When I last spoke with J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ assistant general manager for scouting and player development, Brian Fletcher’s name came up.
Fletcher, you may recall, was the hero of Class AAA Omaha’s victory Wednesday in game two of the Pacific Coast League Championship Series.
His game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth in game two of the series should come as no surprise.
“Brian can hit,” Picollo said. “There are two things you can do that are very important as hitters. One is he can hit a fastball. Velocity doesn’t matter, he can catch up to the plus-plus fastball and the other being that he has very good pitch recognition. You rarely see him put himself in the hole by chasing a pitch and you rarely see him layoff a fastball that he can do something with.”
Fletcher, an 18th-round pick in the 2010 draft, was ranked No. 30 in the Royals system by Baseball America in its Prospect Handbook. The publication noted that the Royals didn’t have a lot of power hitters in the upper levels of their system, but Fletcher was an exception.
After opening the season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas, Fletcher earned a promotion to the Storm Chasers by hitting .314 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in 52 games. With Omaha, Fletcher batted .250 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 26 games.
“He’s one of those hitters who, and I don’t talk about it that much, but as the pitchers get better, hitters get more pitchers around the strike zone,” Picollo said. “Just to use extremes, in Triple-A they’re going to throw more strikes than they will in Rookie ball. A hitter like Fletch who does have good patience and awareness at the plate, those hitters may hit better than they will in the upper levels than they do in the lower levels.
“Fletch sort of falls in that category. I don’t say that about a lot of guys, but I thought he did it in Double-A and now we’re seeing it in Triple-A. Again, it’s those two attributes he has: the ability to hit a fastball and the ability to recognize pitch selection that really put him above a lot of hitters.”
Fletcher, a 6-foot, 190-pound outfielder who turns 25 next month, walked just 18 times in 336 plate appearances. But Picollo said Fletcher has a presence at the plate that you don’t see often in young hitters.
“Some hitters have a fear of getting to two strikes. That’s a major hurdle,” Picollo said. “Guys who have confidence to hit with two strikes will be more patient early in the count. Fletch has that ability, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to walks. He’s going to get better pitches throughout his at-bat. He’s not a George Kottaras-type guy, who’s very, very patient, he’s going to make a pitcher throw a strike.
“When Fletch gets strikes, he’s more aggressive with those. I don’t think he’s going to be an incredibly high walk guy, but I don’t think his walks to strikeouts are going to be poor. They’ll probably be above average.”
And he can muscle up when needed as he proved on Wednesday. Here is video, from MiLB.com of that home run: