With actual games being played next week and the Royals currently with a clear starting first baseman, I thought this might be a better time than ever to highlight a name that is somewhat in the mix for that position, that being Frank Schwindel.
Drafted in the 18th round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of St. John’s as a C/1B hybrid, Schwindel got off to a fairly hot start with the bat to begin his career, highlighted by a .280/.309/.500 slashline with 22 home runs in his full season debut between Low-A and High-A.
By year three, Schwindel had already reached AA and was making a transition to primarily being a first baseman, but the results with the stick weren’t positive, as he hit for a mere 46 wRC+ in 174 AA plate appearances. Obviously needing more seasoning, he went for a second go-around in AA, yielding not great, but better results, posting a 112 wRC+.
Heading back to Northwest Arkansas for the third season in a row led Schwindel on a torrid run to start 2017. After hitting .350/.374/.577 in his first 147 plate appearances in AA, the Royals gave him a promotion to the hitter-friendly confines of Werner Park in Omaha. He just kept on hitting the cover off the ball too, going for a .321/.340/.528 line AAA. This monster 2017 campaign led to him recently being name the 2017 George Brett Hitter of the Year by the Royals organization.
With a definite need at first base currently, it would seem like a no-brainer to the casual baseball fan to place Schwindel at first to start the season. Though I went against that, highlighting in this previous piece of mine why you should be wary of Schwindel.
Probably the biggest reason Frank Schwindel will not hit at the big league level is plate discipline. His 16.7% K% and 2.5% BB% will not play in the majors. These are similar to the rates Balbino Fuenmayor posted in 2015 (3.2% BB% and 15.6% K%).
As just to prove I’m not cherry picking with numbers, I some points as to why Schwindel’s low BB-rate might become problematic at the major league level. For a benchmark, I’ll use the OBP from the league-average first baseman in 2017, which was .347. Let’s be generous and say that Schwindel would maintain his BB% from the minor leagues to the major leagues. For him to achieve that league-average OBP, you’re talking about him having to hit comfortably above .300. Add in the fact that he doesn’t have the power to make up for the lack of on-base skills.
Another point worth bringing up is the BABIP fortune that Schwindel received in 2017. For a predominately pull-hitter that hits a ton of ground balls, such as Schwindel, a .354 BABIP is oddly high. It looks even higher once you consider his career BABIP of .311. This may suggest the batting average is unsustainable.
So does Schwindel deserve a look at first base to reward his monster 2017 campaign? Sure. But should he be near the bottom of the list among possible options? Probably. The fact of the matter is that guys like Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn have offensive profiles better suited for the big leagues, which is why they’ll receive longer looks.
Photo Credits: Minda Haas Kuhlmann