The last few weeks our hitter profiles have focused on some deep sleepers to add to your late-round draft board. This week we are going to buck that trend and take a peek at some big names that come with an even bigger price tag. Too often factors like youth, upside, discovery bias, and more come together and deceive our draft capital. Yes, this is the article where we say Lars Nootbar is going to bust, Michael Harris II is too expensive and Bobby Witt Jr. will see the sophomore slump. Some may say this is blasphemy, but it might just be the perspective you need.
Lars Nootbar is by all accounts a great personality and story. That said, he also has way too much helium this early draft season going off the board as an OF4. Let’s look at the situation rather than the player to start. Playing time in the Cardinals outfield is anything but guaranteed. At this point, I fully expect Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill are locked into starting spots. That leaves Nootbar, Juan Yepez, Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, and others battling in spring training for the OF and DH spots. That is simply too many mouths to feed on a consistent basis. Moreover, Noot only got a total of 55 at bats against lefties last year and scuffled in general as the season drew to a close. Regardless of talent, there is too much part-time baked into the situation to buy into the early hype and rising price tag.
Michael Harris II
Michael Harris II had an amazing rookie season at 21 years old including winning Rookie of the Year in the National League. That performance has him sitting right with MVP Paul Goldschmidt in early third round ADP. This is no surprise on the surface for a dual speed and power threat. Unfortunately, there are warning signs specifically in the power department. Harris had a ground ball rate of 56% placing him fourth highest among all players with 400 ABs. Of the 15 highest ground ball hitters in 2022, only four had double-digit homers and Harris easily led the field with 19. A HR/FB rate double the league average with exit velocity barely above league average begs regression in the power department. That said, the speed is real with but a sub 5% walk rate might not get him on base enough to grow beyond 2022 output.
If you are drafting Harris as a 10 HR/20 SB bat, then you might be just fine. However, you are going to be much happier waiting a few rounds for a Starling Marte or George Springer. These are players with longer track records and less risky profiles. At the point where Harris is going in the draft, you have to be much more concerned about downside and ensuring you hit that pick.
Bobby Witt Jr.
We have not yet had a blind comparison in our hitter profiles this draft season, so time to break out the fun:
- Player A: .254 AVG – 20 HR – 30 SB
- Player B: .298 AVG – 29 HR – 25 SB
- Player C: .290 AVG – 24 HR – 14 SB
Now this is likely an easy win for Player B who is Bo Bichette during his 2021 breakout season. Why is this important? Well Player C is also Bichette in his 2022 season, which leaves Witt as Player A. The takeaway is that we have to be careful not to overreact to a single season with prospect hype. Rather we need to reward consistency and a high floor. Yet, Witt is going off the board in the middle of the first round while Bichette, who performed just as well last season, is being drafted about a full round later. I get that there is potential for growth, but this is simply a runaway hype train when you see Witt’s Savant profile:
If we look at his contact quality we see league average metrics with a 9% barrel rate and less than a 40% hard hit rate. While I know the speed can be game-changing, his strikeouts were league average, and getting on base with a bottom 10% walk rate is not ideal. This simply is not the type of player you draft in the top 10 overall. I will leave you with a list of players that rated closely to Witt’s Baseball Savant profile in 2022:
Bobby Witt Jr. will be a valuable asset in 2023 and could justify a pick in the top 20-30 spots, but right now he will break the first-round bank at the draft table and leave you wishing you hadn’t invested so eagerly.