The List: Eight Prospects With Strike Zone Red Flags

It’s still early in the minor league season, but we’re at the point where we have meaningful data on players, both in terms of their performance and traditional scouting methods.

For hitters, the ability to control the strike zone is crucial. Whether it’s plate discipline, pitch recognition or just swinging and missing through too many pitches in the strike zone, many promising prospects with tremendous raw tools have never been able to make the next step because of their inability to hone the strike zone.

That doesn’t mean every minor league hitter with a low walk rate or a high strikeout rate is a bust waiting to happen. Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is an example of a player who never walked much in the minors but has become one of the best players in the game. And we have seen plenty of minor league hitters whose best skill was their ability to draw a walk never have success beyond the minors.

So while plate discipline is not necessarily a make-or-break factor in predicting a prospect’s future, it’s a red flag when hitters are having trouble recognizing spin, fishing for too many pitches outside the strike zone or are getting beat in the zone with stuff exposing holes in their swing. Hitters can certainly develop and cut down on those holes, but the pitching they’re going to face only gets better as they move through the minors.

The hitters listed below are all examples of talented prospects who have red flags in their game related to their ability to control the strike zone. Some of these players are struggling, while others are off to seemingly great starts but have underlying issues that are cause for concern going forward.

1. Tim Anderson, ss, White Sox

Plate discipline has long been a concern with Anderson, but even with his aggressive approach he shined last year upon his jump to Double-A Birmingham. This year in Triple-A Charlotte, one of the most favorable parks in the minors for hitters, Anderson is hitting .287/.310/.380. Anderson is a premium athlete with plus-plus wheels and quick bat speed, but with five walks and 38 strikeouts in 155 plate appearances, his free-swinging tendencies hamper his ability to get on base.

2. Daz Cameron, of, Astros

Cameron signed for $4 million as the No. 37 overall pick in last year’s draft, but the early returns have been ugly, to the point where the Astros sent him back to extended spring training after May 1. Cameron has swung and missed liberally, with 33 strikeouts in 87 plate appearances (38 percent), eight walks and a .143/.221/.221 overall line for low Class A Quad Cities. The good news is Cameron has still looked excellent defensively, with multiple diving catches. And if Cameron needs inspiration for how to turn things around after struggling in the Midwest League, he can just ask his father, Mike, who batted .238/.292/.297 in 122 games for South Bend as a 20-year-old, then eventually became one of the game’s premier center fielders.

3. Austin Riley, 3b, Braves

Riley got off to a torrid start in his pro debut last season, batting .304/.389/.544 with 12 home runs in 60 games between two levels of Rookie ball. Riley has big-time raw power, but low Class A pitching has exposed more holes in Riley’s swing, with nine walks and 44 strikeouts in 137 plate appearances for a .248/.299/.400 line overall.

4. Jake Gatewood, 3b, Brewers

Size can be a double-edged sword for hitters. In general, the bigger hitter will usually have more power potential than the shrimp, but at a certain point, being too tall works against a hitter. Being taller means the hitter has a larger strike zone he has to cover, and with longer arms often comes a longer swing with more holes. Gatewood has serious raw power, but he’s hitting just .267/.277/.444 in 137 plate appearances. His free-swinging, all-or-nothing approach holds him back, with only one walk and 41 strikeouts for low Class A Wisconsin.

5. Monte Harrison, of, Brewers

When the Brewers drafted Harrison out of high school in the second round of the 2014 draft, he looked like a player who could combine top-shelf athleticism with a patient hitting approach to develop into a dynamic prospect. Instead, Harrison has been held bag by injuries and excessive strikeouts. Harrison’s bat speed, foot speed and arm strength are still impressive raw tools, but he has hit just .160/.243/.210 with nine walks and 39 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances in the low Class A Midwest League.

6. Eric Jenkins, of, Rangers

The Rangers rolling the dice on a raw, toolsy, high-upside high school player with one of their top picks? That sounds familiar. Nick Williams, Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson have all broken through as premium prospects, and while Jenkins doesn’t have the raw power to match any of those three, he’s a dynamic athlete with plus-plus speed. Rangers minor league hitting coaches have done a stellar job getting prospects to cut down on strikeouts, something Jenkins will have to do as he’s hitting .206/.263/.298 in 158 plate appearances with 11 walks and 48 strikeouts for low Class A Hickory.

7. Javier Guerra, ss, Padres

Guerra doesn’t have to be a prolific hitter to be a valuable player. He’s a plus defender at shortstop, with smooth actions, a quick first step and a nose for the ball to go with a plus arm. As long as he can be serviceable at the plate, Guerra can be an everyday shortstop. To do that, Guerra will have to stop chasing so many pitches outside the strike zone. He’s hitting .221/.280/.359 for high Class A Lake Elsinore, with 11 walks and 46 strikeouts in 144 plate appearances.

8. Travis Demeritte, 2b, Rangers

On the surface, Demeritte looks like he’s in the midst of a breakout season, batting .278/.366/.677 with 12 home runs in 35 games for high Class A High Desert. Demeritte’s quick hands and plus raw power are legitimate, and he has taken a step forward from where he was a year ago. Yet High Desert is still a launching pad, and once he leaves there, the underlying swing-and-miss issues and chase tendencies will get magnified. His 18 walks in 153 plate appearances aren’t a problem, but the 53 strikeouts (a 35 percent K-rate) are a concern.


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