There has been some recent discussion in Minnesota Twins media about the ideal size of a ballplayer. What if the ideal isn’t truly ideal?
The Minnesota Twins have been plugging along through a lot of things this season, from a nearly non-existent offense at times to a bullpen that couldn’t hold leads to essentially a one-man starting rotation at times, and yet the team still sits in playoff position.
When slugger Miguel Sano went down with an injury to his hamstring after playing through nearly anything and everything else that came his way this season, an article from a local columnist set off a firestorm on social media and through podcasts and various other media outlets. We won’t get the war of words and vitriol that has come out of that article, but one thing that did come up was the exact build of a player and what is ideal for a baseball player.
Each offseason, I do a number of team top prospect lists for Call To The Pen, and I work on the draft quite a bit every spring, so over the last number of years, I’ve made a number of contacts with scouts throughout the game, both ones that work within the game and those that work independently. As I was making some calls in preparation for future articles on minor leaguers for Call To The Pen and here for Puckett’s Pond, I had a very informative conversation with one scout that I carried forward to a few more scouts after that first conversation, and I got the same response every time.
A scout’s ideal
When a scout heads out to look at an amateur player, he looks for much the same things that a scout for any other sport would look for – tall, athletic frame, with a broad set of hips and shoulders that can add muscle to his frame as he ages, long arms and long legs, explosive movements that allow for a player to jump high, sprint fast, and release muscles with force, whether that’s in a tackle for a football player, or in a swing or release a pitch for a baseball player.
There are a very few that meet that ideal build and body, but the Minnesota Twins in 2010 drafted one such player in the 2nd round of the draft. He has worked slowly through the Twins minor league system to finally make his major league debut recently.
Niko Goodrum has been hailed since he was drafted out of high school in Georgia. He’s had the scout’s ideal body, with projectable power and speed. He’s had the athleticism to handle any number of positions on the field. Instead, his injury-riddled 2016 was his best offensive season, as he hit .275/.352/.464/.816 with 6 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 55 total games.
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All the skills, none of the ideal
When asked what his first impression was of Miguel Sano, a scout of over 30 years told me that when he saw Sano in Elizabethton in 2011, he knew he was going to consistently be a guy whose body would come into question but also be the source of a long, productive major league career.
You see, what is ideal when a scout is looking at a player often is not ideal for baseball. When swinging a bat, long arms mean a long bat path. In the infield, long arms mean a long throwing motion, when quick release is much more highly valued.
Sano has struggled with strikeouts in his career due to the violence of his swing and some zone/pitch recognition issues, however, there are many with more idealized frames who struggle with strikeouts due to their long swings.
Where the ideal loses out
Some of the most heralded young players never materialize, while guys like Albert Pujols come out of nowhere to become one of the best hitters in baseball history. Why is that?
One of the primary reasons is that the ideal build in a batter’s box to generate a great swing is not that ideal, athletic build that scouts look for in an amateur player. When asked what exactly the St. Louis Cardinals knew about players to have the success they did for years finding players later in the draft, one scout told me that it’s really not difficult – they look for baseball, not body.
The two players he suggested to watch swing to see the ideal swing body versus that ideal amateur body is to watch Domonic Brown’s swing versus Albert Pujols. Brown was an absolute beast of a prospect with all the tools you could ever want, yet outside of one burst in 2013 has been a “quad-A” player.
Even in his “highlights” you can see the long swing that needs just about everything clicking just right in his body in order to produce. The difference comes when you watch Pujols. Pujols is by no means an ideal body, with short arms to go with long legs and a short torso, but this is the ideal build, according to one scout. He cited Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Paul Goldschmidt as current hitters with similar body styles. Let’s take a quick look at Pujols as he mentioned:
One last piece that I got from multiple voices was that this shorter arm path is why you tend to find shorter players having plenty of success in the major leagues if their body can hold the build to produce more than just slap singles. Guys like Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia are current examples, but if you go back through the game, there have been plenty of guys who were similar, like Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan.
What this means for Sano?
Sano has shown that he is extremely athletic as a big man. He will have to work to ensure that his size does not hinder his movement, but his build is ideal for someone in the infield, with his ability to use a quick trigger to get the ball across the diamond and to get his swing through the zone. He obviously needs to work on his zone recognition to reduce his strikeouts. However, when it comes to his weight, Sano is simply not built like a “typical” athlete, and thus, his weight number and shape of his body will always look odd to many, but his frame is what scouts have told me frequently in the last few days is an ideal design for a baseball superstar.