- Full name Hunter Andrew Pence
- Born 04/13/1983 in Fort Worth, TX
- Profile Ht.: 6'4" / Wt.: 216 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- School Texas-Arlington
- Debut 04/28/2007
Drafted in the 2nd round (64th overall) by the Houston Astros in 2004 (signed for $575,000).
View Draft ReportOF Hunter Pence isn't going to win any beauty contests, but he swings one of meanest bats in Texas. Pence, the Southland Conference player of the year, led the league in batting (.395) and slugging (.616). He looks gangly at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds and his swing isn't a classic stroke. But he has good plate coverage and strength, and he runs well for his size. His arm strength will limit him to left field.
Organization Prospect Rankings
Pence was the Southland Conference player of the year and batting champ (.395) in 2004, but he wasn't a premium draft prospect because he looked gangly and awkward and used an unorthodox set-up at the plate. Higher on him than most clubs, the Astros made him their top pick, taking him in the second round (64th overall) and signing him for $575,000. He has gotten better as he has moved up the ladder, slowed only by a strained left quadriceps in the second half of 2005. Managers rated him the most exciting player in the Double-A Texas League last year, and Pence batted .387 with a team-high nine RBIs in the playoffs, leading Corpus Christi to a championship. Pence batted .339 in the Arizona Fall League before the Astros suspended him following a drunken-driving charge in late October. Pence doesn't do anything pretty but he does most things well. His approach at the plate is anything but textbook, as he chokes up on the bat and has a hitch in his swing. There were concerns that advanced pitchers might be able to pound him inside, but he put that notion to rest in Double-A. Pence has quick hands, terrific bat speed and plenty of strength, so he has no problem catching up to any fastball. He tinkered with his load last year, lifting his back elbow and turning his right wrist slightly so he could impart more backspin on balls. That improved his ability to drive pitches, which he does to all fields. Pence isn't the most fluid runner, but he has above-average speed and an aggressive nature on the basepaths. He stole 17 bases in 21 tries in 2006 after going just 12-for-22 over his first three pro seasons. When he entered pro ball, he had a below-average arm that figured to limit him to left field. But he since has improved his throwing mechanics, accuracy and arm strength. While his arm action still looks funky, he had 13 assists last year while spending most of his time in right field. He also saw extended action in center down the stretch. He brings a high energy mindset to the ballpark every day. While Pence has solid plate discipline, he also has a bad habit of chasing sliders off the plate. He uses an open stance and sets up away from the plate, so he sometimes has trouble covering the outside corner. Houston believes he can get the job done in center field, though scouts from outside the organization knock him for taking less than optimal routes to balls. The Astros praise his makeup and believe his embarrassment over the DUI charge last fall will mean it was just a one-time mistake. Houston would like to give Pence a couple of months at Triple-A Round Rock, but those plans may change after incumbent center fielder Willy Taveras went to the Rockies in December's Jason Jennings trade. Chris Burke is the favorite to replace Taveras, but Pence has a better arm and arguably better instincts in center. The long-term plan is for Burke to succeed Craig Biggio at second base, creating an outfield opening, but Pence could force the issue in 2007.
The Astros made Pence their top pick in 2004. He has done nothing but hit, tying for the system lead in homers in 2005 while finishing second in hitting (.327) and RBIs despite a strained left quadriceps. Pence doesn't look pretty at the plate, choking up on the bat and employing a hitch in his swing, but he has quick hands that enable him to get into good hitting position. He punishes fastballs and has power to all fields. Managers rated him the best hitter and the best power hitter in the South Atlantic League. His speed and athleticism are solid. Some scouts wonder if more advanced pitchers will take advantage of Pence's hitch by pounding him inside. Though he has played primarily center field in the minors, he's destined for left. He doesn't get good jumps and reads on fly balls, and his arm is below-average. Pence has been old for his leagues and needs to be challenged. He'll move up to Double-A in 2006.
After Pence won the Southland Conference batting title (.395) and player-of-the-year award last spring, the Astros made him their top draft pick. Most teams didn't expect him to go as early as the second round, but he showed diverse tools during a strong pro debut. He doesn't have a classic swing and chokes up on the bat more than most players his size, but it works for Pence. He has quick hands, a feel for hitting and as much raw power as anyone in the system. He also controls the strike zone. Pence's gangly body is deceptive, because he's a good athlete with solid speed. He plays hard while keeping himself under control. Though Pence acquitted himself well playing center field at short-season Tri-City, his reads and arm are slightly below-average. He's going to have to move left field at higher levels, but the good news is that he should have enough bat for the position. Pence will begin his first full season with one of Houston's full-season Class A clubs, and he should be able to handle the jump to Salem if he skips a level. He quickly has become an organization favorite and could move more quickly than initially expected.
Minor League Top Prospects
In his first Double-A experience, Pence anchored the middle of the Corpus Christi lineup all season as the Hooks led the league in batting and won the championship. Clark said he expects Pence to do the same thing in the big leagues. "You put his name in the lineup every day and know something good is going to happen," Clark said. Pence is aggressive at the plate and has a lot of movement in his swing, raising questions about whether he'll get himself out against better pitching, but he showed the ability to make adjustments. He's a high-energy player who drew comparisons to Eric Byrnes for his intensity. "The clubhouse guy has a legitimate job getting his uniform clean every day," said a scout from an NL club. Pence offers a well-rounded package of tools, with only his arm rating below-average. Good speed makes him a solid defender, and he played both right and center field for the Hooks.
Pence was one of several college draftees who provided the SAL's biggest power bats, a group that also included Asheville first baseman Joe Koshansky and Greenville third baseman Andrew Pinckney. What separates Pence from the others are his consistency and athletic ability. But chiefly, it's his raw power. Pence hit 25 homers in just 302 at-bats because he has a simple, effective approach. He knows what pitches he can drive and attacks them aggressively with a knack for getting the fat part of the bat on the ball. His strength and raw power ranked with anyone's in the league, and he drives the ball to all fields. Managers thought he was the best batting prospect and best power prospect in the SAL. He's not a conventional player, as Bogar put it. "He's not a clean, pure runner, and he's not a clean, pure thrower, but he gets it done," Bogar said. A NL scout was less forgiving, saying Pence's awkward gait and throwing motion almost kept him from turning Pence in as a prospect, though he acknowledged his power.
Pence had as much power as anyone in the CL, though he wasn't as spectacular as he was in the South Atlantic League, where he went deep 25 times in 80 games. A strained quadriceps threw off his timing and he didn't find a groove with Salem until the end of August. His swing is unorthodox and he tends to choke up on the bat more than most big-bodied outfielders, but it works for him. He has quick hands, allowing him to turn on any fastball, and he controls the strike zone well. He has a below-average arm and doesn't take good routes or get good jumps in the outfield, leaving left field as his only option defensively.
Pence was a surprise second-rounder, going to the Astros with their top pick. But he definitely can hit, stinging the ball to all fields and showing good plate discipline. His swing isn't picturesque, but he sets up well and has an effective trigger. "He has incredible hand and bat speed, the ability to hit it out anywhere," Langbehn said. "His power to all fields is pretty special." Though he's gangly, Pence played some center field for Tri-City and was able to run down balls in the gap. He's a sound defender, albeit with a lackluster arm, and probably will wind up in left field.
Top 100 Rankings
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Power Hitter in the Houston Astros in 2007
- Rated Best Hitter for Average in the Houston Astros in 2007
- Rated Most Exciting Player in the Texas League in 2006
- Rated Best Hitter for Average in the Houston Astros in 2006
- Rated Best Power Prospect in the South Atlantic League in 2005
- Rated Best Batting Prospect in the South Atlantic League in 2005