Updated: May 2, 2019
THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of quirky and goofy guy and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.
Max Schrock - Second Base, But More Third Than Ever
Acquired from The A's As Part Of The Stephen Piscotty Trade
STATS AS OF 5-1-2019
This is the story of how a disappointing season in the minors can really derail the perceived value and perceived potential of a prospect. This is also the story of how the ability to make contact with the baseball can only take you so far, no matter how elite that skill is.
Entering the 2018 season, the contact-heavy-hitting Schrock looked like he was destined to help\ the major league club by September. He possessed (and still possesses) an ELITE ability to make contact with the ball and he played an OK second base. Also, the Cardinals' brass emphasized that he would get time at third base in an effort to expand his versatility as he approached a major league debut.
As a matter of fact, most people (including my dumb-self) rated Schrock higher as a prospect that Yairo Muñoz, who also came to St. Louis via the Stephen Piscotty trade.
However, by April, Yairo was on the ML roster and Schrock was beginning an assignment at Memphis following an injury that cost him a good portion of spring training. That obviously cost him the chance to impress the Cardinals during those important spring months. It wouldn't have made that big of a difference were he healthy (because Kolten Wong was pretty well penciled in as the Cardinals' second baseman), but any prolonged exposure to the big club certainly wouldn't have hurt his case. Speaking of Schrock during spring training, here's a .gif of a nice little triple that he hit during the exhibition game that was played in Montreal last spring training:
Regardless of how his spring went and who was ahead of him on the depth chart, he was still in a good position to make both a major league debut and impact by the end of the season.
Then, in April, Schrock had a very Schrock-month in which he hit 323/370/409 with five doubles and one home run in 100 plate appearances. He did this while only striking out eight times and walking six times. This was the Max Schrock that the Cardinals traded for and the player that he is capable of being.
It's at this point of the story that I reemphasize how elite his contact tool is. You should take note that Schrock just doesn't strike out. The 8% strikeout rate IS Max Schrock. At his worst, he's going to strike out maybe 12% of the time. And, actually, I'd like to see this happen. I want to see Schrock compromising the "K" for the chance to hit the ball with more authority. Anyway, we'll get to that in a little bit.
At this point, too, it seemed like his "average at best" defense at second had taken a positive turn. He was flying all over the field and ranging well in both directions. His arm was still average, but he was showing great mobility and instincts, and his work turning the double play was really impressive, as well. Here's a little taste of a great play that he made to help Dakota Hudson out:
It might seem incredibly hard to believe/remember now, but there was a loud section of the Cardinals' fan base that was actually clamoring for Schrock to replace Kolten Wong in the Cardinals' daily lineup when Wong continued to struggle early on, offensively.
Unfortunately, Schrock's 2018 really hit a wall after April. From May 1st until the end of the Memphis regular season, Schrock hit 228/275/309 with 17 doubles and three home runs in 357 plate appearances. His strikeout rate and his walk rate stayed relatively level, but Schrock's ability to make contact was working against him.
As he stopped seeing good pitches to hit (and especially fastballs), Schrock started to expand his zone while chasing breaking pitches. Then, he'd get super-aggressive early in counts as he tried to get a fastball to hit. Once he got into this habit and fell down this rabbit hole, Schrock never seemed to pull himself out of it. Unfortunately, every month seemed to be worse than the last for him. When he was making contact it was of the weak variety. Or, what I've come to call "Jason Heywarding" pitches. You know, a lot of soft grounders to the right side of the infield.
If there was one positive to take from his game during this time, it was that his defense really did take a step forward. He'll be able to play second base defensively in the majors at an "average" level if he ever gets/earns the chance. His time at third was limited to 14, and I have no feel for his ability at the position. He *SEEMS* like he possesses a good enough arm for it. He *SEEMS* like he has adequate range for the position. It *LOOKED* like he'd be fine over at the hot corner, but I just can't say for sure at this point. He also played four games in left field. I had no idea that had even happened until right now. So, you know, HELP ME.
Mechanically, there's just one small thing about Schrock that I feel like I've notice from year to year while watching as much video as I can. In college, Schrock's lower-half was closed at the plate. Then, while at Midland in 2017, he seemed to open his stance up and that yielded some pretty solid results. He wasn't opened up in an exaggerated way, but it seemed to really help him.
During the 2018 season (as you'll notice in the .gif during spring training above and the .gif below), Schrock seemed to close his stance back up. Because of this, I am openly wondering if that hurt his ability to drive the ball to all fields. It seemed like Schrock was just puling things more because he was trying too hard to just drop the barrel. Speaking of which, what you'll notice below is that he does a tremendous job of dropping the head of the bat. He doesn't have a tremendous amount of bat speed, but it's quick enough. I wanted to show you the slow-mo .gif first because I want you to keep a close eye on how quiet Schrock is at the plate:
These two .gifs come from the September 7th playoff game. I love what his hips do and I love how he drops the barrel of the bat. Now, watch the same swing in regular time. First, you'll notice that he's opened up a little more than he was at during that ST .gif from earlier in this article. Second, while the swing is quick and barreled, notice the lack of extension that Schrock gets. This little single was the game winner (that's just a fun little anecdote and doens't really mean anything). Also, notice how much his swing, just the swing mechanic, mirrors Fernando Vina's:
The story of Max Schrock's 2018 season ends with the Cardinals leaving him exposed to the Rule Five draft instead of adding him to the 40-man roster and protecting him. Luckily, he wasn't selected by another organization. Instead, he'll come to big league camp during spring training with a chance to "right the ship."
Even though I dropped him heavily on the list, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he finds his groove in 2019 and quickly marches back up the list. A player with his bat control, strike zone awareness, and plate coverage won't stay down long at the minor league level. However, I would caution that a return to form might be a bit statistically misleading, as he enters his second season at AAA. With a little reverting to his past ways in his approach, Schrock could easily regain his stature as a hitter capable of being very valuable to a major league roster.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While 2018 went about as poorly overall for Schrock as it could have, there was a positive step forward made defensively that should not be overlooked. There is reason to believe that Schrock can get his bat back on track, too, with just a little approach tweaking and maybe a small mechanical adjustment. With other players on the 40-man capable of playing second or filling a utility role, it's going to be hard for this second base-only-ish prospect to find his way to the majors. The clearest path there is if he hits so well that the Cardinals' can't keep him down. If you were to bank on one hitting prospect to make a statistical rebound to career norms, my money would be on Schrock.
MAY 1st UPDATE
We definitely called the normalizing of Max Schrock during the 2019 season. Now, we just need to see him maintain it for longer than the opening month of the season. He's played quite a bit more third base this season, but he's also playing a little bit in the outfield, too. Right now, Schrock really appears to be solid minor league depth, and it doesn't really seem like power is going to come. I do love that he is starting to walk more, and hopefully that's the precursor to driving the ball more.
As always, thank you to FanGraphs for their statistical contribution to the D35.
Thanks For Reading!!