Scouting Primer: Power

As Greg Maddux once said in a television commercial, “Chicks dig the long ball.”

Power is the sexiest of the tools in a position player’s belt. It is also one of the tools that fans dream on the most as they wait for a player’s power to develop.

Scouting power can be broken down into several areas including raw power, usable power and power projection. To help explain the process of scouting power I will dive into all three of these areas.

Raw power deals with the natural strength a hitter is endowed with and their ability to translate that strength to brute power or outstanding bat speed that generates power. Often raw power is that power which is exhibited during batting practice. The power on display in batting practice is the product of grooved BP pitches and a healthy hack at the ball.

While a demonstration of power during batting practice can provide a nice window into what a young player may ultimately be capable of, it is often not an indication of the present reality. Frequently you will hear scouts discuss five o’clock power, referencing the fact that a prospect blasts balls out of the yard during BP but fails to translate that to game action.

As I mentioned above raw power can be a function of brute strength or bat speed. When thinking of brute strength I frequently conjure up thoughts of a cliché corn-fed Midwestern boy that has plenty of natural strength from working in the fields. That isn’t necessarily a fair image to pull from but I believe it paints a picture of what brute strength means. One red flag to watch for in players generating power from brute strength is a longer, slower swing, or “slider bat speed.” While not always the case, this can cause problems that I will address when discussing the projection of a player’s power.

Bat speed power is the sexier power for me. It doesn’t take a big strong guy to generate bat speed power. The classic example of bat speed power is Milwaukee second baseman Rickie Weeks. He generates so much bat speed with his arms, wrists, and hands that the ball explodes off his bat and can travel out to any part of the park.

Both types of raw power – brute strength and bat speed – have their place in the game and can carry a young player to the Major Leagues.

The question of usable power is one that is not always clearly differentiated in scouting reports. Some teams and outlets make a clear distinction in their reports, assigning separate scores to raw power and “present” or usable power. Other teams and outlets simply rely on the narrative of the report to distinguish between the two.

To attain nearly equal scores for present and future power requires a player to have refined their swing to the point that what they are able to do during batting practice is also what they are able to show at times against live pitching. This refinement includes their ability to make contact, their ability to recognize pitches and their ability to maintain a plan or approach at the plate. The development of these attributes allows a player to become a better pure hitter and as a result allows the raw power in their game to become evident past five o’clock.

Hundreds of prospects have wowed scouts with their ability to drive the ball in batting practice only to leave them wanting more during the ensuing game(s). Hundreds of prospects have flashed amazing raw power only to never refine their hitting ability and therefore never translate it to the game; ultimately watching their chance at the Major Leagues evaporate.

The transition from raw to present power is a finicky beast that is never truly understood. That is where the art of projecting power becomes valuable. When you see a prospect crushing balls before the game and flailing away only to make weak contact during the game, how does one go about projecting that power to show up in a year or two?

Some of the projection goes back to what I discussed in my previous post about scouting hitting ability. Hitting ability can make or break a prospect, particularly when it comes to utilizing their power. If a player displays good raw power but lacks a feel for hitting, the projection of actualizing that power potential may not be that great. However, if they have developed an ability to make contact and hit for average a scout may be more inclined to believe that raw power will ultimately show through.

To further illustrate the idea of power projection I want to walk through several types of players that will earn positive projections and several that may earn negative or lesser projections for their power.

Warning, gross generalizations will be made in the following paragraphs!

To start, I will go back to the player with “slider bat speed.” This player has raw power stemming from plenty of strength but lacks average or plus bat speed. The term “slider bat speed” stems from this player’s ability to catch up to and crush a slider, but possibly not catch up to the fastball without cheating on it. This type of player isn’t going to have the best power projection simply because the manner in which their power is generated is limited right up front.

Similarly, some players are dubbed “mistake hitters.” These hitters may also possess power and strength but can only truly show it off when a pitcher hangs a breaking ball or leaves a change-up or fastball in the middle of the plate. Again, long term power projection for these players may be lacking.

One type of player that may not draw positive projections early in their career is the guy that demonstrates nothing but pull power. He knows how to turn on the ball and rip it where his natural strength lies, but he lacks the ability to trust his hands and raw strength/bat speed to drive the ball up the middle or the other way.

If this type of player shows an ability to use the rest of the field in other parts of his game then he may harbor some projection for better utilizing his power to all fields. However, if the player is simply pull-happy in every aspect of his offensive game then his power projection may ultimately remain limited to something below his raw ceiling.

Using that on-the-fence type of player as a transition, I will offer up the types of players that scouts find easier to project for higher future power scores.

Bat speed is one of those things that you know when you see. The bat zips through the zone with blinding speed and the subsequent generation of power can be absolutely spectacular. Many times this is dubbed easy power as it doesn’t always look that difficult for the hitter to drive the ball out of the park. When a young player possesses plus-plus bat speed scouts will almost uniformly begin to drool at the idea of the power that may develop. The degree to which this power is projected will vary, but almost all future scores will show an increase in power over time.

The idea of loft in a swing is two-fold in the world of power projection. Either a player has it and you project it will result in more power, or a player lacks it and you might project that power output will increase as he learns to add loft.

Simply put, loft is the slight elevation of the swing plane as it nears it’s the end of the hitting zone and transitions to the finish of the swing. This is not an uppercut in the swing but rather a slight change in the plane of the swing that allows the hitter to elevate the ball with greater ease and ultimately drive the ball further. This loft can also result in the addition of back spin to the ball which aids in carrying the ball further.

If young players show loft in their swing they can be projected to add power as they mature and add more strength and bat speed. If a young player lacks loft but has good bat speed or strength, a scout may project added power as the player learns to tweak his swing slightly to add loft.

This second type of player will often also encompass the player projected to turn gap power to home run power down the line. Many young players will demonstrate the ability to drive the ball into the outfield gaps but not over the fence. This can be due to a lack of strength, bat speed or loft. To varying degrees this type of player can be projected to increase their home run power as they mature physically and/or adapt their swing.

To put the concept of power into context with the scouting scale I have placed the scale alongside generic expectations for annual home run totals in the following matrix:

Grade

Home Runs

80

35 or more

70

26-35

60

20-26

50

15-20

40

12-15

30

7-12

20

7 or less

In the end this is not an all-encompassing list of player types or a comprehensive guide to projecting power but it should paint a sound picture of the scouting process involved. You can walk into the park before the game starts and see raw power in the batting cage, but projecting that power to be realized during the game is a much more difficult craft that can take on many forms and leave you wondering exactly what went wrong or where that came from.

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2 Responses to Scouting Primer: Power

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