Bees' Fletcher drawing lofty comparisons

No. 24 Angels prospect has changed expectations with hot start

David Fletcher has more extra-base hits in 22 games at Triple-A in 2018 than he did in 54 games last season. (Asay Photography/Salt Lake Bees)

By Vincent Lara-Cinisomo / MiLB.com | May 2, 2018 10:00 AM

David Fletcher has heard the comparisons to boyhood idol David Eckstein. And it's not as though the Southern California native is running away from them.

"He was my favorite player growing up," Fletcher said. "I grew up 20 minutes from [Angel Stadium]. Kind of an undersized middle infielder like him, and at the plate [we're both] contact-first guys. It's definitely a really big compliment to be compared with him."

But with his hot start -- especially the impact he's making with his bat -- he's outplaying the undersized, utility infielder tag. Instead of being compared to Eckstein, he's now getting comps to another smallish keystone player -- Dustin Pedroia.

"[Fletcher] is more physical than you think," said Ben Diggins, the Angels scout who signed the 23-year-old prospect. "That was one of the things in college; if you just watch one game, you don't see what's special. But our regional crosschecker and national crosschecker got multiple looks and saw the special stuff he does. His baseball IQ is off the charts, and when we brought him in for a pre-Draft workout, he's bigger than you think."

And he's definitely showing more impact with the bat than anyone thought.

The Angels' No. 24 prospect is hitting .357/.394/.561 with a pair of homers through 22 games with Triple-A Salt Lake. The Orange, California native already has 11 total extra-base hits, two more than he had in 205 at-bats with the Bees during the second half of the 2017 season.

Video: Angels' Fletcher launches two-run homer for Bees

Fletcher, listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, didn't bulk up following the 2017 season like he did after 2016. What he did instead was change his swing.

"I made some adjustments in the offseason and in Spring Training, too, and tried to get my bat path a little better," said Fletcher, who worked with Bees hitting coach Donnie Ecker. "Not trying to hit balls in the air, but trying to drive them for sure."

And drive them he has, to the surprise of some.

"I kind of figured out not to underestimate Fletch," Diggins said. "Definitely in my report I wrote that I did not think the bat would develop this quick. But he just works hard and he learns things really quick. And his hand-eye coordination is off the charts."

Fletcher's manager with the Bees, Keith Johnson, played briefly with Eckstein in the Angels organization in 2000 and believes the comparison has some validity.

"I played with Eck, he was a heck of a player, so it's hard for me to say anybody is outplaying Eck, but [Fletcher is] on top of everything," Johnson said. "Obviously, he's made some adjustments, and got up to Triple-A quickly, and it was his first taste of Triple-A. He's made some adjustments to his swing and he's hitting the ball with a little more exit velo, so he's trending in the right direction."

As a kid growing up in Southern California and an athlete, you would figure Fletcher would have played multiple sports. In fact, even with a dad who played basketball and football, he had only one love.

"I started playing baseball when I was really young, and I was really good at it," Fletcher said. "My dad would play catch with me, and the way he tells it, he didn't know about baseball, and a friend told him he should put me in organized baseball league, and that was it. I never played any other sports."

Despite his size, Fletcher was heavily recruited out of high school, he said, but was determined to stay near home and ended up at Loyola Marymount. His younger brother Dominic, a sophomore at Arkansas who was a Freshman All-American a year ago, was more of an "SEC-type player," he said.

David was known more for his glove in college, often compared to the University of San Diego's Kyle Holder, a defensive whiz who became a first-round pick of the Yankees in 2015, the same year the Angels plucked Fletcher in the sixth round. His bat was a secondary consideration and his lack of impact -- he had only four extra-base hits during his time in the elite Cape Cod League in 2014 -- led to scouts profiling him more as a utility type.

"With any player, if you hit enough, you get in the lineup," Diggins said.

That's what's happening at Salt Lake this season. Fletcher's started all 18 games for the Bees, moving around infield, with 10 games at his natural position of shortstop, although scouts believe he's a better fit at second base because of his average arm strength.

Despite his early success, Fletcher's not looking ahead, Johnson said.

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"Everything Fletch does he does in the present," said Johnson, who has managed the Bees since 2011 except for 2015, when he was a roving infield coordinator. "Right now he's in Salt Lake; he's not one of those guys that's going to look above and look outside and see whether the grass is greener over there."

For Fletcher, the talk is noise he tries to block out, whether positive or negative.

"For sure, I think everybody wants to be an everyday player," he said. "I don't put much stock into what people say about me, I guess, or write about me. I don't really think about that, to be honest."

He's showing that his actions carry more impact than anyone's words.

Vince Lara-Cinisomo is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @vincelara. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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