Major League Baseball’s draft is very different from the NFL’s. The NFL has a much shorter, but far more expensive version. Top baseball draftees aren’t signing for chump change, but the money involved is nowhere close to that extended in the enormous contracts given to first-round draft picks in the NFL. In an effort to prevent the MLB draft from becoming like the NFL’s draft, baseball’s feeble commissioner’s office instituted a money slot system. Every year prior to the draft, they provide guidelines on how much they think each pick should make per their draft position. However, the guidelines are merely suggestions and there is no punishment for signing a player for a higher price than Bud Selig recommends.
Even though a lot of teams could not care less, the Rockies have traditionally followed the slotting system guidelines, staying away from players that they couldn’t sign for slot amounts. Recently, after years of missed opportunities, O’Dowd and company decided to adopt a totally different philosophy. In 2009, they took Tyler Matzek, even though he was leaning towards honoring his commitment to the University of Oregon. After the Rox offered him the largest signing bonus in franchise history — an amount that was outside of that recommend for his slot – Tyler changed his mind.
Last year, the Rockies took it even further. They picked Kyle Parker late in the first round and gave him a bunch of money to give up two years of NCAA football eligibility. Then, in the 15th round, they drafted Will Swanner, a catcher from Cardiff, California. The other teams passed on Swanner because he was committed to Pepperdine and wanted a good size signing bonus. The Rockies drafted him and gave him $490,000, one of the highest amounts ever given to a player drafted outside of the first ten rounds. I’d imagine the commissioner’s office was more than a little pissed about the Swanner signing, but guess what they did about it? Jack s***. Good for the Rockies. If they did everything Bud Selig told them to do, they would be the Brewers. However, Bud Selig’s incompetence is a topic for another day. This post is about Will Swanner.
Last August’s negotiations with Swanner went down to the wire, leaving him time to play in only eighteen games with Casper. Regardless, he made quite an impression. In 78 plate appearances, he hit seven homeruns with a .303 batting average and a .952 OPS. Last month, Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the 12th best Rockies’ prospect. At this point, the Rox have to be thrilled. When you draft a kid in the 15th round and he becomes a top prospect in your system after just 18 rookie ball games, you are doing something very, very right.
Swanner’s power is obvious; he hit a homerun every ten at-bats last year. He is a strong kid with very good hands. However, his approach at the plate is too aggressive. He struck out 33 times last year in just 76 at-bats. Even worse, he failed to draw a single walk. When it comes to prospects, high strikeout totals and low walk rates are major red flags. Plate discipline is a tricky thing to teach. The vast majority of prospects that have difficulty with it fail to improve. Next season, Swanner must make great strides in this area.
Defensively, Will has a chance to be very good. He has a natural feel for catching, is a solid game manager, and works well with pitchers. He has nice flexibility from years of practicing yoga; he moves well out of the crouch. He has a strong, accurate arm and good footwork. Last year with Casper, he mostly served as a DH, but he will be a regular catcher in 2011.
I like Swanner’s skill set, but I’m reserving judgment. His minor league sample size is too small to make any determinations. The power he showed last year is exciting, but striking out 43% of the time is very alarming. It’s likely that Swanner will participate in extended spring training before starting the year with Tri-City. Asheville is also a possibility.