Most statistical research is done by looking at large populations and immense data sets to find trends and patterns, but case studies can also be very useful when one wants to look at a particular context. That’s what I would like to do here. Instead of looking at minor league players in general, I would like to use certain scouting profiles to examine current major-league players and how they performed in the minors to see if there are patterns we can find that will help us highlight prospects. Today, I’ll take a look at slap hitters.
When we talk about slap hitters, we generally mean smaller (in height) and/or slighter (in build) players who prefer to use their speed to get on base. What this usually means is sacrificing power by using less torque and a line-drive swing to put the ball on the ground and spray line drives. The hope is that the player posts a higher BA and OBP while making an impact on the bases by stealing and taking the extra base to offset the presumed lack of power. Let’s look at some examples.
Jose Reyes – 107 career wRC+
Jose Reyes is up first. The switch-hitting shortstop moved through the minors quickly and as a very young man. He was able to maintain batting averages in the .280-.300 range by making a lot of contact and sustaining BABIPs in the .310-.330 range. Unlike many of the other players on this list, Reyes was already beginning to show signs of power, but he was also unable to draw many walks – something that plagued him early in his career.
Brett Gardner – 100 wRC+
Next up is Mr. Gardner. Gardner struck out a bit more than Reyes, but he was also able to obtain BABIPs in a higher range – generally .330-.375. Continuing with the contrast, the lefty outfielder couldn’t hit for the power of Reyes, but he did a much better job of drawing walks, which has become one of Gardner’s greatest offensive assets. While there aren’t too many similarities between Gardner and Reyes, they held fairly low K%, didn’t have K% that worsened as they moved up, and maintained high BABIPs.
Michael Bourn – 92 wRC+
Bourn looks a bit more like Gardner – higher walk rates, low ISO, and very high BABIPs. The speed that these hitters typically display will help with the BABIPs – that makes sense given that guys who just slap the ball around without any speed would probably just hit into a lot of groundouts. Bourn was hitting for a bit more power than Gardner, but Gardner was striking out less and walking a bit more.
Gregor Blanco – 90 wRC+
Blanco is an interesting case. You’ll notice high K rates and more power in the lower levels and his first trip to AA, but he rapidly changes the next season, sacrificing significant power for a much better contact rate. At that point, Greg White begins to start fitting the Bourn/Gardner mold of the .280 batting average with a high walk rate and relatively high strikeout rate, though his rates were finally below 20%. Those BABIPs get really high as well – .340-.370.
Juan Pierre – 85 wRC+
Pierre and Ben Revere, who is up next, share more in common with each other than the rest of the group. The elder lefty outfielder almost never struck out, and he walked little but more than he struck out. Pierre, however, demonstrated zero power with ISOs frequently in the .050s, but he had his excellent contact rates and high BABIPs – again in the .340-.360 range – to fall back on.
Ben Revere – 81 wRC+
The Man With Zero Career Major-League Home Runs also had excellent contact rates while not walking a lot or hitting for much power. Once Revere made it to the upper minors, those ISOs fell to around .060, but he still had BABIPs in the .320-.350 range.
Emilio Bonifacio – 79 wRC+
Bonifacio is about the point where a player becomes offensively inept enough that even his speed, baserunning, and defense make people wonder whether he’s worth giving significant at-bats to. With Bonifacio, you see the upper bounds of this group’s K rates – around 16-18% – and the lower bounds of the walk rates – 6-8% – along with poor power numbers – ISOs in the .060-.080 range. Boni’s speed, however, gave him high enough BABIPs to remain viable.
Prospect Focus: Billy Hamilton
Billy Hamilton is easily the most notable “slap hitter” of the prospect world, and his hitting is in question. How does he compare to the group? Looking first at his age, he’s arriving at the right age (22) – every member of this group makes it by 24, and most make it by 23 – so that’s a positive first step as age is one of the most important qualities of prospects. Hamilton’s K rate range of 18-20% is a little high for this group, and while he had a couple really high walk rates last season, the other walk rates of 7-9% are toward the lower end of the group. Despite the concerns about his power, Hamilton’s ISOs aren’t dissimilar to others in the group, and you’ll note his BABIPs of .360-.400 are definitely in the upper range of the group, which is not surprising given the hubbub about his speed.
My concern here remains the high strikeout rate because the others with high strikeout rates add higher walk rates or power rates, and his BABIP took a nasty dive this season to .311 and took his BA and OBP down with it. Looking strictly at the numbers here, Hamilton appears most like Emilio Bonifacio. Bonifacio has mostly been a 1-win player over the course of a season, and given my belief that Hamilton can add above-average to better defense in center to slightly to significantly more value on the bases than Bonifacio, Hamilton might find himself a 2-win player with the chance for more with some BABIP/HR fluctuation.