Hitter Rookie Review — Jul 7, 2022

Back in mid-May, I started reviewing some of the top rookie hitters. Back then, a little less than a month and a half were in the books, so we were still in small sample territory. Let’s now review those same three rookies and find out how they have performed since.

Bobby Witt Jr. | 3B KC

Performance Splits
Thru 5/16 5 4.6% 24.6% 0.261 7.3% 0.211 0.254 0.366 0.154 0.270
Since 7 6.8% 24.5% 0.289 14.5% 0.253 0.307 0.500 0.247 0.341

Witt opened the season poorly, posting a weak .270 wOBA with middling power. Those who have stuck with him have been duly rewarded. He has continued to steal bases as expected, but now he’s actually hitting. His wOBA has shot up to a much more respectable .341, and that’s been driven primarily by an increased BABIP and a near doubling of his HR/FB rate.

Interestingly, his BABIP still remains just average, but that’s likely thanks to a low LD% and an extreme fly ball profile. Over his short minor league career, he was always an extreme flyballer, so I wouldn’t expect that to suddenly change. He still managed BABIP marks over .300 in the minors though, but the defense is significantly better in the Majors, so it’ll be more difficult to reach that .300 level without an adjustment to his batted ball profile.

His power took a bit of time, but is now right where we would have expected given his minor league track record and scouting. His maxEV is a fantastic 113.7 MPH, so I would argue there’s even more HR/FB rate potential in that bat. He’s pretty clearly not overmatched and looks en route to becoming a star and all-around fantasy contributor, with his batting average the only real question mark.

Julio Rodríguez | OF SEA

Performance Splits
Thru 5/16 10 7.8% 31.9% 0.378 7.4% 0.256 0.319 0.357 0.101 0.298
Since 11 6.1% 24.7% 0.333 27.7% 0.293 0.348 0.580 0.287 0.395

When I first discussed Rodríguez, he had been struggling with strikeouts, showing almost no power, and had benefited from an inflated .378 BABIP. He was stealing bases like crazy though, so his fantasy owners didn’t care, but there was risk of a demotion if his weak offense continued. Luckily, it did not. In fact, he has been an absolute monster since I posted my article.

His strikeout rate has come down, and while his BABIP has normalized, his batting average has still shot up thanks to a blossoming of his power. His HR/FB rate has nearly quadrupled, while his ISO has neared .300. That’s elite! When you consider he’s just 21, you realize that this is what a future superstar does at that age.

He has continued to run at a frantic pace, putting him on pace for over 40 steals over a full season. Did anyone expect that heading into the season?! I sure didn’t. He’s also on pace for 30 homers. Wouldn’t it be something if he recorded a 30/40 season?! I’m not sure when the last time that happened was. His maxEV is even more impressive than the impressive mark Witt Jr. has posted at 115 MPH. That puts him with elite company. My only quibble is he’s lost his plate patience so his walk rate has plummeted, but I’m sure he’ll get more patient as he settles in. He’s a keeper, obviously.

Spencer Torkelson | 1B DET

Performance Splits
Thru 5/16 0 13.0% 31.3% 0.203 12.0% 0.153 0.278 0.255 0.102 0.252
Since 0 8.2% 21.2% 0.270 5.6% 0.221 0.288 0.328 0.107 0.274

Oyyy vey. While Witt Jr. and Rodríguez have both rebounded off weak starts to hit like the top prospects they were ranked as, Torkelson has not. His two periods have been strange. On the one hand, he cut his strikeout rate significantly from the inflated mark he opened the year with. On the other hand, he stopped walking. His BABIP has rebounded from super ugly to merely below league average. With his batted ball profile, I expect that .270 mark to come close to his current true talent level.

The biggest disappointment here has been his lack of power output. You could forgive the .102 ISO early on as a small sample artifact, but that hasn’t increased at all ever since, and his HR/FB rate has actually declined from 12% to just 5.6%! On the season, his HR/FB rate stands at just 8.2% and his ISO is a paltry .105. Even Elvis Andrus has posted a higher ISO than he has!

It’s surprising, considering his maxEV stands at a perfectly healthy 111.5 MPH. That’s not elite and lower than the above two, but I consider anything over 110 as pretty darn good. It typically equates to a HR/FB rate in the mid-teens at the very least. The problem here when checking his fly ball splits is that the majority of his flies have been hit “medium” and his Hard% is below the league average. Furthermore, he’s going to the opposite way more frequently, while he has pulled his flies less often than the league average. So it’s pretty clear it hasn’t been bad luck, he’s just not hitting his flies in an ideal way.

Let’s remember that not ever rookie hits the ground running. The respectable maxEV proves there’s power in his bat and he’s still posting solid plate discipline metrics. A low BABIP might always curb his fantasy value, but there should be ample improvement in his results moving forward.

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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6 months ago

If you are doing the top rookies in AL, how could you not include Pena?