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The View From Behind the Backstop: Champ Stuart

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Champ Stuart caught our eye in 2013 as a raw, but toolsy centerfielder in Kingsport. How has the twenty-one-year-old looked in his first taste of full-season ball?

Chris McShane

Champ Stuart

CF, Savannah Sand Gnats (A)
Height, weight: 6', 175
Age (2014 season age): 21
Acquired: 6th round, 2013 ($300,000)

Date(s) seen: vs. Asheville Tourists (COL) 8/11/14-8/12/14: 2-8, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K, SF
2014: 330 PA, .256/.341/.340, 97 K / 36 BB

The short of it

Stuart is still very raw at the plate, but a potential plus-centerfield profile and game-changing speed means he won't have to hit that much to be a major league contributor.

The long of it

Okay, let's get this out of the way to start. Champ Stuart is fast, like really fast. I got two 4.3 run times on him on groundballs during this look. On both of them he didn't get a great jump out of the box and pulled up the last couple steps. He also popped 3.9 on a push bunt where he had it so clearly beat that he also pulled up early. So basically he is an average runner when he isn't even trying. Ethan Purser of BP had him as a 70 runner and that is consistent with what I got on him in 2013. He's not the fastest guy I have ever seen, but the impressive thing about Stuart's speed is how quickly he taps into it. He was chatting in centerfield during BP when someone hit a low liner into CF. Stuart decided he could make a play on it, and immediately covered about twenty yards at full speed to catch it at his shoelaces. He shouldn't have had a prayer of getting to it. This is game changing speed both in the field and on the bases.

Right now it manifests itself best in the outfield. Stuart was a very raw centerfielder when I saw him in Kingsport last summer, and he's still more athlete than surgeon out there. That said, he has improved, and is very comfortable on balls directly over his head. One near 400 foot line drive to the CF warning tracks was handled easily and Stuart's speed gave him time to settle under it. I didn't see the arm really tested, but it was an easy plus for me in 2013, and in talking with Toby Hyde, I see no reason to adjust that grade this year. Overall, Stuart projects as a plus defensive centerfielder at the major league level, and it's the best outfield toolkit in the system.

 

 

At the plate the news isn't quite as good. There is stuff to like here though. Stuart is reasonably strong for his size, and while that will probably manifest itself as gap power at the major league level, when he keeps everything level, he can spray line drives to the gaps and run. Unfortunately, Stuart's swing, though not as busy as what I saw in Kingsport, still has a lot of moving parts. The biggest issue is Stuart has a tendency to drop his hands, collapse his backside and sell out for power that just isn't going to be there with his size and and average bat speed. When his hands stay high through the start of the swing, he's able to maintain his balance and bat control pretty well. Stuart will also still expand the zone too much, especially against spin, and it's not like he sees a ton of great breaking balls at this level. That seems to be more approach than pitch recognition and should hopefully improve some with experience.

 

The optimistic projection

I could see Stuart looking like Juan Lagares with the bat at least: Batting average buoyed by a slew of infield hits, bad K:BB ratio, plenty of steals when he is on base. Despite his plus-plus speed, it's foolish to project Stuart as the elite CF that Lagares is, but he would be good enough in the field to hold down a starting CF job with that kind of offensive production.

The pessimistic projection

Stuart might get exposed badly in Double-A without more consistency in his approach and swing mechanics, but even here it is worth noting that he projects as a better CF than den Dekker, with more arm strength and speed, and MdD has gotten plenty of opportunities. If you can run a bit and play a plus CF, that's a pretty good skill set to fall back on.

What to look for in 2015

The Stuart assignment will be one to watch. No reason not to push him to St. Lucie in my mind, but the Mets have been fairly conservative with him so far. The defensive tools are already there, now it is just a matter of him pairing down the strikeouts by improving his approach.

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