Paul DeJong (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Power-hitting third baseman-turned-shortstop Paul DeJong is ready for Triple-A at a new position.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues at #13 with a power-hitting infielder making a big move defensively. Details for TCN members.

http://www.scout.com/player/200624-paul-dejong?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
16 3B 08 02 93 2015 4th

Selected 2016 stats

Tm AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
Spr 0.260 0.318 496 62 129 29 22 73 40 144 3 0.348 0.324 0.460 0.784
                               
AFL 0.232 0.306 69 4 16 1 1 9 3 21 1 0.253 0.257 0.290 0.547

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (14): Paul DeJong received a lot of traction fairly early during the community vote, getting the majority of the votes as the 14th best prospect in the system. Whcardsfan spoke of him first during the vote at #8. Whcardsfan said that if he cuts back on the strikeouts, DeJong would easily be the second-best minor league bat in the system.

UncleDenny noted that DeJong is a power prospect with upside and liked that DeJong improved his batting average up to .260 by season’s end. Cardinals27 thinks DeJong has 25-home run potential as a major leaguer. Wileycard noted that DeJong was challenged with a huge jump up to Double-A and produced something that is so lacking in the Cardinals system, power. – Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (11): After splitting 2015 between Johnson City and Peoria, Paul DeJong bypassed High-A Palm Beach entirely as a result of extending his polished college game, spending his 2016 campaign with Double-A Springfield for his entire first full professional season.

DeJong, 23, had a huge 2016 in terms of power production and swing and miss, but the third baseman required a longer acclimation period after skipping High-A. In evidence, the right-handed hitter drafted out of Illinois State had only 15 hits, including five doubles and no homers, in his first 76 at-bats over 20 games in what was a rough month of April.

Many power hitters warm up with the weather, so too did DeJong and his bat. The third baseman finished the first half with a .230 average and .741 OPS but blasted 12 homers and 43 RBI while showing an ability to abuse the alleys of the outfield.

In early May, DeJong explained his in-process adjustments.

"I think I'm missing pitches early in the count that I should be hitting," he said. "I'm getting myself in tough pitchers' counts and forcing me to chase some balls out of the zone. Really for me, it is about getting the fastball early in the count and putting a good swing on it.”

Even with the relatively slow start, DeJong was named to the Texas League mid-season All-Star Team. Despite finishing the 2016 season among league leaders with 144 punchouts (three off the pace of the league-leader), the Orlando, FL native showcased superb all fields power, hitting seven of his 22 homers the other way and seven to center or left-center field.

DeJong collected 73 RBI and 29 doubles in 132 games.

"He's got power to all fields," 2016 Springfield manager Dann Bilardello said. "The ball carries off his bat. I think Paul is just working on more consistent at-bats and making a little bit more contact. He's learning. He's a real smart kid. I think he's made good adjustments.

"There are periods where I see, and I'm like 'Wow.' He's still learning, and he'll just keep getting better."

However, DeJong still punched out an alarming 144 times to only 40 walks. To improve his plate discipline, he said his goal is to swing at pitches in his zone early in the count and protect with two strikes.

Furthermore, DeJong garnered an invitation to the Arizona Fall League to gain more exposure in front of scouts and get additional reps at shortstop, a position at which the consensus is he can handle defensively.

"Defensively, I think the most improvement has been there," Bilardello said. "He's getting off the ball a little bit better. I've played him at short with people thinking, 'Why would you play him at short?' He actually moves pretty well. He likes playing there."

"He looks great," said Glendale Desert Dogs manager Aaron Rowand, who played DeJong at short regularly during the AFL. "His hands, footwork, and quickness are very impressive there. He can play shortstop all day long in the big leagues. He's just that athletic. He is intense and has been a treat to be around."

I asked the Desert Dogs hitting coach Darryl Robinson what adjustments DeJong can make to cut down on strikeouts.

"Just getting more selective," Robinson said. "Being more patient. That's the hard part right there. His load is kind of quick, so if he slows his load down it will give him a chance to recognize a little more. That's what young hitters do. They want to charge after the ball when in actuality you want to let it travel and get after it."

From a scouting standpoint, DeJong's best tool is his 60-grade power potential and perhaps 50-to-60 hitting when he is not striking out at an excessive rate due to a "big, handsy swing" at times. When has his swing sequenced, the 6-foot-1, 195 pound right-hander can fill up balls in the alleys for doubles with an ability to turn around home runs as well. As he understands his swing more, it will free him up to drive the ball more consistently.

He projects as a .260 hitter with above-average to plus raw power.

Defensively, “Pauly” has always had impressive versatility, playing all over the dirt at Illinois State University. He played third base almost exclusively during the 2016 regular season and could stick there with an above-average throwing arm, decent actions, and quick enough feet for the hot corner, but it is shortstop where he is expected to play at in 2017.

One scout said, "He looks like a real shortstop. He can field it. He's smooth with a good arm that plays at short. He's fundamentally sound. While he doesn't have a lot of flash in his game, he makes the plays and is fast at the position."

With a chance to play at a premium position now and the potential of his bat, DeJong could be an everyday impact player at the major-league level. He's got off-the-charts makeup and was a scout's favorite in the AFL. If the strikeouts aren't minimized and if he doesn't stay at short, his is floor is likely that of an extra player or platoon type against lefties with defensive versatility and power.

Ultimately, DeJong is expected to open 2017 at Triple-A Memphis in 2017 and could be the everyday shortstop.

 

Brian Walton (13): Although all three voters are pretty close in our rankings of DeJong, it is interesting to note the comparative placement with our prior prospect at #14 overall, Edmundo Sosa. After all, the two play the same position now.

The community has DeJong one spot ahead of Sosa, just as they finished here in the overall top 50. Derek has DeJong, a player he saw play regularly at Springfield in 2016, five spots higher. In the minority, I have Sosa three spots above DeJong.

There is no doubt that DeJong is closer of the two to the majors and offers tantalizing power. He finished second in the entire system in home runs (22) and doubles (29) and in terms of production, was third in RBI (73). In the latter category, he was just four off a share of the organizational lead.

Still, questions will remain about his relatively low batting average and walks and high strikeouts.

DeJong’s whiff rate of 26.1 percent was eighth-highest in the system among hitters with at least 200 plate appearances. His walk rate of 7.2 percent was 14th-lowest among the same group, but I found it very interesting to discover that his highly-touted 2016 teammates Carson Kelly and Harrison Bader drew free passes at almost the exact same rate (7.0 percent each).

Just prior to the AFL, as DeJong was in Florida with the other Cardinals preparing at instructional league camp, I asked minor league hitting coordinator George Greer about DeJong’s progress.

“Paul comes with experience, knowing good pitches to hit and not give away at-bats,” Greer said. “So he has progressed. Now he is going to the Arizona Fall League and he is just going to get better and better.”

Unfortunately, DeJong did not continue that offensive progress against the more advanced pitching in the AFL. In what turned out to be a disappointing six weeks at the plate, he not only played shortstop defensively, he hit like one.

His strikeouts ticked up to 28.4 percent and his walks plummeted to 4.1 percent (21 Ks against just three walks). The power evaporated as DeJong managed to stroke just two extra-base hits in 74 plate appearances. His .306 BABIP does not suggest unusual bad luck with his final slash line in the desert .232/.257/.290/.547. Though he was named to the AFL Fall Stars Game, those selections are more based on reputation coming in than actual results in the league.

In conflict with the glowing scouting reports on DeJong’s shortstop defense in the AFL, I came away less than wowed in my (albeit short) one week watching him there. His arm seemed adequate and accurate. His actions on double plays looked fluid enough. My concern was his range. Balls to both his left and right squirted just past his glove without him diving for them. I would like to see more over a longer period of time, but I did not feel I was watching an elite shortstop. Then again, I readily admit that I am not a professional scout.

There is no doubt that DeJong’s power makes him an attractive prospect no matter his ultimate position(s) defensively. However, if he can truly stick at short and play the position at a major league-average level, his stock certainly rises – maybe to as much as a potential replacement to Aledmys Diaz, with the latter moving to third.

Alternatively, if he could at least become a Jedd Gyorko-type threat off the bench, DeJong could still have a good MLB career. That more realistic ceiling is reflected in my scouting grade that follows.

Tip: His last name is pronounced “DEE-young”.

TCN Scouting Grade: 5, Risk: Medium (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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