I’ve been thinking about something that caught my eye last week for quite some time now. After Baseball America proclaimed Dante Bichette Jr. the top prospect in the 2011 GCL league, which we all knew was coming, they added a surprise in their sub-only scouting report. BA’s Ben Badler tagged Bichette with the “plus-plus power” label, something we haven’t yet heard about Bichette.
When the Yankees drafted Dante Bichette, those familiar with him were universally underwhelmed by his physical talents. No one was willing to deny that he had superb coaching, good bloodlines, and a very advanced approach to the plate for a high school hitter. However, almost any good MLB player needs to back attributes like those up with a little muscle, agility, and natural talent, and Bichette didn’t appear to have a ton of that held in reserve. Even after hitting a very impressive .342/.446/.505, with (pro-rated to 155 games) the equivalent of 51 doubles, 9 triples and 9 home runs, plus a 12.5% BB%, in his debut, a lot of followers (and I partially include myself in this group) still want to see what Bichette does against more experienced talent before pronouncing him the next top Yankee prospect. Bichette has had excellent coaching, but that competitive edge will be less important as his peers in the minor leagues gain more professional experience with professional coaching staffs.
That is to say, the common interpretation of Bichette’s GCL performance was that despite his age, he was playing on an unfair playing field. He had a lot of hits, including a lot for extra bases, but those hits were a product of technique and approach rather than raw physical talent – essentially the opposite reaction we had when Jesus Montero was this age. But when a publication like Baseball America, who tend to be pretty precise with their wording about this sort of thing, starts calling Dante Bichette a plus-plus power prospect (30 HR or more, .530+ Slg), things change.
If Dante Bichette can hit for that kind of power, draw walks, play third base (which he did pretty well this season), and retain a smooth, contact-friendly swing, then we’re all dramatically underrating him as a prospect. In his post-ranking chat, Badler repeatedly described Dante as a prospect with tons of raw power, and with a higher ceiling than Ravel Santana, a guy with Superman-like tools. Badler gets his information essentially by talking to scouts and coaches from around the GCL league, synthesizing their opinions into one solid scouting report and ranking. Everyone he talked to was very impressed with all aspects of Bichette’s game.
Given that just three months ago a lot of the same type of people were describing the Yankees pick as somewhere in between “safe” and “a reach”, what happened here? I think there are two possibilities. One is that the original consensus about Bichette should still hold (He’s got average tools but coaching beyond his years), and we can expect his growth to slow compared to his peers, and that the reports out of the league are the result of a performance-induced confirmation bias. That doesn’t mean that Dante is a bad prospect, just that he isn’t the next Sanchez/Montero mega-prospect, but rather a guy who is more in the Cito Culver / Brett Gardner / Austin Romine range. The other possibility is that the Yankees legitimately uncovered a player who was severely underrated by the rest of the league, and Dante Bichette has all-star potential. In that case, Dante will have the all-star physical abilities to back up his advanced plate approach, professional attitude, bloodlines, etc and take his game to another level next season.
I’m betting on some mix of the two. Bichette crushed a bunch of pitchers who, by nature of their age and newness to professional baseball, are playing on a different level than he likely was. That said, he still crushed them. He still did so at the age of 18, and still adjusted to the league after a very difficult first few weeks. Those are good things, and signs of the future. Advanced plate approaches can be the result of coaching, or they could be the result of the sort of sound baseball instincts that not even all MLB players possess. Growth is the real key. Will he keep getting better? That’s what Bichette has to answer in Charleston next year. I’m willing to bet that he has more physical ability than people were betting when he was drafted, but 65+ power? We’ll see.
On another note, we could be seeing Tyler Austin, Dante Bichette, Mason Williams, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver and possibly Gary Sanchez start for Charleston next year. Wow. I wouldn’t want to be a pitcher in that division.