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Braves MiLB Prospect Recap: Drew Lugbauer

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Drew Lugbauer put himself back on the prospect map with a strong season in Double-A followed by an excellent stint in the AFL.

Mesa Solar Sox v Peoria Javelinas Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Drew Lugbauer has long been known in the system for his electrifying raw power, but in years past has struggled to consistently hit enough to make any impact beyond the long ball. 2021 was a departure from all of his previous professional seasons as he set a career high in a number of categories including home runs and walk rate.

Lugbauer was not featured on the Talking Chop midseason top 30 list due to his lack of consistent success as a professional. There is a chance he sticks as an honorable mention or even at the backend of our preseason top 30 with the former being more likely.

2021 stats at Double-A - 86 games, .223/.331/.453, 18 HR, 51 RBI, 117 wRC+

Drew Lugbauer was an intriguing pick in the 11th round of the 2017 Major League amateur draft with his light tower power from the catching position being an obvious draw. Unfortunately with his lack of a hit tool and the likelihood he would not stick at catcher long term his stock was not high enough to push him into the upper rounds of the draft. “Slugbauer” then made an immediate impact in his first professional season as he put up an .865 OPS and 13 home runs in 60 games between Danville and Rome. This thrust him well into the prospect spotlight but the reality did not match the first impression. As Lugbauer has climbed through the system so too has his strikeout rate, and at Low-A and High-A he failed to crack an OPS over .700. His .254 OBP was a major red flag in 2019 and he quickly dropped off of Top 30 lists. 2021 was a resurgence for Lugbauer however, as the power took a step forward (with some help from a more friendly run environment) and he was one of the premiere hitters in the Mississippi Braves championship run. He faded towards the end of the season, but after July was hitting an astonishing .266/.377/513 with 12 home runs in 58 games. When he turned cold it went quickly and he hit only .145/.248/.350 over the final two months Undeterred by these struggles he was one of the top hitters in the Arizona Fall League with a 1.145 OPS and 6 home runs in only 16 games. Overall he hit 24 home runs in 2021 and he did so in only 102 games.

With all this success it seems Lugbauer is destined to rise back into notoriety, but it’s likely not the case for him. Despite all of the good numbers he still had a career high 37.4% strikeout rate which just will not play. He lacks a defensive home as well and will likely be limited to first base or designated hitter which would severely stress his hit tool. The power is real for Lugbauer and the increase in walks does help mitigate the on base issues a bit, but until the strikeouts come down a bit it is hard to put serious faith in Lugbauer. If the hit tool takes a reasonable step forward there will be reason to hope on him, and given that he is 24 years old there is some time for that to still happen. He hits the ball hard and gears his swing in a way that maximizes his power, he just needs to connect with that swing more often. He is likely a Quad-A or low end bench bat, but there is still potential to dream on if he can make some changes.