Even when you’re a solid prospect in your organization, you can still get blocked at the Major League level. Sometimes it’s one particular thing which keeps you from taking that final big step. One player who seems to be biding his time in the minors is St Louis Cardinals slugger Xavier Scruggs, who has been generating power at the plate since his early amateur days. But Scruggs was more than just a power bat; he logged time at third, first and the outfield, and even pitched while at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Indeed, he made 17 appearances as a pitcher in 2006, though fifteen walks in seventeen and a third innings made it clear that his future was as a position player. Scruggs manned the hot corner for UNLV, though he has moved over to first base as a pro. Either way, Scruggs has always murdered fastballs at every level. Growing up, his favorite player was former slugging All-Star Gary Sheffield, and while he hasn’t adopted Sheffield’s bat waggle (thankfully) he definitely shares Sheffield’s penchant for air-mailing mistakes over the wall.
Chosen in the 19th round of the 2008 Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals out of UNLV, has been pounding the ball since then. In 2009, Scruggs posted 14 doubles and 14 homers to go with his 59 RBI in just 75 games between the Low-A Batavia Muckdogs in the NY-Penn League and the full-season Class-A Quad Cities River Bandits in the Midwest League. He followed that with four seasons of 20+ homers: 21 between High-A and Double-A (Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League and Springfield Cardinals of the Texas League, respectively), 21 more in 117 games as his encore in the FSL, 22 in 2012 for his first full season in Springfield, and 29 in his second season in Springfield. As you might have guessed, power is his game.
Scruggs generates serious power with strong wrists and a natural uppercut in his swing. His bat speed isn’t quite elite, and he sometimes opens his front shoulder too soon. Even so, he has enough pop to drive the ball out to right-center on a late swing. On defense, he’s not going to win any Gold Gloves. He’ll hold his own at first base as long as he maintains his flexibility as the years roll by. Scruggs does pride himself on the defensive work he puts in to maximize his ability in the field.
He’s never going to hit for average, being a Three-True-Outcome sort of hitter: walk, strikeout, or home run. At 6’1”, 210, he’s looks the part of the classic slugger. He also whiffs like the classic slugger. However, Scruggs has learned to take the walk when pitchers want no part of him, as opposed to forcing the swing and making poor contact. He walked 82 times in 2013 to go with an unsightly 177 strikeouts. Of course, he also had the aforementioned 29 bombs and 81 RBI. He also struggles with strong breaking balls, which may be the primary reason he has yet to make his mark in the majors. As the old saying goes, ‘the fleas come with the dog’.
As far as getting a shot with the Cardinals, Scruggs is blocked at first base by Matt Adams and wouldn’t be likely to pick up games in a crowded outfield. He has also been left unprotected by the Cards in the Rule 5 Draft three times. He was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, so it’s likely that Scruggs is showcasing his talent for a possible trade later in the year. Even with the Ks, Scruggs could definitely be a surprise power source for some lucky team. Indeed, if he ends up going to an AL team, he could be a great fit as a 1B-DH sort of guy. Scruggs could be moved to third, as he had a great deal of experience at the position in college, or possibly to left field. He is athletic enough to play left, if needed, though it’s probably best that he doesn’t play the majority of his games there. He’s proven that he has the pop, even if it was in Double-A. Given a chance, especially with a second-division AL team where he could play with regularity, Scruggs could be good for 25 homers and 80 RBI. Like most strikeout-prone power hitters, those numbers are subject to fluctuation. But the power is there. Now he just needs a chance to prove it. He opens 2014 at age 26. Even with 91 homers over the past four seasons, his time is running out.