Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2013 Top Prospect List: #16 Tanner Rahier, ss/3b


DOB: 10/12/1993
HEIGHT: 6-2 WEIGHT: 205 B/T: R/R

Earlier this offseason, I spent some time studying the hitting process. Searching for better understanding. I wanted to find common elements in the swings of good hitters. After that, I looked at a few hitters who were struggling to live up to sterling reputations to try to identify the reasons.

The first hitter I looked at was Dustin Ackley and I wrote about the flaw that was creating his problems.  The second hitter I looked at, but didn't write about, was Gordon Beckham. I saw a few things that were potentially problematic, but just filed them away for future reference without giving them another thought. Until today.

When watching video of Tanner Rahier, his swing seemed oddly familiar. It took me a minute to place it, but the "familiar" was Gordon Beckham. It's probably not ideal when a prospect reminds you of a player that you only researched to figure out why he was under-performing, but let's take a closer look at Rahier.


The Reds selected Rahier with the 78th overall pick in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft and signed him away from a commitment to the University of San Diego.

Rahier opted not to play baseball for his high school during his senior season, electing instead to play for a travel team in a wood bat league. In fact, he didn't play for his high school after his freshman year, as he felt Division 4 baseball didn't provide sufficient competition. Rahier was the type of amateur player who had early-on set his sights on professional baseball. He spent extensive time on the travel team circuit and developed a workout regimen with the help of his father, a "professional sports performance specialist". His workout included hauling weighted tractor tires across fields and swinging oversized axes at hardened trees. The workout has given him a chiseled physique. He was focused on the goal of becoming a professional baseball player and willing to work to make it happen.

Part of the appeal with drafting Rahier was his experience with wood bats and his relative polish for a high school prospect. He played roughly 60 games a season, instead of 25-30 that were played in high school. Unfortunately, none of that was apparent in his professional debut, as he struggled far more than was to be expected.

The Reds sent Rahier to the Rookie Arizona League. He signed early enough to log 193 ABs in 51 games during which he hit .192/.266/.311/.577 with 4 homers and a 43/21 K/BB ratio. Typically, I don't put much weight in a prospect's performance in the couple of months after he signs his first contract. They have already put in a full season of amateur baseball and could be tired. They are adjusting to professional baseball. Some haven't even previously lived away from home. So, there are a lot of mitigating factors.

In essence, Rahier gets a mulligan on his 2012 season, but there are a few mechanical issues that could confirm the validity of his struggles.


There are things I like about Rahier's swing and things I don't. It's the latter that reminds me of Gordon Beckham. His swing reminds me of Beckham in the following respects: 1) grip on the bat, 2) hitch during loading of hands, and 3) raising the back elbow above the line of the shoulders.

On the other hand, I like Rahier's (A) pre-pitch stance and (B) hitting position at the point of impact. The potential problem exists in getting from A to B in a timely manner. If the path to B is too circuitous  then it won't matter if he's in a strong hitting position. His swing needs to get him into proper hitting position in time to make consistent, hard contact or else he won't ever reach his hit tool.

So, the question for me on Tanner Rahier is whether there is too much superfluous movement in his swing mechanics between pre-pitch and point of impact to allow him to be an effective hitter.

Rahier starts with a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance. He holds his back elbow high, forming a line parallel to the level of his shoulders. Like Beckham, Rahier utilizes a very strong grip on the bat. He doesn't line up the "knocking knuckles", as is traditionally taught (similar to Ken Griffey Jr.'s hand position in photo below), but rather rotates the hands into a position more in line with the Barry Bonds photo below.



Obviously, when you are talking about Griffey Jr. and Bonds, you are talking about two of the best hitters in baseball history. So, the grip on the bat can obviously vary in the pre-pitch stance, but by the time the swing reaches the point of impact, most grips are going to resemble the lined up knocking-knuckles grip. So, as long as your hands get into that position at the point of impact, it is less important how they start. However, the grip can impact the loading of the hands and, when paired with other components of the swing, it can create additional length in getting to the point of impact.

Just for fun, as you are sitting at your computer reading this, grip an imaginary bat with your knocking-knuckles lined up. Then rotate your hands into the stronger grip position, a la Barry Bonds. In making that small change, you can actually feel your elbows rotate outwards and your shoulders become more prevalent in the stance. The stronger grip seemingly makes the trigger of the swing more dependent on the shoulders and upper arms and less dependent on the hands and wrists. In short, the shifting of the grip emphasizes the larger muscles in the pre-point of impact portion of the swing.

Obviously, there are hitters who have no problem using this grip to great effect. However, when paired with two other components, it has the potential to be problematic. Those two components are a hitch in the swing during the loading of the hands and an elevated back elbow.

Rahier has a hitch in his swing. As he draws back his leg in his stride, he drops his hands when generating load. Again, some hitters can make this work with no problem. Eric Davis had a big hitch, but his hands were so quick that it made little difference. However, after the hitch drops his hands, Rahier brings the bat back up by raising his right elbow up above shoulder level, which tilts the barrel of bat forward towards pitcher (see photo below). The upper body tilt almost gives his front side the shape of the letter "C". It's this position (photo below), that Rahier shares with Gordon Beckham. And, it's this position that creates additional length in getting from pre-pitch stance to point of contact.

In short, the hitch adds length to the swing path. So does raising the back elbow up above shoulder level coming out of the hitch. So does tilting the bat forward towards the pitcher. And, the stronger grip may hinder his ability to overcome the added length in order to get to the point of impact in a timely manner. All of these components just make it difficult for Rahier to get the bat head into the zone early enough.

Individually, these components can be made to work. Barry Bonds (and many others) effectively used a stronger grip prior to the point of impact. Eric Davis had great success despite a massive hitch in loading his hands. Gary Sheffield frequently titled his bat forward towards the pitcher (though I don't think his back elbow ever came up past the level of the shoulders). But, can a swing that combines all three components (strong grip, hitch, and elevated back elbow/bat tilt) be effective against advanced competition? Rahier will get every chance to prove that it can.

In addition to these upper body movements, his lower body movements warrant discussion. When the pitcher drives to the plate, Rahier draws his front knee back towards his back leg before striding past his initial foot position to meet the pitch.

Rahier's stride creates potential problems with body movement and inconsistent eye level. When he draws his front knee back, his back knee flexes and his head drops. He goes from an upright pre-pitch stance to a one-legged crouch when he draws his stride foot back, which results in his eye level dropping.

In the following four photos, focus on his head. The head position is similar at the start (photo 1) and at the finish (photo 4), but it moves a lot in between. You can see how his head moves back and down (photo 1 to photo 2), then rises up as his stride drives forward (photo 2 to photo 3), and finally drops back down when he gets his stride foot down (photo 4).

The first photo shows his pre-pitch head position. The second photo is shows the head position at the apex of his leg kick, before he drives forward. The third photo shows his head position at its highest point, when he strides forward. The final photo shows the head position when he fires the swing.

One of the reasons I like the above photos is that the dugout behind him actually provides good points of reference. The roof of the dugout gives a reference point for vertical movement and there is actually a post in the dugout that provides a good reference point for lateral movement.

If you look at his head in the first photo, the post in the dugout basically runs down through the very back of his helmet. If you look at his head in the second photo, the dugout post actually runs down at the front edge of the bill of his helmet and his lead shoulder. That's a significant amount of head movement.

As for vertical movement, the line of the dugout roof provides a good point of reference. If you compare how low the head is in the second photo with how high it is in the third photo, then you get a feel for how much vertical head movement is contained in his swing. 

The obvious problem with a lot of head movement is that it changes the eye level, which can make it more difficult to effectively track pitches.

In short, the lower body action gives Rahier's swing a significant amount of both backward-forward and down-up movement.

While the majority of the above focuses on potential red flags, there are certainly things to like about Rahier's swing. He can get into very good hitting position (as evidenced by the photo below), including a firm front side (anchoring the swing and allowing his momentum to rotate around his front leg), good hip rotation driving him up on the toe of his back foot, and maintaining arms in good hitting position, keeping his back elbow in close to the body. In addition, he isn't reaching for the pitch, instead letting it travel deep in the zone, maximizing the power he transfers to the ball and giving himself more time to recognize the pitch.

This position should enable him to generate maximum rotational force to power the swing, which when coupled with strong wrists and forearms should allow him to produce solid/average power in the future.

This is a strong hitting position and that shouldn't be discounted. However, the question with Rahier is whether everything that comes BEFORE he reaches this hitting position will drag down his performance at the plate. There is so much movement in his leg kick and in the loading of his hands that he may struggle to get into proper hitting position in time to connect with the pitch. It doesn't matter if you can get into proper hitting position if it takes you too long to get there. It doesn't matter if you can get into proper hitting position if there is too much superfluous movement to allow you to properly track the pitch.

Here's a look at Rahier at the plate, courtesy PerfectGameBaseball on Youtube:

In the end, there are some mechanical issues that Rahier is likely going to need to address. At the same time, they aren't flaws until they affect his performance. And, even if they prove to be flaws, they aren't of the uncorrectable variety. Hitters can and do change their swing mechanics and/or approach as they develop in the minors. Some for the better (Joey Votto). Some for the worse (Ryan LaMarre). It's way too soon to know which path Rahier will travel.


The general consensus is that Rahier will likely end up at third base and I tend to agree, but the Reds are likely to give him the chance to play his way off the position.

"We were a little surprised," said Chris Buckley, the Reds' senior director of amateur scouting. "I think it's probably because he's going to have to move off of shortstop. He's a little too big for the position. That's our guess. But he was a very high profile guy. We were happy he was there. We'll give him a chance to play shortstop, but he might be too big to stay there."

Some scouting reports list Rahier's fielding actions as rough, but they look solid and fluid to me. And, his arm strength isn't in question, as he touched 93 mph on the mound as an amateur. So, as mentioned by Chris Buckley, the question is whether he has enough range. He's physically big for the position, but the larger issue is that he just doesn't run well, lacking both speed and quickness,which is difficult to improve.

Here's a look at Rahier in the field courtesy of Steve Fiorindo on YouTube:


When all is said and done, Rahier lands at #16 on the list. On the plus side of the ledger fall his arm strength, make-up, work ethic, solid fielding actions, and solid power potential. On the negative side of the ledger are his questionable swing mechanics and his likely inability to stick at shortstop. He may ultimately prove to be a tweener, not enough offense for third base, but not enough defense for shortstop. It's very early in his career and any flaws have yet to really bubble to the surface, but he's clearly willing to put in the work necessary to improve. His career gets underway in 2013.

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