Tennessee's Senzel could be quick pick, fast riser
Infielder's simplicity, skill set could mean he's not long for the Minors
By Matthew Leach
Nick Senzel likes to keep things simple.
Tennessee's star third baseman, who could be a top-five pick in the upcoming MLB Draft, brings an advanced, polished approach to the plate. But he insists there's nothing especially intricate about his all-fields skill or his exceptional strike-zone discipline.
"I've never tried to make it more complex than what it is," said Senzel, named second-team All-SEC as a junior in 2016. "I go up there and try to see it and hit it. If it's not in the strike zone where I want to hit it, I won't swing."
Of course, that's easy to say. It's hard to do, and Senzel most definitely follows through.
In his third year with the Vols, Senzel batted .352 with a .456 on-base percentage and a .595 slugging percentage. Perhaps most strikingly, he walked 40 times against just 21 strikeouts in 210 at-bats while playing in one of the nation's two best conferences. Every one of those numbers was a career best.
That polish, that discipline, and of course that ability to put the bat on the ball, all add up to a skill set that could make Senzel a fast riser in pro baseball. Mind you, it's not a guarantee he will sign. But if he does, he might not be long for the Minor Leagues.
The only thing missing from Senzel's offensive game is top-end power (13 career home runs), but there's at least some hope that that's still to come. Even without it, though, he's been an exceptional offensive contributor.
"He's a solid player," said a National League scouting director. "I think you will get more bat than power at the end of the day. He's a strong-bodied kid. But people who have watched him play believe you are getting more bat over power."
It wouldn't be shocking to see the power come, though. Senzel has been known to put on quite the show in batting practice. But he refuses to sell out to hit for more power, content to get base hits, take his walks and let the home runs come. Senzel hit a career-high eight homers in 57 games in 2016.
"My job as a player is to have good ABs," Senzel said. "Whether I hit a home run or whether it's a base hit, getting on base, walking -- it makes no difference to me [as long as I have a good at-bat]. With evaluators saying raw power, I haven't tapped into it, all that, it doesn't really concern me.
"My goal is just to stick to the middle of the field, hit the ball hard. Wherever it goes, it goes. This game is already hard enough as it is. Worrying about that stuff is just adding pressure, which is unneeded. It's already hard enough as it is."
Senzel has applied the same mindset on the defensive side of things, where he's bounced between second and third base. He says he doesn't have a preference, and doesn't feel he's better at one position than the other.
"Wherever I play, I'll play," Senzel said. "Wherever someone wants me to play, I'll play."
Senzel was named the 2015 Most Valuable Player in the Cape Cod League, the nation's most prestigious summer league for college players. Then he followed it up with another big year in the ultra-competitive SEC. Now he may be looking at plying his trade at the next level up. Wherever Senzel is, though, you get the impression he won't change a thing.
"I just know that I play the game hard, every day," Senzel said. "I love competing. I never take a play off. I think throughout my career at Tennessee, I've done that. That's what I can pride myself on."
Matthew Leach is an Editor for MLB.com and contributor to SportsOnEarth.com. He can be found on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.