Scouting Report: Darnell Sweeney – July 2013

DarnellSweeneyHitting

Darnell Sweeney’s debut was one that caught my eye. He hit the ball better in the Midwest League than he did in the Pioneer League, and was passable on defense. While the easiest comparison for Sweeney is Dee Gordon, it’s not an inappropriate one (maybe just a touch lazy). They are virtually the same player, even though Gordon was/is a better overall prospect.

Despite riches elsewhere, the Dodgers don’t have a lot in the way of quality middle infield prospects ahead of Sweeney, so he’ll have ample opportunity to improve his game as progresses through the minors.

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Note: I am not a scout (#notascout). This is an amateur scouting report based on what I know about baseball from following the sport all my life. I don’t claim to be a pro, I just want to pass along information to the masses. Enjoy.

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How He Got Here

Sweeney was the Dodgers 13th-round selection in the 2012 MLB Draft. Prior to that, he was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 41st round of the 2009 draft. He declined and attended the University Of Central Florida.

He played in 16 games for the Ogden Raptors in the Pioneer League, posting a .303/.380/.379 triple slash with 10 stolen bases and more walks (nine) than strikeouts (eight). Sweeney was promoted to Low-A to play with the Great Lakes Loons, where he was much more of an offensive threat. He hit .291/.372/.447 and showed surprising pop, clubbing 17 extra-base hits in 51 games.

Sweeney has been with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes all season. He’s hit leadoff and, somewhat surprisingly, in the No. 3 slot this season. I thought he’d hit better than he has thus far, and while his .272/.324/.435 line isn’t terrible for a slight shortstop, his numbers were expected to be better. This is all in spite of hitting for the cycle in May.

Vitals

5’11″, 170 Pounds, 22 Years Old

He’s 170 pounds soaking wet. His resemblance to Gordon is astonishing.

Tools

Here’s how I would grade Sweeney’s tools:

Tools

Now

Future

Hitting

35

45

Power

35

40

Speed

55

55

Fielding

35

40

Arm

50

50

Hitting

A switch-hitter, Sweeney is a player who has some gap pop and will occasionally park one over the fence. He has 44 extra-base hits in 105 games this season. He has a short stroke, but it doesn’t lead to elite or even plus bat speed. It’s about average, which could cause problems as he climbs the minor-league ladder.

I’ve seen him play six times this season, and I’ve come away feeling “meh” (technical scouting term) about him. His offensive game should be tailored around his, at times, above-average speed. Despite a generally short swing, it can get loopy at times, causing it to get long. The barrel doesn’t stay in the zone as long as some good hitters at his age.

His base is about shoulder-width and his stride isn’t particularly long, which allows him to have controlled swings at times. He holds his hands at chest-level before loading up for his swing. His stance is slightly open from the left side.

Sweeney didn’t hit much for me. He hit a triple in the first time I saw him this season, but he made some weak contact otherwise. Predictably, he attempted to bunt for a base hit on a couple occasions, and that’s a facet of his game that can be improved.

He hits better from the left side (.298/.348/.471) than he does the right side (.263/.315/.424). He actually showed more power from the right side last season, slugging 45 points better, so it remains to be seen for sure what his best side truly is.

Sweeney’s plate discipline was really good in his debut season, but his walk rate and strikeout rate have gone in opposite directions this season. He walked 10.7 percent of the time last season, but that number is down all the way to 6.4 percent. Conversely, his strikeout rate this season has skyrocketed to 24.3 percent from 15.9 percent last year. That’s not a good trend, and he’ll need to show improvement going forward.

Baserunning/Speed

Sweeney has been lauded for his speed in the past, and has stolen 66 bases in 85 attempts (77.6 percent), which is better than average. On a few ground outs, though, Sweeney didn’t show that above-average speed. It’s not because he wasn’t trying, it just seems he takes a little time to get going. So, his speed might better once he’s underway.

He was thrown out trying to steal in one game. He got a good jump, but the catcher was still able to throw him out. Now, the ump actually blew the call because Sweeney’s hand got in before the tag, but since the ball got there first, it was a ball-beat-man scenario and the minor-league ump sent him to the dugout. Still, I was expecting better speed than he showed on the basepaths.

Defense

DarnellSweeneyThrow

Sweeney is a shortstop in the lower level of the minor leagues, but he’s a future second baseman for a number of reasons.

His range is excellent, as he gets to a lot of balls a lot of shortstops don’t, but he struggles with the position in almost all the other ways. His actions aren’t particularly smooth, nor do they foster long-term success at the position.

He has average arm strength, and there’s a little bubble in his strong throw attempts from shortstop. He sometimes gets under the ball as well, causing him to make errant throws. His footwork needs a lot of improvement, which would also help cut down on the errant throws as he his base better.

I saw him make a great stop on a hard ground-ball that he was able to eventually corral it and throw onto first, only the throw ended up in the first or second row of the stands. It was a difficult error, but an error nonetheless, and the type of thing that MLB shortstops do with composure.

I know it’s a cliché, but he makes some spectacular plays and struggles with the routine plays. Yet, as much as I harp on his throwing, he’s only made seven throwing errors this season. The other 27 errors are of the fielding variety. That comes from a lack of concentration and/or having poor hands, because Sweeney is plenty athletic enough to make plays and shouldn’t make that many errors. And while errors aren’t the best indicator of one’s defense, 34 in 106 games really stands out.

Unless Sweeney improves in virtually every aspect of his defense, he’ll be a second baseman long-term. His arm and range would play up at the position and could be better for him — and the Dodgers — in the future.

Conclusion

I had Sweeney ranked rather aggressively preseason at No. 17. He dropped two spots in the mid-season update, but it seems even that might be a bit high. Sweeney has a nice bat for the middle infield, but his plate discipline disappearing is concerning. At this point, his defense isn’t sufficient for shortstop, and a move to second base is likely.

Sweeney has the ability to be a very poor man’s Jimmy Rollins type (also known as Dee Gordon), but he’s not even on Gordon’s path right now. And sorry for the lazy comps, but after seeing Sweeney and Gordon in person, it’s really easy to mistake the two. Their builds are eerily similar.

He’ll move up to Double-A next season, as there’s no shortstop depth in the upper-minors. However, he could be displaced by Corey Seager in Chattanooga by the middle of next season, assuming Seager doesn’t begin 2014 in Tennessee.

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Dustin Nosler is the founder of the site Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He also co-hosts the weekly podcast Dugout Blues. Follow him on Twitter @FeelinKindaBlue or like his site on Facebook.

About Dustin Nosler