Stocking Your Scout Team: Outfield
Shortstop might be the most coveted position among prospectors but outfield is a close second, with plenty of youngsters at the lower levels flashing tools that make dynasty leaguers salivate. I’m up to my neck in drafts and hope you are too, so let’s get right to it. Here are a few young outfielders that I wouldn’t draft outside of very deep leagues but who are worth monitoring early in the season. Not included are a couple of my favorites, Magneuris Sierra, who JJ Jansons profiled here and Anthony Alford, who I wrote up here. The former is a popular breakout candidate in the scouting community, reportedly garnering some consideration for Baseball America’s top 100 while the latter is miles away but possesses a raw power/speed combination that is unrivaled.
Aristides Aquino, Cincinnati Reds Aquino was signed out of the Dominican in 2011 and really took off last year after spending all but 66 at-bats at the complex level previous to 2014. Aquino has a strong, athletic body and across-the-board tools that are both present and projectable. He spent all of 2014 in the Pioneer league at the age of 20 facing pitchers roughly a full year older than him, many of whom have college experience. Multiple outlets have mentioned Vlad Guerrero when discussing Aquino, and the similarities are certainly there. Aquino has a big arm in right field and used it to lead the Pioneer League in assists last year. The comparison also holds in Aquino’s approach at the dish. He is an aggressive hitter but showed a little more willingness to work counts and wait for his pitch last year on his way to a .292/.342/.577 line that included 16 home runs. That he was able to tap into his plus raw power in games is perhaps the most encouraging aspect of his 2014 performance. Aquino also swiped 21 bags in 26 attempts and while that overstates his potential on the base paths at the upper levels, he does have above-average speed and could steal 20 bases over a full season in his prime. Comparing anyone to one of the most electric players of his time is unfair, especially a player this young and this far away, but Aquino has loud tools and I can’t wait to get a look at him in his first year of full-season ball.
Scott Schebler, Los Angeles Dodgers A former 26th round draft pick, Schebler produced a .296/.360/.581 line with 27 home runs in 2013 that opened some eyes. If you wanted to dismiss it, you didn’t have to work very hard; the Cal League environment and scouts’ near-unanimous pessimism about the underlying tools were both acceptable arguments. After his follow-up in at double-A Chattanooga in 2014, it’s getting harder to write off the production. Schebler dominated the Southern League, using an improved approach to record league-leading tallies in extra base hits, triples, homers, and slugging percentage. He increased his walk rate from 6.6 percent to 8.0 percent and more impressively, trimmed his strikeout rate from 26.2 percent to 19.6 percent. Schebler’s ability to make adjustments both within games and over the course of a season has been noted by several scouts as a reason for his success. He will need to continue to adjust as he climbs the ladder, as there is still prevalent skepticism about whether his hit tool will play against major league pitching. In addition to the successful double-A season, Schebler played in the Arizona Fall League and batted .310/.352/.524 with five homers in 91 plate appearances. That line comes with the standard small sample size caveats and a reminder that the AFL is favorable to offense, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The Dodgers outfield depth chart is as crowded as any unit in baseball so it will take a trade, injuries, and/or time before Schebler makes it to the big leagues. Invest early if he starts off hot in the hitter-friendly PCL.
Champ Stuart, New York Mets Stuart is a Bahamas native who was a three sport star in Asheville, North Carolina before playing college baseball at nearby Division II school Brevard. He has top-of-the-scale speed but his fantasy utility is entirely dependent on the continued development of his bat. Stuart played 2014 at single-A Savannah. His 10.9 percent walk rate demonstrates his willingness to take ball four and get those double-plus wheels on the base paths but his 29.4 percent strikeout rate indicates that the bat has a long way to go. He does have more pop than you might expect from someone whose carrying tool is speed, as he out-slugged fellow 2013 draftee/first rounder/first baseman Dominic Smith (okay, that’s not saying a whole lot). Billy Hamilton is a lazy comp that many will use for any player with 80 grade speed but Hamilton is an extreme best case scenario for someone like Stuart, not a comparable. No matter how you feel about Hamilton’s ability to hit in the majors, his 2012 season at high-A and double-A was extraordinary. Hamilton batted .311/.410/.420 and stole 155 bases at the age of 22, the same age Stuart was in 2014 when he hit .256/.340/.341 with 29 steals. Yes, they’re both very fast humans but there is a gulf between where Stuart is now and where he needs to be in order to have any impact. I’m mentioning him here because he has an elite tool but this is a low-probability profile for now. Stuart should repeat class-A Savannah and I’ll be watching to see if his bat can take a step forward.