I was pretty high on Darnell Sweeney after his debut season. He was a 13th-round selection in the 2012 MLB Draft, and his .804 OPS (including .819 in the Midwest League) gave me hope that the Dodgers might have struck gold with the pick.
Then, I saw him a ton last season with Rancho Cucamonga, and was thoroughly unimpressed — probably because my expectations were a touch high. Here’s an excerpt from the scouting report (#notascout) I wrote for Chad’s site last year:
“I’ve seen him play six times this season, and I’ve come away feeling ‘meh’ (technical scouting term) about him. His offensive game should be tailored around his, at times, above-average speed. Despite a generally short swing, it can get loopy at times, causing it to get long. The barrel doesn’t stay in the zone as long as some good hitters at his age.”
“I know it’s a cliché, but he makes some spectacular plays and struggles with the routine plays. Yet, as much as I harp on his throwing, he’s only made seven throwing errors this season. The other 27 errors are of the fielding variety. That comes from a lack of concentration and/or having poor hands, because Sweeney is plenty athletic enough to make plays and shouldn’t make that many errors. And while errors aren’t the best indicator of one’s defense, 34 in 106 games really stands out.
Unless Sweeney improves in virtually every aspect of his defense, he’ll be a second baseman long-term. His arm and range would play up at the position and could be better for him — and the Dodgers — in the future.”
Sweeney, 23, has since played more second base, but he’s still logged 27 games at shortstop in the Southern League — and has made 12 errors in those games. Seriously, there’s zero reason to play him at shortstop anymore.
But something happened during the Lookouts’ doubleheader on Monday. Yes, Sweeney homered in three consecutive at-bats (last two of Game 1, first one of Game 2), but he also played his first career game in center field in Game 1. I thought that was odd, especially considering Casio Grider — a pretty good outfielder in his own right — played at second base.
It could very well be nothing, but perhaps the Dodgers are trying to improve Sweeney’s utility — either for his benefit, the team’s benefit or the benefit of his trade value. Then again, it’s one game, and his arm wouldn’t really play that well in center field, honestly. If he can make the transition, or at least add center field to his defensive profile, it makes it more likely he’ll have a significant career. If not, he’s limited to second base and would need to hit well to make up for his defensive inefficiency.
Sweeney’s value now lies solely in his bat. While he stole 48 bases in the California League last year, he was also caught 20 times (70.6 percent). This season, he’s 9-for-20 in stolen base attempts. That’s really surprising, but he’s never been nearly as fast as the guy he’s compared to most — Dee Gordon.
He is, however, hitting at the best mark of his career against some of Minor League Baseball’s toughest competition. He has a .323/.411/.533 triple slash, a .210 ISO, 160 total bases (third in the SL), and he’s vastly improved his walk rate (from 7 percent in 2013 to 12.7 percent in 2014) and reduced his strikeout rate (24.6 to 19.7). That kind of across-the-board improvement makes me believe Sweeney could be a somewhat valuable major leaguer.
The switch-hitter fares better from the left side, which is also a positive. All 11 of his home runs have come as a lefty. In fact, he has 33 extra base hits from the left side, and just six from the right side. But he’s still hitting .302 as a right-handed batter. So, his platoon splits aren’t that dramatic. He was pretty even from each side of the plate last season.
Sweeney could be a nice piece to a pre-July 31 trade, but certainly not a headliner. If he isn’t dealt, he’ll finish out the season at Double-A and get the call to Triple-A before next season. At this rate, he could realistically make his MLB debut sometime in mid-to-late-2015, but don’t expect him before that.