There's a scouting axiom that says: "tools play." Now it's entirely possible that "axiom" is a fancy word that makes "cliches we like to use" sound a whole lot more like "things that are true." Nonetheless, at the highest levels of the game, where everything is faster, harder, stronger, it's a good idea to bring along the right tools for the job.
Which idea led me, while in minor league camp, to Indian School Field #3 to watch Steven Duggar take BP. Steven Duggar most definitely has tools. He has an entirely full toolbox. The question that too often seems to dog his scouting reports is: will they play? Or perhaps, why don't they play better? Which is why somebody like Duggar -- big, fast, strong, a capable up the middle defensive player who posted an OBP over .400 in his Junior year in a major baseball conference -- would fall to the Giants pick in the 6th round of last year's draft (a pick that was roundly hailed as a great potential value).
Going into last June's here was BA's summary of the scouting consensus:
On a Clemson squad loaded with pro prospects, Duggar has some of the loudest tools. He played right field for the Tigers this year because he has a plus arm, but Duggar has the requisite speed and actions to play center field at the next level. He is a plus-plus runner who ran a 6.26-second 60-yard dash for scouts last fall. That speed doesn't play as fast in games as he takes time to get out of the box. And on the bases, he was thrown out in 5 of his 15 attempts. The questions on Duggar are more centered on his offensive value. While no one is projecting him to develop into the middle of the order bat, some scouts wonder if his bat can develop enough for him to be even a bottom-of-the-lineup bat. A lefthanded hitter, Duggar has some bat speed and shows some ability to make contact against quality pitching. He has well below-average power. Ultimately, the club that signs Duggar will be buying a potentially special defensive player, who may or may not swing the bat well enough to profile as a regular.
Now there are some of who feel the idea that Duggar's tools don't play that well in games is overstated. Our old friend Fla-Giant is definitely a proponent of this philosophy. After all, in three years at Clemson Duggar was a career .300 hitter with a .390 OBP. His Junior year he sported a career best .304/.432/.432 line, which he followed up with a fine pro debut season in the NWL with a .293/.390/.367 line as the Volcanoes #2 hitter.
Primarily, this whole question of: will Duggar's tools play seems to boil down to two essentials. 1) Will his speed translate into SB? 2) Will his batspeed, size, and strength translate into power?
The second of those would seem to be the key question. We can likely dispense with the first question quickly. Though Duggar has well above average speed, he doesn't seem to show a base stealer's quick first step. He did steal 25 bases in his Sophomore year at Clemson, but that dropped down to 10 his Junior year and 6 at Salem Keizer in his pro debut. But as we know speed plays in a variety of ways and will almost certainly be a valuable part of Duggar's defensive game, maximizing his instincts and routes, as well as an asset to his base running in general, whether or not SB are the result.
The real question is the power. Will the power show up? Power in this context means a couple of different things. Of course, it carries the traditional meaning: will it show up in XBH, HRs, and the kind of SLG often associated with corner OF. But it also implies the ability to impact the ball. To avoid, as another old scouting axiom would have it, getting the bat knocked out of his hands by major league pitchers. Will he crank up the exit velocities in a way that makes pitchers approach his at bats with the requisite wariness due a starting position player? In the immortal words of Reggie Jackson, if you're gonna stand in the corner, you better lean on the pole. Will Duggar lean on the pole?
Not seen on camera: both of those swings producing long, long HRs down the RF line. You can hear the BP pitcher saying at the end of the clip "I found the hotspot!" It's in there. Without a doubt. The hotspot is not mythical; it exists! The power tool is in there. We're not talking about a Chris Shaw power tool, of course. This isn't a swing that produces effortless, long arching shots of beauty and wonder. But the bat makes a loud noise, and the ball jumps in line drives to all fields. And occasionally, it finds the hotspot.
So this will be the question with Steve Duggar over the next couple of years. There is a lot to like here. He's fast enough not to be stretched in CF. His arm plays well in RF. He's got length and bat speed and has historically shown a good eye at the plate combined with decent contact skills. His Junior year in the ACC produced a 54:49 BB:K ratio.
How the power plays will go a long way to determining his future. Can he, for instance, get it up to Gregor Blanco levels: an .090 career Iso hitter, though like the rest of his game that's climbed in his years with the Giants up over .100. If so, a Blancoesque role as a super valuable 4th OF is certainly not out of the question. Blanco, if you're interested, spent his year as a 22 year old in AA, where he produced an Iso of .088 on the strength of 19 doubles, 3 triples, and 0 homers, while also being rated by Baseball America the Best Defensive OF in the Atlanta Braves' system.
Or can Duggar get himself beyond a Blanco-esque level to something on the level of, say, Brett Gardner? Imagining, for a minute, that Gardner didn't have the advantage of the bizarro world-AT&T for a home park (and forgetting about those years of 50 SB), that gets you up to a .130 Iso with mid-teens HR totals, which combined with plus defense in the corner and solid base running could represent a valuable starting corner OF. In Gardner's age 22 season, he split time between the A+ Florida State League, where he had an .095 Iso and, following a midseason promotion, the AA Eastern League where he produced a breathtakingly punchless 250 PA of just 4 doubles, and 3 triples good for an .056 Iso. Interestingly he, too, was named BA's Best Defensive OF for both the Yankees' system and the Florida State League. So there's a well worn potential path to success here. The Giants potential best defensive OF is very likely going to be Duggar's former and current teammate Ronnie Jebavy, who also managed to show both more power and more base stealing speed in their pro debuts. The development of the two OF is very likely to be intertwined over the next few years.
Duggar in his pro debut at age 21, hit .293 with a .390 OBP, but the power again was less impactful. He managed 12 doubles, 1 triple and a single HR for short season Salem-Keizer, producing a .074 Iso. You watch the swings. They seem powerful. He's strong. The back side looks solid. He's got bat speed. He's got length and extension to his swing. The ball reports off the bat and occasionally soars. There's power there, enough to make him a valuable starter. It's there at 5 o'clock. Will it come out to play at 8 o'clock?
How will the tools play? Steven Duggar's future will hinge in large part of the answer to that question. Opening night comes Thursday. I can't wait to watch the answers begin to reveal themselves.