In Search of a Centerfielder

Well it looks like the Cardinals will definitely bring in a center fielder via trade this off season. Two names that keep popping includes Charlie Blackmon and Adam Eaton and apparently these two intrigue the Cardinals the most. So between Blackmon and Eaton who would be the better candidate? Lets take a look…..

Adam Eaton Scouting Report.

Eaton boasts a .325 BaBIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) as well as an 8.7% base on ball percentage and a 14.5% strikeout percentage — both the lowest of his MLB career.

A solid line drive approach and strong plate discipline has helped Eaton turned his low production early in his career into current high upside. Our dataindicates he hits line drives 40% of the time (27% is MLB average) which are rarely outs. He is also one of the leaders in infield hits with 18.

If you’re looking for holes in his swing, there aren’t too many. Over the past two seasons, he has struggled up in the zone — hitting .185, .206, and .194 respectfully but on pitches either down or down and out, you’re talking solid production from Eaton.

Statistically, Eaton dominates the value category because of his fielding metrics — which cannot go unnoticed when discussing his prowess.

Undeniably, his speed and route effectiveness is something that can’t go unnoticed. Below are three videos that speak for themselves.

The term “underrated” is kind of cliché used now for players that have a great year unexpectedly and then suddenly fade out. Based on the numbers, however, Eaton isn’t going away anytime soon.

In fact, he should be considered an American League All-Star this year and should definitely win a Gold Glove Award.

Charlie Blackmon Scouting Report

When the Rockies selected Blackmon in the second round of the 2008 draft with the 72nd overall selection, it was considered an overdraft by most. He was recruited by Georgia Tech as a two-way player out of Young Harris Junior College, but wound up pitching only two innings at Tech, finding a home as their leadoff man and a regular outfielder, though not their everyday centerfielder. He was about to turn 22 when he was drafted, and despite a very strong junior season, had yet to establish the type of proven track record with the bat – wood or aluminum – that teams search for high in the draft. Despite this fact, the Rockies, to their credit, were undaunted, and pulled the trigger on Blackmon.

At his relatively advanced age for a college junior, the Rockies were hoping for early minor league success, and quick advancement. While his .307-.370-.433 line, with 30 steals, in his first full pro season at High-A Modesto was respectable, it took place in a hitters’ league, and didn’t exactly scream “prospect”. Neither did his .297-.360-.484 season at AA in 2010, when he celebrated his 24th birthday on July 1.

His closest thing to a “breakthrough” occurred in the summer of 2011, when he tore up the hitter-friendly AAA Pacific Coast League at a .337-.393-.572 clip over 58 games and earned his first major league opportunity. Not only was the league hitter-friendly, but so was his Colorado Springs home park. If PCL stats in general are to be taken with a grain of salt, Colorado Springs numbers should be taken with a full tablespoon.

Each season, I utilize a system that evaluates minor league prospects both by their performance and age relative to their minor league level. Performers with respect to either criteria qualify for the list, which usually numbers around 300 position players, and extreme performers with respect to both reside at or near the top. Virtually every major league regular qualified for this list at some point during their minor league career, with the occasional exception of an all-glove, no-hit catcher or shortstop. The list is basically a master follow list for professional scouting coverage – and Charlie Blackmon never made the list. He barely missed in 2011 – by a day age-wise, and fractionally, performance-wise, but miss it he did. He never made a Baseball America Top 100 list, either, an admittedly more stringent criteria.

Blackmon continued to fly well beneath the radar in his first two major league trials in 2011 and 2012, before doing just a bit better last season. Though his .309-.336-.467 2013 line appears quite solid on the surface, there are two major cautionary factors that must be taken into consideration. First, there’s his awful 49/7 K/BB ratio. While his K rate was acceptable, his BB rate was off-the-charts bad. It should not have been a surprise, as he had never walked more than 39 times in a minor league season. His K rates had always been better than league average in the minors, but were never so good that warning bells would signal this as an area of future strength at the major league level.

The other significant factor is the Coors Field effect. I discussed this in detail in my preseason article on the Rockies – yes, I thought the Rockies had the potential to contend, and no, I didn’t see the Blackmon thing coming – Coors makes average hitters into stars, and can fool you into thinking well below average ones deserve their everyday jobs. Based on my own calculations utilizing granular batted-ball data, the overall, fly ball and line drive park factors for Coors Field (by field sector) in 2013 were:

OVERALL: LF= 116.9 LCF= 117.1 CF= 125.7 RCF= 161.5 RF= 118.5 ALL= 127.8
FLY: 118.6 166.3 149.9 287.9 150.4 176.4
LINE DRIVE: 110.8 109.9 106.2 124.7 98.2 109.6

Now there’s some help for lefties. All of Blackmon’s accomplishments must be placed in this context.

So what happened to turn Blackmon from the reasonable contributor he appeared to be last season to 2nd-in-the-NL-in-wOBA-guy in 2014, with a .359-.398-.590 line entering Monday’s games? Look no further than his K rate, which for no apparent reason has plunged from 19.0% in 2013 to 7.7% in 2014, the second best in the NL. This has been keyed by a startling plunge in his swing-and-miss rate from 8.7% last season to 4.4% thus far in 2014. Yup – he has cut his swing-and-miss rate in half, and his K rate by almost 150%, in a very short period of time. These things do not happen every day.

Source: Josh Turner and Tony Blengino

 

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