Houston Astros

Alex Bregman proving you cannot dismiss prospects too early

(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

For the first part of the season, it appeared that Alex Bregman was never going to live up to his ranking as a prospect, even though he handled himself well in his debut season. After a miserable June of 2017, when he hit only .215 over 25 games, some wanted to write him off as the one Houston Astros prospect who hadn’t become a raging success.

It seems, though, as prospects often are prone to, that any Bregman dismissal might have been premature.

The Astros selected Bregman in the first round of the 2015 amateur draft, taking the LSU shortstop with the No. 2 pick. The organization — according to industry chatter — felt he could stick at short, and this feeling continued through his first professional appearances despite the fact that by this time Carlos Correa was the Houston superstar shortstop of the future. Bregman zoomed through the minor leagues, spending only 146 games there, far fewer than other offensive prodigies.

Some of this is due to a lot of development out of the professional ranks in his three years at LSU, but both on raw stats and live looks, Bregman didn’t seem to need more minor league time.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 31: Houston Astros Third base Alex Bregman (2) at the plate during a MLB game between the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros on May 31, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, MN. The Astros defeated the Twins 17-6.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

Player development is hard, though, and it is extremely rare for it to follow an exact linear path. Bregman may have been too good for the Triple-A level (or, good enough to make it through that first set of games with a .333 average), but sometimes, a player just has to develop against the quality of play MLB provides. While his current pace is likely unsustainable, it’s not unlikely that this is closer to the kind of player he will become than his abysmal June (and his frustrating 2016.)

Evaluators like Bregman for his mature style of play, his defensive confidence, and the fact that for his original position (shortstop) he was projected to have some solid power. Now that he’s at third, there is more of a positional ask for power, but at only 23, Bregman has time to mature into that — and his build doesn’t make this an outrageous projection.

In his rookie year, Bregman was a surprise call-up, partially due to the the surprising nature of the Astros’ 2016 season. Though his bat wasn’t ready for the bigs — while hitting the aforementioned .333 when brought up from Triple-A, he had been there for only 18 games — he was the best available option for the Astros at the time. The success he had that first year made the first part of his 2017 season so unusual — though not unexpected. The sophomore slump is a thing for a reason. Looking at BABIP on Baseball-Reference, Bregman got unlucky across the beginning of 2017. It could be the above-age maturity of his approach — not trying too much, not getting trapped into pressing — helped Bregman produce this sudden turnaround.

The way the Astros are playing right now, it’s a boon that Bregman has finally found his stride as a big league player. If he can keep this pace through the rest of the season, the fact that the Astros didn’t make a significant move at the non-waiver deadline will seem null and moot. Especially in short series, offense can have a greater effect than pitching, though the pitching performances stand out in history. Bregman’s revelation couldn’t have come at a better time, either, with both Carlos Correa and George Springer on the disabled list for the Astros.

It hasn’t been a great last few weeks for the Astros, though they have the division sewn up. They have lost a number of their best players to various injuries, and this was always a team that — while incredibly talented — was never the deepest. The postseason is still far enough away that it’s not time to pull the panic chute yet, and most of the injuries should heal in plenty of time for the team to be back at full strength. While they can’t rely on a young player like Bregman to completely carry the team, it’s a relief to the Houston front office to see a high draft pick come through, and quickly.

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