In addition to the rankings by Bret Sayre and the supplemental pieces by Wilson Karaman, J.J. Jansons and I are giving you a head-to-head comparison of two closely ranked up-and-comers as part of the dynasty portion of our positional overview. We’ve been in the outfield for the last week or so, including a tale of the tape between two young major leaguers yesterday. Today, I’m headed back to the farm for a look at two top ten picks from the 2013 draft, old Georgia high school buddies Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows.
Frazier made great strides at the plate in 2015, trimming his strikeout rate from 29.7 percent to 21.3 percent, while jumping from the Midwest League to the Carolina League. His batting average increased from .266 to .285 in the process, good for a top-15 finish among players with 200 or more plate appearances. Despite the gains, Frazier still has questions to answer about whether his swing length will get exposed against better pitching and whether he can handle advanced secondary pitches. Meadows hit .307 in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League in 2015, after batting .322 in an injury-shortened 2014. Few doubt that Meadows’ smooth, compact left-handed stroke will play in the upper levels, making this no contest. Advantage: Meadows
Frazier managed to increase his walk rate while making the improvements to his strikeout rate, resulting in .377 on-base percentage in 2015. Meadows controls the strike zone well, which doesn’t always translate to walks because of his willingness to swing in any count if he gets a pitch to hit. Meadows’ 7.1 percent walk rate trailed Frazier’s by 4.5 percentage points in 2015 and because of it, his OBP lagged a full 20 points behind. Despite what the statistical record to date says, I’m giving the edge to Meadows here too. I think Meadows’ walk rate will tick back up and even if it doesn’t match Frazier’s, the batting average differential will erase Frazier’s base-on-balls advantage. It’s razor thin though, and I don’t have much confidence that either will be materially better than the other. Advantage: Meadows
Frazier’s bat speed and power are his calling cards, and that makes this category an easy tally in his column. Frazier’s 36 doubles paced the Carolina League, and his 16 home runs were one short of the leader. There is 30-home run potential in his bat if some of those doubles turn into long balls. Don’t mistake the Frazier endorsement as a knock on Meadows, whose power is more about projection at present. He’s physical enough to expect more strength at peak, which could translate to over-the-fence thump if he adds some loft to his swing. Meadows is also a better bet to get the most of his raw power in games because of his superior bat-to-ball skill. All of that said, there’s no reason to side with projection when Frazier has the innate gift and has manifested it already. Advantage: Frazier
This is another category that’s too close to call with any conviction, especially since neither player has extended experience above High-A. Meadows spent the first part of the year atop Bradenton’s batting order before moving down a spot mid-summer. Likewise, Frazier found himself leading off in April before sliding down to the two, and ultimately the three. If forced to speculate on long-term roles, I think Meadows makes sense as either the first or second hitter in a lineup. Frazier’s best-case scenario for contextual stats is probably as a three-hole hitter. If he struggles to make contact at the higher levels, a slot in the middle third of the order is more likely. In any case, I think the R+RBI totals will be similar, with Meadows heavier on runs and Frazier’s total more weighted towards RBI. Advantage: Neither
These two have similar grades on their raw speed, but Meadows showed more efficient base-stealing ability in 2015. Meadows swiped 20 bags and was caught seven times, a 74 percent success rate. Frazier was caught as many times in five fewer tries, converting 15 attempts. Scouting reports suggest Frazier relies more on aggressiveness and athleticism than reads and jumps, which doesn’t bode well for his thievery against better batteries, given his already unimpressive success rate. If you buy the batting-order speculation I made above, the scales tip further in Meadows’ favor. Advantage: Meadows
Meadows didn’t begin his 2014 season until June 30th because of a hamstring injury, and as a result, accumulated only 146 at-bats. There’s nothing to suggest the injury will be a long-term concern since Meadows played a full, healthy season in 2015. Frazier has played a full slate in each of his two full-season assignments, and for that he gets the nod. Advantage: Frazier
Too often, we (the royal we, the editorial) make the lazy mistake of using floor as a pejorative, of defining upside as the ability to maximize one extraordinary tool. That tool is usually thunderous power or top-line speed, because those require raw athletic ability that is aesthetically pleasing and uncommon even among professional athletes. There is no question that Frazier offers the potential for immense power production, and boy, will those moon shots be fun to watch. But let’s not forget that a player’s upside can be driven by batting average too, especially when it’s accompanied by balanced five-category production. Contact ability is, by nature, a skill that is valuable over a span of time, rather than as a singular event. It will rarely make you jump out of your seat, but that doesn’t make it less valuable in our game. It’s important to divorce the emotional resonance of a majestic bomb or a blazing steal from how we define upside. If you think Meadows can compete for a batting title—an optimistic but realistic outcome—he has considerable upside, even if it’s of a less-fun variety. Advantage: Meadows
Estimated Time of Impact
The Pirates’ current outfielders are ranked as the fourth-, eighth-, and 17th-best outfielders for dynasty leagues. While that’s only a proxy for real-life baseball, it sheds some light on how much talent is already roaming Pittsburgh’s grass. It’s hard to figure where Meadows’ opportunity is going to come from in the near term. Cleveland’s outfield, on the other hand, is in a state of transition. With the exception of Michael Brantley—who comes with his own questions because of the shoulder injury—there isn’t anything blocking Cleveland’s highly regarded outfield prospects. Bradley Zimmer and Frazier should come up as soon as they’re ready, which will likely be early 2017 for our red-headed subject. Advantage: Frazier
I really like Frazier as a prospect, and the progress he made during the 2015 season is encouraging. I’d take him over all but a small handful of outfielders in the minors; one in that handful is Meadows. His overall game is too rich, providing both a floor and ceiling that Frazier will have a hard time matching.
And the winner is… Meadows.
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