Selection by Swing
The draft is a crapshoot, right? Maybe so. Honestly, I don't know, because I've never been in position to make decisions on drafting players. There are countless things to consider, all with the purpose of determining which players are most likely to make it to the big leagues.
Looking at the draft videos from 2006, I took a pair of contrasting swings: one which looks fairly advanced already, and another which looks like more significant adjustments will be necessary. Emphasis goes on the word swings because the swing is just one factor in determining the overall value of a player. Who is the better player? I don't know and that is not the point. The point is trying to find out what the player's swing might be able to tell us about future performance.
My choices were Hank Conger (left) and Cody Johnson (right), who is mirrored to appear right-handed. David Wright is in the middle for comparison purposes because he is one of the best young hitters at the major league level. Although I do not have any amateur video of him, I am going on the assumption that he had a pretty good swing which allowed him to quickly reach the majors.
With apologies to Chris Parmalee, who appears to also have developed a high-level swing, Conger just jumped right out in terms of comparison to a guy like David Wright. In any case, the issue is how the player uses his body to swing the bat. Conger looks quick and efficient, producing both bat speed and quickness, similar to Wright. In order to demonstrate the red-flags of Johnson's swing, I thought it best to make a couple more comparisons. Stephen Drew is a guy who progressed rapidly to Arizona, and his swing is remarkably similar to when he was at Florida State.
Here is Johnson along with a shot from Stephen Drew's draft video:
Very specifically, this is the area that would concern me about Johnson's swing:
What I am trying to show here is how they move into footplant. Johnson is the definition of "opening up" the hips too early (at least on this swing). Drew is starting to rotate, but the segments of his hips, shoulders and hands/bat are moving together. Look again at Drew's hands and check how they progress towards contact. The situation with Johnson is quite different, which may allow for great bat speed and power but is a big problem when it comes to quickness. Successful big leaguers have both, finding a way to use the large muscles of the body to produce power in a short period of time.
Trying to go one step further, I came across Ryan Harvey's draft video. This seems to be an interesting comparison because both had been 6'5", athletic, power-hitting outfielders. Might Harvey's first few seasons in the minors give an indication of what is to come for Johnson? Time will tell.
Here is the comparison (Johnson again mirrored to be right-handed):
The Harvey video is not great (missing frames, etc.) but it serves the purpose. From what I gather reading prospect reviews, both of these players opened eyes with their towering home run power. Again, the issue is how this power is generated and how will it transfer to higher levels. Were Johnson and Harvey lighting it up in batting practice and preying on inferior pitching during games?
Suppose, however, that they did have success against other top high school pitchers - why are those pitchers dominant in high school? Likely because they throw fastballs that most high school players can't catch up to. Even with a "long" swing, players like Johnson and Harvey could catch up to mid-90s fastballs, assuming they are looking for the pitch (see Jeff Francoeur). Of course, this would make their power look even more impressive.
But are they really showing signs of a high-level swing? I will leave with one more picture that tells much of the story:
Conger - Wright - Johnson - Harvey all at 2 frames before contact. The angle shows their back elbow, which can often identify bat drag or other forms of disconnection from the arms and the body. In this case, with the elbow leading at a point so close to contact, it appears that Johnson and Harvey relied most on the arms to create a long powerful swing, which may be impressive on the surface, but probably won't provide for smooth progress toward the majors. Conger and Wright are more indicative of swings with quickness and power.
While the bright side of Johnson and Harvey may be their athletic ability, the question becomes the skill of their swing. Skills depend on practice and experience, and while not impossible, it will be quite a challenge for young players to progress through pro baseball while at the same time skillfully developing better swing patterns.