Just a year ago, the future was bright for top prospect Dante Bichette Jr. One down season, and much of the Yankee blogosphere has taken him out of their top prospect rankings. Personally, I'm not a fan of ranking prospects, and see it as an exercise of entertainment over actual analysis. Aside from the fact that we know very little about these minor leaguers, compared to the major leaguers, it's not fair to compare them to each other, or grade them, when we know so little about ballpark factors, match ups, or their advanced stats. Before I begin ranting, I'd like to point to an article I wrote in the beginning of February about one of the most esteemed voices on prospects, Keith Law. While I agree with a lot of Law's criticism on players, I believe he falls into an unfortunate circumstance of being a national minor league writer. There are so many players in the minor leagues, it's an impossible task to know and analyze every prospect from every level of every organization, and then don't forget about the amateur players. When asked about Dante Bichette Jr in February, Law called him a "borderline non-prospect" because his swing changed in 2012 into it's pre-2011 state. In reality, Bichette's swing never changed from amateur state through 2011, or through 2012, and the Yankees have a strict policy in not altering swings in the first 100 days that a player joins the club.
Bichette obviously destroyed the ball in 2011, but struggled in 2012. Perhaps it was a placebo effect to see a swing change when he struggled. Regardless of the reason why Law, and many other scouts, thought the swing changed, their criticism of the swing was fair. The third baseman modeled himself off of Jose Bautista, and in turn had a ton of moving parts in his stride and hands. You can watch a side-by-side video comparison between the two players here. Bautista himself said that it took him over a year to get comfortable with the new swing, so it would be no easy task for a teenager to copy this stance.
The prospect's approach at the plate may have been a complicated one, but it was something that was proven to work over time. He was aiming big, and should have done so considering he has easy access to a major league hitting coach, his own father. Despite the powerful swing, Bichette hit just 3 home runs last season, and clearly needed to make a change this offseason.
I apologize for the quality of the video, but we're fortunate to even have video thanks to Josh Norris. As you can see, Bichette has completely cut out his stride this season, resorting to a much simpler lift in his front foot. Although his hands appear to remain in the same position, the reduction in movement from losing the stride results in less movement overall in his hands. In the end, it's a much more balanced approach at the plate, at the cost of some power.
There have only been 23 plate appearances thus far, and he's only had 3 hits, but of those three hits, 2 have been home runs. Considering he hit only 3 in 522 plate appearances last season, it looks like Bichette could make a major power rebound this season. Although I don't think he'll stick to a pace of 45 home runs this year, early results from a less complicated swing are encouraging.