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Draft Profile Smackdown: George Springer and Mikie Mahtook

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I’ve been running down a few potential selections the Mets could make with the 13th pick in next week’s draft. For those interested, you can find my previous profiles here: Levi Michael and Taylor Jungmann.

For this draft profile, I’m going to do something a little different. Two of the players the Mets should be considering with the pick hail from the college ranks, and both play the same position: center field. While it’s a relatively weak year for college bats, but these two guys stand out as consistent producers at the college level. Despite these similarities, they’re actually fairly different prospects. Let’s take a look.


Category Mikie Mahtook George Springer
School Louisiana State Connecticut
Date of Birth 11/30/89 9/19/89
Height 6-1 6-3
Weight 192 205
Throws Right Right
Bats Right Right

Physical Attributes/Tools: This one clearly goes to Springer, the UConn center fielder. Springer is simply bigger and stronger than Mahtook, and he’s probably a little faster too. His legs aren’t the only thing that are faster, either; Springer might have the quickest bat in this draft class. As if that weren’t enough, Springer also has the superior arm in the outfield. Going purely by toolset, you’d be a fool to go with Mahtook.

Which is really no slam on Mahtook. Mahtook’s a 60 runner on the scout’s scale, and he has above average power. His arm is his weakest attribute, and that’s at least average.

Performance: Springer has put up the bigger career numbers. As a freshman in 2009, Springer hit .358/.454/.679 with 16 homers and 12 steals. The next season he hit .337/.492/.658 with 18 homers and 33 steals, and followed it up with a stellar performance in the Cape Cod League. So far this season, he’s hit .361/.462/.644 with 12 and 31 with the new bats, that have drastically changed the power numbers at the college level. Those are silly numbers, and the fact that he’s maintained those numbers with the new bats it’s encouraging to say the least.

But Mahtook’s no slouch, either. He didn’t start at LSU from the beginning, but it didn’t take long for coach Paul Mainieri to slide Mahtook in center alongside Jared Mitchell and Leon Landry to build perhaps the best college outfield in the game in 2009. He hit "just" .316 with seven homers that season, but he improved to .335/.436/.623 the next season and has been even better with the new bats in 2011: .383/.496/.709 with 14 home runs and 29 steals.

All things considered, Mahtook has the more appealing track record for two big reasons: competition and contact. The SEC is a more competitive conference than the Big East. And meanwhile, Springer’s had considerable difficulty avoiding the strikeout. In 2010, Mahtook had his worst season strikeout-wise, striking out in 22.6% of his at-bats. That’s small potatoes next to Springer, whose figure was 28.8%. Both men have improved their numbers to the 16% range with Springer a hair better, but the track record does say something, especially considering the fact that Mahtook is probably facing better pitching.

Projection: Both men are elite college producers. Are there any reasons why either man can’t be great in the pros also? You bet.

For many scouts, the biggest question mark surrounding Springer right now is his swing and its ability to produce hard contact. If you watch the video below, you’ll notice that right as Springer begins his swing his back side drops and the knee bends, often referred to as a collapsed back side. This can be problematic for some players because it alters the starting position of the hands, requiring the player to uppercut when he could otherwise take a more direct path to the ball. It also might signal that the player is not balancing his weight evenly at the point where the swing begins. Both can make consistent hard contact difficult, especially when Springer’s not loading his swing properly as was happening early this spring. Because of that, those scouts fear Springer will get eaten up by tougher pitchers. Further adding to worries are reports that Springer isn’t very good at adapting his approach at the plate when the situation requires.

Mahtook’s swing isn’t the prettiest either, but it is more technically proficient. Mahtook stays pretty crouched and probably keeps his weight too far back for too long, but otherwise there’s a lot to like: the swing path looks short and direct, he clearly transfers his weight during the swing, he rotates his hips, and he gets surprising extension. It should produce both contact and power as he moves up.

As for defense, both men could be relegated to a corner spot in the future. While they are speedy enough for center field right now, either man could slow down as he adds weight. You hear that talk a little more often about Mahtook, who is a good college defender with outstanding instincts but who also has the shorter frame and less room to store the added weight. Mahtook’s arm is probably good enough for center, but it’s not extraordinary, meaning he could even get pushed to left.

Springer definitely has more potential. He could be a graceful center fielder with above average defense, the bat speed to hit .300, and top-notch speed and power. Perhaps a Grady Sizemore-type, just from the right side. If he improves his contact ability, it stands to reason he could be more, and even if he finds himself in an outfield corner, he’ll have the offense for it. Mahtook’s upside is lower. I think he has the ability to hit .300 and a higher likelihood of getting there, but, again, he isn’t as strong and isn’t as fast as Springer. I think he can hit 20 and steal 20 on the regular, but both numbers could end up shy of 30.

Intangibles: While some might mock the way intangibles are reverently treated by the media, I’m a firm believer that they are important considerations for prospects. All but the very best prospects have things to learn and need to be somewhat approachable and adaptable. It also helps if they stay out of trouble and are willing to put the effort in. While I haven’t heard a bad word about Springer, Mahtook’s personality is frequently lauded: he’s a hard-playing sort with an outstanding work ethic.

What I Think: I think I like Springer a little more right now, but that changes frequently. Last week I preferred Mahtook. If you believe that Springer’s swing is either not a problem or can be easily fixed, your answer is Springer. Right now, I’m leaning a little more toward it’s not a big problem. He’s succeeded with the same swing with the new BBCOR bats, and he was similarly great on the Cape last season. I do think he’ll have a tendency to fall into slumps throughout his career but that he’ll make up for it with a few torrid hot streaks.

Of course, there’s also value in safety, and I’ve typically endorsed safe picks early and risks late. Anyone else with a thought?