Top 50 Prospects #2 - Nate Schierholtz

Nate Schierholtz is either one of two things: He's either a gifted left handed slugger finding a new home in the outfield; or he's a K machine that is only feasting on low level pitching. Well, he's #2 on our list. Find out what put him up so high!

Date of Birth: 02/15/1984 Position: OF Height: 6'2" Weight: 215 Bats: L Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 2nd Round (#63 Overall) of the 2003 Draft
2005 Stats
San Jose - High A .319 .363 .514 .877 502 83 160 37 8 15 86 32 132 5 7

Nate Schierholtz is one of those prospects who divide scouts and fans.  Some see the best for him, and some fear a collapse very soon.  Obviously, we see good things for him here.

Make no mistake, Schierholtz has things that worry us, and one of the biggest is that 132 strikeout total in 502 at bats, the highest total in the system.  But of all the Giants players, Schierholtz remained the most consistent hitter, day in and day out, throughout the 2005 season.  He had the highest batting average on the team for any player that stayed a full season (Eliezer Alfonzo and Kevin Frandsen, mid-season promotions, each had SJ batting averages in the .350 area).  He was an all-around producer: 2nd most doubles (37 to Eddy Martinez-Esteve’s 44), 2nd most triples (8 to Clay Timpner’s 12), 3rd most home runs (15 to Travis Ishikawa’s 22 and EME’s 17), and 2nd most RBI (86 to EME’s 94).

One other thing that noses him ahead of the plethora of other SF prospects was his durability.  Although, again, he appeared in the 2nd most games for San Jose (EME did appear in 132), unlike a few of the other top prospects, he did not appear to have his performance affected by injury all season long.

I say appear because it has come out (long after these rankings were set down) that Schierholtz did indeed have an injury hampering him throughout 2005.  In Spring Training last year, he suffered a groin injury and a hip ‘stress reaction’ that was originally thought to be a stress fracture.

What does this mean for Schierholtz and how one can look at his 2005 performance and his future?  Well, groin injuries are terribly chronic and bothersome, and could be a worry.  It might also explain his poor performance on the basepaths (5 stolen bases in 12 attempts).  The hip injury is more interesting.  Schierholtz claims that it didn’t affect him at the plate, but one does have to wonder.   Quite a bit of power comes from the turning of the hips, and if the hips were slower, it might account for his disappointing (for some) power numbers and not getting around on enough balls leading to the enormous spike in strikeouts.

That brings up his swing, which is one of those other things that gets scouts worried about him.  To say he has an unconventional swing is to understate things.  He has a low and long stance, though he was more upright earlier in the season, and he holds the bat at chest level near his shoulder.  The result is an exaggerated step and a tendency to wind up into his swing, making his swing long, usually something that can be exploited.  But, despite his strikeouts, he still managed to produce consistently because of his quick hands getting the bat through it’s path quickly.  He did seem more comfortable when he was lower in his stance late in the season (A result of his hip improving?).

A lot of scouts see a player who will get destroyed by inside fastballs, as many players with long swings are prone to.  But Schierholtz has the quick hands that can counter those worries.  If the Giants can get his hands up so there’s not so much windup/hitch in his swing, he can let his quick hands and instincts deal with the rest.

There are still worries about his defense, though his move to the outfield seems to have been the right move.  Schierholtz was not a good defender at third base, and though he continues to learn playing right field, he took to his quickly.  He is still learning how to read balls off the bat, how to take routes to the ball and set up under it so he can throw, but he managed to lead the league with 15 outfield assists using his strong arm, and was sure-handed when he had the ball, committing only 3 errors all year.  Schierholtz was in the fall instructional league working on both his swing and outfield play, and one should expect to see good things in 2006.

His immediate future, at least, is clear.  He’s due to move up to Norwich and see what AA means for him.  That will be his biggest test yet in the minors.  The Eastern League regularly eats up top California League offensive producers, and that is a big worry for several Giant prospects, including Schierholtz and Ishikawa.  If Schierholtz can handle the league, he’ll be in line to find himself in the majors quickly.  The best way for him to do that will be to figure out a way to strike out one less time per week, and change that K into a walk.  If he does that and pretty much repeats his production everywhere else, he will become one of the most prized offensive prospects in the system.

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