Professional hitters in Peoria
There are certain terms used by baseball people I love. They are simple, yet say so much.
The first is when someone is called a “real baseball player.” It’s a true compliment, reserved for a player who plays the game the right way, understands the nuances of the game, does the little things, plays all-out. I think you get the picture. There might be an underlying inference that players who are “real baseball players” don’t have the biggest tools in the world. They may not have the tremendous raw power, blazing speed or rocket arm — for these guys, the sum is greater than each of the parts (or something like that). It’s not mutually exclusive. You’ll occasionally get a toolsy “baseball player” and they invariably will be superstars. But a “real baseball player” is kind of the baseball equivalent of a gym rat in basketball.
Another term is “professional hitter.” Again, there’s an undercurrent of a negative of sorts. A “professional hitter” might not be the most athletic guy in the world, but he can really swing the bat. He often might fit the “bad body, good bat” description. Think Matt Stairs, perhaps the quintessential professional hitter. Dave Magadan is another good example from the past. Greg Dobbs might be a member of this club now.
This is the term that I couldn’t help but think of when I was looking at the box score for the Peoria Javelinas from Monday’s game. Now, there are a lot of very good hitters in the AFL — they are scoring 13 runs per game thus far and there are two teams hitting well over .300. Peoria isn’t one of them, though the Javs are hitting .294.
It’s more the profile of a few hitters on that team that struck me as potential “professional hitter” types. Now, some might be more than that when all is said and done. Just because they fit the “bad body, good bat” description right now, they could be such a good hitter that they surpass the expectations for a professional hitter. If a guy becomes an every-day player, hitting in the middle of a lineup and competing for batting or RBI titles, then they kind of move past that label.
That being said, there are several guys on Peoria’s roster who could qualify as, at the very least, PFPs. That’s Professional Hitter Prospects. Understanding that they could evolve into more than that, here are the candidates:
Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals: There’s no question this guy can hit. He’s got a career line of .316/.365/.552 and hit .300 with 32 homers and 101 RBIs in the Texas League in 2011. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he’s only been a first baseman in his career. If that Pujols guy doesn’t stay in St. Louis, Adams could stay at first. If Pujols returns — and I think he will — the Cardinals think Adams might be more athletic than people give him credit for and that he could be OK in an outfield corner. We’ll see on that, but that bat should be in the St. Louis lineup soon.
Jedd Gyorko, 3B, Padres: Gyorko slipped into the second round probably because of his size (5-10, 195 pounds) and the fact that because of his size, he didn’t “profile” at a given position. The Padres nabbed him in the second round (they love professional hitters) and he’s been just fine at third base, thank you very much. He also made it to Double-A in his first full season and helped San Antonio win the Texas League championship. Oh, and he hit a combined .333/.400/.552 in 2011, with 25 homers and 114 RBIs, so it might be a mistake to typecast him just yet.
Jaff Decker, OF, Padres: He’s another one who scouts weren’t sure what to do with when he was coming out of the Arizona high school ranks in 2008 (He’s 5-10, 190 pounds). The Padres took him in the supplemental first round in 2008 and when he hit .299/.442/.514 in his first full season (Fort Wayne won a title), it looked like it was a good call. Decker’s struggled a bit since then, with injuries in 2010 and last year with making consistent contact, but he’s got some considerable skills. He still drew over 100 walks in 2011 while hitting 19 homers and driving in 92 runs, all while playing in the Texas League at age 21. Sure, he struck out 142 times, but he’s young and has such tremendous plate discipline that he shouldn’t be dismissed. A .273/.411/.475 career line at his age and level is not too shabby.
Logan Schafer, OF, Brewers: He might be a bit more athletic — 33 steals in the last two seasons — than some others, but his skill set at the plate seems to fit. He, too, has had some injury issues, missing nearly all of 2010 and playing in just 99 games this past season, but when he’s on the field, he hits, as his .301 career average states. He’s got a .363 OBP, too, yet has slugged just .427, perhaps putting him more in the Dave Magadan division of professional hitters.