Harrison Bader first caught my eye when I went searching for the next A.J. Reed way back in January. Then, I ranked him 51st overall in my Top 100 Fantasy Baseball Prospects post in February. Finally, I smacked the “sleeper” label on him, ranking him 7th in my Dynasty League Prospect Sleepers article in early April. But now, he has graduated to an entirely new level. He is officially being promoted to a full blown breakout. And with that, comes even more hype.
The St. Louis Cardinals pushed the 21-year-old Bader, OF, all the way to Double-A to start the 2016 season. They likely saw what I saw, that Bader can flat out hit. He raked at the University of Florida last year, slashing .297/.393/.566, with 17 homers, and 8 steals in 67 games, and then raked immediately upon reaching pro ball, slashing .311/.368/.523, with 11 homers, and 17 steals in 61 games splitting time between Low-A and Single-A. Even with those eye popping numbers, it would have been reasonable to think he would struggle a bit in his first taste of Double-A. He hasn’t. After blasting homers in back-to-back games, Bader’s season line stands at .342/.398/.539, with 4 homers, and 2 steals in 19 games. While his highly drafted contemporaries from the 2015 draft, Andrew Benintendi (7th overall) and Ian Happ (9th overall), have been putting up cute numbers in High-A, Bader (100th overall) is doing the same thing in a grown man’s league.
Bader’s excellent start is not without a red flag or two. He has struck out 22 times and walked only 4 times. While he has hit 4 homers, he has only 3 other extra base hits. His BABIP sits at .440. In other words, his batting average is due to drop precipitously. He has also been caught stealing 5 times. For a guy who is not known as a burner, and more of an opportunistic base stealer, his poor stolen base percentage exposes his lack of true stolen base upside once he reaches the majors.
The positives still far outweigh the negatives. Leave it to St. Louis to unearth another underrated gem. It is obvious they value bat speed and exit velocity to the utmost degree, and Bader possesses both in spades. Maybe the rest of the league will catch up one day. If you were waiting to see more from Bader before picking him up, consider his dominance at Double-A your more. He is a future 5-category producer with more power than speed, and should break into the majors sometime in 2017.
By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)