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Dodgers top prospects 2015: Darnell Sweeney, No. 14

Darnell Sweeney played shortstop and center field in addition to second base for Double-A Chattanooga in 2014.
Darnell Sweeney played shortstop and center field in addition to second base for Double-A Chattanooga in 2014.
Mark Meeks & Todd Norris | Chattanooga Lookouts

Darnell Sweeney is the player I imagine has the most divergent base of opinions by both scouts and fans alike of players on this top 20 Dodgers prospects list. Perhaps the reason may come from which side of the plate you see him hit from, as Sweeney has two distinct plate approaches depending on what side he hits from. To his credit, Sweeney has made incremental improvements at each rung on the ladder, though his development may be deemed a little slow for a college prospect. With Triple A likely looming and a crowded infield depth chart on the big league team above him, Sweeney will need to figure out soon just what type of hitter he wants to be going forward.

Dodgers prospects: Intro Top 20 list to date

Sweeney’s offense is almost worth treating each side of the plate as a two unique hitters. Against left-handers, Sweeney has a simple, quiet set-up at the plate. His swing is long but his bat speed is solid. Sweeney’s general approach from this side this year was to put the ball on the ground and run, making a lot of contact, keeping strikeouts in heck, but hitting for virtually no power. While this approach generally led to a solid average, the stat was mostly empty. My concern with his approach against left-handers is that he has to maintain a high batting average to be even somewhat useful offensively from the right side. Playing every day, you can expect teams to try to turn him around to the right side more often, and with a swing that’s still longish, he might see his strikeout rate increase from 12 percent at the big league level.

Batting from the left side, Sweeney shows the potential that tempts teams. His stat line against right-handers alone would make him appear like a budding star second baseman. There are, however, some flaws from this side as well. Sweeney takes a longer hack from the left side with more uppercut, giving him the power he displays but also bringing with it a significantly high strikeout rate. He can occasionally drop his hands from this side as well giving him worse swing plane. He displays wiry strength from this side of the plate, and puts his length to good use in his high extension. Sweeney can also get a little too rotational from the left side, but given the quality of contact he had in 2014, it hasn’t yet hampered the impact of his contact. I would almost be more curious to see how Sweeney would hit lefties from that side, whereas he may give back significantly more in average, but maybe take back gains in power.

This split in the power and long-term utility of his switch hitting would be moot if the rest of his game was more well rounded. Though he has reports suggesting he could play shortstop, the larger proof is in games played at second base. If the Dodgers believed he could be a shortstop long term, they would never have him playing as much second base as he has. Despite this, Sweeney is relatively error prone and doesn’t come across as the most instinctual player in general. Long term, he might be best served by a move to center field. While he has a reputation for being fast, Sweeney has been a subpar base-runner and contributed more harm than good last season in stolen bases. Sweeney is obviously athletic, but he has yet to allow his physical advantage to play positively into his game.

Thus far, this rundown may seem overly critical, but Sweeney has significant value because he’s managed to overcome his shortcomings to climb the ladder to the big league doorstep, carrying an .850 OPS in 2014 to boot. The biggest problem for Sweeney’s major league outlook is that the depth chart is full in front of him and he’s going to require a team that will give him time to figure out just what type of hitter he wants to be at the big league level. A team rebuilding, like Philadelphia, stands the most to gain from a player like Sweeney; where they can afford the patience of watching him strikeout at a 25-28% clip but might get the payoff of a .260/.340/.460 hitter. Someone will have to avoid the frustration of comparing what you’d expect him to be versus what he actually is. Sweeney has the upside of a poor man’s Dexter Fowler, capable of putting up a high OBP with above average slugging potential, just little in the way of speed statistics despite obvious athleticism (perhaps his most similar trait to Dex). Sweeney might be most valuable to Los Angeles in 2015 in trade, but barring that, I’d like to see him split time between second base and center fielder in hopes of making him a utility man ready to contribute in 2016, but possibly finding him a long-term niche beyond that in someone’s outfield.