Hitter Rookie Review — Jul 12, 2022

Let’s review another trio of rookie hitters. Since I have finished updating my reviews on the hitters I first reviewed earlier in the year, I won’t be comparing performance splits from before I posted my review with after. Instead, I’ll focus on the full season performance. Today’s trio represent another handful of top prospects. Let’s see how they have performed.

Adley Rutschman | C BAL

Rutschman was our number one prospect heading into the season after being selected first overall during the 2019 Amateur Draft. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, part of his prospect allure is drive by his strong defense behind the plate. While that will keep him in the lineup if he endures a slump at the plate, it won’t help in the standard five categories, aside from potentially increasing his PA count and counting stats.

In the minors, his power was above average, but nothing more and he obviously isn’t a basestealer. Perhaps his best skill was his plate discipline. He walked at a double digit clip everywhere he played, while only striking out in the mid-to-high teens, backed by a single digit SwStk% mark. His minor league career did not suggest a fantasy star, but still a pretty good contributor for a catcher. In OBP leagues, he actually could end up being a star.

Over his first 163 MLB PAs, the shape of his performance is mostly in line with his minor league record. His walk rate has declined, but still remains well above league average. Both his strikeout rate and SwStk% have remained stable, which is a good sign. He hasn’t quite shown the home run power yet, but has hit a lot of doubles, so those could eventually turn into dingers.

Despite a pretty good batted ball distribution profile, he’s sitting with just a .250 BABIP, resulting in an ugly .221 average. But Statcast thinks he deserves much better, calculating a .270 xBA. I think he should improve over the rest of the season as well, with a higher HR/FB rate and a better BABIP that doesn’t make him a negative in batting average.

MJ Melendez | C KC

Melendez was the Royals second best prospect heading into the season and 24th overall. He enjoyed a massive power breakout last year between Double-A and Triple-A, as his HR/FB rate more than tripled from its single digit mark at High-A in 2019, while his ISO more than doubled. He did all that while cutting down on his strikeout rate and walking often. As a catcher, he was suddenly one of the more exciting offensive prospects.

Over his first 229 PAs in the Majors, his power hasn’t been quite up to the levels he broke out to last year. His HR/FB rate still sits at a healthy mid-teen level, but his ISO has fallen just short of .200. It’s still above average power, especially for catcher, but perhaps slightly disappointing given the massive spike last year.

Like Rutschman, Melendez has also struggled with his BABIP, an Statcast isn’t as excited about his batted ball profile, only calculating an xBA a bit higher than his actual mark, as compared with Rutschman, whose xBA is significantly higher. As a fly ball hitter with a history of low LD% marks and mediocre BABIP marks, I’m not sure his BABIP is due for significantly better. I’m curious if the power improves, though.

Alek Thomas | OF ARI

Thomas was the Diamondbacks second ranked prospect and 27th overall, bringing his power/speed combo that makes us fantasy owners drool. While he has posted consistent HR/FB rates hovering around 20%, plus a mark nearing 30% at Triple-A last year, his ISO marks and home run total have been held back by his low FB%.

Surprisingly, he has typically posted fly ball rates in the mid-20% range, which isn’t what you want from a guy who is consistently posting 20% HR/FB rates. The lack of fly balls have helped his BABIP though, but has generally capped his full season home run pace at 20 dingers.

Nothing has changed in his first taste of the Majors. His FB% sits at a lowly 24.8%, and since he has rarely hit line drives, his GB% sits at the second highest mark among hitters with at least 200 PAs. He’s not even getting the benefit in his BABIP from all those grounders given the lack of line drives, which has resulted in just a .241 batting average.

He has stolen four bases so far, for a pace just into double digits, so he’s still showing off that power and speed, as he remains on about a 20/10 pace. The team has been giving him time against lefties, so it’s a good sign he hasn’t been pushed into a strict platoon. I think he can remain a decent fantasy performer, but that low FB% is going to hold him back from being a big home run contributor.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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