Nick Senzel, the Cincinnati Reds 1st round draft pick this year and #2 overall pick in the draft, is having an outstanding debut. Last night he homered in his third straight game for the Dayton Dragons, where he’s spent the bulk of his time since signing.
In the 34 games played with Dayton, the third baseman has hit .331/.438/.593. That slash line has come with nine doubles, two triples and six home runs. It’s also come along with 22 walks and just 25 strikeouts in 146 plate appearances. That’s good for an OPS of 1.031 in the Midwest League. The league average OPS in the league for 2016 is .674.
It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Senzel is performing well. He was touted as the most advanced hitting in the draft this season and as the #2 overall pick, he clearly had talent to work with. Still, he’s gone out and destroyed the Midwest League in 34 games. That raised the question in my head: How does his debut stack up to the other Top 5 college picks in the draft in recent memory?
Things have changed in the past few years when it comes to how the draft works. It used to be that players didn’t have to sign until August 15th, and that would lead to players essentially holding out for the most money until then, and ultimately missing almost all of the season in which they were drafted. That didn’t hold true for everyone, but there are more than a few guys missing in the data below that were Top 5 college hitters who simply either didn’t play, or barely played.
I went back to 2000 and worked my way through 2015 to see how other college hitters taken in the Top 5 picks of the draft performed in their first season. I only wanted to look at guys who played in full-season ball and had at least 100 plate appearances. Rookie ball and fall ball (several guys went on to play in the Arizona Fall League and the now defunct Hawaiian Winter League) are omitted from this.
|Kyle Schwarber||2014||A, A+||287||5||37||55||.322||.411||.574||.986|
|Tony Sanchez||2009||A, A+||201||1||22||38||.309||.413||.552||.964|
|Ryan Zimmerman||2005||A, AA||269||1||15||37||.336||.377||.564||.941|
|Evan Longoria||2007||A+, AA||237||3||14||39||.298||.339||.553||.892|
|Alex Bregman||2015||A, A+||311||13||29||30||.294||.366||.415||.781|
When we keep things limited to just guys with 100 plate appearances in full season ball, Nick Senzel stacks up with anyone. His OPS is the second best on the list, trailing just Ryan Braun. It’s worth noting, of course, that several players did have time at higher levels on this table, including Kyle Schwarber, Tony Sancehz, Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria, Alex Bregman and Christian Colon. That certainly needs to be accounted for when looking at the overall numbers. From this list, Senzel certainly stands out for his plate discipline, along with Alex Bregman. The power also stands out as he’s got the second best slugging percentage of the group behind only Braun.
What do things look like if we add in guys with at least 50 plate appearances in full season ball?
Senzel still stacks up quite well when we expand the list. Kris Bryant is really the only guy who pulled away and he had less than half as many plate appearances, granted they did come in a higher league.
When looking at both lists, the one thing that Senzel really jumps out with is his stolen base total. Only Alex Bregman is close, actually having one more steal, but it’s also in more than twice as many trips to the plate. Outside of that, no one else is remotely close.
The start that he’s gotten out to stacks up with just about anyone over the last 16 years. There are some guys missing from the list who simply didn’t sign soon enough to get playing time (Mark Teixeira, Alex Gordon, Matt Weiters, Pedro Alvarez, Buster Posey, Dustin Ackley), but for those who have, the start for the future Reds third baseman is better or incredibly comparable.
I don’t want to dive into this too deeply because for the most part, the scouting report on Nick Senzel was covered well at the time of his selection. The quick breakdown at the time of the draft – above-average hit tool, above-average power potential, solid speed, good defensive tools at third base, outstanding plate approach.
Having been able to watch him in person and on video over the last five weeks, here are some things that I’ve noticed that aren’t exactly in that above report.
He is absolutely, unquestionably faster than the draft scouting reports listed him as. When he first arrived in Dayton I was told that he was faster than the Reds expected him to be. Even with that knowledge, I was surprised by how fast he was. I’ve timed him at 4.06 to first base. That’s plus-plus speed. That’s a 65-70 runner. That’s a significant difference from what he was touted as while at Tennessee.
The baseball jumps off of his bat. This isn’t terribly unexpected, but he barrels the baseball well and it travels. I was sold on Nick Senzel when I watched him take batting practice swings in pre-draft videos. The bat speed, the swing, it just works. I was sold at that point that the power was going to be there at some point in the future, though initially I was expecting more doubles power than home run power. He’s generating more loft already and the ball is carrying over the fence. The home run power is developing much more quickly than expected.