Like many a writer, I sometimes struggle deciding what to write about. Sometimes I need a muse. Recently, I was getting desperate, feeling distracted and unsure of what topic to pursue... And then like a sign (advertisement) sent from above (by NBC)...an ad for The Voice and their "Battle Rounds" came on. OF COURSE! I shall return to my roots and come back with a prospect comparison! Today we'll look at some divisive outfield prospects that reside (or will) in the NL Central. Matt Szczur seems to be a Chicago area favorite and someone that BaseballAmerica (BA) looks highly upon, while other prospect guru's such as Keith Law just don't get what the excitement is about. Grossman draws different reactions from the same sources with BA seeing him as a fourth outfielder and Keith Law saying he thinks Grossman could be who Brett Jackson is "supposed to be." They make for an interesting comparison as two guys with considerable risk, and people who will be available later in deep league drafts. Let's get to the breakdown after the jump.
Matt Szczur - CF - Cubs - Signed for $100k as a fifth-rounder in 2010, the Cubs more than doubled down on their investment when they dropped another $1.4 million down to convince him to give up football. Though Szczur (pronounced Caesar) was a two-sport athlete, he comes to baseball with a decent amount of polish. BA loves his tools, rating his speed as plus-plus, though during the Up and In podcast that featured Jim Callis, Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein, Law asserted that Szczur had good speed but was not a burner, which was not met with any argument. It may seem to be a distinction without a difference, but it is important to note that aside from his speed, Szczur might not have a plus tool. He does have good basestealing instincts, swiping 24/29 bags in 2011, and displays good range in centerfield. He uses his quick wrists and short swing to make a lot of contact, though that comes at the expense of his patience, as he drew only 26 walks in 447 at-bats. Some scouts believe that Szczur has the potential for average power down the line, while others have thrown the "slap-hitter" label on him, and believe his swing will prevent him from developing anything more than below-average power. Szczur really struggled upon his demotion to Hi-A, seeing his slashline drop from .314/.366/.431 to .260/.283/.410. He actually showed a higher ISO rate at Hi-A, despite seeing his overall numbers in sharp decline. That his improved ISO was a paltry .150 is nothing to write home about however. In his favor though, is that reports indicate he was simply worn down late in the season due to his full year baseball/football schedule. Whether Szczur can improve his patience as he progresses up the ladder, or if pitchers will continue to challenge him due to his lack of power remains to be seen. We'll see him take a second shot at Hi-A in 2012 after his brief and fruitless stint there in 2011.
Robbie Grossman - OF - Pirates - Part of the Pirates efforts to beef up their drafts by spending big in the later rounds, Grossman signed for $1 million as a 6th round pick in 2008. Grossman had largely eluded success (or is it the other way around) before repeating/manhandling Hi-A at age 21. Grossman made good use of his time after being "held back," so to speak, by dramatically increasing his walk rate (12% to 16%) and noticeably reducing his strikeout rate (21% to 18%). He took his pitiful 2010 slash line of .245/.344/.345 and turned it into .294/.418/.451, a dramatic improvement to be sure, but it should be noted, his eye at the plate has been consistently above average. His numbers were aided by an above-average BABIP (.350), though he made noticeable strides in his ability to hit for power, as he belted 13 home runs in 2011, eclipsing his career total of 9. Grossman is a switch-hitter who generates more power from the left side (11/13 homers came from this side) but makes good contact from both sides of the place. By no means a plus runner, Grossman is capable of playing centerfield, though he profiles better in a corner defensively. He was able to steal 24 bases, though he was caught 10 times and needs to improve that aspect of his game. The optimistic view of Grossman is that he provides a solid batting average with well above-average on-base ability, and average power out of a corner outfield spot. The pessimistic view is that he's a fourth outfielder at best whose profile would work in center but isn't sufficient to play in a corner. Either way Grossman will have to prove that his success wasn't purely a result of his "super senior" status in the FSL, and that he can produce in a first go round with Double-A, where he should be starting 2012
When it comes down to it, I fall in with the optimistic camp on Grossman. I can see why he has his detractors, but I tend to like guys who already have a plus approach at the plate more than the guy who needs to develop it. Even if he never finds the power to produce at what is expected from a corner outfield position, I think Grossman could be a valuable piece who just doesn't fit a preconceived mold. All that said, Szczur could alter his swing, find average power and then be a far more valuable piece than we're anticipating given his ability to play centerfield. I mean who saw Zobrist remaking his swing and becoming a power hitter? Grossman may never be a first division regular, but if I had to choose who will have a more successful career, he's my guy. What say you?
Bonus Content! - *Channeling my best Linda Richman* Is it divisive (div-iss-ive) or divisive (di-vice-ive)? DISCUSS AMONGST YOURSELVES