Three Cubs Prospects With Contact Problems

It’s been two full months of baseball for the Kane County Cougars, about enough time to start forming real opinions on the players I have seen. One of the easiest things to judge, at least for me so far, is whether a player is over matched at the plate. A high K% isn’t the only sign of this – a player who is consistently making weak contact is likely having a lot of trouble picking the ball up. These are the Cougars prospects I’ve seen who I am most concerned about:

Rock Shoulders – 28.6% K%

In late April, I wrote a glowing report of Rock Shoulders, who I had seen hit four home runs in person while showing above average discipline at the plate. Shoulders had a 1.000+ OPS with an 18% K% at the time, and he had looked that good. All of his contact was hard contact, he was laying off of close pitches, and he was battling with pitchers in two strike counts. Cubs fans were excited about him and the Hype Train really got going.

Well, a little over a month has passed since that writing and Shoulders has struggled mightily, hitting .196/.322/.413 with a 32.7% K% in 171 PAs since April 26th. This is not a product of a small sample size for the most part. When I saw Kane County last weekend, Shoulders swung through a ton of pitches. He has had serious trouble with breaking stuff, and looks lost up at the plate. I would say that it looks like he is pressing, but it may just be that the league has figured him out. Shoulders is still walking a ton, but his approach has changed, as I have seen him swinging a ton in all counts nowadays compared to a much more selective approach in April. While his OPS on the season still looks strong, I now doubt that he can succeed at the higher levels of the minors. Good pitchers are just eating him alive right now.

Gioskar Amaya – 25.6% K%

Amaya entered the year as one of my favorite Cubs prospects after he posted an .877 OPS in Boise last season. Unfortunately, Amaya has really scuffled in his full-season debut, struggling to a .250/.312/.370 line. Most troublesome is that Amaya has had serious trouble hitting fastballs, and not even good ones at that. I can think of 10 separate instances of Amaya swinging through 88-90 fastballs in the upper part of the zone. These are pitches Amaya needs to smoke into a gap, but he has had a hell of a time catching up to below-average velocity and putting the bat on the ball. At this point, I imagine Amaya is on track to repeat A-ball, but fortunately for him he would still be young for the level next season.

Dan Vogelbach – 17.2% K%

I know what you’re thinking – a 17.2% K% really isn’t that bad, especially given Vogelbach’s production. However, a lot of Cubs fans have been wondering why Vogelbach’s power seems to be diminished this season, and the answer has nothing to do with him slimming down. Vogelbach is having trouble barreling up many good pitches to hit. For example, take a long flyout he had last Saturday. Vogelbach got a 90 mph fastball on the outside corner and hit it out towards left field. The crowd thought it had more than enough to get out, but Vogelbach was immediately displeased with the contact, and it landed short of the warning track. Later in that game, Vogelbach got another mid-thigh pitch on the outside third and almost missed it completely, hitting a slow roller to the pitcher.

Dan Vogelbach has the power and swing to make a ton of good contact. Unfortunately, I have seen him hit a bunch of weak groundballs in the last few weeks. Because of how short his swing is I don’t foresee this lasting all that long, but the string of weak contact is at least cause for minor concern.

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