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Would you start your rebuild by spending top draft picks on pitchers or hitters?
Last year, most of the MLB Draft experts were penciling Vanderbilt RHP Kyle Wright to go number one overall. Up to the day of it still appeared that the Minnesota Twins were going to select Wright, and it would have been a sound choice. The Twins need high-level caliber starting pitchers to pair with their blossoming prospects in the field. Instead of selecting Wright, the Twins drafted prep shortstop Royce Lewis, which Baseball America learned minutes before the draft started.
Instead of taking the best starting pitcher in the draft, Minnesota continued to stockpile position players in their pipeline. Joe Sheehan wrote a compelling piece for Baseball America that teams are better off drafting bats and buying pitchers whether through trade or free agency. With this line of thinking, Minnesota made the right choice going with the bat instead of the arm.
I recommend reading that piece because I do believe the majority of teams will be following that strategy in this draft. The only issue I have with the philosophy is pitching is expensive. Despite this slow off-season when pitchers eventually signed, starters or relievers, they are getting a high AAV. White Sox fans know very well on the type of return All-Star pitchers merit. Only teams who are comfortable spending the necessary cash or have enough prospect depth to acquire difference makers on the pitching staff can pull this draft strategy off.
Which leads to the situation that the Detroit Tigers and general manager Al Avila are in. Auburn’s RHP Casey Mize the last six weeks has been the assumed number one pick. Two weeks away from Avila having to make a potential organization changing decision a new challenger to be selected first overall has emerged.
When ranking draft prospects before the season started, Georgia Tech’s Joey Bart was considered the best catcher in this year’s class. Power-hitting bat who can handle duties behind the plate, but struck out at a high clip while not walking much. A first-round grade player, but not Top 10 worthy because teams could be scared away with the swing-and-miss in his game.
Bart has risen his game so much from his Sophomore to Junior season that I believe he could be the best player in this class.
What first caught my eye watching Bart in action was his defense. Strong hands allow him to frame pitches well, and despite his large size (6’3″, 225 lbs) Bart is very athletic behind the plate moving well side to side blocking breaking pitches in the dirt. Bart leads the ACC in fewest passed balls with just two on the season. He has a strong arm throwing out 12 out of 33 base stealers in 2018, and an excellent example of his ability to combine his defensive talents was his performance against Georgia.
— Josh Nelson (@soxmachine_josh) May 9, 2018
In the video above, Bart slides and picks up the 59-foot curveball, and throws a dart to nail the Georgia Bulldog base stealer. It’s just a small sample size of what you see when watching Bart perform his craft.
Something that I have noticed while watching college baseball this season is so many teams have pitches called from the dugout. With either the catcher wearing an earpiece and pitches being radioed in or elaborate hand signals from the dugout and catchers looking at their armband much like a college quarterback would do for play calls. To me, this seems like coaches have a trust issue with their catches understanding what the best pitches would be in any given situation. Georgia Tech doesn’t have that issue with Bart, because he has the advanced skills of working with a pitching staff, understanding scouting reports, and putting it all together.
Then there is Bart’s hitting ability at the plate.
— Josh Nelson (@soxmachine_josh) May 12, 2018
In his Freshman year, Bart hit .299/.351/.382 with only one home run and ten doubles. His K% was 19.5%, and with only eight walks on the year his BB% was 4.6%. Moving to his Sophomore season, Bart slashed .296/.370/.575. His ISO jumped from .083 to .279 but as the powers numbers increased significantly, so did the strikeouts. On the year, Bart had 50 strikeouts to just 16 walks, and it appeared that he was a boom or bust type of hitter. Bart had a good Cape Cod 2016 season hitting .309/.389/.433 with two doubles, two triples, and two home runs with 21 RBI.
When looking at college hitters, you’re looking for a significant jump from Sophomore to Junior year, and that’s what has happened for Bart. In Baseball America’s feature story written by Michael Lananna back in April, Bart spent a lot of time working with Washington Nationals catcher Matt Wieters. Georgia Tech has been one of the best programs in developing catchers with Wieters and Jason Varitek being the best, and that work in the offseason has paid off for Bart.
As we approach conference tournament play this week, Bart is hitting .368/.481/.651 with 16 home runs and 38 RBI in 2018. He’s lowered the K% to 19.5% and increased his BB% significantly to 14.9%. Yes, he still strikes out more than he walks so that will be a red flag for some MLB teams, but the improvements are noticeable. In today’s game you learn to live with the swing and miss if the hitter can crush pitches over the fence.
This opinion might get me in trouble with others who have been scouted the college ranks this season, but I think Bart has more power in his swing than Alec Bohm. In the video above against Virginia, Bart smacked a breaking pitch low and outside to the tune of 370+ feet in left center. In the video below, Bart golfs another low fastball that seems to disappear in deep left field.
Joey Bart did it again. His 16th HR of the season.
— Josh Nelson (@soxmachine_josh) May 18, 2018
He’s a terrific low ball hitter which means opposing pitchers are better off attacking high against Bart. In college, that’s a tough thing to ask because not every pitcher can effectively throw high and they’ve been taught to stay low in the zone. It’ll be interesting in how Bart attacks pitchers once he’s in the minor leagues. Those pitchers remain high in the zone learning to combat the trend of hitters improving launch angle. In the meantime, Bart is crushing pitches that most college hitters can’t. That’s a big plus.
Like Bohm, I haven’t seen much opposite field power from Bart. Most of his contact stays in center to left field, so he has pull tendencies. He’s rolled over on breaking pitches to short and third base, but even though he’s a catcher, Bart can move down the line. I would say he’s below average runner at 45 grade, but for a catcher that’s pretty quick. If Bart and Bohm ran a 60-yard dash, my money would be on Bart winning that foot race.
I’ve been watching Bart the past three weeks, and the problematic conversation I keep having in my head is “Who is the best college position player in this draft class?” Is it Bart? Is it Madrigal? Both are a very different type of players and excel at what they do. I guess it all depends on what you value more, a catcher or middle infielder?
It doesn’t matter if the White Sox would consider Bart at #4 because I doubt he’s not falling that far. As Jim wrote yesterday in the Mock Draft roundup, it appears the Detroit Tigers front office is seriously considering Bart. Which to come full circle with the question at the beginning, how would you rebuild your pipeline? Do you load up on bats or stockpile pitchers? That’s the question Al Avila will need to answer the next two weeks because depending on what he thinks is best for Detroit, will determine who goes number one overall. I guess it comes down to either Mize or Bart at this moment. Yes, Bart is that good.
- Conference tournaments start this week. One tournament, in particular, I think White Sox fans should pay attention to is the SEC. Action begins on Tuesday, May 22nd but with Florida having the bye they’ll play the winner of Mississippi State and LSU on Wednesday, May 23rd. SP Brady Singer was scratched from Friday’s start against Mississippi State because of hamstring tightness, but all reports say he should make that Wednesday start for the Gators. First pitch is at 4:30 pm CT on the SEC Network or ESPN app if you are looking for something to watch before the White Sox game.
- The PAC-12 doesn’t have a conference tournament (lame) which means Oregon State’s last series of the season will be at home against UCLA. This past weekend with White Sox GM Rick Hahn in attendance, Madrigal was 2-for-4 with an RBI double and three stolen bases. Saturday, Madrigal was 1-for-4 with a triple, three RBI, and a stolen base. Sunday, Madrigal was hitless going 0-for-4. On the year Madrigal is hitting .452/.513/.644 with six doubles, four triples, two home runs with 27 RBI and eight stolen bases in just 26 games.
- Next Sox Machine mock draft will be this Friday, and we’ll be having the Sox Machine Draft Show on June 4th covering the first day of picks. I’ll be joined by Jim Osborn (lil jimmy) and Future Sox’s Brian Bilek. The show will start at 6 pm CT and you’ll be able to listen to the stream here on soxmachine.com or at mixlr.com/soxmachine.