Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder Scott Schebler hit a game leadoff home run last night against the Los Angeles Angels. He's now played six games in the majors, going 5-for-14 (.357) with two homers, zero walks, six strikeouts, and two steals. While Joc Pederson and Corey Seager received most of the pre-season hype among Dodgers hitting prospects, Schebler is an intriguing, if enigmatic, prospect in his own right.
Schebler was a 26th round pick in 2010 from Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa. Certainly there was nothing wrong with his performance for DMACC: he hit .446/.529/.877 with 20 homers, 30 walks, and just 25 strikeouts in 204 at-bats that spring.The draft slot was a bit misleading; it cost $300,000 (sixth round money) to keep him from fulfilling his junior year commitment to Wichita State University. Scouts were attracted to Schebler's power potential and decent speed but had questions about his swing mechanics.
Schebler's big breakout occurred in 2013 when he hit .296/.360/.581 with 27 homers, 140 wRC+, and 16 steals for Rancho Cucamonga in the California League. Of course, that's the Cal League but he maintained the production with a .280/.365/.556, 28 homer, 154 wRC+ line with Double-A Chattanooga in 2014. 2015 was another matter: he slumped to .241/.322/.410 with 13 homers and a wRC+ of just 91 for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
The Pacific Coast League should have been a good environment for Schebler but pitchers were able to contain the danger more often than not. Interestingly, Schebler's walk and strikeout rates actually improved this year, matching reports of progress with pitch recognition and contact, which were the big issues for him in the past. However, despite evident improvements in those areas his overall production declined sharply, the wRC+ being the worst of his career by far.
Normally a production decline of that nature would be accompanied by slippage in BB/K/PA ratios, not improvement! We will dig further into the scouting reports this fall looking for an answer.
Schebler has polished other aspects of his game play. He uses his speed very well on the bases (15 steals in 17 attempts) and has tightened up his outfield defense. His arm is below average for right field but he runs good routes and has lowered his miscue rate with experience. He is best in left field but if need be he can play center or right without hurting you.
Many components of Schebler's game have improved steadily. There are a lot of things to like here, but the drop in production this year was undeniable and more than a bit puzzling. Let's see how he does down the stretch.