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August 19, 2014

Going Yard

Four Impressive High School Hitters

by Ryan Parker

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Going to San Diego for the Perfect Game All-American Classic was an experience I will never forget. I got to see the best amateur hitters in the country show off their craft. I saw lots of good things and lots of things I would change if I could. For all the attention these kids are getting, they are just that: kids. I work with athletes like this every day and I know all of these players have swings that are constantly evolving. Keeping that in mind, I won’t nitpick my way through their swings and flaws. Rather, I want to celebrate particular hitters that caught my eye.

The most talked-about hitters in the draft are Daz Cameron and Brendan Rodgers. They put on shows as expected. I knew they would be elite and they did nothing to diminish this standing. Therefore, I want to explore some of the less hyped hitters:

  • Nicholas Shumpert
  • Ryan Mountcastle
  • Kep Brown
  • Kyle Tucker

Nicholas Shumpert caught my attention in the early workouts and kept me rapt all weekend long. He’s not big, but the ball explodes off his bat. I’m a sucker for bat speed and Shumpert has it in spades. The unique thing is how Shumpert generates this bat speed.

Shumpert is a plus runner with a plus arm. He plays shortstop but has the speed for center field. The foot speed and arm strength mean he can move his arms and legs very fast. Fast-twitch guys usually have very “snappy” swings: They are so used to moving fast in every other aspect of the game that they can struggle to create the slow and controlled movements they need in the box. Usually these guys have quick pre-swing movements and they “snap” the bat through the zone. (Think Jose Reyes.)

Shumpert starts his swing extremely early and there is nothing abrupt in his progression. His first movement is a tiny rock backward before picking up his stride foot. It helps him establish timing but a few times I saw him rock back and end up stuck on his back foot. As he lifts his leg he slots his hands by tilting the bat with his bottom hand and letting his back elbow move up and back just a bit. These movements occur while he is moving forward so that when the foot lands he is ready to unload.

As he lands, his hips are waiting to fire. Once that happens, it allows everything else to follow. His back elbow and back knee progress forward at the proper time while his hands stay in front of his elbows. The bat launch has elements of how Josh Hamilton accomplishes this movement. Both hitters use the torque from their hips to launch while keeping their hands in good position.

In games, Shumpert shows the ability to manipulate his big stride. Sometimes he keeps it, sometimes it's a smaller movement, and other times he takes it away entirely. When he does this, he keeps the overall integrity of his swing and showed more feel for contact than expected.

That’s why Shumpert could be special. He could produce loud contact through a quick stride and reliance on his arms. Instead he’s launching the bat correctly and letting his physical gifts supplement his swing properly.

Ryan Mountcastle is another passenger on the bat speed train. He might have had the fastest bat of all the hitters I saw. His overall swing was a bit of a work in progress. He struggled to find a consistent trigger in his swing so his batting practice sessions were full of popups and soft groundballs. Even though I love bat speed I have no problems marking off a player who is nothing but pure speed and no results.

Mountcastle isn’t that. He was one of the most flexible hitters I saw. He’s not just grunting and swinging as hard as he can. He is extremely flexible through his hips. As he adds strength and refines his mechanics those hips will allow him to take full advantage of both. Some hitters have fast hands and some have flexibility. The rarity is seeing a guy like Mountcastle who features both. 

In game and scrimmage action I assumed he would be toast against the top pitching in the nation. I learned my lesson. He hit hard line drives and groundballs. Scouts who saw him a week earlier at the Area Code games were raving about a 420-foot missile he hit.

Mouncastle is the kind of project big league clubs love to sink their teeth into.

It’s hard to miss Kep Brown. Standing 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, he looks the part of a future big leaguer. Don’t let his size fool you, though; he was one of the fastest players on the diamond. His batting practice was special. Lots of hitters at these events try to get that extra bit of distance and end up with impressive but pull-heavy sessions. Brown stayed up the middle almost to a frustrating degree. I was left wondering how it would look if he really opened up on one in BP as he’s done in games.

One of the most impressive swings came during the first day of workouts when Brown hit one about 3/4 the way up the batters' eye in center field. That particular field was a death trap for home runs thanks to heavy air and swirling winds but Brown showed his swing wasn’t climatologically challenged.

Like Mountcastle, Brown’s swing is still a work in progress. I love to see hitters sync their hands and feet at the start of their swing and his hands can get a bit rigid. He does get the bat to the zone quickly and shows a solid path. His lower body is also solid and looks miles better than previous video I have seen. That shows he’s working hard and not content just being the strong kid who can muscle balls out of the park.

Because he is so young and tall, I was surprised by the balance Brown showed in his swing. Even in the home run derby he wasn’t falling over himself. And while his balance is good, his hands are even better. When I shook his hand, I found out why: He is strong as an ox through the forearm and wrists and his hands look big enough to palm home plate.

Brown was one of the few players on whom scouts even considered dropping a 70 power. Other hitters showed better this weekend, but given Brown's frame, raw strength, and improving swing, there's something for scouts to dream on. 

***

Video of Kyle Tucker here.

Tucker was born to get the barrel of the bat on baseballs. The relationship between the middle of the ball and the middle of his bat seemed magnetic. It wasn’t weak contact, either: He drove line drives to all parts of the field. 

Tucker has a long and loose frame and never appears to be rushing. He showed a relaxed swing that created loud contact. His trademark is how early he lays the bat parallel to the ground. While I’m not the biggest fan of this move, it should be a simple fix.

Between Tucker's frame, his loose swing, and his early bat movement, I worried his swing would get long and result in slicing line drives and inability to handle velocity. Tucker showed none of these problems and helped solidify his standing as one of the highest-level hitting prospects in my mind.

Even with the unique bat movement, I liked his swing overall. He showed solid flexibility through his hips and had a good feel for how to coil his hips without turning his whole upper body inward. When he hunts for power in BP he does so by clearing his hips earlier and creating torque rather than trying to muscle balls over and dropping his back shoulder.

In game action he hit one of the hardest balls of the event and the only extra-base hit in the All-American Game. It’s deceptive to watch a swing that loose and relaxed but see the ball explode off the barrel. 

Tucker has the chance to have a plus hit tool at full maturity with enough power to keep teams honest. If his frame fills out and his swing is ironed out just a bit, he can become a real offensive weapon.

Ryan Parker is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ryan's other articles. You can contact Ryan by clicking here

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