I've spent a good bit of the last few weeks thinking about our outfield prospect, JB (Jack) Shuck. We discussed him a little bit on Monday, and I want to address him a bit more. I want to really address his tools for the most part and address his statistics over the past three years a little more briefly. This is a little bit different than what your used to reading from me, so bare with me. I'm typically approaching the statistical side of prospects when evaluating these guys, and I'm going to attempt to make myself a little more rounded in prospect evaluation this off-season.
I'm going to start with JB (what does the B stand for? Bauer?) since I was given the opportunity to see him in two games and I got to see some of his tools. After the jump, I'll go over what his tools mean as far as ceiling and floor.
Hit tool may not be the correct term, but thats what I'm gonna call hitting for average. JB has hit for average at every level, batting over .300 in 2008 and 2009. He missed it by two points in Corpus and hit .273 at RR. Watching his swing really shows what he is, a slap hitter. It's a quick, short stroke that is meant to make contact, whether it is on the ground or a line-drive. He also has a pretty good eye for the strike zone and walks about 10.5% of his plate appearances. He works the count decently and knows how to get the bat on the ball.
Will he hit over .300 in the majors? Probably not, which his AAA numbers might indicate, although he could. He depends on his batting average for his very high OBP, but could still post a solid OBP in the majors.
Let's face it, slap hitters don't hit for power. They don't load enough in order to get the force required to drive the ball a long way. Shuck has a pretty thick frame that probably could allow for him to muscle the ball more often, but it would probably be at the expense of him losing his high average. But, I did see a little pop in his bat. More than what we regularly see in Michael Bourn. His slap hitting can actually regularly send the ball to the warning track, but rarely over the fence.
This is the tool where he really lacks in. But, his thick frame allows him to drop more bloopers in for doubles in the gaps than a lot of slap hitters. As a guy who gets on-base as much as Shuck does, it's passable.
Baserunning and Speed
He can really run. He has speed. It may not be Michael Bourn speed, but it is definitely above average. He has legged out a lot of triples in his career as well as doubles. This is the area he has said he can improve on, and it has shown in the AFL so far. He advances pretty well and did decently in AAA when I saw him, unfortunately Wladimir Sutil was too busy grounding into double plays behind him. He doesn't have a lot of stolen bases for a guy with his speed, so he may be lacking instincts. This is where he is learning.
If he can improve those instincts, he could be an above average baserunner at the major league level. Not Michael Bourn baserunner, but better than Hunter Pence. I can see close to thirty stolen bases in a year.
This is also a question mark area. He has played the majority of his time in left field which doesn't represent him well. He has played with some very athletic outfielders in TJ Steele and Jonathan Gaston which limits his time. When Steele went out, Shuck got the time in center, not Gaston, which does indicate something good. His instincts aren't great, but I think he can improve there. His total zone data (no matter how unreliable it is) doesn't indicate good ability in either position though.
I think with some work he could be an average defender in a small center field where his speed and hustly can mask his instincts.
The last of the five-tools is another where he may be lacking. He doesn't have a right-fielders arm, but he could be fine in center. I saw him make a fairly accurate throw from centerfield that was just a little late and seemed to float a little, so its not amazing arm strength. Although, it could be deceptive. He registered four outfield assists in thirty-five games in RR (all in centerfield). Thats not bad. Some teams may be just testing him since he had just been called up.
His arm is not necessarily an asset, but it's not terrible.
No, its not a tool, but I want to address it. He is an old-school player that plays hard. His uniform was by far the dirtiest one on the field in both games I witnessed. That effort will allow him to play above his tools and mask some of his instints. That is the thing that really stands out in his game. A player who has the work ethic and hustle he does will gain you a lot of fans and earn you some playing time. This is somethig that is required for guys who don't have outstanding tools, like Shuck.
There are flaws in Shuck's game, there is no doubt in that. Some of this article may seem to be downgrading Shuck, but trust me, that's not the purpose. I really want to help raise his stock. But, I still think he needs more work in the minors to really hone in on his defense and baserunning. The other tools are unlikely to develop much more. He needs every day playing time in order to really max out those skills. Putting him as a bench player on the major league roster won't really help those skills.
With the depth of upper level outfielders we have that are older and could be 4th/5th outfielders, I say let him stay in AAA. Could he be a 4th/5th outfieler? Sure, but why not see if he can be an everyday player in the majors by continuing to develop him?
Although, I hate to be brutally honest, I don't see a future for Shuckers in Houston as an everyday player. The centerfield is just too vast in MMP. But, a strong season in AAA this year could bring a nice toolsy prospect in a trade. Or, he could be a pinch-hitter without power coming off the bench?