6. Aaron Schunk (306 points, 13 ballots)
In a sea of highly drafted corner infield prospects for the Colorado Rockies (there are 3-5 in the top ten of the PuRPs list alone depending on your opinion on their defensive utility), Aaron Schunk can get lost in the shuffle. Given how the Rockies have treated him so far though, Schunk seems like an organizational priority. So let’s differentiate him from the others.
Schunk was a two-way player at the University of Georgia: he served both as the third baseman and closer for the Bulldogs with a low 90s fastball/slider mix. More importantly, he hit .339/.373/.600 in a breakout junior season which saw him finally tap into the raw power he’d displayed in BP the previous two years. That led him to be drafted 62nd overall in 2019. The 6’2” slugger signed for slot money at just over $1.1 million and was assigned to Short Season-A Boise.
In the pitcher-friendly Northwest League, Schunk was about league average in age but not in offensive production. In 192 plate appearances, almost all of them during June or July (he played in only two games in August and two in September for unknown reasons), Schunk was a dynamo offensively. His .306/.370/.503 line with 20 extra-base hits (6 HR) translates to an excellent 145 wRC+. Schunk neither walked (7.3%) nor struck out (13%) much and he did display a home/road OPS split of .996/.680.
In 2020, the Rockies showed what they thought of Schunk by assigning him to their alternative site despite him not playing at all in full-season ball. MLB.com’s alternate site report for the Rockies had this note on Schunk’s time there:
Aaron Schunk (No. 6), the team’s second-round pick in 2019, was very impressive while learning how to play second base during his time in Denver. He continued to get reps at third, his natural position. At the plate, he impressed with better bat speed and was driving the ball to all fields with authority.
MLB.com checked back in with the Rockies for fall instructs and Schunk again was spotlighted by the organization:
The more time the Rockies get to spend with Aaron Schunk, their 2019 second-rounder, the more they like him. Already singled out for his work at the team’s alternate site, Schunk has continued to play well, getting more time at second base (he spent more time at third at the alternate site) and show off plus leadership.
“He’s come here and led this entire group with his actions and vocally,” [Zach] Wilson said. “He’s performed well there, particularly on balls coming in and throwing across his body.”
We’ll see if that positional flexibility extends to full-season ball in 2021 or if Schunk continues to man the hot corner.
Here’s some video of Schunk from July 2018 in the Cape Cod League courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Baseball Prospectus ranked Schunk 6th in the system in their pre-2021 list. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Schunk:
Schunk had a power spike his junior year at Georgia which jumped him into the second round of the draft. The ball continued to fly off his bat in the friendly confines of Boise, and the power is the most likely tool to reach above-average. The rest of the scouting report is a 45 or 50. Schunk has all the physical tools to be average at the hot corner, and might be athletic enough to play some second as well, which is the kind of infield positional flexibility the Rockies like to develop. There’s not a long track record of the kind of power you’d want from an everyday third baseman, though.
Schunk got some 2020 reps in at instructs and the profile looked more or less the same. He was on the older side for a college draftee and will turn 24 in the middle of the 2021 season, so you’d like to see him hit the ground running.
Schunk is also 6th on MLB.com’s pre-2020 Rockies ranking (he was 92nd overall in their 2019 draft ranking):
From the get-go, Schunk showed the ability to find ways to get the job done on both sides of the ball. The right-handed hitter has a very good feel to hit, making consistent hard contact with more of a line drive approach, rarely striking out. As he starts understanding his swing better, he should be able to create some leverage while adding strength, which should lead to solid average power in the future.
Big and strong, Schunk runs well underway and while he’s never going to be confused with a burner, he moves well enough to play a solid third base. His leadership skills and grinder-like work ethic stood out in his pro debut and should help him reach his full potential as a run producer at the hot corner.
As you might surmise due to his prior closer experience, Schunk’s 60 arm grade leads the evaluation, but it’s accompanied by 55 field and 50 grades on hit and power.
Schunk was 42nd on the FanGraphs 2019 draft board and he slots in at 8th in the system with a FV 40+ grade:
Schunk was a burly, two-way college prospect with power and arm strength. After two years of struggling to get to his raw power in games (he hit just four homers combined his freshman and sophomore seasons), Schunk had a breakout junior year and clubbed 15 dingers. We were hoping he’d start pulling and lifting the ball more and he did, both at Georgia and during his first pro summer. He’s an athletic gamer who’s a good defender at third, though because of the arm strength there was some speculative projecting while Schunk was an amateur that he might catch. The power production needs to keep coming, but Schunk has a shot to be a regular.
Ultimately, it was the kind of debut one expects and hopes for from a highly drafted position player out of a major conference — and the follow-up in 2020 was excellent considering the circumstances. I expect the 23-year-old Schunk to be considered for a role with High-A to start 2021 given the 2020 reports I saw. If all goes well he could be in contention for big league contribution within two to three years.
Of course, Schunk’s path forward is somewhat dependent on how the prospect logjam ahead of him gets resolved. Even with the Nolan Arenado trade, there are still several players who can fill the second/third base roles at the major league level ahead of Schunk in both The Show and the upper minors. Schunk will need to distinguish himself in full-season ball to prove he’s the man for the job. As a second rounder with a strong professional debut and great 2020 reports, I ranked Schunk 6th in the system with a 45 FV grade on my personal ballot as a potential big league infield regular — but three of the players ahead of him could be his competitors.