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What to expect from Derek Fisher

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While he has yet to put things together at the big-league level, the former first-rounder possesses thunder in his bat and above-average athleticism.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The unsettled third base situation is undoubtedly the most notable competition in Brewers camp this spring, but there will also be a trio of outfielders vying for a spot on the team’s Opening Day roster. The homegrown Tyrone Taylor has posted a 126 wRC+ in brief big-league stints over the past two seasons. Former first-rounder and post-hype prospect Billy McKinney was claimed off waivers in September. Derek Fisher is the latest addition to the mix after the Brewers acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later plus cash considerations.

Like Taylor and McKinney, Fisher is a former Top 100 prospect. He was selected 37th overall in the 2014 draft, and Baseball America ranked him as the 9th-best prospect in the Houston Astros organization in 2017. He made his Major League debut that June. He has been a solid contributor in the minor leagues, posting a 132 wRC+ in just under 2,000 plate appearances. That production has yet to translate to the big leagues, where he owns an underwhelming .194/.286/.376 slash line in parts of four seasons.

Fisher is a perfect example of a “three true outcomes” player. In fact, exactly 50% of his MLB plate appearances have resulted in a home run, a strikeout, or a walk. Fisher has left the yard 17 times, fanned at a 35.8% rate, and drawn a free pass 10.9% of the time. While his strikeout rate is concerningly high, when Fisher does make contact, he tattoos the ball. He owns a career 91.3 mile per hour average exit velocity, 42.9% hard hit rate, 9.5% barrel rate, and .430 xwOBAcon.

Visuals are more exciting than numbers, though. Here’s a home run that left the bat at 108.9 miles per hour and traveled a projected 448 feet.

This missile had an exit velocity of 110.7 miles per hour and went 447 feet.

This low fastball gets turned into a 110.3 mile per hour fly ball into deep left-center field—432 feet, to be exact.

Last but not least, here’s a 447-foot bomb to dead center.

There is no denying that Fisher possesses some serious thunder in his bat. While his power potential is his calling card, his most overlooked tool is his excellent speed. He swiped 31 bags in 2015 with Houston’s A affiliate and added another 28 steals the following year. His stolen base totals have steadily declined since then, but his average sprint speed met or exceeded 29 feet per second in each of his first three MLB seasons. For context, that placed him in the 97th, 96th, and 92nd percentiles from 2017-2019, respectively. That figure fell to 27.9 feet per second last year, but that could be a byproduct of his extremely limited sample of 39 plate appearances. Regardless, that is still well above average, making Fisher an intriguing power-speed threat.

From a defensive standpoint, the former first-rounder is a bit of a mixed bag. He has spent the majority of his big-league time in left field, but he has over 250 games of minor league experience up the middle. For his career, he grades out just above average by DRS and UZR/150, but OAA and FRAA have been more bearish on his glove. All of the metrics were especially harsh on his 2020 performance in the field (-6 DRS, -34.5 UZR/150, -3 OAA), but because he played under 100 innings on the grass last summer, that data carries little weight. Given his speed, it is not unreasonable to expect Fisher to be average defensively, if not better.

Fisher’s propensity for swinging and missing may contribute to his lack of success against MLB pitching, but he has some other flaws that are just as much to blame. While he hits the ball extremely hard, the potential slugger hits far too many ground balls. 50.6% of his contact has been on the ground, his fly ball rate is a measly 29.1%, and his average launch angle is just 6.8 degrees. To take advantage of his profile, Fisher needs to make a major adjustment to his approach and focus on elevating the ball. The Brewers will likely share this advice with him in camp if they have not already.

While Taylor is also squarely in the mix, the battle for a reserve outfield role may wind up being a direct competition between Fisher and McKinney. The latter two both take their hacks from the left side of the plate and are out of options, whereas Taylor bats right-handed and has an option remaining. Fisher’s combination of power and speed will make him one of the more interesting players to watch this spring. Should he crack Milwaukee’s roster, the former prospect will have a chance to provide some serious firepower off the bench. There could easily be more opportunities for him to make an impact given Lorenzo Cain’s need for maintenance days, Christian Yelich’s history of back troubles, and Avisail Garcia’s inconsistent track record. He will always be a three true outcomes player and will never hit for a high batting average, but if he can learn to elevate the ball and reduce his strikeout rate even slightly, Derek Fisher could prove to be one of David Stearns and Matt Arnold’s best moves of an otherwise underwhelming offseason.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, and Baseball Prospectus. Prospect rankings courtesy of Baseball America.