In many ways, Oscar Taveras and Jurickson Profar are about as different as can be.
Taveras is a left-handed center fielder with a reputation as the best pure-hitting prospect in baseball. He's an extra-base machine predicted to be a future All-Star and a consistent run-producing threat in the middle of whatever lineup he anchors.
Profar, meanwhile, is a slick switch-hitting shortstop, a speedy table-setter with an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and patience which defies his age. He went from the Class A South Atlantic League to the Majors in less than a year, and he enters 2013 as baseball's top prospect.
The similarities? They were signed as non-drafted free agents within eight months of each other (Taveras out of the Dominican Republic by the Cardinals in November 2008; Curacao native Profar by the Rangers in July 2009). They will both be 20 years old come Opening Day and they are ranked as the top two position players in MLB.com's prospect rankings.
In addition, they spent most of 2012 in the Texas League. Taveras appeared in 124 games for Springfield; Profar in 126 for Frisco prior to a September callup. MiLB.com broke down the statistics and asked their hitting coaches why they're so good.
What makes each of them -- considerably different in their styles and approach at the plate -- such threats with the bat?
Both players flashed plus power to the pull side, but Taveras hit deep home runs to center and left-center. Taveras also ripped more extra-base hits -- especially down the lines into the corners -- and he had a greater number of long fly-ball outs. Profar, by contrast, only had one opposite-field homer, he hit fewer balls to the wall and he had a greater number of shallow base hits.
Taveras's terrifyingly effective swing
On paper, Taveras' success at the plate comes down to to two things -- a high batting average and plus power. Both are tied to his bat speed, which gives him an uncanny ability to put the ball in play, something he did 88.3 percent of the time. He has hit .303, .386 and .321 in each of his last three seasons, and elite-level contact makes him an RBI threat.
"First and foremost, he has a tremendous eye at the plate and he has got tremendous strike-zone discipline. He makes adjustments pitch to pitch and he's able to repeat his mechanics over and over on a consistent basis," Springfield hitting coach Phillip Wellman said.
"You can fool him on occasion, but you better not try to throw the same pitch in the same at-bat, because once he's seen it, he's able to make an adjustment on it. What's the old saying? 'First time the donkey kicks you, it's the donkey's fault. The next time it kicks you, it's your fault.' He didn't let the donkey kick him a second time."
- Taveras saw more than 1,800 pitches in 2012. He swung and missed at 106 of them.
- Only once did Taveras strike out on three consecutive swing-and-misses.
- Taveras made outs on the first pitch of consecutive at-bats just four times.
- Taveras averaged 3.2 pitches per at-bat and swung at the first pitch in an at-bat 26 percent of the time.
Taveras, who won the Texas League batting title in 2012, also ranked second with 94 RBIs and tied for fourth with 23 homers. He stood first with 67 extra-base hits and 273 total bases and second with a .572 slugging percentage. He was intentionally walked 10 times, also a league high.
"The kid is very special," Wellman said. "He has the most violent, aggressive swing I have ever seen, and he is able to maintain control and balance. He's one of the best hitters I've seen in 30 years of Minor League Baseball.
"I worked with him for five months, but I never told him anything. I didn't chance his mechanics. I never touched it -- I wouldn't dare. A good sign of coaching is knowing when you don't need to coach. My job is not to screw that kid up."
One of Taveras' biggest strengths was his ability to use the entire field. In total, 37 percent of his hits went to right field, 35 percent went to center and 28 percent were hit to left. Though two-thirds of his homers were pulled to right, he also hit balls out to the deepest part of center and left-center.
"He's a confident, aggressive hitter," Springfield manager Mike Shildt said. "He has tremendous balance and hand-eye coordination. Oscar's looking to do damage on every swing, but he sees the ball very well.
"He's got the ability to see the ball, the aggressiveness and the confidence you like to see in a hitter. It's rare to see someone with all of those things, let alone at his age."
"There's one common denominator with guys who lead the league in hitting and that is that they use the whole field. That was Oscar," Wellman said.
"He hit doubles down the left-field line left-handed, and that's a tremendous ability to have. He used foul line to foul line -- the whole field. That makes it hard to defend the hitter, and it made teams play him straight up. His spray chart was incredible -- he hit balls all over the field."
Even though Taveras' home field was the most homer-friendly of all eight Texas League parks, Wellman said the dimensions had little impact on his final numbers.
"You hear that a lot, that it's no wonder Matt Adams and Oscar Taveras have so many home runs. I didn't see a ballpark that could hold either one of those guys over the last two years. They can flat-out hit, no matter what stadium they're in."
Texas League Park Factors, 2010-2012
|Dickey-Stephens Park||Arkansas Travelers||0.818||0.522||0.888|
|Whataburger Field||Corpus Christi Hooks||1.051||1.192||1.015|
|Dr Pepper Ballpark||Frisco RoughRiders||0.986||1.380||0.941|
|Citibank Ballpark||Midland RockHounds||1.042||0.695||1.105|
|Arvest Ballpark||Northwest Arkansas Naturals||1.261||1.203||1.154|
|Wolff Stadium||San Antonio Missions||0.859||0.696||0.940|
|Hammons Field||Springfield Cardinals||1.036||1.431||1.012|
|ONEOK Field||Tulsa Drillers||0.993||1.136||0.966|
A Profar-sorial switch-hitting approach
Though Profar plays in a park conducive to the longball, but pitcher-friendly in terms of hits and runs scored, his strength lies in his knowledge of the strike zone, his patience and plate discipline.
He put the ball in play 83.5 percent of the time and drew 66 free passes compared with 79 strikeouts. He also walked in 11.7 percent of his plate appearances, a figure bettered in the Major Leagues by just 16 qualifiers in 2012.
"He's a fearless competitor. He gets in the box and truly competes. He is truly blessed with hand-eye coordination," Frisco hitting coach Jason Hart said. "All of his tools -- he's so gifted -- but his hands and his baseball IQ are so good for his age. He's one of the smartest players you'll come across at his age.
"He can hit the best fastballs in the league and he can cover both sides of the plate and put the off-speed pitch into play when he needs to."
Though Taveras utilized the entire field on a consistent basis, switch-hitting Profar relied on quick hands and a keen eye to turn on inside fastballs.
- Profar had 26 at-bats of eight or more pitches, including a 13-pitch at-bat, plus one 12-, two 11- and four 10-pitch at-bats.
- On July 3, Profar saw 31 pitches in four plate appearances. After singling on the first pitch of the first at-bat, he had an eight-pitch strikeout, a 10-pitch groundout and a 12-pitch walk. He was given the following day off.
- Profar averaged 4.0 pitches per at-bat and swung at the first pitch in an at-bat 29 percent of the time.
- Profar swung at missed at 152 pitches.
- When Profar put the first pitch of an at-bat in play, he hit .484 with six doubles, three homers and two triples.
"He's a young kid, but he's a pretty polished kid," RoughRiders manager Steve Buechele said. "He has good discipline and, for not being a big guy, he has gap power and homer power.
"He's off the plate a lot, but he's always on the fastball no matter what. He battles with two strikes, and if you make a mistake, he can hurt you. Profar's bat is one of his strengths, but it is often overlooked. He should be considered as much an offensive player as a defensive player."
More than half of the switch-hitting Profar's 92 hits against right-handers were pulled to right field. From the other side of the plate against southpaws, 42 percent of his hits were pulled to left. In total, just 20 percent of his combined 135 hits went the other way.
"Batting lefty, he is a little more free, he lets it rip a little bit more," Hart said. "That lefty swing is a pretty swing, like Chase Utley's. Right-handed, he's a little more compact, a gap-to-gap guy more committed to going the other way and taking his doubles. He does have power from the right side, but the swing is a little shorter. He gets into a beautiful hitting position on both sides of the plate.
Profar led the Texas League with a 29-game hitting streak between April 19 and May 19. Over that span, he hit .328 with 18 extra-base hits. He also reached base in a league-best 50 consecutive games between April 7 and June 2.
"[Pitchers] may see him lean toward the plate so they want to bust him in to cover the outside, but his hands are so fast that even though he is leaning he can react to that inside pitch so well. The kid has something you can't teach. He maximizes everything he has. He throws all 165 pounds into the ball."