Rule 5: Hunting for “sleepers”? Try the “Low-K Power Guy” and the “Plate Skills Technician”
Certainly, based on Rules 3 and 4 (if you’ve been following along), we know to look for the guys who hit hard but also have the plate skills to avoid strikeouts, draw walks and wait for the “hitter’s pitch.” And, sure, it can be pretty obvious when a guy like Prince Fielder comes along and wipes out the minors while getting plenty of bases on balls and a low whiff rate.
But where do you find the less-obvious guys with a good chance to succeed?
In Rule 4, we already looked a one sub-set, the Slugger Who Walks. But sluggers aren’t likely to be “sleepers.” When it comes to the big-bopper dudes, the key is identifying the ones with the plate skills to survive in the majors.
The other two sub-sets are the ones that take a bit more scouring.
One group is made up of hitters whose stats don’t jump out, but who demonstrate the ability to hit with power while maintaining a low K% (K/PA). I call it the “Low K Power Guy.” That combination is a good indicator of future growth potential.
Take, for example, Torii Hunter. His minor league numbers don’t indicate too much special, except, of course, for his defensive prowess in center field. At age 21, his line was just .231/.305/.338, and it looked like he would just be a glove guy. The next year, though, he got much better, and the key was a sharp increase in extra-base hits while maintaining exactly the same strikeout rate. He still had just 10 home runs, so he didn’t appear to profile as a slugger, but the ability to hit with authority without the high K rate was the tipoff.
The second potential “sleeper” category is the “Plate Skills Technician.” This guy also doesn’t have eye-popping stats, but he has three things: extra-base hits (usually lots of doubles), walks and low strikeouts. With the ability to both distinguish balls from strikes and a “hitter’s pitch” from a “pitcher’s pitch,” these guys have a good chance of maturing into guys who can figure out how to send the right pitch over the fence.
Future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, for one, maxed out with five (yes, 5) homers as a minor leaguer. And BoSox buddies Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t exactly send many minor league fans scrambling for souvenirs.
But they were all strong doubles hitters who put up a ton of walks and very low K-rates. In the majors, with a dose of added maturity, but the same strong plate skills, the long-balls started to show up.