When you cover outfielders, you want to see the tools that can make an outfielder great. Hitting, power, defense, Arm, Speed…well, I can’t speak for much others, maybe defense and arm, but when it comes to Stuart, there is definitely plenty of speed. If you wanted to read about a player in the Mets organization with the best speed, congratulations, you’ve found him.
(Photo Credit Bill Mitchell/Baseball America)
OF Champ Stuart
R/R, 6’0″ 185 lbs, 10/11/1992 (24), Drafted in the 6th round of the 2013 draft out of Brevard College.
There are many truths to baseball, but this is the one that rings true in this article: you can’t teach speed. I’ve read accounts of the Houston Astros where they brought trainers into their Venezuelan Academy in the 90’s to teach better running patterns to give them an uptick in their speed. I’ve heard of agility trainers that made players more fit that their speed has improved. However, natural 80-speed (on the 20-80 scouting scale) is not teachable, and absolutely useful for both defense and wreaking havoc on the bases.
However, in the draft every year, there are a handful of players that run just this fast and are taken, but never become anything more than organizational players (career minor leaguers), or just retire. Why? Because many just can’t hit, and unfortunately, that is the mold that Stuart has followed into so far.
After two very nice years at Brevard College, a DII School in Florida, Bahamian-born Stuart was selected in the 6th round of the 2013 draft. In his draft year, Stuart hit .300/.444/.479 with 8 doubles, a triple, and 5 homers while walking 30 times and striking out 37 times in 41 games. He stole 39 bases in 41 chances in the short season.
The Mets’ scouting decided to put Stuart in Advanced Rookie League Kingsport where he hit .240/.388/.353 in 43 games hitting 12 extra base hits. Unfortunately, he struck out in nearly 31% of his at-bats, but walked in more than 18% of his plate appearances.
The strikeouts continued as a trend as he climbed up the ladder, this time to Savannah, this time with 97 in 81 games, while walking nearly 11% of his Plate Appearances and hitting .256/.341/.340 while hitting 13 extra base hits. He stole 29 bases and was caught only four times. He started playing for the L0-A team on May 16th and continued for the rest of the year.
In 2015 he went to Hi-A St. Lucie, he stumbled a bit in 97 games, hitting .176/.271/.242, striking out 141 times, and walking in ten and a half of his plate appearances. 13 of his 58 hits were for extra bases, (8 2B, 1 3B, 4 homers). He stole 21 bases and was caught 3 times.
In the 2016 season, he bounced back in St. Lucie, and was promoted to Double-A Binghamton. In Hi-A, he hit .265/.347/.407 with 21 extra base hits (9 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR), and cut his strikeout rate from 36.9% to 30.2% in 71 games. His walk rate lowered further to 9.8% in his second crack at Hi-A though. He stole 25 bases in 28 attempts. However, he stumbled again when he got to Binghamton, with his strikeout rate rising to 36% and his walk rate has dropped to 6.9%, while hitting .201/.264/.261 in 43 games. He also hit six extra base hits (3 2b, 1 3B, 2 HR), and stole 15 bases in 18 attempts.
While that was a setback for the ultra-talented Champ, he was sent to the Arizona Fall League, an October showcase where teams send their better prospects to get some extra work in. He hit .300/.329/.400 in 19 games, while stealing 12 out of 13 bases, and lowering his strikeout rate to 29.7%, but walking only 4.1% of the time. He hit four extra base hits including four doubles and a homer. His great performance in the AFL earned him an invite to The Met’s big league spring training in 2017.
So what are the two main themes of Champ Stuart? His speed and his contact: one exemplary and one abysmal. In most of his scouting reports, Stuart’s speed has been described as a “game changer”, but considering his stolen base numbers, he hasn’t been able to translate all that speed yet into results.
His hitting is a huge question mark as a prospect, obviously. He has a quick swing, but it isn’t simple, and has a lot of issues with staying consistent, especially when dealing with breaking balls. His bad mechanics have also led to him swinging under fastballs at times, which is troubling to think about. This has resulted in a career 32.7% strikeout rate that has only gotten worse as he has climbed the ladder, but the rate in the Arizona Fall League showed he had learned a bit. He definitely has had a handle on the strike zone in the past, posting pretty interesting on-base percentages, but that has been falling a bit lately. Champ has some pop in his swing, possibly up to 15 homers annually, but with really tough swing mechanics, it’s been really hard to see him tap into that or even consistently hit for extra bases in general.
As for defense, Champ is above-average in Center, and his speed allows him to outrun his mistakes in Center Field. In addition, his arm is plus, with pre-draft reports stating he was reaching up to 95 miles per hour with throws from the outfield.
As it stands, Champ’s swing suggests he may never be a starter in the Major Leagues, but the potential is there, and it’s great. Alternatively, if he can post high on-base percentages, it may be enough to give him some warranting of starting, but it is really hard to see as the walk rates keep dwindling. With the speed, defense, and arm, it’s likely his outcome is a fourth outfielder. BUT if that bat gets under control…watch out, it’s a starter upside with leadoff, game changing potential.
He’s definitely going to start his age 24 year repeating Double-A Binghamton, and work extensively with their hitting coach, Luis Natera (who has a good record with young hitters). You’ll see him as a late-inning replacement in centerfield at Major League Camp early on with a possible start.
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