Boog (Herschel Mack) Powell is so anonymous that when I went to look up his draft write-up from Baseball America, there was none. That's not uncommon for later round picks, but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in a player when the primary draft preview site doesn't think Powell is enough of a prospect to mention. And yet, here the Rays have targeted him as a significant piece in the Ben Zobrist trade.
Let's start this exercise by doing two things you really shouldn't do: scout the stat line and scout the physical attributes reported. Starting with the latter, Powell is -- well -- small. Baseball America lists him at 5'10, 185, which is probably generous. In fact, 5'10 is a bit hard to believe if you take a look at the four minutes of video here from Bullpen Banter. Refreshingly, from a cursory glance, there's nothing unnatural with his swing plane or mechanics, but that's just one aspect of his game. His eye for pitches, his defense in the field, are not evident on this tape.
If you scout the stat line, I'd say you might be able to guess his size. In 740 plate appearances, Boog has 8 home runs and 29 total extra base hits, good for a .067 ISO. It's not presumptuous to figure that Powell won't be much of a power threat, and thus will need to use his other tools to advance through the higher levels of the minors.
The good news with Boog: he's walked 102 times in those 740 plate appearances, and he's struck out just 96 times. Per Baseball America he "patterns himself after Brett Gardner," which is to say that he relies on plus speed, quality bunting skills, and a gap-to-gap approach to succeed in the minors. Billy Beane once mentioned he admired Boog because he "turned himself into a prospect."
In this modern game that values defense more and more as technological developments advance, there's more of an opportunity for a guy like Powell to succeed than ever before; look no further than Gardner himself (or David Lough, if you prefer) for players who don't fit a traditional outfield profile but have been supremely valuable to their clubs. That's an ideal outcome here, of course, but I see no harm in aspiring to recreate this success.
The two warning flags that jump out from Boog's statline are his terrible stolen base success rate and his complete lack of power as he advances to higher levels. When I say lack of power, keep in mind that in the hitter-friendly California league he had zero home runs and just 4 extra base hits, and had similarly little power production in the hitter-friendly Low-A Beloit as well. Pitchers with better command at the higher levels will challenge him to succeed in spite of his power, and as a result, it's unlikely he can sustain the high walk rate he's shown so far in his career.
That said, while he can't do anything about his power, he could add some value with an improved stolen-base rate. Powell is reported to have plus speed, but is merely 35 for for 58 in stealing bases (60%), suggesting that his speed has yet to translate on the base paths. That number will need to improve in short order for him to stay on the radar.
What we really need to ask is whether there is any evidence that Boog Powell is actually a similar player to Brett Gardner, rather than one who just patterns himself as such.
As far as I'm concerned, you can toss college performances out the window; it's not because college stats can't be predictive, but the level of competition faced by the two players weren't terribly similar (Gardner went to the College of Charleston, which, while no great shakes from a baseball school perspective, effectively knocks the pants off of Orange Coast College). So how can we compare the players to-date?
The best basis for statistical comparison may be each player's first exposure to full season play: Gardner in 2006 with High-A Tampa, and Powell in 2014 with Lo-A Beloit. It should be obvious that Gardner competed at a higher level in his debut, but for a few reasons (big jumps in talent typically come at the promotion to Double-A, Gardner faced better competition in college and played a fair amount in short-season in his debut), I don't feel it's an unfair comparison.
In 278 plate appearances in Tampa, Gardner posted an .851 OPS, walked 43 times, fanned 51 times, stole 30 bases and posted a .433 OBP. By comparison, in 311 plate appearances in Beloit, Powell posted an an .881 OPS, walked 53 times, fanned 49 times, stole 16 bases and posted a .452 OBP.
The comparisons are somewhat staggering: both players walk more than once every ten plate appearances (advantage Powell), both have OBP-heavy OPS numbers, and both walk about as often as they strikeout. The tangible difference is the stolen base success rate, as mentioned above, but the players otherwise look almost indistinguishable on the stat sheet.
So what does Powell have to do from here to stay on Gardner's path? Well, he needs to show that he can continue to get on base, despite pitchers likely being more willing to challenge him at higher levels, and he needs to grow when he inevitably struggles.
Gardner was promoted to Double-A after his High-A performance in 2006 and declined considerably, posting a .670 OPS with just a .312 SLG. But in 2007 at the same level, Gardner rebounded to the tune of an .810 OPS while continuing to show strong tendencies with stolen bases and strikeout-to-walk rate. The important thing to note with Gardner is that when he struggled, his peripherals remained pretty standard; he still walked and struck out at about the same rate, and he still reached base quite a bit.
For comparison, Powell in a tiny sample of just under 70 plate appearances showed pretty well at High-A. He still walked more than he struck out, though less frequently than in Low-A; he still reached base around 45% of the time, and he still posted an excellent .901 OPS. That performance was for Stockton in the Cal League, so we'll have to see if he has similar success in a more neutral environment (and without his .404 BABIP).
The question for Powell in 2015 is two-fold: Will he get continued opportunities when he does struggle (remember, he doesn't have the same pedigree as Gardner, the third round pick)? And will he eventually turn solid peripherals into success at higher levels?
Powell rides into Port Charlotte with high expectations, and 2015 might be make-or-break for this prospect to live up to his self-imposed model for success.