Scouting Yankees Prospect #39: Mark Payton

The New York Yankees selected outfielder Mark Payton in the seventh round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of the University of Texas. Not very big and not exactly oozing tools, the fact is he has quickly proven to be one of the better all-around ball players in the farm system and has shown an ability to be a quick mover through the minor leagues too.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Mark Payton
Position: Outfield
DOB: December 7, 1991
Height: 5'7"
Weight: 165
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

A four-year starter for a high-profile college program at Texas, he skipped the short-season leagues entirely and wound up hitting a combined .320 with a .915 OPS between low-A Charleston and high-A Tampa in his debut season last year.

"It went really good," he said of his debut season. "I was fortunate enough to be around a great group of guys. It was obviously not their first year so they could help me through everything at the start and help me settle in pretty quick. I had a lot of fun playing everyday."

Playing as well as he did it's easy to see why he was having so much fun. Coming in as a polished hitter, however, it wasn't too surprising to see him have a rather seamless transition to the professional level.

"I didn't really think about it. My job is to go out there everyday and play as hard as I can. I just go out there and do whatever I can to help the team win. I wasn't really expecting anything in particular numbers-wise. What really helped was finding a routine everyday that gave me confidence."

What also helped was his background. He grew up around a lot of professional ball players so there were no real surprises when he started his career last summer and that not only helped ease his transition but it allowed him to pick on things most younger players don't ever think about so early in their careers.

"Just listen to how your body feels that day," he said of his biggest lesson learned. "I've been fortunate to be around a lot of guys growing up that had played in the big leagues or in professional baseball.

"They talked to me about it but I never really understood it until playing everyday, you really have to listen to how your body feels and not change your game that day, and take that and run with it."

Not exactly boasting physical tools necessarily, Payton is more known for his hard-nosed style of play and overall great makeup, a reputation that preceded him before his debut season in Charleston last year.

"I've never been the strongest or the tallest or whatever but one thing I bring to the park everyday is playing hard, hustling on and off the field, giving a hard 90 down to first [base] every time," he said proudly.

"The outcome is whatever happens. You're not going to have your great swings everyday but it's the little things and the instincts that I really think help me at this level."

Standing just 5-foot-7, he will never be confused with a power hitter. Still, with 21 extra-base hits in just 48 games last year he he has proven to have good gap power and sneaky power overall.

"I guess a little bit. I go out there in every at-bat to square up the ball. Sometimes I'll find a gap or go over the wall. It's a lot different playing in the ball parks we play in [now] compared to what I played at [at the University of] Texas. It was like hitting at Yellowstone National Park."

While he will run into a few here and there, he knows power isn't really his game. He's not a burner on the base paths either, however, but he does want to improve his speed to make that a bigger part of his game going forward.

"It's definitely something I've been working on all offseason and something I want to continue to work on during the season," he admitted. "The quicker I can get to second base or third base the better chance the guy behind me has to drive me in. It's something I really want to incorporate in my game."

Despite the lack of plus speed, he has proven to be a very capable defender in centerfield and has shown above average skills in the corner outfield spots too. His smaller stature, surprising power given his size, great plate discipline, and overall hustling style of play conjures up images of a less speedier version of Brett Gardner, a comparison that Payton has heard from many people for some time.

"Yeah definitely, especially when the Yankees did pick me, that I reminded them of Gardner," he said. "He's a great big leaguer and he's done a lot. He's going to be an All Star and it's a huge honor to be compared to him.

"I've got a lot of shoes to fill with people saying that because he's such a great player. To do what he's doing now is a lot for a scrappy ball player, getting the recognition he does and the way he plays the game is really the right way."

Like Gardner, Payton could work up his way towards the big leagues both quickly and obscurely, and perhaps get overlooked by critics as a potential everyday big league player someday. And just like Gardner, Payton is fine flying under the radar and keeping his goals modest along the way.

"Giving away as few at-bats as possible," he said of his main goals for his firs full season, "incorporating the running game as much as possible, and on the defensive side continue to get better on my reads and my jumps, and start to cover more ground as the season goes on."

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2014 Tampa .286 91 11 2 8 14 3 16 17 .396 .496
2014 Charleston .357 84 4 2 13 16 1 13 15 .443 .500


Batting and Power. What makes Payton such an advanced hitter is the plus-plus plate discipline and pitch recognition he possesses, as well as employing a consistently repeatable short and compact stroke from the left side. He uses the whole field when he hits, he is exceptional at the hit and run, and is a pretty good bunter already. While his home run power does range below average overall, he does an excellent job of barreling the baseball and the ball does jump off of his bat well for a smaller player. More of a high doubles hitter, he has the chance to eventually become a double-digit home run threat due to his high level hitting ability.

Base Running and Speed. Payton isn't a burner by any means, grading out perhaps just a tick above average in natural running speed, but is as intelligent as they come on the base paths. He doesn't have the quickest first step around so he won't be an elite base stealer but he can be a real impact runner station to station and he has enough wheels to be a double-digit stolen base threat, especially given his ability to get on base at a high rate.

Defense. The lack of plus speed doesn't allow him be a premier defender in centerfield but the great instincts does him justice as an average or better defensive player there. He has average arm strength but shows good accuracy with his throws. He is an above average, borderline plus defender in left field, the position he is best suited playing on a daily basis, but can also chip in admirably in centerfield when called upon.

Projection. With great patience, good pitch recognition, and off-the-charts intangibles, the comparisons to a less speedier version of Brett Gardner are pretty accurate for the most part. Payton shows a bit more advanced feel for hitting, however, at a similar point in their careers. He isn't the same opposite field slap hitter that Gardner was coming up and he shows a bit more pull-power potential. He's going to have to hit his way up through the minor league ranks in similar fashion and the real power potential might not materialize until further down the road too, but like Gardner the floor is a big league reserve outfielder and the ceiling could be a consistent starting outfielder. Think former Kansas City Royals outfielder David DeJesus for a more apt comparison.

ETA. 2016. With less than 200 professional at-bats at the A-ball level, the smart money has him back in high-A Tampa to begin the 2015 season. He should, however, see plenty of at-bats in Double-A Trenton this coming season and his game is advanced enough that he could be a viable big league option the following year.


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