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2017 IBI Top 75 Prospects: #29 Mike Papi

The 2017 countdown continues with an outfielder who has been a bit of a disappointment so far considering the high marks he had coming out of the draft, but appears to be trending in the right direction after a strong finish to last season and may be on the verge of a breakout this season...

29. Mike Papi – Outfielder

Born: 09/19/1992 – Height: 6’2” – Weight: 190 – Bats: Left – Throws: Right

Facts & Info: Papi was selected by the Indians in the 1st round (competitive balance pick) of the 2014 Draft out of the University of Virginia and signed for $1.25 million.  He was originally drafted out of high school by the Angels in the 30th round of the 2011 Draft, but decided to go to school. In 2014 he was a first-team All-ACC honoree at first base after earning first-team honors in the outfield in 2013, and was also named to the All-ACC Academic Baseball Team. In 2014 he also tied for the ACC home run title (11) - the first Virginia home run champ since Duke Duncan in 1978 – and led the ACC in RBI (56) and total bases (119), ranked 2nd in runs (55) and 3rd in on-base percentage (.451). He also led the nation in walks (61) which broke the school single-season record in the process.

Offense: Papi brings a wide range of skills to the plate that are led by an off the charts approach and some good bat-to-ball ability that give the potential for consistent, professional quality at bats. He has the ability to hit for average thanks to a good, disciplined eye at the plate where he tracks balls and see them well and is patient to wait for a pitch he can drive. He is an on-base machine who sees a lot of pitches, works counts and really controls the zone well to pile up walks. He has a simple, quiet setup at the plate with an easy load and a smooth, compact swing that is short to the ball and results in a good amount of line drives. He does a good job of consistently barreling up balls and combines that with some good strength, good hands and very good bat speed to show some solid average power at the plate. His power is still mostly pull side as he is really quick on balls to the inner half of the plate, but the Indians believe he has some untapped power in him where it could grade out to plus once he learns to drive balls to the off gap and is able to get to his power more consistently.

Defense: While Papi played some first base in college, he’s spent most of his time in college and as a pro in the outfield. He’s a solid defender in right field who displays some good agility and athleticism with a strong throwing arm. He has some good lateral range to his left and right and does a solid job with his route running. His ability to also handle first base gives him a nice fallback option to fit at a position to get every day at bats and add some versatility to his profile. It gives him another dimension to his game and makes him more valuable – especially since he has the hands and athleticism to be an average defender at first base.

Speed & Intangibles: Papi is an advanced, mature player who has a nice, strong frame. He is an average runner but moves well for his size because of the good amount of athleticism he possesses. He is a very intelligent player both on and off the field with the way he prepares himself and makes quick adjustments. He has a strong focus to his work and has some very consistent routines that he has developed which help him handle the day-to-day grind of playing games.  Aside from a thumb injury at end of the 2014 season that resulted in a surgery to repair a ruptured ulnar collateral ligament, he’s proven to be very durable and has been able to stay on the field the last two seasons.

Focus: Papi’s great approach has carried over from college to the pros, but the highly touted bat coming out of college has yet to transition as the results to date have been lacking and very inconsistent. He’s always had a good eye at the plate and possessed the ability to work long at-bats but since turning pro he has struggled to make consistent contact and drive the ball with authority. The Indians feel his problems with the bat lie in his approach as he’s almost become too patient where he lets so many hittable pitches go early in the count and at times is forced to swing at more difficult pitches later in the count. The Indians really challenged him last season to be more aggressive and to unleash his swing a little more so that he can impact the baseball and show his power more consistently, which he started to do with a great showing at High-A Lynchburg to start the year and after a transitional period at Double-A Akron it showed up again late in the year there as well. The Indians want him to stick with that refined approach so that he has more balance between being patient and aggressive which will allow him to impact the baseball more and be more consistent at the plate. They are also working to get him to tap into his power more consistently with some adjustments to his hands and bat path in order to keep the barrel in the zone longer and generate more backspin on the baseball. Defensively, the Indians would like to see him get quicker jumps and get a little better with the routes he takes to balls.

Future: After a rough pro debut in 2014 at Low-A Lake County and Short-A Mahoning Valley (.181 AVG, .571 OPS) and poor first half at High-A Lynchburg in 2015 (.213 AVG, .650 OPS), Papi looks to have found some consistency over the last year and a half as demonstrated by his solid second half at Lynchburg in 2015 (257 AVG, .781 OPS) and equally solid campaign last year between Lynchburg and Double-A Akron (.231 AVG, .767 OPS). Yes, the batting average is still well below expectations, but he’s put up over a .350 on-base percentage in each of the last two seasons and his isolated power continues to rise as it was at a .185 ISO last year which is good. He came up with a lot of big hits down the stretch last season and performed well in the playoffs (7 G, .357 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1.007 OPS), and his emergence at the end of the season can only give the Indians hope he finally has figured it out and will start playing at a higher level going into this season. He has slowly built some momentum and if the confidence continues to increase then he has the swing and approach that could result in some very significant improvement this season and put up numbers that many always expected of him coming out of the draft. If that begins to happen then he may still end up a lighter version of Nick Swisher in the making; however, if his struggles with consistency crop up again, then his chances after this season will be greatly reduced and his prospect standing will take a giant hit. For now, people are still baking on the potential for him to impact a big league lineup both with his bat and defense. He should open the season with a return to Double-A Akron and spend the majority if not all of the season there.

Ranking History: #17 (2016), #19 (2015)


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