Prospect of the Day: Scott Van Slyke, OF-1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Scott Van Slyke is tearing up the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, currently hitting .331/.409/.619 in 31 games for the Albuquerque Isotopes. He is a rather unique prospect, mostly overlooked until last year despite possessing big league bloodlines.
Scott is the son of former St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andy Van Slyke. His father was a three-time All Star, but Scott doesn't have his dad's athletic ability and lasted until the 14th round in the 2005 draft. Signed out of high school in Ladue, Missouri, Scott was an undistinguished performer at the lower levels, hitting just .256/.320/.353 in the Pioneer League in 2006 and .254/.310/.328 in the Midwest League in 2007. Scouts critiqued his swing and overaggressive hitting approach, and since they weren't wild about his tools, he wasn't rated as a strong prospect.
Things changed in 2009 when he hit .294/.373/.534 with 23 homers, 42 doubles, and 61 walks in 496 at-bats for High-A Inland Empire in the California League. There were skeptics given that the Cal League is a friendly hitting environment, but he seemed to make genuine progress by improving his strike zone judgment and avoiding attempts to pull everything. His performance in 2010 was erratic: he hit well in the Cal League (.307/.368/.534) in 48 games, but wasn't able to bring it forward to Double-A (.235/.300/.350) in 65 games for Chattanooga.
A return engagement at Chattanooga in 2011 was much more successful: .348/.427/.595 with 45 doubles, 20 homers, 65 walks, and 100 strikeouts in 457 at-bats, leading the Southern League in batting average and ranking second in slugging and on-base percentage. As mentioned above, he's tearing up Triple-A this year. Yes, it is Albuquerque and the PCL, but he continues to show greatly improved contact ability and plate discipline compared with earlier in his career, posting a 16/16 BB/K ratio thus far.
Van Slyke is a 6-5, 250 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born July 24th, 1986. His running speed is not impressive and his outfield range is fairly limited, but he has a solid arm. He can play first base but is rather error-prone at that position; it is the bat that will make or break him in any event. Some scouts wonder if he'll maintain his enhanced discipline against major league pitching, and suspect that he may fall back into old habits when challenged by pitchers with better command. At age 25, he's not at an ideal spot on the age curve and lacks physical projection.
Caveats aside, his performance speaks for itself and it is possible he was just a late-bloomer. He went 5-for-14 (.357) with two walks for the major league club in spring training, and it has been over a year since Double-A/Triple-A pitchers have been able to find any flaws in his swing or approach to hitting. Van Slyke is on the 40-man roster, and is a logical candidate for promotion when the Dodgers feel they need a corner bat.