Prospect season has arrived, and on Tuesday, Keith Law revealed his top 100 prospects for 2013. The Yankees fared well, with Gary Sanchez at 18 overall, Mason Williams at 35, Tyler Austin at 52, and Slade Heathcott at 57. Jose Ramirez also earned a spot in his list of players that just missed the top 100. The Yankees' farm system ranked 10th overall, and Law had plenty of positive things to say about Mark Montgomery, Dellin Betances (as a reliever), Ty Hensley, and even Benjamin Gamel. The Yankees two previous first round picks failed to make any lists, and in Law's followup chat, he had this to say about Dante Bichette Jr.
"Borderline NP at this point. Can't play third at all. Swing regressed back to its amateur state. He's not on my Yankees top 10, and wouldn't have been in the top 15."
With two polar opposite seasons under Bichette's belt, it would make some sense that the third baseman made some sort of change to his mechanics.
Before the 2011 draft, Bichette was far from a projected first rounder, and scouts disliked the amount of movement in his swing, that is, until Bichette started playing in the Gulf Coast League. At 18 years old, he finished the season with 240 plate appearances, and a .342/.446/.505 slash line. Many scouts believed that the Yankees figured out a way to simplify his swing and cut down on the movement, which was why he had such unforeseen success. But in an interview with No Maas last year, Bichette insisted that the team didn't make any adjustments.
"...The Yankees have this rule where they are not allowed to touch you for 100 or 90 days, something like that. My hitting coach Edwar Gonzalez, he wasn’t allowed to say anything, but I was trying to pick his brain within the first week. He didn’t change anything in my swing though. So no adjustments. The big thing is getting adjusted to the pitching. It’s a lot different in pro ball than in high school, competition and speed of the game."
Bichette was moved to Single-A Charleston in 2012, and in 522 plate appearances, he struggled, hitting just .248/.322/.331. There is a considerable jump in competition from Rookie level to Single-A, but Bichette's regression is large enough to worry about. His greatest tool should be power, but the third baseman showed a total lack thereof in 2012. With that said, a 19 year old is bound struggle in the low levels, and there is no way to build a farm system without patience.
Law's accusations raise a different question though. If Bichette's swing has somehow changed, he may never perform like he did in 2011. Then there's the question about why the Yankees would want him to change his swing. Do the Yankees know what they're doing? Maybe his own father, the new hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies, doesn't know how to teach his own son. Personally, I believe that scouts know more about hitting than I do, but professional coaches and ex-baseball players, the ones teaching Bichette, know more about hitting than scouts like Law.
The first problem I have with Law's statement about his swing "regressing to its amateur state" is that he never showed signs, or at least major signs, of adjustments in his swing.
On the left, we now have Bichette swinging off a tee in the 2011 offseason, sometime before his interview with No Maas, where he claimed to not make any alterations during the 2011 season. Again, on the right we have the same at bat from July of 2012. And again, the swings are nearly identical.
It would appear that the insinuations made by scouts following Bichette's immediate success in Rookie level was a product of the Placebo Effect. Perhaps Bichette's ability to hit the ball caused them to believe his swing was smoother. The videos show that there was little to no difference in his hitting mechanics from 2010, 2011, and 2012, so Law's statements about a change are likely part of that same placebo effect.
Regardless of his future ability to hit the ball, Bichette's hitting mechanics do have a lot of movement. From his hands to his stride, there's a ton of things that can go wrong with his timing, but that doesn't mean it won't work. Bichette's been surrounded by some of the best hitting instruction though out his life, and there is a method behind his complicated swing. In an interview with the third baseman, following the 2011 draft, Bichette stated that he models himself off of Jose Bautista.
Though there's only one Bautista, Bichette, and presumably his father, have studied his swing thoroughly and clearly done a wonderful job of emulating the slugger's swing. How that'll project itself upon the 20 year old will come with time and patience. Writing Bichette off as a borderline non-prospect seems incredibly silly at this point, but he certainly has plenty of work in front of him to make his complicated mechanics work.