Bryce Denton (Brian Walton / The Cardinal Nation)

The youngest player on the Johnson City roster, Bryce Denton, progressed with the bat and made a defensive change.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues at #26 with a teenaged third baseman moved to the outfield. Details for TCN members.

http://www.scout.com/player/200456-bryce-denton?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
21 OF 08 01 97 2015 2nd

Selected 2016 stats

Tm AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
JC 0.282 0.329 202 34 57 7 4 26 20 37 2 0.344 0.356 0.376 0.732

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (26): Bryce Denton slightly improved upon his 2015 ranking in the community vote, jumping from #28 to #26. Mudville was the first poster to select Denton with his #22 selection.

There were not many comments on Denton during the vote as most posters are fairly familiar with his profile. Last year, GM4aday said that his only hope regarding Denton was that he would stay at 3B; unfortunately, Denton has been shifted to the outfield, although he played some RF in the instructional league last year too. Mudville liked that Denton is regarded as a baseball rat according to scouting reports he has read. – Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (26): Denton rebounded exceptionally well following his shaky draft year in the Gulf Coast League, slashing .282/.356/.376 with four homers and 26 RBI a rung above for the Johnson City Cardinals.

"I think he struggled in his first year because he put a lot of pressure on himself to perform and live up to those expectations (of a high-bonus second rounder)," Johnson City manager Chris Swauger said. "I think this year he showed up more comfortable and was more concerned about just getting better and working on his game.

"He got off to a slow start, but this guy showed up every day ready to work. He was very routine-oriented and disciplined in how he goes about things."

After his solid first season outside the complex leagues, Denton saved his best for last in the Appalachian League playoffs, going a combined 9-for-20 (.450) with a home run and 7 RBI as perhaps the most Most Valuable Player in his club's postseason run to win its fourth title in seven years.

Denton entered the season as one of the youngest players in league at 18 years old and more than held his own as Johnson City's three-hitter in the lineup. Swauger called him, "A sharp kid, way more cerebral than any other 18-year old kid I've been around."

"All the work he put in, all the repetitions, and trying to evolve as a player showed itself towards the end of the year," the manager added. "By the end of the year, he was our most productive player as far as offense goes.

"In the playoffs, he got big hit after big hit, and to me, that really showed something."

Swauger was also impressed with Denton’s offensive skill-set.

"I think the ball jumps off his bat," he said. "We don't have Trackman, but I would bet his exit velocity was one of the highest in the league. Bottom line, the guy hits the ball hard. At the beginning of the year, he hit the ball hard but hit everything into the ground it seemed like.

"As the season went on, he started to hit more line drives, get more balls in the gaps, and hit some homers too - they were absolute bombs. I think as he goes along and continues to refine his swing and can elevate the ball to drive the ball in the gaps, you're going to see a lot of power out of the kid."

First and foremost, Denton was drafted for his bat and can really handle the lumber. With plus bat speed, scouts say he has a chance for plus power potential with plenty of loft and ability to get the bat head through the zone efficiently despite some length to his swing.

On the other hand, his defensive profile has always been his primary drawback as a prospect. Denton was drafted a third baseman and spent his first two seasons at the hot corner before the Cardinals converted him to the outfield full-time during instructs because of a lack of range with limited athletic ability and rough actions.

While he has the arm to play in the outfield, I asked Swauger how he profiles there.

"When he made that move, it looked like he was exponentially more comfortable in the field and was actually making plays," Swauger said. "I think he was constantly fighting himself (at third base). This guy took criticism and instruction while trying to put that all together at third base.

"When he moved to the outfield, it just let his natural ability take over. Would he have been serviceable at third base? Probably. I wouldn't put anything past this kid because of his determination and work ethic. It appeared to me he's much more comfortable and natural in the outfield.

"I think he's a pretty good athlete and would be fine wherever you put him. He seems more comfortable out there, for sure."

Ultimately, Denton's tools aren't said to be explosive, but he is a legit prospect with the potential to be the Cardinals next "big bopper" in the system. Now that he is officially moved to the outfield and has less stress to deal with defensively, I fully expect his 2017 will be his coming out party - hopefully at a full-season affiliate.

 

Brian Walton (25): Note the high level of agreement on Denton’s placement in the top 50, yet he lost four spots from his number 21 perch 12 months ago.

I guess it is a good thing to be mentioned in the same company as Carson Kelly and Stephen Piscotty, two other early-round Cardinals draftees selected as third basemen, only to be moved off the position relatively early in their professional careers. The organization always prefers to leave players at the most challenging and premium defensive positions as long as possible - until they have shown they would be better off elsewhere.

So it was for Denton, who told me very specifically during instructional league that his move to the outfield is not just a trial. I should specifically say right field, which is the identical move made with Piscotty to take advantage of his throwing arm. 

Denton committed a team-leading 21 miscues in just 41 games this season for Johnson City, hastening the position change decision.

Interestingly, the other third baseman drafted with Denton in 2015, Paul DeJong, has also moved off the hot corner, though in his case, the position is a more demanding one, shortstop. We will have more on him in a couple of weeks!

As noted, Denton is not a toolsy player, nor is he impressive physically. However, given his relative youth, there is time for him to fill out. What Denton is most recognized for at this point is his focus on preparation, leadership skills and high engine.

I asked Cardinals minor league hitting coordinator George Greer what he saw in terms of Denton’s changes from 2015 to 2016.

“He was able to use the whole field,” the coach said. “He was able to start hitting with power. He has real quick hands and he puts the bat on the ball. He has an idea of what he wants to do at the plate. He has really learned how to take a pitch and not be afraid to hit with two strikes.”

I am not down on Denton’s offense, but he still has a very long way to go, in my opinion. On the Johnson City club alone this past season, he was eighth in batting average and OBP, 12th in slugging and ninth in OPS. Denton was eighth in doubles, in a three-way tie for third in home runs and fourth in RBI. Needless to say, he was not among the Appalachian League leaders in any offensive category.

Unlike in 2015, when his BABIP of .236 suggested a long run of bad luck at the plate, Denton's JC mark of .329 in 2016 is a bit high, if anything.

On the positive side, there is plenty of time remaining to develop. Denton was a year and a half younger than the average Appy League hitter in 2016. While he was the youngest player on the Johnson City roster, he fell five months short of ranking among the rookie league’s 10 youngest players.

Making the jump to Peoria out of spring camp would be a big step for the teen, with the Cardinals taking some risk – not unlike what they once did with Kelly. If they attempt it and Denton does not stick initially, it would be no more of a career-ender than it was for the catcher. If Denton does perform well in the Midwest League out of the gate, however, it could mark the acceleration of the progression toward realizing his potential.

TCN Scouting Grade: 5, Risk: Extreme (click here to review scales)

 

Our 2017 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for being a member!

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