Thursday, April 14, 2016

Road to the Show: Top Draft-Eligible Corner Infielders

As the college baseball season passes the midway point in 2016, several draft-eligible players have seen their stocks go up and down. With a shallow college infield class this year, the big seasons of Nick Senzel and Will Craig have set themselves apart from the competition and put them in conversation to be taken in the first round. Major league teams like their college corner infielders to be polished hitters with big power to go with it, and that is exactly what these two hitters can provide.

Nick Senzel, University of Tenneseee
Senzel, ranked Baseball America's top college hitter going into the season, may not have the flashiest tools or big-time power production, but he has a track record of consistent hitting in college as well as an MVP award in the Cape Cod League in 2015. It is not hard to see why scouts put him in high perspective with his smooth swing and built frame that suggests power development to come. Senzel starts his swing with a wide stance with a small stride that is quiet like most components of his swing. He uses his lower body well to supply power without over-rotating while keeping his hands in through a clean, flat bat plane that will create hard line drives with his quick hands and above-average bat speed. He has a disciplined approach at the plate, walking more than he strikes out with good knowledge of the zone. While he may not be a burner on the base paths with his average speed, he has good baserunning instincts and can swipe a few bases, going 32-39 over the course of his college career. Defensively, he can play third or second and maybe even short in a pinch, but with his big frame he is probably better suited for third base, especially since he has a strong arm but iffy range and stiff motions sometimes. A pure hitter, line drive machine, Nick Senzel is the prototypical advanced college bat. While the raw power has not showed itself in games yet, with just 9 home runs in 136 college games thanks to his flat bat plane geared for line drives, he is strong enough to tap into it in pro ball if he makes the necessary adjustments. He could shoot quickly through the minors and have a .280/.350/.450 ceiling in the big leagues, and if the power really comes through he could resemble the next Todd Frazier.

Will Craig, Wake Forest University
Craig has been the best hitter in college baseball by far this season, obliterating the ACC to a .466/.581/.909 slash line. A big man standing in at 6'3'', 225 pounds, he is not a great defender at third base, with awkward movements with stiff hands that will likely result in a move to first base, which would be a waste of his absolute cannon of an arm. But defense is not what scouts are watching for in Craig, it is his bat that excites everyone. Strong and powerful with good loft in his swing, expect lots of flyballs and homers from him when he reaches the low level of the minors. He is yet another example of an advanced college bat with a solid approach, also walking more than he strikes out, but his below average speed negates any baserunning value he may have. His swing is very dependent on his arms and upper body, his brute strength has been enough to demolish college pitching. As Craig transitions to pro ball, some improvements to look out for are a harder back foot pivot and more lower body rotation, where he can use his strong and built lower half to further generate power output. While Trevor Plouffe may not be a flashy comp, he has quietly produced good power numbers for Minnesota the last few seasons and as a former first-round pick, seems like a reasonable expectation as to what Will Craig can become.

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