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Blue Jays prospect L.B. Dantzler: more than just a senior sign?

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Before we start...just as a refresher...a "senior sign" is a college player (that in many cases went undrafted after his Junior season) who is drafted after his senior year, with the idea that he'll make a solid organizational player or "roster filler" type and accept a minimal signing bonus (i.e. $5,000 or less) right away after the draft concludes.

Chris Slade

Brief Background (So you know who I'm talking about): L.B. Dantzler is a first base prospect in the Blue Jays organization who was drafted in 14th round of the 2013 Draft out of the University of South Carolina. After transferring to South Carolina from a Juco in Florida, he became the Gamecocks starting third baseman for all 67 games of the 2012 season while batting .262/.339/.433 with 10 home runs. After first baseman Christian Walker signed on to the pros (while Dantzler went undrafted), he returned to S.C. in 2013 for his senior year, this time as the primary first baseman.

As a South Carolina baseball season ticket holder, I watched and analyzed Dantzler's play on many occasions this past spring. Whenever someone would ask me what players stand out to me on the team, Dantzler was one of the first names I'd mention. Dantzler had an outstanding breakthrough senior campaign for the Gamecocks, slashing .322/.444./.617 in 214 at bats, leading the team with 15 home runs, along with 42 walks and 50 strikeouts.

The Good: Dantzler easily had the standout power tool on the team with the ball making a different sound coming off his bat than the other hitters in the lineup.

The Bad: His swing mechanics aren't the prettiest in the world as he gears himself towards pulling the ball and sometimes has a slight hitch as he begins his swing. He also had his fair share of wiffs with a 23% strike out rate.

However, he continually impressed me with an exceptional approach at the plate (rarely wasted an at bat) and an innate ability to drive the ball with consistent hard contact when he put it in play. I remember thinking, how on earth did this guy go undrafted his junior year?

I helped contribute on a draft profile on him back in May with The Crawfish Boxes and agreed that he ought to be an attractive value pick as a polished Senior hitter that ought to come off the board by round 10, possibly as early as the 5th round.

When he lasted to the 14th round, I was a bit disappointed, thinking that I had overrated his abilities, and that he's probably just a garden variety organizational slugger and not a potential prospect.

However, he tore the cover off the ball this summer, winning Northwest League MVP honors, hitting .302/.385/.504 while also garnering recognition by Baseball America as one of the league's top 20 prospects, coming in at number 19. Not bad at all for a 14th rounder, which is "senior sign" territory.

What should we read into this?

The short answer to this question is I am cautiously optimistic Dantzler can become a legitimate prospect to follow in the Blue Jays farm system.

However, I'm not ready to proclaim him the greatest thing since the napkin just yet. Not to take anything away, but what he accomplished in the Northwest league should be expected from a highly polished 22-year old hitter with two years of SEC playing experience. He'll have to prove himself against more talented pitchers who are also more adept at executing their gameplans.

Listed at 5'11" and 205 lbs, Dantzler's short, compact build and right handed throwing arm doesn't fit the first base prototype, which may have knocked his draft value down to those who evaluated him. His defense at first base is average at best. In other words, building upon the success he had in the Northwest League at higher levels will be crucial in establishing himself as a serious prospect. The pressure to continue to perform with the bat will be immense.

I wasn't around to watch South Carolina play in 2012 so I unfortunately I can't comment on what changes he made that led to such a dramatically improved performance from Junior (.262/.339/.433) to Senior (.322/.444/.617) year. However, after watching a few 2012 video highlights and comparing them with what I saw this year, I noticed that his lower half weight transfer in became a lot cleaner this year and he did a better job at keeping his hands back as he planted his front foot, allowing for his bat to stay in the zone longer, which I am theorizing as the cause behind the dramatic rise in batting average. He also does a good job of consistently "finishing" his swing, keeping both hands on the bat and driving all the way through the end of the swing.

His stance and swing setup have drawn comparisons to Jeff Bagwell, who was an exception to the rule that you can't get away with a hitch in your swing at the big league level. However, Dantzler's hitch isn't nearly as pronounced but it could cause timing issues against advanced pitching. After all, Ryne Stanek had little issue blowing by mid 90's heaters for swinging strike three's when I saw the two face off in April.

Dantzler also employs a toe tap, which is a timing mechanism. He wasn't always smooth with the toe tap, sometimes planting his front foot at an angle towards the plate instead of an even line back at the pitcher. He'll need to clean that up and possibly smooth out his load to avoid possible contact issues at advanced levels (AA and beyond).

Even if he does have some contact issues as he moves up the ladder, I still think Dantzler can maintain an above average power output and reach base often via the walk. From what I've seen, I think he has everything else you look for in a hitter (a quick, compact stroke, above average barrel to the ball ability, major league pop, discerning batting eye, willingness to take walks). I believe his Senior season at S.C. was a legitimate breakthrough.

Ultimately, his success and accolades earned this summer restored faith in my own eye's judgement; that he was potentially more than just a Senior sign based on his power tool and above average approach. Considering the dearth of first base prospects at the full season levels in the Blue Jays system, I believe L.B. Dantzler has put himself on the radar as a "name of interest" and will make for an intriguing follow next year.