Wittels a Prospect? | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Wittels a Prospect?

Yesterday the Florida International Panthers fell to Ivy League Champs, Dartmouth College, for their second, and eliminating, loss at the Miami regional.  Three-hole hitter and infielder Garrett Wittels had a 3 for 5 day with a double to end the season hitting .413/.463/.541.  Wittels closed the season with a 56-game hitting streak intact, ready to continue it in 2011.  Luckily for baseball fans, Wittels is only a sophomore this season, so the only threat to this streak outside the game between the lines is injury.  Were he a junior, he surely would be drafted early and sign, right?  With a 56-gamer?  The all-time record holder for longest hitting streak is Robin Ventura with 58, and he went 10th overall in 1988.  I’m not so sure about Wittels.  With the draft set to begin tomorrow and to continue through Wednesday, let’s use Wittels as an example of some important things to keep in mind as we scratch our heads as guys like Chevez Clarke, a Georgian outfielder with tools to drool over but with mediocre high school statistics, are taken ahead of proven collegiate hitters like Wittels, who will be lucky to be taken inside the first 20 rounds next year.

The source of Wittel’s unusual ability to get hits is his utter refusal to strike out.  In 242 AB’s (274 PA’s) this season, Wittels collected just 19 K’s for a contact percentage of 92.1%.  Considering how comically massive the collegiate zone is, this young man’s plate coverage can only be properly regarded as freakish.  This is perhaps the most important component of evaluating the “hitting for average” tool, and Wittels clearly is a guy who would be regarded as at least plus in this category.  However, Wittels value as a prospect likely ends here.

Here’s why.  In those 242 AB’s, Wittels amassed just two homers.  While he collected a more-than-respectable 25 XBH’s, these were nearly entirely doubles.  Doubles with metal bats are a difficult measure of projectability because even top-spun balls can get in the gap with metal.  In viewing Wittel’s mechanics as a hitter, I certainly would not call his mechanics “metal bat mechanics”, a term used to describe hitters who traditionally have contact points deeper than those hitters with “wood bat mechanics”.  The result of the former is a greater percentage of top spun balls with very little carry, especially to the pull side.  Because the metal bat hits the ball so much harder than wood, however, these less than ideal mechanics typically still allow athletic hitters to compete.  Wittel’s problems are simply that he lacks the bat speed to go long, even with metal.  At least for right now.

Other obvious problems arise when evaluating Wittels.  For instance, he only stole four bases despite reaching base safely a total of 126 times.  This leads any logical fan to wonder whether it was just a product of FIU’s strategies on the bases.  Unfortunately for Wittels, other players on his squad accumulated upwards of twenty swipes.  As an infielder, this lack of speed likely predisposes him to a career at a corner spot, but with his lack of power, he cannot be a big league regular without developing at least average power, no matter how slick his glove may be (it’s not that slick).

Does he at least walk?  With only an 8% walk rate, Wittels provides questionable pitch judgment.  While his contact rate naturally supports a quality eye, his ability to discern balls and strikes raises some concerns about how generous he will be to professional arms, even when accounting for the humongous collegiate zone.

I don’t want to give the idea that I think Wittels is somehow an average or below player.  The guy is awesome.  A surefire 1st-team All-American sounds about right to me, and if he breaks Ventura’s record he belongs in the College Baseball Hall of Fame.  He may already deserve to be somewhere in there.  His career has a chance to be the brightest in the history of his school, and I think guys like him that strikeout with such extreme rarity have a chance to stick around the Bigs forever, even if devoid of any other discernible tool.  Just look at Jeff Keppinger for proof.  He is hitting in the top of his order without a single longball this season.

The point I am trying to make is that guys like Wittels, who simply know how to play baseball and how to get the most out of their talent, tend to fall in the draft.  It’s a shame, but Major League Baseball has a degree of minimum talents for inclusion, and whether justified or not, they are real.

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