Last night, Evan Chambers had a big game, going 3-for-3 with two walks and two homers. The center fielder, taken in the third round of the 2009 draft, currently has nine homers on the year. However, he has a .227 average, and his overall power is down, with a .386 slugging percentage.
Chambers is an interesting prospect that draws a lot of different opinions. Actually, there are two opinions. The first is that he’s got a lot of tools, with speed (35 stolen bases last year, and he can play center field), some decent power for a center fielder, and a great walk rate. The second is that he strikes out too much and doesn’t hit for average. The difference in opinions is that the first group looks at it as “if he could improve his plate patience and start hitting for average, he’d be a top prospect”. The second group looks at it as “he’s not going to improve those areas, making the other stats irrelevant”.
There’s no guarantees either way. Cutting down on strikeouts and boosting a batting average is the hitting equivalent to a pitcher with great velocity and poor control. Pitchers can learn the control, but it’s far from a guarantee. In Chambers’ case, he’s got a great on-base percentage, with a high walk rate, speed on the bases, and a good isolated power. If you boost his batting average, you’ve got a great player. His ability to boost the average is key to his prospect status going forward.
In order to do that, Chambers will need to improve his contact rate. One issue is that he’s a little too patient at the plate. He sits back and waits for a pitch to crush. That means he’s not swinging at early pitches, which can lead to more walks by laying off bad pitches, but also leads to increased strikeouts by putting him in a lot of two strike counts. As he moves up the levels, he will see more two-strike counts, and fewer walks, as the better pitchers display greater control. Unless he learns to attack the earlier pitches, rather than sitting back and waiting for the perfect pitch to come along, he will continue to have a low average, while seeing his strikeouts rise, and his walks fall.