In case you haven’t heard, quite a few Rockies Minor League hitters are off to excellent starts, and some have been killing it as of late:
Four Rockies Minor Leaguers were named Player of the Week.— Rockies Club Information (@RockiesClubInfo) May 3, 2022
AAA Albuquerque: OF Wynton Bernard: .391, 3 2B, 3HR, 12RBI
AA Hartford: SS Ezequiel Tovar: .478, 2 3B, 2HR, 4RBI
High-A Spokane: 2B Eddy Diaz: .452, 2 2B, HR, 8RBI
Low-A Fresno: SS Adael Amador: .500, 2 2B, 4HR, 7RBI
If you follow me on social media, or if you’ve been reading the comments on this very site as of late, you know I’ve been, eh, quite excited about some of those prospects (Ezequiel Tovar and Adael Amador in particular). But since it hasn’t been very long and small sample sizes are a thing, let’s go dig a bit deeper than just the surface level, even if we use that too in today’s piece. Let’s talk about swinging strike rate.
The Importance of Not Whiffing
Swinging strike rate is a simple stat that answers the question “How many of the pitches a hitter sees does he swing and miss on?”. MLB average is somewhere around 11% and in the Minor Leagues, particularly at the lower levels, a low swinging strike rate has a strong correlation with future success. In the Majors, it’s not quite as strong (there are ways to produce despite whiffing), but if you’re projecting hitters for higher levels, how often they swing and miss is one of the betters indicators of the quality of a player’s hit tool. If a guy is swinging and missing a lot in A-ball, it’s going to be a cause for concern, because what will he do against more advanced arms?
So here’s the Rockies’ MiLB swinging strike rate leaderboards, with the player and the level he’s at right now. Two requirements to qualify: a minimum of 50 plate appearances, and being some sort of prospect (age 26 is as old as I’ll typically go, to make things easier for myself):
As you can see, the MLB average is marked in yellow to make it easier to distinguish. Before we get to the takeaways, here’s another chart, which depicts each player’s swinging strike rate against their wRC+ (wRC+ is an all-encompassing hitting stat that adjusts for the offensive environment. 100 is league average, higher is better. Here’s the definition for details):
Okay, so for some things I took away from the data (here is the data from Fangraphs if you don’t want the charts):
Adael Amador is destroying Low-A
Amador celebrated his 19th birthday just a couple of weeks ago. He’s a switch-hitting shortstop, and he’s slashing .359/.463/.654 for an incredible 189 wRC+ in Low-A Fresno. He has a high BABIP (.361), but not unreasonably high. and totally normal for a guy who’s smoking the ball like he is. The shortstop is running a terrific walk rate (16.8%) which is much higher than his strikeout rate (12.6%), and his swinging strike rate is 7.9%, far better than the MLB average. In other words, Amador is just smoking the ball and overwhelming Low-A pitchers so far. If this continues for a few more weeks I would think he’ll get a call and head to High-A Spokane.
Benny Montgomery was struggling before getting hurt
Amador’s teammate, however, was not having as good a time. It recently came out that he’ll miss a few weeks with a quad strain, and he was swinging and missing at an incredibly high rate of 23%, striking out a third of the time and barely walking. He still managed a league-average batting line (.264/.316/.434), but there were red flags underneath.
The worries about Michael Toglia’s hit tool are very legitimate
Michael Toglia has a few awesome traits: he switch-hits, he’s patient, he has plus power, and he’s a fantastic defensive first baseman. The question about him has always been his hit tool, and his swinging strike rate and propensity to strikeouts put his Major League future in some level of doubt.
Zac Veen has a high swinging strike rate. Perhaps too high?
Veen’s swinging strike rate is 15.9% this season at High-A, almost five points higher than the MLB average, and this is no fluke either, as Veen has a 14.9% swinging strike rate since entering the Minors. For reference, Sam Hilliard, who’s had significant swing and miss issues in MLB, ran swinging strike rates around 16% in MiLB. Most scouting reports have described Veen’s feel to hit as just okay, and while running a lot of deep counts (Veen takes a lot of pitches) is part of being more prone to strikeouts, lots of swings and misses aren’t a great sign. That being said, he’s still performing very well despite it (his career wRC+ in the Minors is around 140, which is excellent), so maybe it’s something he can work around.
There are more things to look at here (what in the world is going on with Aaron Schunk, some outliers, Drew Romo’s good swinging strike rates easing some of the original concerns about his hit tool, etc), but those are the main things I looked at. Remember, these numbers don’t include yesterday’s ballgames! What are some things that caught your eye?
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A good, fun piece from Ben Clemens. Spoilers: Juan Soto appears, and he’s not the only name you might recognize, as an Old Friend also shows up as one of the best in baseball in terms of swing decisions.
Bud Black recently said they’re not overly worried about KB, but they don’t know exactly when he’ll return. Brendan Rodgers will hope to pick up some of the loss in production after finally getting a few hits against the Reds. Hopefully his April was just a bad start and he can shake it off.
On The Farm
A relatively low scoring game (for PCL standards) that saw the Isotopes (11-14) just squeak by the OKC Dodgers (15-10). Ryan Feltner, fresh off a Major League start, started this ballgame for Albuquerque and got the win (5.0 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 0 HR), outpitching Dodgers righty Beau Burrows (4.0 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 1 HR) in the process. Eight of the nine total runs scored in the contest came off the starters, as both bullpens locked it down after their departures, with OKC’s pen throwing five hitless innings. The final Dodgers threat, a leadoff single in the ninth, was wiped away on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play, and that was that. Next up for the Isotopes in the second game of the series will be right Zach Neal (2-2, 5.59 ERA) facing off against OKC righty Yefry Ramírez (1-0, 3.57 ERA).
Another tough outing for Mitch Kilkenny, who drops to 0-4 on the season after lasting just three innings (3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HR) against the Rumble Ponies (7-14), who beat Hartford (11-11) in the series opener. The Yard Goats were stifled by Binghamton starter José Butto (4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 HR) and couldn’t quite come through in the clutch, going hitless in ten at-bats as a team with runners in scoring position. Jameson Hannah was the best player on the diamond for Hartford, reaching base safely in all four plate appearances via a single, double and two walks. Ezequiel Tovar’s single with two outs in the ninth inning brought the go-ahead run to the plate, but Kyle Datres grounded into a twin killing and that was that. Of note: Tovar’s single was the second time he reached safely following his walk in the fifth, and he’s now reached base twice or more in five straight games. Another encouraging sign was righty Riley Pint, who got himself into a mess to begin the eight inning but pitched out of it when it looked like things could go awry. Three of the first four batters reached via a hit-by-pitch, a walk and a soft infield single, but Pint then struck out the next two with the bases juiced, including K’ing top Mets prospect Francisco Álvarez to end the frame.
A type of ballgame you won’t see in the Majors this season: four pitchers used, 2-1 final, 1 hour and 55 minutes of game time. Spokane (12-10) sent out righty Mike Ruff to the mound, and he was excellent (7.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 0 HR), getting a well-deserved third win of the season by outdueling Dust Devils (11-10) righty Braden Olt (6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR). The Indians managed just three hits to Tri-City’s eight and scored the would-be winning run in the second thanks to a throwing error on a pickoff attempt, and they made that second run hold up. Drew Romo and Grant Lavigne had a hit and a walk each, with Lavigne’s single scoring Romo after he doubled with two outs in the first. Next up for Spokane will be righty Tony Locey (0-1, 2.81 ERA), matched up against righty Jake Smith (0-2, 3.31 ERA).
The lone comfortable win across Rockies MiLB affiliates had everything you’d like, as Fresno (14-8) kept rolling in all areas, winning a ballgame that was never in doubt from the fifth inning onwards. Starter Cullen Kafka was great (7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 0 HR) and seven of the Grizzlies’ eleven hits went for extra bases, with every batter except for Hunter Goodman getting at least a hit. Fresno hit Modesto starter William Fleming for three runs across four innings (4.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 HR), and Warming Bernabel’s three-run homer in the fifth off reliever Juan Burgos put the game away for good. The Grizzlies have won seven in a row and will look to make it eight with young righty Case Williams (1-1, 6.92 ERA) on the mound. Williams is coming off his best outing of the season, five innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts for his first win of the year.
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