6-1; 180 lbs
One of my favorite prospects in the 2015 draft isn't one of the most heralded and doesn't project to go in the top round. Still, in the handful of games that I saw, I came away very impressed. I keep looking at pundit prospect lists to see where he ranks and I'm continually surprised to either not find him at all or find him near the bottom of the list. He seems better than that to me.
That prospect is Florida Atlantic's Brendon Sanger.
|Courtesy: JC Ridley/Owlpix.com|
Sanger is a pure hitter with very strong pitch recognition and plate discipline. Namely, the exact type of player the Reds should prioritize acquiring. The type who can consistently get the barrel of the bat on the ball and effectively control the strike zone.
In three seasons for Florida Atlantic, Sanger has posted the following production:
2013: .347/.436/.480/.916 with 31/21 K/BB ratio
2014: .332/.451/.440/.891 with 22/35 K/BB ratio
2015: .370/.492/.583/1.075 with 30/56 K/BB ratio
The power spike makes him more interesting, but it also needs to be put into proper context, as college baseball introduced new, more lively baseballs this year, so how much was legitimate improvement is a question to keep in mind.
For the 2015 season, Sanger ranked 40th in batting average, 11th in on-base percentage, and 2nd in walks in all of Division 1 baseball. He also won the Conference USA's Player of the Year award.
The stat line reflects what I saw when watching him. The guy can hit and he can control the strike zone. Over the course of his college career, Sanger has a .351 batting average, .463 on-base percentage, and .507 slugging percentage. Most impressively, his career K/BB ratio is 83/112. He walked more than he whiffed. At the end of the 2015 season, Sanger had reached base in 64 of his last 66 games.
Here's a quote from FAU hitting coach, Dickie Hart, from an article on Sanger that also dovetails nicely with what I saw:
“Our team is first in almost every offensive category and he’s our guy,” FAU hitting coach Dickie Hart said. “He has one of the most advanced hitting approaches I’ve seen as far as pitch selection and eyes for the strike zone. He’s an extremely patient hitter, he doesn’t panic. He doesn’t swing at balls. He has such a good understanding of the strike zone. He knows when to take a single the other way or when to pull the ball and drive it. He also is confident. He believes he’s a good hitter.”
There isn't much video on Sanger, but you can see him (#23) at the plate at the tail end of the below video, courtesy FAUAthletics on YouTube, starting at the 2:15 mark:
While his pitch recognition (the ability to quickly identify and dismiss pitches outside of his hitting zone) and his disciplined approach (his refusal to chase pitches) are eye-catching, his swing mechanics are also impressive and fundamentally sound.
In his pre-pitch stance, Sanger starts with his hands up high, he reminds me of Jake Lamb in that respect. He brings them down during the loading of the hands and still gets into the proper slot position in a timely manner. He does use a slightly deeper loading of the hands, which could give his swing a bit of length to the point of contact, but that hasn't been a problem to date. He effectively taps into the back/shoulder muscles with a "scap loading" type move, generating more force in the swing.
He lets the rotation of the core power the swing, keeping his hands in close to his body to reduce drag and he effectively firms up his front side to anchor the swing.
The concerns on his offensive game revolve around power. Will it translate to the professional ranks? His bat speed is solid, but it isn't plus, so will wood bats drag down his ability to drive the ball?
Defensively, Sanger is rather intriguing. He runs well and has solid arm strength, so he can handle the corner outfield spots. However, he might also be able to climb up the defensive spectrum a rung or two. He was recruited as a shortstop, moved to second, and then out to rightfield. His bat played best when he moved to the outfield, but that could be more coincidence than causation. It's not out of the realm of possibilities that he could be moved back to 2nd or 3rd base, where his bat would be more valuable. You can see his athleticism, speed, and agility when he legs out the triple in the above video clip. His combination of athleticism and prior experience could make him a legitimate candidate to transition back to the infield. He could be another Jason Kipnis.
Overall, I like Sanger's game a lot. He has a tremendous approach at the plate, good athleticism, and some flexibility with respect to defensive position. Even if the power tapers off as he climbs the ladder, his strong hit tool and on-base skill would be true value-drivers. Sanger could be a very good value for the Reds, especially since the Reds desperately need more hitters who fit the disciplined offensive profile that Sanger features.
Quite frankly, I would make it a real priority to land Brendon Sanger in the draft, especially since it won't cost a top round pick to get him, and I'll be very disappointed if the Reds don't do the same.