Sunday, May 8, 2016

Random Prospect Sunday - Luke Dykstra

It cannot be easy to be Lenny Dykstra's son.

The casual fan won't spend much time seeking out other comparisons for you. "Oh, must play like Nails did." And even when an article is supposedly about you, the focus quickly shifts to your more famous father. A preemptive apology for that.

But that's not fair to Luke Dykstra, the second baseman for the Rome Braves. The problem for Luke goes well beyond who is father was and more about who Luke is not. Specifically, he has not shown the skillset many thought he had - which compared quite well with his dad. Fortunately for Luke, he is in his Age-20 year so there is a lot of time to show more.

Born on November 7, 1995 as the Braves were still in the afterglow from their championship, Luke became part of a family with a man beloved by his team's fans and despised by everyone else. Lenny's career was in the midst of an injury-riddled finish where he could not stay healthy over his last six years in the majors outside of - as we know - 1993. He would play just 62 games in the season before Luke's birth and 40 games as Luke was a baby. His career came to a close, though he did try a comeback in 1998. "Nails" turned his focus to business ventures and his sons, Cutter and Luke. The latter tells a story of when he was younger and he popped-up during a bad day. Throwing the bat down and slowly running toward first, Luke enraged his father who told him to grab his stuff because they were leaving. The Dykstras don't play baseball with anything less than ultimate effort.

When Luke was 10, his father was sued by a former business partner who alleged that "Nails" not only used steroids, but worked with the business partner to place bets on Phillies games during Dykstra's final healthy season of 1993. It would be the first of many dominoes to fall on Dykstra. All the while, Luke kept his head low and did the one thing that came natural - playing baseball. "Since I was six years, I've known what I want to do with my life...I want to be a professional baseball player."

Luke, who stayed with his mother after the latter's divorce to his embattled father in 2009, was a rising star at Westlake High School outside of Los Angeles. He hit a cool .333 as a sophomore and then excelled with a .443 average as a junior. He was one of the 144 players invited to the 18-and-under USA Baseball Tournament of Stars in June of 2013. He also earned 2nd Team All American honors from Perfect Game and was ranked by the scouting service as the 87th best prep athlete of the class of 2014. He committed to Fresno State, but seemed destined to forego college for a professional contract.

There was talk that Dykstra could be a borderline 1st Round talent, but that might have been simple hype more than anything. Still, he looked like a sure thing for a top round selection. But as the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds ended, Dysktra was still on the board. Finally, with the 28th pick of the 7th round, the Braves selected Dykstra with the 223rd overall pick. His father was elated, calling the Braves a "first-class organization." Even though Dykstra "slipped" to the 7th round and was given just a slot bonus, he signed quickly. As his dad said, "he didn't want to go to school. He was put on this earth to play baseball."

Dykstra opened his career with the Gulf Coast League Braves and played a little of second and short. He also slashed .262/.315/.376 at the plate with 2 HR, 7 steals, and a knack for putting the ball in play (9 BB/12 K). Dykstra was given a conservative time table so he spent the first few months of the 2015 season at extended spring training preparing for the Appalachian League season. Once the season finally began last June, the 19 year-old opened some highs with a solid 32-game run with the Danville Braves. He hit .298, though his hyper aggressive plate presence limits his on-base. He didn't homer and his ISO went under .100, but the Braves saw enough to move Dykstra up the ladder to Rome, where he finished 2015 with 26 games and an even 100 PA. At Rome, he hit .348 with a .378 OBP and an ISO of .120. Overall, Dykstra hit .318/.353/.422 during the season with 19 2B, 2 triples, and 0 HR. He only swiped three bases.

Expected to be in the mix for a starting assignment at Carolina, the Braves sent Dykstra back to Rome to open 2016. He's ripped off a ten game hit streak with Rome in April, but the results have not been as solid as hoped for the second baseman. He's hit .276, but again, he doesn't walk so that on-base percentage is muted. He's also managed just 5 extra-base hits out of his 24 overall hits - all doubles. He's 1-for-2 in stolen base attempts. What is working in Dykstra's favor is his age. Of his 94 plate appearances this year, all but six have come against pitchers that are older than he his. Even with that in mind, Dykstra has done little to build on his success last summer.

At the plate, Dykstra is his father to an extent as the latter homered just 81 times in nearly 5300 PA. But the things that made Nails so valuable (his speed, on-base skills) were not passed down to Dykstra, who is bigger than his father. If Luke had more power, that difference would not be so significant, but in 501 PA, Dykstra has homered just twice. His swing is better suited for sending liners to the gap that flyballs over the wall, as you can see from this video from 2013.

Dykstra's hyper-aggressive plate presence limits the amount of strikeouts, but he will ground into his fair share of double plays (17 so far during his career). He crowds the plate and will be hit by plenty of pitches as well, though that's not an on-base skill many will talk about. Defensively, he's adequate and not much else. He has work ethic and knows how to play the game beyond his years.

Overall, Dykstra makes the most out of his skillset, but it appears far more limited than some expected. He might have been better off going to college and continuing to put things together rather than enter a professional environment, but as his father said, that's not what he wanted. Luke will likely depend on his BABIP swinging north to have good years and fits the bill as a potential bench piece down the road, though he's going to have to show more defensive flexibility to become that. But if you get that out of the seventh round, you feel pretty good about the results even if Luke will never be his father at the plate.

Want more Random Prospect Sunday profiles?
Lucas Sims
Steve Rodriguez
Braxton Davidson
...or see ALL of them.

1 comment:

  1. Why do internet searches list Luke's parents as Len Dykstra and Charlie Leibrandt?