Position: OF Height: 6-0 Weight: 190 Born: 11/25/80 Bats: Switch Throws: Left
Nick Swisher was one of the key figures in the 2002 "Moneyball" draft, and I'm sure he's tired of hearing about it. An outfielder at Ohio State, Swisher went in the first round, 16th overall. Most teams thought he was worth a late first- or early second-round pick, and regarded this as a mild, if understandable, overdraft, considering the extra choices Oakland had that year. Swisher struggled at times in 2003, but has rebounded with a solid campaign in '04 and is one of the more intriguing offensive players at the Triple-A level. The son of former Major League catcher Steve Swisher, Nick has been mentioned in a few trade rumors, but so far Oakland has held on to him.
Nick's dad, Steve, was an athletic catcher with a good glove but an anemic bat. Nick, in contrast, is a power-hitting outfielder. A switch-hitter, he has above-average power from both sides of the plate. His swing is not always pretty. He occasionally gets tied up on inside pitches in on the fists, a common problem for young power hitters, and has also been known to get himself out by trying to pull outside pitches too often. But this has been less of a problem in '04 than in '03, and he's shown the ability to adjust. Swisher probably won't hit for a great batting average, but he controls the strike zone very well and draws lots of walks, giving him a high OBP. His defense draws mixed reviews. Oakland front office officials praise his defensive ability in the outfield, particularly his strong arm. Some feel he has the range for center field, due to excellent instincts. He runs good routes to fly balls. But his running speed is below average, and many observers think he'll end up in right field eventually. He can also play first base and is adept around the bag.
Swisher's statistical record is marked by mediocre batting averages but very high walk rates and good power production. His .265 batting average at Sacramento this year would translate to about .230 at the major league level, but with enough power and patience to still be useful. At age 23, a normal growth curve projects him as a .260ish hitter down the road. Keep in mind that a "natural .260ish" hitter can hit .230 as easily as .290 through random chance. If the walks and power carry forward, he'll be a solid regular due to strong secondary skills.
Swisher has had no significant health problems.
What to expect
Opinions about Swisher are mixed. Optimists point to his walks and power, and believe that he'll be a fine player who contributes in many ways, especially if his outfield defense remains strong. His detractors believe that his batting average will be too low and that his walk rate won't be high enough to compensate and keep his OBP at a useful level. My thinking is that he may have some adjustment problems at first, but that given sufficient time to adjust, Swisher will emerge with major league numbers very similar to what he has posted in the minors.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.