Friday, May 13, 2011

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 21, Roger Kieschnick, OF

Roger Kieschnick is an outfield prospect who broke onto the scene fast in 2009, but took a big step back in 2010. After producing big numbers in three years at Texas Tech (he hit 39 homers and posted ISO numbers of .319 and .327 his last two years with the Red Raiders), he was drafted by the Giants in the third round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Considering his college pedigree and five-tool potential, many experts felt that the Giants got a steal in the third round with Kieschnick (Baseball America rated him at the time as one of the system’s best prospects).

In 2009, he earned a promotion to San Jose right off the bat, and he was perhaps the Giants’ most dynamic hitter in the system in his first professional year. In 517 plate appearances, Kieschnick hit 23 home runs, drove in 110 RBI, and posted an ISO of .236 and an OPS of .874. He also displayed some good speed and athleticism, as his defense earned good reports, and he stole nine bases on ten attempts in 2009.

Kieschnick’s campaign in the California League was far from perfect, however. While his power numbers were nice, there were major concerns about his swing (scouts noticed that he had a lengthy swing and didn’t always stay back on pitches) as well as his plate approach. He didn’t walk very much (6.4 percent walk rate) and he whiffed at a very high rate (25.1 percent), which produced very alarming BB/K ratios (0.28). Also, Kieschnick showed slightly below contact ability (75 percent contact rate) in a league that favored hitters. That being said, a lot of people cut him some slack, mainly because it was his first year in professional ball and his plate approach would improve as he got more at-bats under his belt in the minors.

The breakout season earned him some nice attention from a lot of publications and scouts. Baseball America in 2010 named him in the seventh best prospect in the Giants system, and Fangraphs writer Marc Hulet had him pegged as the fifth-best prospect in the Giants system, behind only Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Thomas Neal, and Dan Runzler.

Unfortunately, Kieschnick struggled to build upon his solid California League campaign in 2009, as he regressed statistically in Richmond. Back spasms and issues limited Kieschnick to only 60 games and 246 plate appearances, but even in the limited action, he didn’t impress. He only hit .251, with a .117 ISO and .673 OPS, all dramatic drop offs from the previous season. His eye at the plate improved a little bit (his BB/K ratio rose to 0.33), but it still was far from impressive and didn’t make up for the lack of power and overall regression he suffered in the Eastern League.

Of course, there were a couple of things that lessened the blow of Kieschnick’s down year. First off, he was injured, and it was an injury that obviously affected his production mightily (it took an 0-for-34 slide before Kieschnick finally admitted that something needed to be done). Also, the Eastern League tends to favor pitchers greatly, so while the massive offensive drop off was surprising, some kind of regression was to be expected, especially considering he was in his second season of professional ball and he was a year younger than the average EL player.

The Giants assigned Kieschnick for a second year in Richmond this season, hoping that he’d fare better against Eastern League pitching now that he is healthy and with a year of Double-A under his belt. Unfortunately, Kieschnick hasn’t shown much sign of improvement during this first month of play, as he is hitting .200 with a .529 OPS and only nine extra base hits. Striking out continues to be an issue as he has punched out 24 times in 120 at-bats, and sports a BB/K ratio of 0.38. His approach and eye at the plate is probably going to be a continuing issue for Kieschnick as evidenced by the past couple of years in Double-A. That being said, without the power to make up for the lackluster plate approach, Kieschnick doesn’t offer much as a prospect, and that makes his future with the Giants organization a little bleak (especially considering the talent in the Giants system in the outfield).

There are some things to like about Kieschnick. He’s a good defender (the Minor League Baseball Analyst has him as four-plus rated defender), and he showed in college and in the California League that when he gets behind the ball, he can drive in runs and extra base hits. The only problem is that he’s struggled to make consistent contact and his plate discipline needs to improve, especially when it comes to swinging at pitches he can drive. It is still early in the year of course, and there are some signs that Kieschnick can turn things around in the Eastern League at the plate (he doubled twice in a game against the Bowie Bay Sox on May 11th).

That being said, his status is a little bit questionable as a prospect, and one has to wonder if he was just a beneficiary of the California League’s hitter friendly environments. He looks to have some Nate Schierholtz potential, especially with his solid defensive skills and Team USA baseball pedigree. However, Kieschnick this year needs to start showing at least a semblance of the power he displayed in San Jose if he wants to be considered a serious prospect again like he was prior to the 2010 season.

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