The 2017 season was a big one for first baseman Frank Schwindel. He turned in a career best season across AA and AAA, enough for him to take home Royals Minor League Hitter of the Year honors and garner a look at big league Spring Training. But on the prospect side of things, Schwindel wasn’t considered much, even with the enormous 2017 campaign. In the offseason, I wrote about why he shouldn’t be considered much of one, pinning more of a Quad-A status on him. Many factors played into my assessment, including a sudden breakout at age 25, BABIP, and concerning peripherals, mainly the walk rate.
And here in this piece, I would like to partially retract some of the statement. Like I said, I pretty much thought Schwindel was a Quad-A bat. I wasn’t the only one who thought this. I thought the Royals should easily prioritize higher-regarded prospects in Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn ahead of him, even with the less impressive numbers. And I really wasn’t opposed to the idea of signing a flippable stop gap, such as Lucas Duda. The Royals even kind of went with this idea of thinking, leaving him unprotected for the Rule Five Draft and opting to call up other 1B/DH options over him. For me to ever change my thoughts on this, improvements would need to be made. More power production, more support with the peripherals, and most of all, a non-cringeworthy walk rate. And well... Schwindel has basically achieved all of that down in Triple-A this season.
If you take a peek at what Schwindel has done in 2018, you still might be underwhelmed. In terms of overall offensive production at Triple-A, he’s actually been worse than last year. His batting average is significantly down, his on-base and slugging percentages are down. He hit for a 121 wRC+ in Triple-A last year. He’s currently at 113 for this year. This plays into half the reason of why Schwindel is having such a strange year with the bat, with the other half being that nearly all his peripherals are trending upwards. The ISO is up pretty considerably (.207 vs .224), the strikeout rate has seen a nice fall (16.7% vs 13.5%), the swinging-strike rate is down noticeably (12.9% vs 10.8%), and the walk rate has more than doubled (2.5% vs 6.1%). Because of this, he’s been able to ease the blow and an enormous 68 point BABIP fall. He was at glaring .353 mark in Triple-A last year. His .285 mark for 2018 would be considered extremely unlucky considering he plays in a league that heavily favors hitters and that fact that his career-average is comfortably above .300. You’d figure with the improved peripherals, if he was BABIPing closer to his career-average, he’d be having a significantly better go-around at AAA this year.
Based off solely peripherals, Schwindel might be the most improved hitter in AAA this year, or at least one of. Exporting data from the International League and Pacific Coast League for both 2017 and 2018, I found 47 double-seasons (players that were qualified hitters for both 2017 and 2018), Schwindel being one of them. I then found the difference in certain peripherals (BB%, K%, SwStr%, BABIP) for every player between the two seasons and compared accordingly. The results for Schwindel were pretty glaring.
Out of the group of 47, only two hitters have added to their walk rate more than Schwindel (Tyler White, Rafael Ortega). The current 6.1 percent rate he’s posting is still below-average, but it’s definitely more suitable than the ugly 2.5 percent rate last year.
Schwindel has always been more of a contact-oriented guy. For a player that posted below-average power numbers in the lower-minors, it was his strong-suit. He showed off superb contact skills in a small sample size at Double-A last year, as his 11.6 percent K-rate with the Naturals was the 13th lowest mark out of 133 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances in the Texas League. The strikeout rate took a jump as he moved to Triple-A, standing at 16.7 percent in 406 plate appearances with the Storm Chasers last year, but it still stood above-average, ranking as thee 33rd lowest among 78 qualified Pacific Coast League hitters. In 2018, he’s seen the strikeout rate drop, ranking to 13.5 percent, the 15th lowest mark out of 78 qualified PCL hitters. Only five players in AAA have improved their K-rate more this season.
And on a similar note, he also has one of the more improved swinging-strike rates.
As I mentioned above, the cause for his overall offensive production being down is the massive BABIP dip he’s seen. Only one player has seen more of a downfall in that department.
The big changes in profile for Schwindel seem to mainly stem from a more selective approach at the plate. He’s swinging the bat less, showing more patience with pitches outside the zone. Here’s a visual explanation with heatmaps of all swinging strikes for Schwindel the past two seasons in AAA.
Perhaps to see how Schwindel would look with a non-terrible BB-rate and higher BABIP would simply be to look at how he’s performed over the past month. Since July 7th, he’s put up a six percent walk rate along with a .329 BABIP. In that time, he’s slashed .306/.353/.546 with a .241 ISO, good for a 131 wRC+, which is higher mark than either of his two seasons in Triple-A.
With all this said, I still the expectations should be tempered with Schwindel. He still very well might be a Quad-A type bat. But an improved walk rate at least gives a glimmer of hope that maybe some of his offensive production will transfer to the next level. And with the Royals currently running out an underwhelming trio of Lucas Duda, Ryan O’Hearn, and Hunter Dozier (not even mentioning Drew Butera) to man the majority of 1B/DH playing time, maybe it won’t hurt to at least give Schwindel a look.