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Hitting Data Standouts From The 2023 MLB Draft (Part 1)


Image credit: Kyle Teel (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Last month we discussed some of the top pitchers in the 2023 draft based on their outstanding data profiles. We discussed pitch movement, projection and athleticism.

This week, we’ll take a similar approach to the top positional prospects based on batted ball data, plate skills and most importantly, athleticism. The only mantra is “bet on the athlete” and by looking at athletic testing and explosiveness, we can begin to project bat speed, power and general explosiveness of these athletes. Discussed below is a group of top athletes selected on day one of the most recent draft. 

Dylan Crews, OF, Nationals
Louisiana State—Round 1, Pick 2

The top position player drafted this July, Crews has been a well-known name in the world of amateur baseball dating back to his early high school years. At one point Crews was considered one of the top prep players in the 2020 draft, but thanks to an underwhelming draft summer and a strong commitment to LSU, Crews matriculated to campus. While at LSU, Crews proved to be one of the best collegiate players in recent memory, pairing elite plate approach and pitch recognition skills with above-average power and athleticism. 

There are some questions about how Crews’ power will play, as well as the true quality of his bat-to-ball skills. Digging into the three years of data (per Synergy Sports), there are some clear trends, positive and negative, that define Crews’ profile at the plate. 

First the positives: Crews is an excellent fastball hitter, as he’s hit .397/.519/.726 with 36 home runs across 1,856 pitches. When you shrink the sample to pitches at 95-plus mph, his slash line actually improves to .432/.600/.811 with four home runs over a 181-pitch sample. His contact rate against fastballs is 86% with just a 17% chase rate. His power is to all fields, as his career home run spray chart shows an even distribution to right, center and left field. His career chase rates are excellent, as he boasts a swing rate of 25% or lower against fastballs, sliders and curveballs. Throughout Crews’ collegiate career he has an OPS of 1.000 or higher against all pitch types and doesn’t have a slugging percentage below .500 against any single pitch type. 

Now for the potential red flags. There’s been a fair amount of conversation around Crews’ launch angles on batted balls. Much of this concern is valid and we can see it in his higher groundball rate. Crews’ swing, though powerful, is fairly level. His launch angle average on balls in play hit 95-plus mph this spring was 10.5 degrees, so it’s more of a wart than a glaring flaw. That said, if the Nationals are able to teach Crews to pull the ball with authority at better attack angles over time this all might be null and void within a few years. 

There’s definitely a tendency to swing-and-miss against spin. As shown by his numbers listed above, Crews’ struggles against spin and offspeed are relative. He has a tendency to expand the zone against changeups and whiff in-zone against sliders. 

His whiff rates against sliders, changeups and curveballs have all improved throughout his time as a collegiate. He did struggle with whiffs against sliders this year, running a 63% contact rate. Curveballs were a similar issue with a 65% contact rate against them this spring. Cutters were in a similar range at 64%, while generating chases at the highest rate of any pitch. The production overall against all of these pitches is solid but the whiffs against spin is something to monitor. 

Overall, Crews’ combination of contact, approach, power and athleticism will lead to success as a professional. His issues against spin and ground balls are all problems that can be worked on over the coming years. 

Max Clark, OF, Tigers
Franklin (Ind.) Community HS—Round 1, Pick 3

Arguably one of the most famous high school prospects in recent memory, Clark was seemingly everywhere over the last two years leading up to the draft. The Tigers selected Clark with the third overall pick, and he has an impressive combination of plate skills, athleticism and confidence. Clark is a smaller-framed player standing under 6 feet tall with a lean and wiry build. Clark is muscular already and may not have a ton of strength gains as he ages, but with a body that will mature in a positive direction. 

Clark’s advanced hit tool has been his calling card, with the ability to change a game with his explosiveness. Clark rarely if ever swung and missed on the showcase circuit, showing strong contact rates against all pitch types. His approach is advanced as well, showing strong swing decisions and the ability to pick up spin and discern balls from strikes. He hits lefthanded pitching remarkably well for a lefthanded batter. From a strictly plate skills perspective few players were better than Clark in this draft. 

Where Clark may find some detractors is with his batted ball profile. While the outfielder makes lots of contact, he produced a groundball rate well above 50% on the showcase circuit. Many poorly hit ground balls turned into hits due to Clark’s plus-plus speed. He has a tendency to throw the barrel at the ball at times, which drains from some of his raw power. His swing is fairly level as well, which causes his best contact to come in the form of hard liners. Clark has the bat speed and athleticism to make adjustments to his bat path to unlock above-average raw power. 

If everything clicks for Clark, he could develop in a similar form to last year’s top pick Jackson Holliday. He’s a well-rounded, hit tool-driven player with tools at a premium defensive position. 

Walker Jenkins, OF, Twins
South Brunswick HS, Southport, N.C.—Round 1, Pick 5

The debate may rage on for years as to who the better player is between Jenkins and Clark. The former is a smooth-swinging power hitter with advanced hitting skills, while the latter is a well-rounded gap-to-gap hitter with a high-energy game. Jenkins dealt with a hamate injury that limited his at-bats over the summer of 2022, but it hardly impacted his prospect status. His advanced combination of plate skills and power made him a top-10 pick, but it might be his athleticism that allows him to flourish as a professional. 

Jenkins might not get the billing as an outlier athlete but his athletic testing ranked highly among the 2023 class. He stands 6-foot-3 with good strength and projects to become more physical in the coming years. His smooth lefthanded swing and loose hands allow him to adjust to a variety of locations and pulverize mistakes over the plate. Jenkins’ best-hit balls are majestic flyballs from the middle to the pull side. He can backspin the ball with ease but is adept at going the other way or hitting a hard-hit ground ball up the middle. Jenkins is more than just a power bat, he’s a well-rounded hitter with projection remaining. 

While Jenkins had as many hits as he had swinging strikes during the 2022 showcase season, he did show some struggles against changeups, albeit in a very small sample. He did perform well against spin and offspeed from a production standpoint, so it’s likely much ado about nothing. There are not many flaws to pick apart with Jenkins’ game. He has sneaky above-average running ability and has shown the ability to play an average center field. He’s likely destined for a corner, where his plus throwing arm will play. He’s a potential star in the making with plenty of upside. 

Kyle Teel, C, Red Sox
Virginia—Round 1, Pick 12

An athletic catcher with a long track record of success on the national stage, Teel was the Red Sox top pick in this July’s draft and has an exciting combination of plate skills, athleticism and power projection. He has the ability to stick behind the plate long term with a plus arm. His advanced hitting skills give Teel an opportunity to develop into a star. With time spent not only at Virginia, but with Team USA and the Harwich Mariners in the Cape Cod League, we have a sizable amount of data over the last year with which to work. 

Teel’s ability to hit for both contact and power is well represented within the numbers, with an overall contact rate of 81% and an in-zone contact rate near 90%. His exit velocity data is above-average with an average exit velocity of 89 mph and a 90th percentile exit velocity of 106 mph. Teel has a slightly aggressive approach and expands the zone at a higher than normal rate, but it’s in check enough to avoid raising any red flags. 

He has little issue handling a variety of pitch types, with no pitch type generating a higher whiff rate than 27%. His splits against lefthanded pitching leave something to be desired. In 87 at-bats between the Cape, Team USA and his 2023 spring with Virginia, Teel hit .243/.356/.270 against lefthanded pitching. It wasn’t a matter of elevated whiff against lefties but a matter of an overly passive approach against samehanded pitching. Teel seemed more than fine taking his walks against lefthanders, employing a more passive approach backed by the drop in swing rate against southpaws. 

While this is a concern, Teel did significant damage against righthanded pitching, hitting a robust .424/.490/.714 across all competitions. Teel is an exciting catching prospect with the athleticism to move off the position and the impact in his bat to develop into a top prospect. 

Bryce Eldridge, 1B/RHP, Giants
Madison HS, Vienna, Va.—Round 1, Pick 16

The game of baseball has always relied on the abilities of outliers, but a new generation of athletes has taken the game by storm. Chief among them is Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani. While many two-way players have heard their names called high in the draft in recent years none have had the ability to excel as both a pitcher and position player. Eldridge is attempting to do that. An outlier athlete at 6-foot-7, Eldridge is both a lefthanded slugger with feel to hit and a power lefthander on the mound, touching the mid 90s and boasting a three-pitch mix. 

His breaking ball misses bats, and his fastball has some late movement with plenty of velocity projection remaining. The Giants have drafted legitimate two-way talents in consecutive drafts and obviously value these unique talents highly. Eldridge possesses real upside on both sides of the ball. At the plate he’s a raw slugger with lefthanded power and some whiff worries against spin. 

In many ways at the plate his size, body type and swing remind me of Spencer Jones, another player who was a two-way star as an amateur. Eldridge backspins baseballs off of his barrel and displays true plus-plus power on his best-struck hits. He did struggle against spin on the showcase circuit, so there will be some patience needed, but the end results could be a true two-way player with exciting tools. 

Johnny Farmelo, OF, Mariners
Westfield HS, Chantilly, Va.Round 1, Pick 29

One of two Mariners picks at the end of the first round, Farmelo is a prototypical baseball athlete. He stands 6-foot-2 with a lean and wiry frame that oozes projection and sustainable athleticism. He’s an easy plus runner who will turn in plus-plus run times, and there’s power in his quick lefthanded swing. His athletic testing was excellent as well, performing well in tests that correlate to power and explosiveness. 

A smooth lefthanded swing might be the first thing you’d jot down on your notes after watching Farmelo. There are very few moving parts, with natural loft and loose, adjustable hands. Farmelo showed the ability to hit pitches all over the zone and make adjustments. He struggled against spin, doing most of his damage against fastballs and changeups across the video available from the summer showcase. He has bat speed and a steeper attack angle, two traits that are conducive for hitting for power. He showed above-average contact skills and rarely swings and misses in-zone. He doesn’t expand the zone with great frequency and showed a strong ability to recognize balls and strikes. 

Farmelo is one of those players who is a loose athlete in everything he does. This could translate to an above-average hit tool, above-average power, plus speed and center field defense. While he may lack the true all-star upside of Jenkins or Clark, Farmelo could be an above-average regular for many years. 

Tai Peete, SS, Mariners
Trinity Christian HS, Sharpsburg, Ga.—Round 1, Pick 30

The second of two high school players the Mariners selected at the back of the first round, Peete is a loose, twitchy athlete with a high-waisted 6-foot-3 frame and a lot of physical projection remaining. Peete was a two-way standout for much of his amateur career, but was forced off the mound this spring due to an elbow injury. He is unlikely to return to pitching, as he’s an exciting positional prospect who could develop into an athletic power hitter with a high defensive floor. 

Peete has limited time as a hitter, but it’s easy to see his raw power from a single batting practice and his bat speed stands out as arguably his greatest tool. His approach is aggressive and his bat-to-ball skills are below-average, but he does show hitter tendencies with a tremendous power ceiling. He’s an above-average runner and offers some combination of power and speed. He’s likely to move off of shortstop but his plus arm would certainly play at third base. There’s also the option of moving Peete to center field, where his above-average running ability and long strides would translate. 

Peete is a project who will likely take some time to develop, but he’s an extremely high-upside gamble should he refine his plate skills. 

Sammy Stafura, SS, Reds 
Walter Panas HS, Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.—Round 2, Pick 42 

Though he lasted until pick 42 in the second round, Stafura had plenty of first-round buzz. He has just an average build, but Stafura is an explosive athlete. His athleticism translates to plus run times and in-game power. How much he hits will be a matter of finding a balance between attacking at the right times. He’s not overly aggressive at the plate, but is susceptible to spin. 

While Stafura needs work from a skills perspective his natural abilities and future projection capture your attention. There’s power and plus speed with the ability to play in the middle infield. His swing will likely need some work as he has a tendency to get stiff from an accentuated crouch in his setup. Stafura’s best contact backspins off the barrel and carries to right-center. His swing comes with some effort but there is bat speed and the hint of more to come due to his plus athleticism. 

Stafura will likely be a slow burn, as his plate skills need refinement, but he has above-average regular upside. 

Nazzan Zanetello, SS, Red Sox
Christian Brothers College HS, St. Louis, Mo.—Round 2 Pick 50

One of the top athletes in the draft, Zanetello is one of the few athletes where we have pro-style athletic testing publicly available. He tested out as an elite athlete per the Loden score, and was an outlier as far as quickness, speed and power. While Zanetello is plenty raw from a skills perspective, he’s a twitchy, explosive athlete with a wiry, projectable 6-foot-2 frame. 

Zanetello rarely chases outside the zone, with a low chase rate on the summer circuit last season. He does, however, lack pure bat-to-ball ability, leading to a fair amount of swing-and-miss. His explosiveness at the plate lends hope that he can overcome his lack of contact and have impact power. His bat speed is eye-catching as he takes powerful strokes. As a runner Zanetello is easily plus, with quick explosive strides at take off, and he gets to top speed quickly. He’s also shown skills in center field in addition to shortstop, hinting at potential positional flexibility. 

Zanetello is a classic case of betting on the athlete and hoping the rest takes care of itself with time. There’s an extremely high-level power and speed ceiling in an up-the-middle defensive profile. 

Walker Martin, SS, Giants 
Eaton (Colo.) HS Round 2 Pick 52

It came as a surprise that Martin dropped into the second round, but the Colorado prep star signed for well above slot at $3 million. A three sport star at Eaton (Colo.) High, Martin took off the winter basketball season after leading the team in scoring and rebounding his junior year. Over this off time, Martin prepared for the upcoming baseball season by adding 25 pounds of muscle. He tested with Loden Sports and ranked out as a 10, putting Martin within the top 1% of the class for athletic testing scores. 

It’s not just a matter of tools and raw athleticism with Martin. He also has an impressive combination of tools, size and athleticism. Martin’s 20 home runs this spring led the country, while playing an athletic shortstop. It’s shades of Brady House in regards to his combination of size, athleticism and game power. He has a real chance to stick at shortstop and if he moves off, his athleticism will allow him to find a home at another position. 

The biggest knock on Martin was his age, as he was 19 and four months at the time of the draft. While the stigma around older players has lessened in recent years, it was certainly a very public concern with Martin. From a skills standpoint few prospects have the potential upside Martin possesses with plus power and a strong, explosive build. 

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