If you're the kind of baseball fan who likes to see the longball, you can go get a beer when Mark Laird steps to the plate. If you want a guy who is going to battle a pitcher and just look to get on base so he can use his speed to his advantage, settle in.
Truth is that Laird really had just two tools when he was drafted in the ninth round of the 2015 Draft; defense and speed.
Defensively, he can play all three outfield spots, but didn't get the chance to show that in college, because LSU had Andrew Stevenson (2015 second rounder, Washington Nationals) in center, so Laird was in right field. The Phillies have split his time in the outfield between center (37 games), left (40 games) and right (eight games), in his first two professional seasons. He's shown the ability to play all three positions, but seems most comfortable in center field, where his speed really shows.
As for the tools, Laird is showing that he can make some contact and has good plate discipline. In two seasons, Laird has hit .319/.406/.351 and has drawn more walks than he has struck out in each of the seasons. As a pro, he's drawn 54 walks and struck out 46 times in 102 games. The emerging offense is exactly what the Phillies were hoping to see, because they were sure of Laird's defensive ability and loved the speed, but knew that he had to be able to get on base to use the speed.
On the bases, Laird has swiped 21 bases and been tossed out six times for a 78% success rate.
Thankfully, Laird can accept the fact that he's not going to hit home runs, so he doesn't try. His hitting approach is to get the ball up the middle, keep it on the ground, and see what happens. Every now and then, Laird will see something that he can turn on and pull it, but those times are few and far between. He's more comfortable taking pitches the other way when he has a chance and the approach has worked well for him.
Mark Laird's 2016 spray chart
Ideally, Laird would be able to show at least some power, because pitchers simply won't worry about a guy with one home run in over 400 plate appearances being able to turn on a pitch. With that in mind, they can attack him, especially early in the count, and will make it easier on themselves to get him out. To his credit though, Laird hasn't really allowed that to happen much at the lower levels, and as long as he can keep his plate discipline intact and not start chasing pitches, he should be okay as he moves up through the minors.
Most likely, Laird will be back at Lakewood to open the season, but he did hit .353 there in 31 games last summer after a promotion from Williamsport in early August. With a big spring training effort, Laird could potentially open at Clearwater, but that's a bit of a long shot. Much better to open with him at Lakewood, let him continue to play well at that level and then bump him up to Clearwater at some point in the season. With a strong college background and the skills that he has shown so far, Laird should move pretty quickly through the system for the Phillies, but there's no need for rushing him, especially at this point in his career.
While it's difficult to judge just how good a player in the lower levels of the minors can be, it appears that Laird has a shot at being a decent every day player in the majors at some point down the road. His strong defense, speed and impressive plate discipline, plus the fact that he can play all three outfield spots, would make him almost a shoe-in for a fourth outfielder spot, but his offense looks to be strong enough to push him into a lineup on a regular basis.
Mark Laird's career stats
|All Levels (2 Seasons)||102||376||64||9||0||1||39||21||54||46||.319||.406||.351|