The power tool has become somewhat of a lost art in the modern era of baseball. The slow, three true outcome sluggers have given way to youthful exuberance and athleticism, giving today’s game more flow than the station-to-station offenses many of us grew up with in the late 90’s and early 21st century. Toronto’s own Jose Bautista has led the majors in home runs each of the past two seasons with totals that were commonplace less than five years ago.
While the game appears to be shifting away from power hitters, one might argue that that actually makes young hitters with power potential even more valuable, as they can contribute in a way few others can. Toronto has four players in the minor leagues with game changing power, and they’ll lead off the power division in our Top Tools series. One thing to remember, however, is the significant difference between potential power and actualized power. Potential power (PP) is a projection based upon size, strength, and swing. Actualized power (AP) is what a player can do right now. These rankings are based upon both values.
1. C Travis d’Arnaud (Above average AP, plus PP)
The system’s best present and future power hitter lives behind the plate, which on the surface seems strange. While catching has seen a bit of a paradigm shift towards offense, it’s been more of an improvement in contact ability and plate approach than raw power. Out of all the full-time catchers in baseball (with Mike Napoli omitted, as he made only 57 starts at catcher in 2011), Carlos Santana had the most home runs with 27, which was the lowest total of any positional leader. d’Arnaud has the plus power potential required to rank at or near the top of that list.
d’Arnaud generates his power through quick hands, exceptional bat speed, and a compact swing, though he has yet to fully utilize his leg strength in his swing. In only 114 games with Double-A New Hampshire in 2011, he mashed 33 doubles to go along with his 21 home runs – good for a 231 ISO. That puts him in elite company within the Blue Jays organization. J.P. Arencibia’s breakout year came as a 22-year-old when he totaled 510 at-bats between Dunedin and New Hampshire, producing a 229 ISO. That jumped to a 263 ISO in his two years in Las Vegas — d’Arnaud’s destination for the 2012 season. Another injury-free year could bring him one step closer to meeting his immense power potential and succeeding Arencibia as Toronto’s starting catcher.
2. 1B/OF Jacob Anderson (Solid-average AP, plus PP)
In Jacob Anderson, the power is coming from a more traditional position. Though he played a lot of first base in high school, Anderson appears destined for a corner outfield role with the Blue Jays. His offensive game is more than capable of handling either position, as the 6-foot-4 19-year-old uses his height to his advantage, creating massive leverage in his swing. Anderson’s bat speed is excellent, though his swing plane is more conducive to line drives than high arching fly balls, suggesting a lot of the power early in his career could materialize into doubles. It may take a few years for his in-game home run power to fully blossom, but in batting practice and derbys – Anderson won the 2010 Under Armor All-America Home Run Derby at Wrigley Field – the raw potential is clearly there.
3. 3B Matt Dean (Average AP, plus PP)
While he has yet to make his professional debut, this 2011 draft pick (13th round) has plenty of power to go around. Dean has a long and powerful swing with a significant uppercut, but excellent bat speed thanks to quick hands and a sturdy, 6’3” frame — though he still has room to fill out. After beginning the year in extended spring training, Dean will be assigned to a short season league where he can begin to show off his power in actual games. His power could translate into an ISO in the 150-200 range as early as this season, and should sit consistently in the 200-250 range once he fully develops. If forced to say who on this list has the best chance at being a 30+ home run hitter, Dean would be my answer, but with an inconsistent final high school year and no professional data, anything beyond plus potential power would be irrational to suggest.
4. RF Michael Crouse (Average AP, fringe-plus PP)
A former high school football player, Crouse’s power – both actualized and potential – has taken a huge leap forward over the past two seasons. In his first two years (62 games), Crouse managed only nine doubles, five triples, and two home runs. In his two most recent campaigns (157 games), he’s belted 38 doubles, 10 triples, and 20 home runs. Strength has never been an issue, as at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, there’s ample muscle mass. Unlike d’Arnaud, who swings primarily with his upper half, Crouse uses his strong lower half to help his arms power through the strike zone with good bat speed and plenty of loft. His swing is short and quick, but lacks smoothness and fluidity. Crouse is the perfect example of how power can only go as far as the bat skills will allow, as it took years of professional instruction with the bat for him to begin flourishing as a power hitter, and his ultimate power ceiling is contingent upon continued growth as a hitter.