The Miami Marlins are looking for Adeiny Hechavarria to anchor the shortstop position for the years to come, if only because the team has few remaining options beyond him. And given his excellent glove, it is not totally unfeasible that Hechavarria can pull off being a contributor at the position. After all, how hard can it be to be a league average or better player when you are an elite defender at shortstop? Many shortstops of the past hit a lot worse and got away with primarily playing defense.
But the pessimistic view on Hechavarria insists that no matter how good the glove is, the bat is still important, and Hechavarria has too flawed a bat to try and raise into a big-league contributor. And if that bat never develops well, there are plenty of examples of players who are marginal bench players who were not starter-caliber simply because they never learned how to hit.
The Pessimist's Case
The pessimistic case is very similar to the optimistic case, in actuality. As was in the case of Nathan Eovaldi, the pessimist deals with the truths of the current player, while the optimistic view projects the best results of those flawed-but-talented prospects. For Hechavarria, the problem is as mentioned before: his bat is not very well-developed despite an advanced defensive prowess. Given his peripherals from the minors, his odds of developing well as a major leaguer are not high. For his career, he struck out in 16.1 percent of his plate appearances and walked in just 5.7 percent of them. The optimistic case would have you believe that, because his peripherals in Triple-A were better, that he should either be trending upwards in his progression or that it at least shows the potential for him to develop plate discipline.
However, there is no reason to suspect that players of his kind ever develop plate discipline. Players prone to strikeouts and lacking in walks often stay that way despite major league seasoning. Yesterday, the optimistic case was made with the Marlins historical example of Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez, after all, developed decently enough to be a respectable major league player over the course of his career, but at the plate, he remained the same undisciplined hitter he always was. From his rough stretch between 2000 and 2002, he struck out in 18.9 percent of his attempts and walked in just 4.8 percent of them.
Do you know what Gonzalez for the rest of his career?
The historical example of Gonzalez is actually living proof that players who start off with a distinct lack of plate discipline never really develop those skills as they progress. A guy like Gonzalez was a free swinger to start his career and remained a free swinger through all stages of his career. As of late, other players with a similar plate discipline have remained as bad as they were during their rookie seasons with regards to walks and strikeouts. Ian Desmond is another example, as his breakout campaign in 2012 still came with a 20 percent strikeout rate and a 5.5 percent walk rate.
So if Hechavarria is doomed to continue life as a free-swinging hitter with a sub par walk rate, then what can he do to improve his offensive ability? He could develop more power, as that is what Alex Gonzalez pulled off. This remains his only hope, and he does have the ability to do it, but it remains to be seen whether he will turn into a Desmond or Gonzalez or remain more of a Brendan Ryan-type of player.
The example of Ryan is a good one to mention, as it emphasizes the importance of the bat in the case of Hechavarria. By all accounts, he has an outstanding glove that should play well at shortstop. But the question of "how well" remains a relevant one as well. Yesterday, we mentioned him being at least a five-run shortstop, and such a mark made a player like Elvis Andrus into an All-Star. However, Andrus's career line is at .275/.342/.353 (.313 wOBA), and as of right now, Hechavarria seems incapable of reaching that kind of batting line.
If he cannot hit that well, then the path to becoming a major league regular now lies in performing not just as an above average defender, but as a spectacular defender. Brendan Ryan is regarded as one of the elite defensive shortstops in baseball, and the advanced defensive metric Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) has him listed as 13 runs above average per season over the last three years. During that same time span, he has put up almost six Wins Above Replacement (WAR) according to FanGraphs, making him a perfectly average major leaguer while hitting .222/.290/.300.
Hechavarria is not likely to be that bad at the plate, but the point stands that for him to be league average, he has to be excellent defensively or his situation is skewed. If he never develops power or a more refined approach at the plate, he will have to be a Gold Glove defender to even be an average player, and as good as he is, it is not easy to project either one or the other to happen.
The prognosis for next season is pretty well-established in both the optimist and pessimist cases. Hechavarria has a very good chance of being one of the worst hitters in baseball next year, and that should keep his value down. The question is whether he ever develops further from there, and the pessimistic view is that it is difficult to see either the bat developing into passable or the glove developing into best-in-baseball elite.