Prospect Retro: Nick Swisher
Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher is the epitome of the low-batting-average/high-power/high-walk-rate slugger. Let's take a look at his development as a prospect, and where his career currently stands historically.
Nick Swisher is the son of former major league catcher Steve Swisher. Although known to scouts due to his bloodlines and multi-sport prep stardom in Parkersburg, West Virginia, he wasn't drafted out of high school and went to college at Ohio State University. He started as a freshman in 2000 and hit .299 with 10 homers. He followed that up with strong sophomore and junior seasons, the latter campaign (.348/.470/.620, 10 homers, 43 walks in 184 at-bats) garnering him a spot in the first round of the 2002 draft, 16th overall. This was the famous Moneyball draft, and in his case both statistical analysis and traditional scouting revealed him as a worthy choice. Statheads liked his high walk rate and production in college, while scouts loved his home run power and strength.
He hit .240/.340/.399 in 49 games for Visalia in the California League after signing, which wasn't great. But the Cal League is a huge jump from the Big 10, so no one was concerned at that point. I gave him a relatively conservative Grade C+ in the 2003 book, writing "I don't think he's going to hit for much of an average, so how good he turns out will depend on how much power and patience he shows."
Returning to the Cal League to begin '03, Swisher hit a robust .296/.418/.550 in 51 games for Modesto, drawing 41 walks against 49 strikeouts in 189 at-bats. Promoted to Double-A Midland at midseason, he pitched into a deep slump, hitting just .220/.321/.360 in 57 games. He drew 30 walks but fanned 60 times. I saw him play that August, and while his physical strength was obvious, he looked overly power-conscious and was overmatched by Double-A pitching, frequently pulling off the ball. In the '04 book, I wrote "Despite his problems at Midland, he did retain a decent walk rate and hit plenty of doubles, so he is far from a lost cause." I noted that there was a lot of pressure on him, and that some traditionalists (reacting to the approach taken by the Athletics in the '02 draft) seemed to be writing him off too quickly as a busted stathead pick. I gave him another Grade C+.
After an impressive spring camp in '04, Swisher was jumped to Triple-A Sacramento and had a strong season, hitting .269/.406/.537 with 29 homers, 103 walks, and 109 strikeouts in 443 at-bats. He hit .250/.352/.417 in a 20-game trial with Oakland late in the season. The main difference between '05 and '04 seemed to be better confidence, as well as a more mature approach: although he still struck out a lot, he didn't try to hit five-run homers on every at-bat, and the result was much better overall production. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2005 book, ranking him at 18th overall on the Top 50 Hitters Prospect list.
For 2005, I predicted that Swisher would hit .253 with 24 doubles, three triples, 21 homers, 68 walks, and 127 strikeouts in 450 at-bats for Oakland. He ended up hitting .236/.322/.446 in 462 at-bats, with 32 doubles, one triple, 21 homers, 55 walks, and 110 strikeouts.
Swisher has been a steady producer of power and walks ever since. He had a batting average dip down to .219 for the White Sox in '08, but there was some bad luck there and he rebounded last year to a .249/.371/.498 mark with the Yankees. He is basically the same three-true-outcome player he has been since college. His WARs have been steady: 2.2 in '05, 3.2 in '06, 3.6 in '07, 1.1 in his bad '08, and 3.6 in '09.
His Sim Score comps bring up names that aren't too surprising: Greg Vaughn, Jose Cruz, Bob Allison, Pete Incaviglia, Austin Kearns, Wally Post, Ken Harrelson, Gil Hodges, Pat Burrell, and Cory Snyder. PECOTA comps bring up Bob Allison, Tom Brunansky, Otto Velez, Brian Giles, Jay Buhner, Paul O'Neill, Brad Hawpe, Trot Nixon, Dwight Evans, and David Justice. Greg Vaughn shows up on the PECOTA list at 11. Others of note include old-style power mainstays Roy Sievers at 12, Vic Wertz at 13, and Harmon Killebrew at 16. Note the presence of throwback guys like Post, Hodges, Evans, Sievers. Those are the kind of players that Swisher has always reminded me of.
Nick Swisher has his weaknesses, but overall he's been a very good player. He has "old player's skills" and as a result he may not age well into his 30s.