(Photo via the Statemen’s Journal, Scobel Wiggins)
Comparisons are an arcane science. Many are meant to be harmless; a simple comparison of one player to another you already have a construct of in your mind, to better understand the unknown commodity. Using them, however, often leads to one thinking Player A is actually Player B, in a variety of respects that were unintended when the initial comparison was made.
This trap is what causes many to dislike comparisons. Kevin Durant said it best in one of his many sit-downs with Boston’s sports Messiah, Bill Simmons, questioning why Simmons kept wanting to compare players in the coming NBA Draft to current Superstars; let them be themselves is paraphrasing Durant’s stance. But Simmons rebuttal made sense. Comparisons are there to help others obtain a blueprint to understand a player for those who have never seen them play, even if no player is identical to one another. (Can we make exception with Dansby Swanson and Charlie Culberson?).
I tried my hardest to stop comparisons from percolating out of thin air, but given the prolonged exposure to many talents currently in the major leagues, my self control was lacking in this exercise. The below comparisons serve as a blueprint for what was going on in my mind after varying levels of exposure to some of highest profile talents that will be selected on June 4. For some, I felt a purely aesthetic connection – Player A looks like Player B – and nothing more. Others were a combination of looks and skillset.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with any of these comps and where they fall on the looks and skillset spectrum, they exist to give you a better understanding of the following three players as the MBL Draft nears.
Connor Scott, OF, Plant High School (FL)
If I was a betting man – which I now can be, legally – I would put a lot of money on MLB Network mentioning Connor Scott’s name in tandem with Kyle Tucker upon selection. Both tall, lean and left-handed, and both from the same high school in Florida (Plant); the similarities even extend to how much each hitter uses their hands to generate power and bat speed. Scott’s hand load is slightly higher than Tucker’s, giving Tucker slightly more natural lift that allows projection to plus power at the major league level. Scott also wraps his bat slightly more than Tucker, who even back in his pre-professional days was able to limit his barrel movement outside of his hand pump. Tucker’s lower hand load allows for him to launch balls in the bottom third of the zone, creating some Adrian Beltre-esque homers from the left side as he drops his back knee close to the ground.
The angle above, however, is relatively deceptive.
Scott starts his stance slightly open, with a less noticeable timing mechanism than Tucker’s hand pump (which has been refined since this video). The higher hand load of Scott stands out in this frame as well.
The differences between both create intrigue around how Scott will develop through the minor leagues, especially given the Astros ability to subtly tweak Tucker, maintaining his structure, but making considerable improvements to the overall result. Whether the same occurs with Scott depends on a variety of factors, including the organization he is drafted by, which in short order we will know.
Nick Madrigal, 2B/SS, Oregon State
Short, energetic middle infielders will forever be compared to Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve – it’s inevitable. The issue with this comparison, and many others as mentioned above, is the baseline assumption that success will come at equal levels. While I hope that is true for Madrigal, it unfortunately cannot be guaranteed given the drastically different outcomes even some of the “highest floor” names will have.
Most noticeable in Madrigal’s mechanics is his large leg kick, easily spotted as it emerges from his 5-foot-8 frame. The Jose Altuve comparison above does a great job of showcasing the differences between the two hitters in even with this high-level similarity.
For one, Madrigal’s barrel path into the zone is substantially longer than Altuve’s. Madrigal’s bat is perpendicular to the ground as he loads, while Altuve loads his hands back instead of up, cutting out additional length. Altuve’s lower half is also substantially more engaged in his swing. While it looks like Madrigal’s lower half is doing a lot of work, his transfer of weight forward isn’t as efficient as Altuve’s. After contact, if you watch each hitter’s front foot, Altuve’s rolls over, signaling the force of rotation as he stays inside the ball. Madrigal is able to rely more on his hands in the above swing after getting his front foot down, something I’m interested to see how hitting coaches at higher levels adjust with Madrigal given his inclination for such a deep leg kick with the appearance of less actual efficient movement.
All this isn’t to say Madrigal is a bad hitter because that’s a losing proposition. Rather, it shows the distance between hitters of varying calibers even with aesthetic similarities.
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Waukesha High School (WI)
Although nobody is expecting Kelenic to post multiple 30-plus stolen base seasons at the major league level, what stood out to me when seeing the Wisconsin high schooler for the first time was how his front leg and short follow-through were both reminiscent of Jacoby Ellsbury. Both possessing eerily similar front-leg mechanics, using the limb as a way to start the build of power into their back hip, but more notable as a simple lift-and-drop timing mechanism.
While the it might look like Kelenic is slightly more closed off in his upper body and lower half, that’s more due to the angle of the camera than true differences in their set-up. As both hitters are going the other way with a pitch on the out-third, this inside-out approach to the ball is something both hitters employ in a variety of their other at-bats.
Similar to Connor Scott’s hands staying higher than Kyle Tucker’s in our first comparison, the one true difference might be in the angle at which Kelenic’s bat approaches the ball compared to Kelenic. Ellsbury’s hands come through slightly lower upon rotation of his upper body, as his hands drop even with his back shoulder when loading. Kelenic keeps his hands higher for most of his swing, with presumably less of a tendency to drop below or even with his back shoulder like Ellsbury. This provides some irrational confidence that Kelenic might be able to keep most of the balls he hits the other way on a line, as opposed to getting under pitches like Ellsbury has a tendency to do.
Most interesting will be whether Kelenic mimics Ellsbury’s line-drive and groundball tendency throughout his career, or if he makes adjustments to embrace the fly-ball approach so many hitters have adopted, particularly to his pull side. Many think Kelenic hides plus power in his 6-foot-1 frame and with some assumption that his gap-to-gap approach sticks at higher levels, we might be looking a player with all-fields power, something Ellsbury never had.
This comparison resembles more of the aesthetic comparison than skillset, with the major hope remaining that none of the hitters in this draft compare well to the book of injuries Ellsbury has been sidelined with for the majority of his career.
The MLB Draft is June 4 and I’ll be watching closely to see which organization takes a chance on the names mentioned above.