There exists a window in every promising young athlete’s career where future potential outweighs current production. A grace period, if you will, the length of which is determined by how much predetermined potential that athlete displays and how intriguing their talent is to those around them. Alec Bohm once existed in that window. Sixers star Tyrese Maxey did as well. Now, heading into the 2023 season, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott finds himself in that window, coddled in the golden aura of the player he might become.
What’s so intriguing about Stott – perhaps even more so than his evident talent, which is the catalyst for this conversation – is the distinction between the incredible amount of hype he’s received from the media since he landed in Spring Training last March, how the organization views him, and his on-field production. Is he actually the second coming of Chase Utley or is Philadelphia just desperate for a home grown superstar? Is he deserving of the lauded claims of ‘future batting champ’ or is the cumulative praise overlooking serious concerns with his play? Are the 127 regular season games he played in as a rookie even enough to judge him on?
Let’s start with what we do know.
What we do know about Stott is that he’s flashed big-time potential, enough to make the 2022 Opening Day roster and unseat Didi Gregorius as the starting shortstop during the regular season. That much can’t be denied. The 14th overall pick of the 2019 MLB Draft, the now 25-year-old Stott will enter 2023 as the starting second baseman, having made way at shortstop for incoming superstar Trea Turner. In 2022, Stott slashed .234/.295/.358 over 466 plate appearances, slugging 10 home runs and driving in 49 while stealing 12 bases. He had a flair for the moment, with a walk-off home run and a go ahead home run, along with a slurry of clutch hits throughout the year and a penchant for working long at bats.
We also have a good sense of what kind of athlete and infielder Stott is. At 6’3, 200 lbs, he’s on the larger side for a second baseman, but makes up for it with his raw athleticism, strong arm, and smooth glove. In 47 games at 2nd base in 2022, Stott had a 1.000 fielding percentage with zero errors with a Range Factor Per 9 innings of 4.09 and ranked 13th amongst second baseman with 3 Outs Above Average. When throwing from 2nd base, he ranked 3rd on the arm strength leaderboard, averaging 86.1mph – up from an average of 81.0mph for MLB second baseman. Stott also showed off his speed – on the base paths he ranked in the 91st percentile amongst all MLB players in sprint speed.
In short, what the Phillies have in Stott is a tall, rangy, strong-armed middle infielder who was a good defensive shortstop but could be a great second baseman with untapped power potential from the left-side of the plate and the ability to be dangerous on the base paths. All of that sounds great on paper, but is it enough to anoint Stott the superstar of the future?
Possibly? Let’s delve a little deeper though. Disregarding Stott’s poor performance in the postseason, his 2022 regular season statistics are, at the outset, quite encouraging. Stott’s low average of .234 is due to an abysmal start to the year, which saw him demoted to AAA, but was boosted when he turned it around late, hitting .287 in August and .274 in September. Moreover, Stott struck out at a lesser rate than the MLB average at 19.1%, showed an increased ability to work at-bats as the year progressed, and seemed to hit well against left-handed pitching. It was a natural and welcome progression for a player who prior to 2022, had never played past AA.
What’s concerning, however, is Stott’s inability to consistently drive the baseball. Although his pitch selection got better as the season went on, he struggled to impact the ball upon making contact. Scouting reports prior to the 2022 season citing a lack of elasticity and speed in Stott’s swing, were evidenced in Stott’s inability to truly drive the baseball – he ranked in the 35th percentile of average exit velocity, the 31st percentile of hard hit rate, and 15th of barrel rate. Moreover, Stott struggled mightily against the fastball – hitting just .211 against the pitch while seeing it 64.9% of the time – instead making his bones by hitting .275 against breaking balls which were just 21.9% of the pitches that he faced. While Stott made a lot of contact, he didn’t make a lot of great contact – he sprayed weaker hits to all sides of the field instead of harder hits to his pull side. Although his penchant for long at bats was partially due to a great feel for the strike zone, it was also a consequence of a harsher reality: he couldn’t catch up to higher velocities and opposing pitchers knew it. For Stott to be the impact player that everybody thinks he can be, he’ll have to stop preying on pitchers’ weaknesses and start combatting their strengths.
Does this mean that Stott can’t be a great player for the Phillies in the long-run or that he’ll have a disappointing 2023 season? Of course not. Alec Bohm struggled to catch up to higher velocity pitching in 2021, put the time in during the off-season, and had a magnificent 2023. Stott may very well be capable of doing just the same. Let’s just hold off on the Chase Utley comparisons until we see a little bit more from the young second baseman.