Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don't count out Dodgers' prospect Scott Van Slyke because of his age

It's easy to overlook prospects because of their age. If a guy hasn't done anything by his age-21 or 22 season, he gets pushed down on prospect lists.

While that's not uncommon or unjustified, sometimes guys don't "get it" until later in their Minor League careers. The Dodgers might have one of those guys.

Ken Gurnick at wrote a profile on Dodgers' outfield/first base prospect Scott Van Slyke on Tuesday. It's a good read and sheds some light on a couple of interesting facts.

First of all, Scott is the son of former Phillie and Pirate Andy Van Slyke, who was a three-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove award winner. Baseball is definitely in his genes.

While Andy wasn't the Hall-of-Fame good (.792 career OPS), he was a solid player. He posted an .815 OPS from his age-24 through age-32 seasons and was a good defender in center field.

Scott's development took some time, and this quote from Gurnick's article really stood out:
"'I didn't take baseball seriously enough,' said Van Slyke. 'In high school, I didn't hit extra after practice. I went to a private school (John Burroughs College Prep in St. Louis). I was seeing 75 (mph) on a daily basis. I signed, went to the Gulf Coast League and the first pitch I see is 95. I stepped out of the box and said to myself, 'I've got no chance.' It took me a while.'"
Now, the fact Van Slyke wasn't giving baseball his full attention and/or effort isn't exactly a good thing -- and not totally unexpected from an 18-year-old, but it's interesting -- and refreshing -- to see Van Slyke be so candid about the early part of his professional career.

Van Slyke crushed the Southern League in his second go-round in 2011, posting a .348/.427/.595 triple slash with 20 home runs, 92 RBI and 45 doubles. Another impressive number was his increased walk-rate -- it rose from 7.9 percent in 2010 to 12.3 percent last season.

Surprisingly, Van Slyke didn't exactly embrace his baseball lineage as a young player.

From Gurnick's article:
"'My first three or four years, my Dad tried to help me, but I was a little stubborn and didn't listen to him,' said Scott. 'I had always been a success in high school and thought I knew what I was doing. I listen to him more lately.'"
If Van Slyke didn't change his ways, he probably wasn't going to be long for professional baseball. He didn't break out until his age-22 season (925 plate appearances). His 2009 season (.293/.373/.530) first put the former 25th-rounder on the prospect radar. He regressed in 2010 (.270/.329/.439) before blowing up in 2011. And he has a former Dodger to thank for his success thus far.

Last quote that stood out from Gurnick's article:
"'I guess I didn't realize how hard it was to maintain my swing,' said Van Slyke. 'The last couple of years, I've gotten into a routing, I work better in batting practice. Early on, I just went up and swung and played the game. Getting with Stubbs, I realize how important it is to have a game plan. He just gets my swing and can communicate with me. Next year, I need to be able to change on my own and not rely on a hitting coach. That's one of my goals.'"
So, he's gone from a guy who didn't give full effort and didn't listen to his father to a guy who embraced the coaching staffs and is realizing his potential. That's why I'm not giving up on Van Slyke. He likely isn't the second coming of Dale Murphy, but he could be a solid baseball player with value to a Major League team.

He'll probably begin the season in Albuquerque, but he could make his Major League debut later this season. In fact, I'd be willing to bet he does.

The tall right-hander (6-foot-5) is limited to a corner outfield spot (preferably left field) or first base. With the Dodgers missing out on Prince Fielder, James Loney on his last leg and Andre Ethier (trade bait) and Juan Rivera (not good), there could be room for Van Slyke in Los Angeles sooner, rather than later.

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