The Inevitable Alex Bregman Conversation by Randy Holt February 1, 2017 When it comes to the third base position, we already know a lot of what to expect in 2017. In a sense, we largely know who will reside at the top and serve as an upper tier fantasy asset, while it’s also relatively apparent who can provide steady production at the position as a secondary choice in upcoming drafts. It’s almost somewhat black and white in a sport that is almost never just black and white. But beyond my incessant rambling, there’s the “first full year” factor (note: I referred to him as a rookie multiple times because I lacked coffee and common sense this morning), something that you can just barely adequately prepare for. In this case, though, there’s one predominant exception: Alex Bregman. The Houston Astros product figures to be an intriguing option as that first-full-year guy that folks will be all over in the early rounds of drafts. A lot of that is justified, but any time you’re talking about a player coming into his first full season in the big leagues, there is at least some reason for a certain level of apprehension. Nonetheless, Bregman’s skill set makes him as intriguing a quantity as there is at the third base position, youngster or otherwise. His combination of high contact ability combined with the power that he brings to the table could, and very likely will, have him shooting up boards when draft season rolls around. While it’s tough to project him in league with the likes of the elite at the position, there’s certainly reason to think that he could be in the mix among the upper tiers of third basemen. The following represents Bregman’s performance at each of the three levels that he appeared in 2016: PA AVG OBP ISO K% BB% wRC+ Double-A 285 .297 .415 .263 9.1 14.7 179 Triple-A 83 .333 .373 .308 14.5 6.0 166 MLB 217 .264 .313 .214 24.0 6.9 112 Obviously his MLB numbers leave a lot to be desired, due to sample size, bad luck, etc., but there’s still a lot to like here. I draw your attention to his walk and strikeout rates in Double-A. Say what you want about the level, there’s definitely something significant about a walk rate that exceeds a punchout rate by over five percent. That approach and contact ability should translate to success over the course of a full big league season, even if the 217 plate appearance sample doesn’t necessarily indicate that. Of course, Bregman also ran into a lot of bad luck at the Major League level early on. He saw 24 plate appearances after his callup in July. In those plate appearances he hit just .045, but also featured a BABIP of only .059. Once he got beyond that, though, he started hitting the ball harder, just about doubling his Hard% and finding his way on base at a progressively higher rate in the two months that followed before a hamstring injury ended his season. His OBP jumped up to .333 in August and .344 in the first half of September. The numbers that he turned in on the season overall could certainly look at least a touch better had it not been for a brutal start. There’s some encouraging stuff here. The Hard% fell way down by Game 3, but was able to steadily increase the longer he was with the Astros. The Contact% started off far lower than one would expect from his bat, but also displayed a similar path. This isn’t enough data to declare a full adjustment took place, but it’s clear in a few spots here that he was adapting before the hamstring injury. August Fagerstrom gave a pretty good overview of the negative trends that plagued Bregman early on in his post last September after Bregman had been moved to the second spot in the order: Even when Bregman was struggling, he wasn’t striking out much more or walking much less than he has been lately. His contact, chase, and hard-hit rates have all improved incrementally, but all were right around or better than league average to begin with. It’s just that the hits weren’t falling early, and that poor fortune has more than overcorrected itself in the recent weeks. As is always the case, the real Bregman lies somewhere in the middle. His .394 batting average on balls in play over the last 22 games is just as unsustainable as the .224 figure over his first 19. (August Fagerstrom, 9/9/2016) One particularly intriguing thing, and something that we actually can take away from that small of a sample, is his isolated power. This is, of course, something that can stabilize over the course of a smaller sample, even barely more than 200 PAs. His minor league figures, and his trends across those 217 PAs, indicate that he should experience a rise in his contact rate, from the 74.7% figure that he posted. When you combine that with a .214 ISO that has the potential to not only remain constant, but improve with more big league at-bats, he has the potential to become a terrifying presence at the plate. He likely won’t equate to the likes of Kris Bryant or Josh Donaldson in the power game, but his contact/power combination has the ability to exceed the two (as each sports a Contact% in the mid-70s), making him quite the attractive commodity. That sounded a lot like I was saying Alex Bregman would be better than Kris Bryant or Josh Donaldson. Obviously, no. It’s just that the skill set present here could make him just as fun and intriguing a fantasy asset as either of the two, even with the inevitable superior performances from each of them. Throughout his minor league career, Bregman was able to find his way on base at extremely high rates, which is part of why he was able to force his way onto the Astros roster in the latter half of the year. More time at this level could help him to build on an already solid approach and help drive up those on-base figures even more. His transition to third base from a defensive perspective will be an interesting one to watch, and could honestly serve as his largest hurdle heading into his first full big league campaign. But the combination is there, and it’s an extremely admirable one, especially for prospective fantasy owners. The approach is there, and could continue to develop with more time. The contact ability is there and is particularly intriguing when you complement it with what could be described as above average power. It’s going to be extremely tempting to try and snag him in the first few rounds, given the upside that he presents, but with the experience factor still lingering, sandwiching him between the second and third tier groups of third basemen, something we’ll get to in the coming weeks, might be best.