The Future is Unwritten: Kelly Dugan

Kelly Dugan, who was added to the 40-man roster by the Phillies a few weeks ago so as to protect him from next Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, had himself a fine 2013 season as he hit .291/.352/.506 between Hi-A and Double-A. The 2009 second round pick (he was signed away from a commitment to Pepperdine whose baseball facility looks like this) will likely start 2014 back in Double-A but there’s a chance he might play in the Majors at some point next year if things go right for Dugan and if things go horribly wrong for the big club. His package of tools and his career path are both rather interesting.

But first let’s discuss the body because Dugan has a rather unique physical composition. Broad shouldered up to, his frame is extremely slight as you move down his body into the lower half. Dugan’s calves and ankles are pencil thin and more than one scout I’ve talked to has wondered if a body like Dugan’s can hold up under the rigors of a 162 game season. He has, after all, had lower body injury issues in the past. Most recently ankle and hamstring issues forced him to spend a chunk of the 2012 season at first base instead of the outfield. Some feared the leg issues would be chronic and considered a permanent move to first base a possibility. Baseball America listed Dugan (who didn’t crack their Phillies Top 30 last year) on the minor league depth chart as a first baseman heading into 2013 and most seemed certain that if Dugan was indeed slated for first base that there’d be no way his bat would profile there.

In 2013, Dugan played 100 of his 112 healthy games in the outfield and, for now, concerns about his body’s resiliency have been tranquilized to a degree. Dugan is listed at a lean 6’3”, 195lbs which is the sort of frame scouts crave when we’re talking about an 18 year-old Dominican pitcher but one which understandably causes some hemming and hawing when the prospect in question is a 23 year-old from the land of In-N-Out. While Dugan has room to fill out, it’s hard to say if he’s going to. I’m inclined to think some mass in the legs will be added as he ages.

Now, onto the tools. Dugan’s future is in an outfield corner and, defensively, that future seems bright. There’s plus defensive potential here. Despite being a below average runner (I’ve got Dugan timed right around 4.35 from home to first) Dugan covers an awful lot of ground in the outfield thanks to first step quickness and good reactions off the bat. I’ve seen him cut off balls that seemed like surefire doubles at launch and then use his plus arm to hold the hitter to a disappointing single. I once saw Dugan make a sliding catch near the foul pole at First Energy Stadium in Reading on a ball that took just 4.38 seconds to get there (for context, the ball on this play was in the air for 4.4 seconds and, based on Baseball Info Solutions’ data, falls in for a hit about 57% of the time. Imagine having to make a play in the same amount of time except on a ball that was hit near the right field foul pole). I think this is an above average defender in the outfield with an above average arm. He may be a little awkward looking at times but the job gets done.

Offensively, Dugan has the unteachable holy grail of hitting: bat speed. There’s explosion in the hands and leverage in the swing, enough that I’ve got the power graded out as fringe average and project it to solid average. Dugan’s bat path is very vertically oriented, kind of like Freddie Freeman’s, but he doesn’t have Freeman’s elite hand-eye coordination and so I think there’s going to be some swing and miss here. I’ve got a 40 on the bat now with a 50 ceiling. For the uninitiated, those hit and power grades project him to hit about .250-.270 with 17-25 homers on an annual basis. Despite his somewhat advanced age, the projection of Dugan’s hit tool is up for debate. He’s only been hitting left-handed full time since 2012 and there are scouts who think there’s more room to grow in this department than I do.

As always, the most volatile variable here is the approach. Dugan’s patience has lauded late in 2012 and in the first half of 2013. He spent equal time in Clearwater (56 games) and Reading (56 games) in 2013. In A-ball, Dugan walked 24 times in those 56 games. After his promotion to Reading, he garnered just 5 free passes. As with many of the Phillies prospects, Dugan’s patience will be an important thing to watch as he moves forward.

Ultimately I think Dugan becomes a second-division regular in right field but the ceiling is a little higher than that. The two biggest question marks right now are his approach and his ability to stay healthy. A full season against upper-level pitching will tell us more.

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