Many prospect followers have recognized the importance of plate discipline in the future success of a minor league prospect. Batting average and home runs are sexier stats to get excited about, but k:bb ratio is often an important marker of a prospect’s approach at the plate. In this post, I will take a look at the plate discipline of the Yankees’ top hitting prospects, to see whether there are potential red flags or bright spots in their current performance. As with any analysis this early in the season, small sample size caveats do apply.
Jesus Montero: By most accounts, Montero is having a strong season in his return to Scranton. His gaudy .362 average has impressed many (though he was hitting in the .400′s fairly recently). We haven’t gotten too worried about his lack of home runs (only 1 on the season) because of his track record of power production. Similarly, it may be too early to worry too much about Montero’s 13:0 k:bb ratio (in 16 games), but it is definitely something I will keep an eye on. I’m hoping that this doesn’t signify a change of approach, and that he is pressing in the hope of impressing the major league brass. Nonetheless, it is strange to me that a power hitter who was on a hot streak would not be drawing any walks.
Austin Romine: Austin Romine is off to a great start in his 2nd AA season, with a .932 OPS in the early going. What is also encouraging is Romine’s 10:9 k:bb ratio, which shows that he is being fairly selective at the plate. Romine has never had plate discipline this good in his minor league career, so this could be a small sample size aberration, the result of a player too advanced for the league he is playing in, or a real change in approach. I’m hoping it’s the third possibility, but we’ll have to wait and see how that figure hold up over the rest of the season.
Slade Heathcott: Like Romine, Heathcott has impressed while repeating a level. Slade is off to a 1.082 OPS start through 20 games, with an 21:11 k:bb ratio. The strikeout rate is high, but the walk rate is also pretty solid. This ratio may reflect the fact that Heathcott is hitting for significantly more power than he did in 2010, and may be striking out more as a result of a changed approach. Nonetheless, he is taking his fair share of walks, which bodes well for the sustainability of his improvement.
Gary Sanchez: Sanchez is off to a slow start for low-A Charleston, with his .222/.254/.317 line blowing nobody away. To make matters worse, Sanchez has walked just 3 times in 15 games, and fanned a whopping 23 times. Sanchez has looked overmatched in the early going in Charleston, and the high strikeout rate (and low walk rate) support that assertion. There are rumors that Sanchez will be sent to short-season Staten Island (a slight demotion) when their season begins, which may make sense if Sanchez continues to struggle. He’s just 18 playing in full season ball, so it’s hard for me to worry too much about Sanchez’s future.
In conclusion, among these top 4 prospects, there are some red flags and some positive signs. Romine’s discipline seems to be a positive sign that his success so far is sustainable, and he may be taking a step forward after a rough end to 2010. Montero’s strong batting average so far may be masking some warning signs, however, as his power is down and he has yet to draw a single walk. Montero has historically been a player who gets stronger as the weather gets warmer, so it’s too early to get concerned yet. Heathcott’s walk rate bodes well for future success, though his strikeout rate is cause for concern. As for Gary Sanchez, his struggles are evident, and they are manifested by his high strikeout rate and few walks.
These are early results, but I will be following the plate discipline of these and many other Yankee prospects, to look for trends. I’m hoping Romine and Heathcott can continue to demonstrate good plate discipline, while Montero and Sanchez have room for improvement (and track records that suggest that they will).
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