Harrison Bader was picked in the third round by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2015 MLB Draft, but the lofty expectations that come with being an early pick simply weren’t there with Bader, making his sudden rise surprising to some, yet inevitable to others.
Coming off of his junior season at the University of Florida, Harrison Bader was seen as one of the more developed hitters in the draft, which acted as a double edged sword for Bader. On one hand, being a more polished hitter lead to Bader hitting .292 with 15 homers and 61 RBI’s, but the perception that Bader was already well on his way meant that scouts didn’t give him as much room to grow as other prospects. Regardless, the St. Louis Cardinals bit.
Here is Bader’s current prospect grades, according to Fangraphs:
Game Power: 40/45
Raw Power: 50/50
Future Value: 45
Bader seems to be playing well beyond those grades as of late, and has been one of the catalysts for the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals turnaround. Since June 24 (46 games played, 35 of which were starts), Bader is slashing .321/.404/.519 with a .469 BABIP. On top of that, he has demonstrated elite defensive abilities, posting 15 DRS in 341 innings in center field and 8 DRS in 270 innings in right.
This culminates in Bader being tied with Gold Glove candidate Kolten Wong for fifth highest dWAR in the MLB, according to Baseball Reference.
So where does Bader go from here? Is this his peak, or is it reasonable to expect that he will be able to continue improving? Well, we can’t give a definitive answer, but there are some indicators that we can take from his performance this year and gauge how realistic it is for him to either continue at his current pace or improve.
One thing that still concerns me about Bader is the amount he strikes out. Even when just looking at Bader’s hot streak, his K-rate is still way too high. He has struck out on almost a third of his plate appearances since his turnaround. Some batters can get away with this high K-rate, but those are usually players with significant power that draw a huge number of walks and create a presence within the lineup.
Bader is not quite that kind of player. He definitely has some power upside and has drawn walks at a decent rate, but it is nowhere near where it needs to be to offset his 31.1% K-rate. He has been able to make up for it with elite contact during this stretch, as demonstrated by his remarkably high BABIP paired with a 44.7% Hard Hit %, a mark just under the likes of Mookie Betts and Khris Davis, and ahead of both Joey Gallo and Albert Pujols.
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Bader has acclimated to the level of pitches that he will face in the Majors, now he has to move from learning how to hit major league pitches to learning how to approach major league pitchers. At the end of the day, Bader’s .469 BABIP is unsustainable and will eventually begin to regress to the mean, and the rest of Bader’s stats may fall with it unless he works on rounding out his plate approach.
As a fielder, Bader has proven to be valuable far beyond his projections. While his speed has made up for some reactionary and decision blunders at times, Bader has demonstrated elite fielding potential, currently only having missed four catches in center field all season, all of which had a 10% or lower catch probability, according to Fangraphs. There have been some miscommunications here and there, but Bader still has 0 errors to his name in center this season.
There isn’t much more that you can do in the field beyond what Bader has shown this season. The big things that he can improve on are things that aren’t easily improved on. In particular, he could use a stronger arm, but that isn’t easy to come by. Besides some situational fielding, this is just about as good as Bader is going to get as a fielder.
In many ways, St. Louis Cardinal fans shouldn’t be all the surprised that Bader has developed. His work ethic and progression in the minors made many people believe that Bader would outplay his original draft projection more than any player in the organization, and Bader is currently proving those people right.
On the other hand, there is a ceiling in place that Bader will be unable to break no matter what he does. He won’t ever be a 30 or 40 home run hitter, nor will he be a 60+ stolen bases guy like Billy Hamilton.
However, hitting .280 while being one of the top defensive outfielders in the league is an invaluable piece to a team in it’s own way. If this is as good as Bader is ever going to get, he still defied all his projections, and quickly risen to become an important MLB outfielder.
Do you think Bader will improve? How much better can he get? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.