Loading up on both college and high-school prep arms at last year’s draft, Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, and director of amateur scouting Bruce Seid, decided that it would be in the organization’s best interest to take a more contrary route at Major League Baseball's 2012 first-year player draft.
After selecting Union HS (WA) catcher Clint Coulter at No. 27 overall and Georgia Southern outfielder Victor Roache with the very next pick, the Brewers opted to add yet another power-type position player in college outfielder Mitch Haniger with the 38th overall slot.
A three-year contributor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the Santa Clara, California native staked his claim as one of the most prolific all-around talents in all of college baseball during his sophomore and junior seasons. As a sophomore, Haniger batted .275/.371/.466 with six home runs, 27 RBI and 33 runs scored in 52 games. After working hard to refine his approach at the plate last summer, he returned to hit .346/.438/.626 with 64 RBI and 132 total bases in 259 plate appearances for the Mustangs this past season.
Having received his $1.2 Million signing-bonus and already focused on getting his reps in with the Brewers' class-A affiliate Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Haniger now has his sights set on rising through the system in a timely fashion. Given what many scouts see in Haniger, that shouldn't be much of a problem.
But before Haniger hastens up toward the upper minors, I thought it necessary to bring Brewers fans some insight to his game and what he projects to be down the road. I made my way out to Appleton, Wisconsin to see Haniger play to see how he’s looked in his first few professional games. Based on what I saw and what I've been hearing, here is a fully-fledged scouting report on Haniger.
Height/Weight: 6'2", 215 pounds
One of the many positive things that scouts have to say about Haniger is his athletic build.
At a lean and stocky 6'2", 215 pounds, he has all the athleticism necessary to stick in the big leagues, most likely at a corner outfield position, though he showed over the course of his junior season that he can play center field.
The more I watch Haniger, the more he reminds me of Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones from a physicality standpoint. Both have the makeup to suggest they can play the outfield at an above-average level, both with the glove and the arm. At the plate, Haniger may be a bit more built than Jones, so there’s a good chance he hits for more power at the big league level.
After opting not to sign on as a 31st-round pick by the Mets in 2009 out of high school, Haniger made his way to college with a lot to work on with respect to his hitting.
Baseball America cited that he worked hard to mend his swing and approach at the plate heading into his senior season, specifically "getting his hands in better hitting position and staying in sync more consistently."
Apparently, those adjustments helped. Haniger drew 36 walks to just 32 strikeouts in 211 at-bats over the course of his junior season with the Mustangs. Compared to fellow first-rounder Mike Zunino—widely heralded as the 2012 draft’s best hitter—who walked just 32 times compared to 52 strikeouts this past season, Haniger's patience and plate discipline stacks up nicely against many of his fellow 2012 draftees.
As a consequence to his improved mechanics, Haniger was able to tap into his power at a staggering clip during his junior season.
The runaway Big West Conference leader with a .458 wOBA (weighted on-base average) and .280 ISO (isolated power), Haniger showed scouts that he has the potential to have plus power as a professional. Right now, his power grades out as average with some room to grow.
I had the opportunity to see Haniger play recently, and was neither impressed nor disappointed. He made four plate appearances out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup, singling once and striking out twice.
The clip below shows Haniger's second at-bat of the game against Cardinals prospect Dail Villanueva, a southpaw who works out of a 3/4 arm slot, topping out around 92-89 with his fastball and also having a nice breaking pitch and changeup.
A few notes to take away from this at-bat:
- Sets up pretty deep in the box and away from the plate; wide stance; hands at ear-level though they do fade away from his body
- Uses his bat as a timing mechanism; a bit too exaggerated in my opinion
- Has some bat speed but could certainly add more too it with a shortened, more accentuated swing
- Remains relatively balanced throughout both swings though he was a bit knotted up in his last swing (which was a ground-out to third-base)
The snapshots below depict Haniger's mechanics against a low-and-away pitch from Villanueva.
For me, the biggest lesson learned from this particular at-bat is that he’ll need to work on shortening his swing on pitches down in the zone. With his hands and bat being as active as they are pre-pitch, it's not surprising that his bat can flatten out a bit.
While he does keep his hands back nicely, they do drop a bit as the ball arrives to the lower half of the strike-zone, which leads to his long, looping swing. The good thing is that this can improve over time, and once it does, he'll be able to generate even more power.
There is a much to like about Haniger's game. His athleticism gives him the ability to play a decent center-field and his strong arm suggests he could play a very good right-field at the big league level.
Hitting-wise, Haniger has improved leaps and bounds over the past year. He's developed a more disciplined approach at the plate, most notably against off-speed offerings, and that has directly affected his ability to tap into his power. Right now, his power grades out as average but projects to be at or near 60 on the 20-80 grading scale.
It will be interesting to see how well Haniger performs in what should be a short-lived stay in low-A ball and how fast he hastens through the rest of the system. With Coulter honing his skills in rookie ball and Roache still rehabbing from injury, there's a good chance Haniger is the first of the Brewers' 2012 draft class to reach the majors.
Once he gets there, I think (and you can quote me on this) he will have the chance to hit around .270/.330/.515 out of either a No. 2 or No. 5 spot in any big-league lineup on a yearly basis.
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