Harrison Bader (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Will Harrison Bader become a major league starter or a reserve outfielder?

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues at #5 with the organization’s top-ranked outfielder, who is getting close to the majors. FREE report!


2016 rank Pos. DOB Drafted Round
13 OF 06 03 94 2015 3rd

Selected 2016 stats

Mem 0.231 0.292 147 22 34 7 3 17 11 38 2 0.296 0.298 0.354 0.652
Spr 0.283 0.349 318 48 90 12 16 41 25 93 11 0.377 0.351 0.497 0.848
Tot 0.267   465 70 124 19 19 58 36 131 13   0.335 0.452 0.786
AFL 0.304 0.344 79 12 24 2 2 16 5 14 4 0.357 0.349 0.430 0.779

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (7): At #5, Harrison Bader checked in a little higher in the overall ranking at The Cardinal Nation than he did during the community vote, where he landed at #7. That is up slightly from his #9 placement in the 2015 vote.

BobReed was strong on Bader to begin the discussion, posting that Bader had a wRC+ of 143 this year despite being one of the youngest position players in the Texas League. He also mentioned that several reports listed that Bader’s outfield defense was stellar.

CariocaCardinal said that he was high on Bader during the season, but noticed that his K-rate got worse when he returned to AA. Hoyaheel posted that he was concerned about Bader’s drop off in power once he was promoted to AAA. VegasjJim mentioned that Bader looks to be a solid major league prospect as an outfielder with good pop and speed. - Jeremy Byrd


Derek Shore (5): In the past, the Cardinals put together a group of prospects they could develop and win in the minors known to some as the Memphis Mafia, which contributed to the organization's World Series championship in 2011.

That approach was so effective a new Memphis Mafia 2.0, appeared at Double-A Springfield in 2016 with center fielder Harrison Bader at the forefront.

Bader, now 22, raked in his first full season of pro ball after jumping over High-A Palm Beach entirely. Starting with an aggressive assignment to Springfield, he was one of the youngest players in the Texas League, but quickly got his play up to the level and passed it as rumors surfaced for a major-league call-up before his midseason promotion to Triple-A Memphis on July 6.

"Harrison did a good job," Springfield manager Dann Bilardello said of his All-Star lead-off man, who accomplished a 17-game hitting streak. "One thing I liked about Harrison was he maintained (his performance) for a long time. He hit way beyond what he was going to end up doing earlier on and came down a little bit before his promotion.

"Overall, I think he learned about the league, himself, his adjustments he's going to have to make, and he's going to have to continue to make those adjustments."

In the Pacific Coast League, Bader struggled to acclimate to the advanced competition, slashing .231/.298/.354 with only three homers and 17 RBI through 49 games (147 at-bats). He finished with a .267 average, 19 doubles, five triples, 19 homers, and 58 RBI despite an inflated strikeout to walk ratio (131-to-36). The aggressive baserunner swiped 13 stolen bases but was caught 13 other times.

After the impressive summer, the Cardinals sent Bader to the AFL where he worked under former hard-nosed major-leaguer Aaron Rowand, who was the Glendale Desert Dogs skipper.

"He's got a very flat swing - his bat stays in the zone a very long time," Rowand said. "He is a constant gamer. He goes out every day and gives 100% after everything. He runs every ball out. He's a great base stealer with plus speed. He could be a top of the lineup guy, but he's also got power where you could put him in the middle as well."

The former gold-glove outfielder and current Chicago White Sox minor league outfield coordinator also thinks Bader will stick in center field.

"He has enough speed to play center field," Rowand said. "He gets good jumps and breaks on the ball. He can play any of the three outfield spots, and he's got enough arm to play right field. He's a good outfielder - he's a good athlete. He's intense and aggressive. Aggressive on the basepaths."

Another outside observer, Desert Dogs hitting coach Darryl Robinson, saw plenty of ability offensively.

"He can swing the bat," Robinson said with a chuckle. "He's shown me he understands the swing and is trying to make the adjustment to get it right. In the swing, there's going to be some rocky times in there, and he's got to understand that. As soon as he gets it together, he will be pretty good, man.

"He's a hard-nosed type player. He'll grind it out the whole way through."

From the scouting perspective, Bader catches scouts’ attention for his solid to above-average tools across the board with an all-out skill-set to boot. Listed at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, he's not the ideal height for a power hitter, but is lean and strong with Popeye-like hands and forearms. He's a very broad-shouldered athlete with room for added strength in his upper body.

At the plate, Bader starts with an unorthodox set-up nearly crouching at the time of his swing. He takes a long stride, but loads and fires his bat with explosive bat speed through the zone. However, his swing has some violence which leads to the high amount of swing and miss also causing him to chase balls out of the strike zone and to be out in front of off-speed stuff at times.

Despite being an eager hitter, some scouts said the Cardinals' 2015 third rounder has an "aggressively confident" approach with him being able to filter in both aggressiveness and patience. He's got plus raw power, becoming more adept at pulling the ball with his ability to pull in his hands quicker and improve his ambush power without selling out plate discipline.

Bader has quick hands and with plus bat speed can rifle balls to the gaps for doubles and triples or over the wall for homers. He makes consistent hard contact with the ball jumping off his bat when it is squared up. He could mature into a .270-.300 hitter with 20-plus home run pop from the right side.

Robinson sees him having average to slightly above-average power down the road, "He hits a lot of line drives. He's got to learn how to lift the ball a little bit more without actually lifting it. I could see him being more above-average."

One pro scout said, "He's a legit bat with speed and power. He's similar to Grichuk."

I asked Rowand how Bader could refine his approach to cut down on strikeouts.

"I think he'll need to start using the whole field a little bit more," Rowand said. "Because he's an aggressive guy - he's going to want to chase the ball and if he gets into hitters’ counts - he starts to get big. I think if he just stayed within himself a little more and try to lay the barrel on the ball and let his natural power take over, he will be able to use more of the field.”

While he doesn't have the pure speed or instincts of a traditional center fielder, Bader grades as an average defender in center, impressing coaches and scouts with his hard-nosed mentality to tracking down balls in the gaps and at the wall. He should be able to stay there with right fielder's arm strength.

On the base paths, Bader has above-average speed but will need to learn how to get better jumps against the opposition to improve his efficiency.

With a solid all-around skill-set and ability to handle premium position, Bader's bat profiles as an asset with his value only being enhanced as a top outfield prospect.


Brian Walton (5): It seems my role in these assessments is to play the role of the pessimist. One side of me can view Bader’s profile as being very similar to so many other outfielders who have come up through the St. Louis Cardinals system in recent years - back to at least Skip Schumaker.

A good athlete who perhaps stretches to reach six feet in height, able to play multiple outfield positions and proficient in all aspects of his game, yet features no true standout tool, however. Hence the question of whether he is long-term starting material or simply a good reserve.

As noted, Bader has moved quickly through the Cardinals system and performed well at Springfield in 2016. Even so, it is far from unheard of. His age reaching Double-A, 22, was the same as Tommy Pham at the same point in his career, for example.

Bader’s tool most often touted is his power, as evidenced by his 16 Texas League home runs. However, in Pham’s first season at Springfield at the same age back in 2010, he outslugged Bader, .537 to .497. It was not a fluke, as Pham has a career Double-A SLG of .506.

A 20-plus home run future and a Randal Grichuk comp feels a bit on the high side. Grichuk exceeded Bader’s 19 long balls in 2016 in three of the last four years, with his only miss being his rookie year with St. Louis (17 in 2015). However, there is another reason Grichuk could be a fair comparison to draw – since it looks as if the two could become direct job competitors not too far into the future.

The grade of 5.5 I assigned Bader places his ceiling somewhere between an average starter and an above-average MLB starter. A realistic view of his near-term opportunity with St. Louis would seem to put that into question, however. Perhaps that ultimate potential will be achieved elsewhere, as with the most recent top prospect outfielder to precede him in these rankings, Charlie Tilson.

A reserve spot seems Bader’s most likely role when looking at the Cardinals outfield situation over the next four years. He would seem to have almost no chance of beating out Dexter Fowler or Stephen Piscotty, leaving left field as his only realistic starting opportunity. Even then, I would have to squint hard before seeing him be able to "out-Grichuk" Grichuk. Greater success at Triple-A Memphis in 2017 could help clear my foggy goggles, though.

Of course, an injury could change the St. Louis outfield situation in a heartbeat, but as I have been saying all winter long, I suspect the Cardinals will add another veteran outfielder before spring training. I would not be surprised if the team signs a left-handed hitting former MLB outfielder to a minor league make good type of contract with a spring camp invitation. If Matt Adams is dealt away, this new arrival could have roster room to join Pham as the fourth/fifth outfielders for 2017.

Bader’s risk assessment of “low” is as low as any prospect is graded in this countdown. That does not mean he still does not have work to do, but his action list is relatively short and addressable – starting with getting the strikeouts under control. His rate was in the 25 percent range during the majority of the 2016 season, but spiked to 37 percent in his second Springfield stint to close the year. To his credit, however, he more than halved it in the AFL, to a decent 16.3 percent rate. Of course, cutting down on his strikeouts could limit his power, as we saw in the AFL, where he slugged just .430.

Bader also needs to dial back his aggressiveness on the bases, as a 50 percent success rate in steal attempts won’t cut it at any level.

Another reason I am still having a hard time getting a full read on Bader is that in each of his career stops other than Memphis, his BABIP was quite high – .344 or more. With the Redbirds, a more expected .292 BABIP was part of a disappointing overall debut at Triple-A.

With no other top outfield prospects in the system above Class-A, there is little to no immediate competition coming from below. Hence, there is no reason to believe that if he plays better for Memphis in his second shot at Triple-A in 2017, that Bader could not make his St. Louis debut sometime during the second half.

However, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. There are two 40-man roster outfielders who one might expect to receive a chance before Bader in Jose Martinez and Anthony Garcia. The former did a credible job last September, but the latter has yet to reach St. Louis. If those two remain ahead for a while, that would be ok as far as I am concerned, as at least a half-season or more at Triple-A in 2017 would be better for Bader’s development, in my assessment.

TCN Scouting Grade: 5.5, Risk: Low (click here to review scales)

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