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Waiting For 4:20: Blaze Burning Bright

Mark Henle, Mark Henle/The Republic

With the announcement of Corbin Carroll's promotion, there is more excitement afoot than at any other point in recent DBacks history. With so much excitement, it's easy to forget things; this is particularly true in the realm of prospects, where the flavor of the week is most present on the palette. Fear not, though! The hero the masses neither needs nor deserves (nobody did anything bad enough to deserve this) is here to prevent "bonus baby" depth pieces from fading into relative obscurity. Today's topic will be one Mr. Blaze Alexander.

He was drafted in the 11th round of the 2018 draft, signing for $500,000 out of IMG Academy; he did have a commitment to South Carolina that he had to be signed away from, but there were also other factors that dropped him that low. The first concern was with swing-and-miss (a common theme among prep prospects, but he was facing among the best competition the country had to offer at IMG) and the second was that he was 19 years old on draft day. The latter doesn't seem like a large issue, until considering that Rule V eligibility is determined by age. Any player drafted at an age greater than 18 has four years to make it through MiLB; Blaze is currently in his fourth season. Now that his personal Doomsday Timeline is on the table, let's take a look at the actual player.

It was mentioned before that he struggled with swing-and-miss dating back to his prep days, so it should surprise nobody that the general consensus is that the hit tool will likely never be even average and will ultimately negatively impact his ability to reach power in-game; a 17.7% swinging strike rate (the percentage of all pitches that were swung-and-missed on) as of writing certainly points to lack of contact being an issue to this day, but running a .223 ISO at AA speaks to quality contact being a fairly common occurrence in spite of said issue. Add the contact concerns (the highest miss rate he's shown at any level above Rookie ball) with a career low walk rate and surely he's having struggles even with some power on contact, right? Well, not really.

The .295/.362/.519 line he's ran so far this season actually represents the highest wRC+ (123) he's ran in any meaningful sample size. So, if he's swinging-and-missing more than ever before and walking less than ever before, why exactly is he producing value at a higher rate than ever before? Well (and this might seem like an odd parallel), but is anybody familiar with Javier Báez?

This is by no means a comparison, because any list of comparisons between Alexander and Báez begins and ends with them being right-handed hitters that play SS, but hear me out for a second. Báez has always swung-and-missed far more often than the average hitter and normal logic suggests that a player like that should be conservative with swing decisions and only attack on pitches that they're certain to do damage on. Báez's plan of attack knowing his "limitations"? Swing so damn much that the good swings outweigh the bad ones. It worked pretty well for him before his bat started slowing down.

Any time there's a shift in process or results (like Blaze's drop in walks), one has to question how much of it is by design. It's entirely speculation on part of the author, but it does look like Blaze has embraced a bit more aggression in his approach. Whether that's a permanent shift or temporary shift meant to take advantage of the HR-friendly confines of Amarillo is yet to be determined, but it is a trend that has emerged nonetheless.

It would be disingenuous to not at least bring up the fact that his OPS is markedly better at home than on the road (.997 vs. .763), but his platoon splits are remarkably similar for a guy that was quickly becoming nothing more than a platoon option (.292/.361/.509 vs. RHP; .313/.365/.563 vs. LHP). Maybe the valuation of his floor as a platoon MIF hasn't changed too much, but his ceiling certainly stands to benefit from the way he has been playing.

Now that we've finally arrived to the topic of "floor", it's as good a time as any to pivot away from offense and on to defense. Most all publications have his "Fielding" tool settling somewhere in the 50-55 range (average to above-average), but there's no doubt among those same writers that his arm is AT LEAST 70 grade (plus-plus). We unfortunately don't have reliable MiLB defensive metrics, but the fact that the organization has consistently given him the majority of his reps at SS speaks to some degree of confidence in his ability to handle the position long-term.

All that being said, he's more than likely not the long-term solution at any of SS, 2B, or 3B, so locking down a spot on the active roster will be incredibly difficult going forward (although, not an impossibility; on a roster where Ahmed or Kennedy fit, so too does Blaze). When last we talked about English, there was some confidence that he could slip through the R5 if left unprotected; none of that same confidence exists with Alexander.

P.S. Probably the best news out of this is that the dream of the silly headlines possible with either Garrett or Alexander having a good series at Coors are still alive and well (IYKYK).