In the wake of last week’s Jay Bruce trade, the Reds recalled Scott Schebler from Triple-A Louisville. In his first start since his return to the big club, Schebler went 3-5 and absolutely destroyed a baseball for a walk-off home run to beat the Cardinals. The next night, Schebler—playing in Bruce’s old right field stomping grounds—leaped high above the fence to rob a home run. In his third game, he collected a double and a couple of runs scored.
Hey, that was a fun time, wasn’t it? For those of us still in shock about the Bruce trade, it permitted an opportunity to dream a little bit. After all, Schebler had been killing the ball in Louisville after the Reds sent him down in early May. He was the International League’s Player of the Month in July, and had posted a Triple-A batting line of .311/.370/.564 with 13 home runs, 18 doubles, and 8 triples in 75 games. He came to the big leagues and immediately made an impact.
Forget Jay Bruce!
Well, maybe not. Since those early heroics, Schebler has struggled mightily. In his last seventeen at-bats, he hasn’t collected a single hit and, even worse, he has struck out eight times. In the big leagues this year, he’s hitting .185/.242/.337.
So what can we make of Scott Schebler? Does he have a chance to be a long-term starter for the Reds? Is he destined to be a fourth outfielder? Is he just a power bat for the bench? A stop-gap until top prospect Jesse Winker gets to town?
What I mean, of course, is that Schebler could end up being any one of those. The jury really is still out, and we’ll need to see a lot more of Schebler on the major league level before we really know what his career will be like. But I have some suspicions.
What do we know about Scott Schebler? He was drafted by the Dodgers in the 26th round of the 2010 draft. He was a big-time athlete in high school, setting track records in the 55-meter dash, the long jump and the 800-meter relay, while also playing basketball, football, and soccer. He moved on to Des Moines Area Community College, where he played one year before being drafted.
Minor league prospect guru John Sickels had this to say about Schebler last fall:
Certainly there was nothing wrong with his performance for DMACC: he hit .446/.529/.877 with 20 homers, 30 walks, and just 25 strikeouts in 204 at-bats that spring. The draft slot was a bit misleading; it cost $300,000 (sixth round money) to keep him from fulfilling his junior year commitment to Wichita State University. Scouts were attracted to Schebler’s power potential and decent speed but had questions about his swing mechanics.
Schebler’s big breakout occurred in 2013 when he hit .296/.360/.581 with 27 homers, 140 wRC+, and 16 steals for Rancho Cucamonga in the California League. Of course, that’s the Cal League, but he maintained the production with a .280/.365/.556, 28 homer, 154 wRC+ line with Double-A Chattanooga in 2014. 2015 was another matter: he slumped to .241/.322/.410 with 13 homers and a wRC+ of just 91 for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
For Chattanooga in 2014, Schebler led the Southern League in total bases, triples, and home runs. At that point, Schebler was ranked as high as #6 on Dodger prospect lists (Baseball America ranked him eighth in the system). He was a legitimate prospect.
Then 2015 happened. That performance in his first exposure to Triple-A was where Schebler’s prospect status started to dim, and that’s likely why the Reds were able to acquire him in the Todd Frazier deal (along with Jose Peraza).
After a strong spring in 2016, Schebler was named to Cincinnati’s Opening Day roster. He was expected to platoon in left field with Adam Duvall, and manager Bryan Price stuck with that plan for about a month. During that month, Duvall hit well, beginning a stretch that would see him land in the All-Star Game. Schebler, on the other hand, tanked, hitting .188/.246/.344 in 27 games.
Schebler was summarily demoted to Louisville. As his former platoon partner took the Queen City by storm, Scott Schebler traveled down I-71 to Louisville…
…where he proceeded to pound baseballs into oblivion. By the time he was recalled to Cincinnati, Schebler had established himself as perhaps the best hitter in the International League. Which left us all to wonder? Which is the real Schebler, the 2015 version or the 2016 version?
Well, I wouldn’t bet the ranch that Schebler will ever hit .311/.370/.564 in the majors like he did at Louisville this year. But the more I look at his numbers, the more I think he can be a decent big league hitter.
The thing that impresses me about Schebler is that he has steadily improved his strikeout rate and walk rate as he has advanced through the minors. In fact, that sub-par season at Oklahoma City actually saw Schebler post career-bests in both those categories. When you consider that his peripherals looked pretty good (and he performed well in a very short stint with the Dodgers in September of last year), it makes me wonder if 2015 wasn’t just an outlier. It was his first taste of Triple-A, and he was nearly three years younger than the average age in that league. His second helping of Triple-A tasted much better.
(For what it’s worth, at Louisville this year, Schebler improved his strikeout rate a touch more (down to 18.5%), but his walk rate took a slight dip.)
What I really like about Schebler is his athleticism. He has shown that his power is real, but he isn’t a prototypical slugger. He had 27 triples across two levels in 2013-14 (the same two years that he hit 56 home runs). He has nine triples so far this year. The guy can run.
Unfortunately, that athleticism doesn’t necessarily translate into great defense. Almost every scout has rated his defense as strictly average, thanks primarily to a below-average arm. But he can play all three outfield positions at least passably. He isn’t going to kill the Reds in the field.
Where he can help the club is with that left-handed power bat. Can he make enough contact to be a good big league player? Only time will tell.
Frankly, there is a lot to like about Schott Schebler. He’s only 25 years-old, so his prime years are still ahead. I don’t think it’s completely out of the question that Schebler could put together a similar career path to some other Reds who were a little older when they first established themselves in the big leagues. Guys like Todd Frazier or Chris Sabo.
I’m not predicting that, and it’s pretty, pretty, pretty unlikely that he’ll make multiple All-Star teams like those guys. It’s unlikely that he’ll ever make one All-Star team. But the same could have been said for Adam Duvall, too. We can dream, right?
More likely, Schebler has a real chance to be an average major league starter for the next four years, a #5 hitter who can hit homers and drive in runs. The worst-case scenario is that he’s a decent fourth outfielder who can hit some pinch-hit bombs.
I’ll say this: in my opinion, Scott Schebler is a much better bet to be a valuable contributor to the next good Reds team than Adam Duvall. If the choice is between Duvall and Schebler for the third outfield spot beside the ever-improving Billy Hamilton and Jesse Winker, give me Schebler please.
Better yet, give me Yasiel Puig. But that’s a different column for a different time.
Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, ESPN’s SweetSpot blog, and the founder of Redleg Nation. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.