The Future is Unwritten: Cameron Perkins
There has been a good amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth among statistically inclined Phillies fans for the club to pursue more college hitters in the draft. A half dozen or so studies have been done on expected return of draft choices and many of them come out the other end touting college bats as the most beneficial type of selection (Rany Jazayerli, Phil Birnbaum and Victor Wang have all written about it at length). Generally, the Phillies do not select college hitters in the first round. The last time they did was in 2000 when they popped an infield prospect named Chase Utley from UCLA. In that vein, the prospect du jour is outfielder Cameron Perkins, the club’s sixth round pick in 2012 out of Purdue.
Perkins has hit everywhere he’s been since turning pro. He’s got a career .297/.346/.429 line in just under 180 career games. He was second in the New York Penn League in doubles in 2012 and sixth in two-baggers in the Florida State League in 2013. That year, of the twenty-four players in the FSL who finished ahead of Perkins in SLG%, only nine were a full year younger than him and that list of names features some of the better prospects in baseball (Jorge Soler, Gregory Polanco, Byron Buxton, Javier Baez, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Maikel Franco). Perkins was 13th in the league in total bases. Through 50 games, the 22 year-old Perkins was leading the league in hitting and prompted a short feature on his performance over at Baseball America.
In spite of all this, my thoughts on Perkins and his future offensive output are mixed. There are certainly things to like in the swing, such as his strong, aggressive stride, strength in the hands, playable Major League bat speed and terrific hand-eye coordination. But in my opinion there are some fatal issues that need correcting if Perkins is going to succeed at the upper levels. His weight transfers to his front foot extremely early, there is noise in the feet through contact, he’ll adjust his body instead of his hands to change the location of the barrel and there’s quite a bit of head movement in the swing. It’s not the swing of someone who’s going to hit a ton of line drives. I have a present 35 and future 40 on the bat. I just don’t see it playing around .300 at the Major League level as it has thus far in the minors.
Power wise, Perkins certainly offered some upside in that department when he was drafted but it’s unclear he’ll deliver on it. Perkins, who tuned 23 years-old this fall, was listed at 6’5”, 195lbs when he was drafted. He’s still listed at that height and weight. With each passing day it becomes more and more likely that Perkins is simply a skinny dude. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever grow into his frame and add the strength some once thought he would. I have a present 40 on the power and project it up half a grade. He’s got to put on some good weight at some point, right?
The rest of the tools are fringe average or just below it. Perkins can run a little bit, he has an ok arm and his transition from college third baseman to permanent outfield corner has gone fairly well. The total package doesn’t warrant anything more than a role 40 projection, pegging Perkins as a future bench outfielder (and likely a 5th OF because he can’t play center field) but there are too many physical gifts here to sign any sort of prospect death warrant.
I’m also open to the possibility that Perkins is just a freak exception and that the way he does things just works for him and will continue to work as he ascends toward the Majors. We’ve seen it first hand with Hunter Pence, who doesn’t do anything in a manner one would ever teach someone who was trying to learn how to play baseball and yet Pence is a fine everyday player. It’s certainly possible Perkins outperforms my projection, his makeup is universally praised and players like that are all too often the ones that make outside evaluators look bad. I’d like to see him make some changes to the way he does things but I can’t imagine the Phillies would encourage tweaks if he continues to perform like he has so far. No reason to mess with it if it’s working. Perkins will likely start his age 23 season in Reading.