It wasn’t too surprising to hear that Boog Powell was added to the Oakland A’s opening day roster, with Dustin Fowler opening 2018 in Nashville. There were certainly pros and cons for either choice but I believe Powell was the correct one.
His name alone is a reason he belongs on the major league roster, but the tools he brings with him to the ballpark give me confidence that he will not only play the part of placeholder for Fowler, but that he has a future in Oakland.
In 2017 Powell played 242.1 innings in the outfield, and among outfielders with at least that many innings he was 34th in baseball in UZR/150 at 7.1. His 3 defensive-runs saved were good for 57th in baseball, despite his low innings total.
The grain of salt or small sample size or whatever caveat you wish to go with may be that even though those numbers look good, they are skewed. He did only play a relative handful of innings, most of which came in centerfield where he wasn’t great by UZR. In centerfield he was roughly average, which at least isn’t bad. An outfielder who can pass as a centerfielder and be a plus defender in a corner truly is an asset.
By MLB Statcast Powell’s 2017 sprint speed of 28.7 ft/second puts him in a tie for 40th fastest in baseball, and in the top-25 among centerfielders with at least 10 opportunities. That speed is considered elite
So far in his major league career Powell’s speed hasn’t translated into stolen bases, even though he often sprinkled in a dozen or so in each of his minor league seasons. My assumption is that his stolen base totals have less to do with his speed and more to do with opportunity. The A’s aren’t typically prone to stealing bases, so I wouldn’t expect Powell to shoot up the steals leader board any time soon.
Powell can still use his speed to influence his offensive abilities. His speed score in 2017 was modest, however he regularly posted speed scores in the 5-6 range in the minor leagues and sits at 5.1 currently for 2018. That suggests Powell brings above average running ability to his offensive profile. The ability to take the extra base when needed and put himself in a position to score more often isn’t something to go overlooked on an A’s team that will need as many runs as it can get. Speed score isn’t a great stat, however, but the superior Ultimate Base Running stat doesn’t have nearly enough evidence to make a conclusion one way or the other regarding Powell.
Many times in the minor league Powell struck out less often than he walked. In the major leagues in 2017 Powell posted an 11.1% walk rate, which was well above average, and a 22.2% strikeout rate which was slightly worse than average. Overall his plate discipline was among his greatest assets last season, and I expect that to continue into 2018. His contact and swing rates were all better than average in 2017. I don’t expect Powell to win a batting title, but his ability to draw walks and avoid strikeouts should allow him to be on base at a fairly high clip.
What’s the Downside?
All of what I have written above could be completely wrong. When you judge a player entirely on minor league numbers and a month’s worth of major league work the risk that it was all a mirage is large.
Additionally, Powell is a left-handed batter with an obvious platoon split favoring right-handed pitchers. That isn’t bad in itself as righties take the mound more often than lefties. However, this limits Powell’s opportunity to impact the game by merely being a platoon bat and defensive replacement.
What’s the Upside?
Jarrod Dyson was viewed as a must-have going into 2017 before he signed on with Seattle. He plays strong defense, gets on base often, and possesses great speed that influences games. Powell is essentially Dyson, although to a slightly lesser degree.
Powell vs. Dyson: Defense (2017)
Powell vs. Dyson: Offense (2017 vs. RHP)
I really do think there is a lot to like about Powell. It wasn’t long ago that Powell ranked as Seattle’ top prospect by KATOH. The stats-based prospect rankings like him a lot, as he’s been featured on KATOH’s top-100 list since 2016.
The odds are against Powell being much more than a fourth outfielder, but if his play throughout the minor leagues and in the majors in 2017 is any indication the A’s could be in store for a quality all-around player.