We hear it about a large number of prospects: “He’s a toolsy, raw player. [Insert prospect name here] has some awesome talent, I can’t wait to see when he reaches the majors. He could be an all-star some day if he hits his potential.”
But years later, players labelled with the ‘boom-or-bust’ tag end up in varying stages of the minors. A majority of the players end up fizzling out, but some do become some of the most exciting prospects in the league. Of these players, the Crew now has two that were fairly similar going into their respective drafts: OF’s Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison. However similar they were, the two have adventured into very different sections of the ‘boom-or-bust’ spectrum – one is an exciting top prospect, the other has struggled to make a successful name for himself aside from us prospect junkies that still garner him with strong praise. But what may be a large factor when discerning between the successful raw prospects from the ones who could struggle? Can there be any warning signs that teams could look further into when deciding who to draft or acquire?
-6’3″, between 170-195 lbs.
OF, R/R, Coral Springs H.S. (18 yrs old)
-Grades: 55 Bat, 50+ Power, 60 Run, 55+ Arm, 55 Field, 50 OVR (MLB.com in 2012)
- “Raw, toolsy high school outfielders are always popular come Draft time and if his summer performance is any indication, Brinson has the chance to be one of the best in this category.Tall, lanky and athletic, he reminds some of Dexter Fowler or Cameron Maybin. Brinson has good bat speed and can spray line drives gap-to-gap. There’s leverage in his swing with good raw power, which could develop into above-average pop in the future. He’s an easily above-average runner, which should play well on both sides of the ball. He makes the plays in the outfield and has a strong arm. More than anything, Brinson is still raw. But as he showed over the summer, the more he plays against good competition, the better he gets. That bodes well for his future and there are sure to be many teams interested in his very full toolbox. (per MLB Prospect Watch 2012)”
It’s obvious to see what teams were looking at with Brinson (as well as with Harrison two years later): the raw, toolsy set of skills. Brinson was tall, lanky, and had an athlete’s build. He had the traditional ‘look’ of a future baseball player to pair with his exceptional potential. But the problem was the reality of what he was at the time of the draft. At that point, scouts saw him as a prospect with immense potential rather than a player with polished abilities – as we’ll also see with Harrison. Brinson ended up getting drafted with the 29th pick – the following pick after the Crew selected C Clint Coulter and OF Victor Roache back-to-back – and signed him for $1.625 million.
-6’3″, between 180-200 lbs.
OF, R/R, Lee Summitt West H.S. (18 yrs. old)
-Grades: 50 Bat, 55 Power, 60 Run, 70 Arm, 55 Field, 50 OVR (MLB.com in 2014)
- “Few prospects in the 2014 Draft have as many options as Harrison. He’s one of the best outfield prospects available, his arm strength could lead to a future on the mound if needed and he’s also a four-star wide receiver recruit. He has committed to play both baseball and football at Nebraska, where the baseball coach (former All-Star outfielder Darin Erstad) once did the same. If Harrison’s bat develops as hoped, he could have solid or better tools across the board. His most impressive attribute is his arm, as he was clocked at 97 mph making a throw from the outfield during the Perfect Game National in June. He’s an above-average runner who could become a quality center fielder. If not, Harrison has the bat and arm to profile well in right field. He has the strength and bat speed for above-average power. He’ll need some time to develop at the plate, and his progress should be expedited once he focuses full-time on baseball. (per MLB Prospect Watch 2014)“
Similarly to Brinson, Harrison was lauded as a project with a lot of potential upside. Also mentioned was his ability as a football player (without mention of his pretty cool basketball highlights), which further displayed his strong athleticism. His tools were in the same relative ballpark as Brinson’s, with exception to his slightly weaker contact ability and his rocket arm – something that scouts believed might also be useful as a fall-back option. His relative size was also a small difference – somewhere between 5-20 pounds. This could be attributed to his training as a three-sport athlete – seen in his commitment to play both football and baseball for the University of Nebraska. However, his focus on other sports also prevented him from working on his baseball game full-time, which could have been more of a deterrence when teams began the drafting process. Nonetheless, Harrison ended up getting drafted in the second round (#50), and signing for $1.8 million – $700k over slot bonus.
MINOR LEAGUE PRODUCTION TO-DATE:
So far in his five-year career, Brinson’s abilities have been tested extensively. He came into the league with a bang, owning an impressive stat-line and compiling a 122 wRC+. He faced learning curves at each level after huge seasons – seen in his first full season in 2013, his High-A call-up in 2014 (.246/.307/.350 line in 199 PA), and a final hiccup in when starting in Triple-A this season (.237/.280/.431 line in 326 PA). In each year, he gradually made solid adjustments to his approach at the plate that can be witnessed in a phenomenal drop in K-rate and acceptable fluctuation in walk-rate until this season. Most importantly, Brinson was able to log a healthy dose of plate appearances – 2105 in total – to make adjustments to his swing and style of play. Though he did miss some time in 2014, he’s logged a superb .279/.344/.490 line with 76 home runs, 86 stolen bases, and 212 extra-base hits with a 7.9% BB-rate and a 25.9% K-rate – all numbers that should continue to improve until he reaches the majors.
If we just compare Harrison’s two-and-a-half seasons to Brinson’s, it’s apparent that things have not gone as well as the Crew would have hoped (though it shouldn’t be expected that a player should perform that well). He had a solid start to his career, but seemingly fell through in 2015-2016. However, the plate appearances are key here – he suffered injuries that both took him off the field and likely hindered his abilities afterwards (more on this later). As a result, Harrison’s game could have taken a spiral due to the constant adjustments for comfortability, strength, and confidence for weeks upon his return. One thing to keep in mind is Harrison’s youth, however. He still has a couple of years to validate the original sky-high ceiling if he can manage to stay on the field and make the proper adjustments to his game. In his 806 total plate appearances so far (Brinson had 1153 by this time), Harrison owns a .225/.331/.337 line with 12 HR, 60 SB, 49 extra-base hits, 29.3% K-rate and 9.8% walk-rate.
WHAT TO MAKE OF THE DIFFERENCE?:
Looking at Brinson and Harrison side-by-side, we see two very different tales of a relatively-similar draft prospect. But what might attribute to these differences in such a prospect type? Of course no prospect is the same in their mind-frame, bone/body structure, and cognitive experiences and abilities; these all vary for any player who plays the game in general. The differences could also be attributed to the specific coaches and team development programs each had gone through (Brinson in Texas while Harrison was always with the Crew). But are there some things that stick out that might give us some other reasons?
One of the first differences we see comes within Harrison’s high school focus compared to Brinson. Harrison spread his time across three major sports – football, basketball, and baseball. This enabled him to be a highly active person with a phenomenal athletic build. However, it quite possibly prevented him from focusing on just one sport, let alone two. Though he seemed to focus more on football and baseball, focusing on two can still divide his time significantly. The multi-sport focus may also have altered his conditioning and body structure, as it is obvious that each sport differs in emphasizing certain muscle areas as well as building or toning the given regions. However, it is important to note that the fluctuation could have been much smaller on account of his position on the football field (wide receiver).
The second one – which is probably the most important – has come in Harrison’s injuries. In 2015, he suffered a horrible ankle injury (fractured tibia, dislocated fibula) in late July which kept him out all season. Just prior to the injury, he hit to the tune of a .316/.416/.495 line in 115 PA’s for Rookie League Helena after he was called down halfway through June. The setback prevented him from playing for over 8 months, and so his season would have to begin by both adjusting to the surgically-repaired ankle while doing developmental tweaks at Low-A (possibly seen in the meager .156/.232/.211 line in the first 100 PA’s). But just like the first time, Harrison made adjustments and gradually upped his production in the next 132 PA’s (.263/.328/.475 line) before he broke a bone in his left hand in late June. This again sidelined him for a long time, but he rehabbed and returned to Low-A on the 18th of August to round out his season with a much lower .237/.318/.254 line in 66 PA’s. The key downturn here is the slugging percentage; loosing ability in the lead hand – which controls and grips the bat-head – can induce softer contact and produce more ground balls (thus, lower extra-base hits).
But the one major factor that appears bright for Harrison is the time-frame. Lewis Brinson didn’t become a star prospect overnight – most prospects never do. Having two years on Harrison is huge for a prospect that was so similar to him on their draft nights. This means that we should really give Harrison a chance for another season to display both his health and his still-intriguing potential (though scouts have started to doubt his chances more and more).
Either way, it’s always interesting to analyze two prospects who started out relatively the same on scouting grades that have panned out quite differently thus far.