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2017 Phillies Draft Preview: JJ Schwarz, C

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In which I say I hate making player comparisons, then proceed to make an ungodly number of them.

MLB: General Managers Meetings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If JJ Schwarz were to go #1 overall this summer I would be no more surprised than if he went 25th. I try hard to avoid player comparisons, especially in draft previews. If you call a guy the next Ken Griffey Jr., well how can anyone really live up to that? So I try to stick with perhaps comparing a tool or a part of the game. It’s an easy trap to fall into, the easiest way to explain something to someone is to compare it to something they already know. The inherent problem with this (as Mike Schmidt seems to run into every dang spring when he touts some young player as the next, well, himself) is that no player is exactly like another and even if every tool is identical the outcomes will never be.

So after burning all those pixels, dammit, okay. JJ Schwarz is this year’s Kyle Schwarber. There, I said it. Now, usual caveats about the unlikelihood of identical outcomes apply, but there’s a ton of similarities here. JJ likely has the best power bat in this draft, he’s possibly got the best hitting approach in this draft and it’s going to be really tough to keep him behind Home Plate. That sounds very similar to a lot of takes on Schwarber pre-draft. Schwarber was expected to go in the late teens or twenties due to his defense, so it was a bit of a surprise when the Cubs took him Top 5. The difference here though is that JJ was a projected First Round talent in 2014 (he fell to the 17th Round due to a strong college commitment). I reviewed him then, but didn’t write much about him due to rumors of the College commitment dropping him and his projections making him very unlikely to go top 10, but unlikely to last to mid-2nd round if the College commitment was just rumor.

I’m going to start with a very brief summary of his defense. I’m not going to spend much time on it, because I think if he’s an option in the top 10 picks it’s because his bat is so advanced that any team will find someplace else to play him to get him to the Majors quickly. I’m going to make comp number 2 here and say in shorthand his Defense is basically where Andrew Knapp’s was coming out of College. You may be able to refine him into an average defender back there, but the arm is average and the tools are always going to make him a little bit of a liability. If his bat is as good as it has looked his first two years at Florida, forget Catcher and stick him somewhere to just focus on hitting.

Unlike Schwarber who can kind of play Left, JJ has stereotypical Catcher speed. He might be already a 30 or below runner on the 20-80 scale. The best times to first I’ve seen are in the 30-35 range, but many of the times have been 20's. While slow guys do play in Left, Schwarz may be a pushing it a bit. So that makes him likely a First Baseman or DH (DH is a bit unlikely as I can’t recall a DH ever being drafted in Round 1). JJ has a little experience at First, playing there a bit late in the season due to injuries on the Florida roster, but not enough to really gauge his skills there.

So this pick would be all about the bat, so we may as well talk about that. JJ’s Freshman and Sophomore years almost look like 2 different players from just looking at the power numbers. Freshman year he put up the video game stats line of: .332/.398/.629 for an OPS of 1.027 with a .297 ISO. He also sported a thoroughly respectable 15.6% K rate and 9.5% BB rate. His Sophomore year, Pitchers stayed away from him a bit more depressing his power numbers and average a little, but his OBP was only .001 lower and his BABiP was only .003 lower. It was kind of his Joey Votto year, as he took what Pitchers gave him and didn’t change his approach. His line ended up .290/.397/.456 for an .853 OPS. A perfectly solid year that some saw as a bit of a letdown. I disagree with that sense; despite going from 18 Homers as a Freshman to 7 as a Soph, JJ’s K rate only rose to 17.6%, which would be a thoroughly normal fluctuation, but his BB rate shot up to 14.7%. A lot of 19/20 year olds may have seen their power numbers dropping off and been tempted to expand their zone and chase balls hoping to catch one or guessed more on pitches, swinging out of their shoes. Honestly if you took away 11 BB’s from Schwarz and made them Homers, his lines would be within 5 points of each other across the board. That is a really weird level of statistical consistency. Of course, that assumes those 11 hits would have been homers and not long flyouts, but I’m merely trying to point out that the only real difference between his two seasons would be 11 Homers becoming Walks.

Now for the obligatory video. Thanks to Prospect Junkie’s for the fix, uh, I mean video. First off we see a little batting cage and defense. I don’t care much about those. Then we get in game hitting, showing JJ’s small kick step, quiet bat and round about the 1:00 mark you see JJ from behind with a fence railing around head level. This is great and fortuitous to show off one of his best traits. Watch his head and that railing. JJ’s head stays remarkably level for a 20 year old power hitter. That stroke doesn’t need any work at all and he could hit from day one with that swing in the Majors. That’s not to say he needs no time in the Minors, he does need some time to adjust to the better quality of pitching and adjust his eye a bit to it, but if he spends more than 2 years in the minors, I’ll be surprised. There are guys in the Majors today whose swings aren’t that sound.

If Schwarz's skills as a Catcher were good enough to be an obvious average player at the position and his arm was better than average, he'd be a lock for a top 5 pick. The positional questions may limit him to AL teams who have a DH fallback option for him. I think the bat has so much potential, I'd take him at #8 in a heartbeat and stick him at First Base and tell him to focus on hitting. I've seen comps to Mike Napoli and Buster Posey, but I think offensively he probably sits somewhere between those two. Maybe a bit more power ceiling than Posey has, but with lower K rates and better contact than Napoli. Defensively I think Napoli is probably a pretty fair comp. Hell, if I can get Mister Naposey with the 8th pick in any Draft, I'd call that a win.