his all-fields approach to make it happen.
He also has very good pitch recognition that, in those same 114 games, he’s used to collect 62 walks against 66 strikeouts. He shows the ability and patience to run the count deep, though his tracking skills make him dangerous early in counts when he’s more than willing to offer at something in the zone. It’s a sound approach, all in all, that should propel him through the low minors in short order.
The biggest question about Senzel entering the season was what position he’ll play, having alternated between second and third base throughout his college career. When you scout a position player, you don’t always get to see all the tools on full display in one game, but I was fortunate enough to see him at his best with the glove against East Carolina, which gave me an affirmative answer to that question.
The video of his pre-game work at third base isn’t really helpful, as he appeared indifferent to fielding the grounders being poked toward him, even bobbling a few that I edited out because they weren’t useful reflections of his effort or skill. His focus sharpened in the game, though, making three tough plays that showed he has enough hands, arm and athleticism to get the job done when his mind’s bent on it. The first of said plays came when he charged a slow roller hit down the line, barehanding it and throwing off balance for the out. He then repeated a similar feat later in the game before making a diving grab at his shoelaces, showing sufficient lateral agility and quickness in the process.
On the routine plays, you’ll see some stiffness in his fielding actions, but the natural instincts come out when he plays fast, and I think his hands are just good enough to stick there long term. He also has the requisite above-average arm strength. My concern with him playing second base is that he wouldn’t be able to cover the ground, and turning a double play probably wouldn’t come easily. The hand actions just aren’t the quick, compact variety that you see from major-league middle infielders.
In his second plate appearance, he grounded out to the second baseman and got down the line in 4.23 seconds, an average run time for a right-handed batter.
Relaxed and loose in batting practice, lethargic in pre-game infield. Turns up the intensity when the lights come on. Nonchalant preparation doesn’t affect performance. Plays with more effort than you’d expect from someone with his talent. Carries himself with confidence. Enjoys the game. Expresses positive emotion. Played an excellent all-around game.
Senzel entered the season as a candidate for the back half of the first round, but now that he’s allaying concerns about his glove and continues hitting, he may be forcing his way into the top 15 on teams’ draft boards. He doesn’t offer star upside, but the swing and the track record make you feel pretty good about his floor as a major league regular. As a good-case scenario, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits .280 with 15-18 homers from the two-hole through his peak years, providing passable defense at third base along the way.
Hit: 60 Raw Power: 55/60 Game Power: 50 Field: 40/45 Throw: 55/55 Run: 50/50 FV: 55
* Hit and game power grades are on future basis.
Another follow to watch:
- I came away impressed with Tennessee sophomore left-hander Zach Warren, who has an intriguing combination of size, stuff and feel to pitch. The first things you notice about the Volunteers’ Saturday starter is that he’s 6-foot-5, has a pretty easy delivery and creates a good angle with his fastball. For me, he sat 88-90 mph and bumped 91 a few times, and there’s more in the tank. He also showed a nice feel for a 73-76 mph curveball with some depth as well as an 80-82 mph changeup – both of which could develop into above-average offerings. This is a very interesting name for 2017 who I’m expecting to add velocity between now and the start of his junior season. If that happens, he’ll be in the top-three-rounds conversation.