Steve Selsky is not a household name, to put it lightly. He was first drafted in the 34th round in 2011, didn’t sign, and in the next year’s draft, rocketed all the way up to the 33rd round and signed with the Reds. He toiled in obscurity in the minors for more than five seasons before making his debut last year, in his age-27 season. He didn’t undergo any Trevor Story-esque explosion once he was here, either. If you’ve never heard of him, it’s probably because you are living a fulfilling life not immersed in the minutia of every single roster slot of every single team.
But! It’s March, and Steve Selsky is in line to possibly get some playing time with the Red Sox, who claimed him off waivers from the Reds in January. And while he didn’t grab everyone’s attention in his brief stint in the majors, what he did do was pretty interesting. To whit:
Selsky’s 2016 batting line
Alright, maybe not pretty interesting. But interesting! A 3.7 percent walk rate and a 40.7 percent walk rate are not encouraging signs — that’s two walks in 54 PAs, and twenty-two strikeouts. How do you get from that to a 114 wRC+? One possibility is prodigious power, but Selsky didn’t have that, with a fine-but-not-outstanding .157 ISO. No, Selsky went the absurd-BABIP route, with fourteen of his twenty-seven non-HR balls in play turning into hits.
Now, normally, that would not be worth an article. But first, again: late March. Second, there are reasons to think Selsky’s unique skill set can combine with the circumstances faced by the Red Sox to give him some playing time. And third, he’s having himself quite the spring, for whatever that’s worth:
More like Buysky after Steve's fourth home run of the spring.— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) March 27, 2017
Of course, spring stats don’t mean much. But Selsky’s minor league career, though not incredible, shows that he has some legitimate skills, and that his 2016 might not be entirely a small-sample product. Across three seasons at AAA (2014–16, 686 PAs) he hit .283/.369/.425, with a lofty .369 BABIP that was the product of solid contact and some speed. While at AAA, Selsky walked more than he did in his major-league cup of coffee (an 11.6 percent BB rate), but the strikeouts were not wholly out of character (a 27.6 percent K rate).
He found his power stroke late in career, hitting nine dingers in 339 PAs in 2016 after hitting only three in 347 PAs the previous two seasons and only one in 304 PAs at AA. All that, combined with some of the underlying process behind his 2016 results, yields some reason for cautious optimism. Selsky is a natural high-BABIP guy, and his hard-hit rate of 36.7 percent compares favorably to names like Joey Votto (38.7 percent) and Paul Goldschmidt (37.5 percent), to list the first two names that came to mind.
If all these skills come together this season, the product — a versatile, speedy hitter who walks occasionally, makes authoritative contact, and can smash 15 home runs — is an interesting one. The projection systems are moderately skeptical: Steamer has him down for an 86 wRC+, ZiPS an 83, and PECOTA a slightly-below-average .257 TAv. But PECOTA’s percentile forecasts reveal the possibility of upside, with his 80th percentile projecting pegging him for a .283 TAv and 1.6 WARP in 294 PAs.
Selsky is not exactly a multi-positional wizard, a la Ben Zobrist, but he’s spent time as a professional at all three outfield spots and at first base, and has had some playing time this spring at third base as well. The Red Sox are a deep team in some respects, but two positions where they are rather thin are first base and third base. The former will be staffed by a Mitch Moreland/Hanley Ramirez platoon; Moreland’s career wRC+ of 105 against righties is barely enough to scrape by at first base, and Ramirez has shown in the last two years that his health and ability to field even the easiest positions are not to be relied upon.
Over at third base, Pablo Sandoval is currently projected for the lion’s share of plate appearances. While he’s had a solid spring, complete with a slimmed-down profile (i.e., we’re at Level One on the Pablo Sandoval Fat Meter), he missed all of 2016, and was worth 1.5-to-2.0 wins below replacement in 2015, so he’s not exactly a sure thing either.
The Red Sox have Brock Holt available to play all those positions, if need be. But Holt, despite his good reputation and 2015 All-Star status, is not a special hitter or fielder (projected for about a 90 wRC+), and it’s easy to imagine Selsky surpassing him at some point in 2017, or both being needed if the Red Sox have to move past Plan B to Plan C or D.
There are a lot of “if”s in this article, and a lot would need to go right for Selsky to see any kind of serious playing time this year. But he’s the rare player whom you’ve probably never heard of — he’s shown up in precisely zero articles on either FanGraphs or the Baseball Prospectus main page — but who is interesting and maybe even good. What more can you ask for, in late March? Intriguing potential is all we’ve got for a few more days.