The St. Louis Cardinals third-round selection from the 2015 draft, Harrison Bader, hasn't tailed off since making his professional debut with the Class-A (short season) State College Spikes last summer.
Bader, 21, was targeted by the Cardinals amateur scouting operations because of his ability to do damage at the plate, similar to his current Double-A Springfield teammate Paul DeJong, selected the round after Bader.
Over his successful three-year collegiate career, Bader slashed a cumulative .313/.393/.466 with 20 home runs and 112 RBI in 170 games with the University of Florida. In his junior year, Bader added loft to his swing and suddenly blossomed as a collegiate star, clubbing 17 of those 20 home runs as he displayed a blend of power and speed (36 stolen bases) that rose his name up draft boards.
That and the combination of flashing several competent tools piqued the interest of Cardinals area scout Ty Boyles last spring.
“From an area scout perspective, there wasn't a player from my area I wanted in our organization any more than Harrison Bader,” said Boyles, who scouted and signed Bader. “He is a very talented baseball player. He can hit, hits for some power, can run, and he is a guy who can play center field."
The Cardinals signed Bader for $400,000, $170K below his slot value, and assigned him to the New York-Penn League to open his professional career. The center fielder hit .379 in seven games before a quick promotion to the Midwest League and he didn't let up, slashing .301/.364/.505 with nine home runs and 28 RBI for Peoria in his first taste of getting paid to play baseball.
With the performance, he was The Cardinal Nation's highest-ranked college hitter from the St. Louis' 2015 draft this past winter, ranking 13th overall in his inaugural placement on TCN's top 40 prospect list.
Bader was among the few fortunate to receive a non-roster invitation to big-league spring training a month ago. Even though he played in just five games, the 21-year old recorded one hit in seven at-bats. The Cardinals then jumped him over High-A Palm Beach entirely, for his 2016 opening placement at Double-A.
As the 10th youngest player in the eight-team Texas League, Bader has risen to the occasion as he is among league leaders with a .345 batting average entering Monday. The all-around aggressive player had five multi-hit games to start the season prior to a brief slump before adding his second career four-hit game last Wednesday. In the most recent homestand at Hammons Field, Bader slugged four of his five home runs in 2016.
Some scouts knock Bader for his plate discipline, as evidenced by his 73-20 career strikeout to walk ratio to date. When asked about his plate discipline, Bader was conscious of the subject rather than brushing it off as a non-issue, which should be encouraging.
His aggressiveness has also led to issues on the base paths (12 caught stealing in 32 career chances), but he is a solid athlete and runner. That appears to translate into great closing speed in center while his physical frame (well built) shouldn’t move him off the position either. Defensively, that aggression led him to crash into an outfield wall and as a result was pulled early from a game two weeks ago. Fortunately, Bader was fine and walked off the field under his own power. He even pleaded to remain the game.
In this exclusive interview below, Bader talks about the draft, his overall approach, and much more!
Derek Shore: Looking at the amateur draft, were you expecting to be drafted by the Cardinals?
Harrison Bader: "No, not necessarily. You go through some preliminary meetings and everything. I kept in contact with a number of teams, but when I heard the Cardinals drafted me; obviously I was ecstatic. It's a great place to be."
DS: What was your initial reaction to being drafted by the Cardinals?
HB: "Again, I was just ecstatic to be drafted. It was a dream come true - but I was ready to get after and play."
DS: You didn't skip a beat in transitioning to professional baseball. From a competition standpoint, how was that transition for you?
HB: "It's been tough. The game speeds up a lot. The talent level obviously increases as you go up, and I have seen that tremendously. I'm just working with my coaches. I'm working every day to prepare myself to be the best I can to be consistent as possible.
"At times, it gets difficult, but it's still very, very early in the season, so I'm going to keep rolling with that approach."
DS: You were a non-roster invitee to big-league spring training camp. What was that experience like for you?
HB: "That was an incredible experience and the fact they allowed me to do that speaks volumes to how much they truly care about their players. I met a tremendous number of guys; everyone was very courteous and open to talk to me. I had a lot of questions. I was very happy to be there.
"I just to keep my head down and play as best I could, but it was definitely a great experience just being around those guys who have established themselves so well. Hopefully, I'll be one of those guys one day."
DS: With your terrific start to your professional career, the Cardinals completely jumped you over High-A to Springfield. Were you surprised by this move?
HB: "I don't know; maybe. I wasn't really thinking about it. I was just doing everything I can to prepare myself in the offseason for spring training and spring training for the season, so wherever I started. They tell us not to worry about stuff like that; it's all about where you finish.
"Again, I'm just very, very fortune to be in this position. I'm tremendously happy just to go out there and play."
DS: So far, you are off to another fast start, among Texas League leaders in batting average. To what do you attribute the fast start?
HB: "You just prepare yourself every day for success and do your best to prepare yourself for success on the field. I'm doing that; I'm trying to slow everything down and go pitch-by-pitch. I'm just focused on the things like not giving any pitch away and not giving any at-bat away.
"I'm doing everything I can to be consistent as possible for myself and my teammates. I'm slowing everything down and enjoying every step of the way."
DS: When you step into the batter's box, what is your approach against opposing pitchers?
HB: "Obviously it changes from pitcher to pitcher from at-bat to at-bat and even pitch-to-pitch at times while in the box. I think it's important not to be too hard on your approach in the sense that you have to understand that you have to make changes. Like I said, pitch-to-pitch.
"Just being open, slowing everything down, relax, and that's the approach I'm taking."
DS: "While you've had early success with the majority of your offensive numbers. You have had some plate discipline issues. Is this an area of your game that you could improve the most?
HB: "Absolutely. A lot of that comes from understanding your zone as a hitter. That is a lot of what we talk about with our hitting coaches here is, 'You have to know your hitting zone'. I think that I was a little jumpy, maybe a little too over-aggressive; almost stupid aggressive at times.
"It's just swinging at things that you know you can handle is what you have to battle with moving forward in his league and the rest of your career. I'm learning discipline, learning my own hitting zone, learning what pitchers are trying doing to me, reacting, and going from there."
DS: So far in your career, the Cardinals have played you mostly in center field. Do you think this position suits you best?
HB: "No reason why that can't be true. I'm doing everything I can to stay there. I work on my routes and work on everything I can to be as good as possible. I'm going to continue to do that for as long as I can. I'm moved elsewhere, but as long as I'm penciled into that lineup, I can play any position."
DS: You've flashed a very aggressive style of play so far. Do you do this on purpose or is it just natural instinct taking over?
HB: "I think that's just my approach as a player. Not necessarily even in hitting, but just in general. Play with aggression; don't necessarily play mad, but play to get after it and leave everything on the field day in and day out. That's what I stick with and what I'm most comfortable doing."
DS: As far as promotions or personal accolades, are there any goals you have set for this season?
HB: "I don't. I'm going day-to-day and just enjoying everything. As a player, you have to respect the ups-and-downs in a season regardless of the level you're at. I'm just focused on my next at-bat and letting everything else handle itself.
"My only focus is my next at-bat, the next pitch I see, the next opportunity I get to do some damage and help my team out."
Related article: The Cardinal Nation April Player of the Month
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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