Hitter Rookie Review — May 19, 2022

Yesterday, I reviewed three rookie hitters, all of whom happened to be top five prospects heading into the season. Let’s review another three today using the same format.

Jeremy Peña | SS HOU

Peña was our 31st overall prospect heading into the season after he enjoyed a massive power breakout over a small sample size at Triple-A in 2021. There, his HR/FB rate skyrocketed to 37% and ISO jumped to .311. Was this the sign his power was blossoming or just a small sample fluke? So far, it looks like the former, as Peña’s HR/FB rate during his rookie campaign sits at 21.9% and ISO at .255. I was bullish on him heading into the season and my only caution was before the various shortstop free agents had signed and we weren’t sure Peña would even have a starting job. Now with a .380 wOBA, he’s been even better than anyone could have predicted.

Good News:

  • The power! While his maxEV of 110.5 is decent, it’s not as high as you might expected given the HR/FB rate, but it’s made up for by a 13.1% Barrel%
  • His FB% has rebounded after dipping at Triple-A in 2021, which has resulted in him taking full advantage of his 20%+ HR/FB rate
  • His strikeout rate has actually improved versus Triple-A, while his SwStk% is lower than that season and at High-A
  • His xwOBA almost perfectly matches his wOBA, so while we can’t be sure he’ll maintain the performance/skills driving that xwOBA, at least we know he hasn’t required good fortune to reach that .380 wOBA

Bad News:

  • He has attempted just one steal in nearly the same number of PAs as in 2021 at Triple-A, where he attempted six steals and was successful five times
  • Even with the strong start, the Astros lineup is so good that he continues to bat near the bottom of it in most games, reducing his PAs and counting stats
  • He has been really bad defensively, posting a UZR/150 of -11.7, so he might need to keep hitting and avoid an extended slump to remain in the lineup every day

There are no obvious signs that this is a fluke, so any slowdown prediction would be predicated on the law of averages and the odds that a rookie is unable to maintain such strong performance. I would love to see him run a bit more, but that’s just nitpicking.

Seiya Suzuki | OF CHC

A rookie by MLB rules, but obviously not a rookie in terms of professional baseball, having played years in the Japanese league before coming to MLB this season. Suzuki enjoyed strong offensive years in Japan, so expectations were high, with the usual caveat of whether a foreign player can make the transition to Major League pitching. So far, so good, as he has posted a .357 wOBA and .209 ISO.

Good News:

  • He’s been a walking machine, posting a 13.2% walk rate and swinging at pitches outside the strike zone at a significantly better than league average clip
  • Though he has struck out often, he has actually made excellent contact with a single digit SwStk% at just 9.5%
  • He has hit a high rate of fly balls, which will have a nice effect on his home run total when/if he boosts his HR/FB rate
  • A maxEV of 110.9 and Barrel% of 13.9% indicates he owns some above average power

Bad News:

  • He has struck out a lot because of ultra passivity, as he has swung at pitches inside the strike zone at a worse than league average clip and is therefore seeing a a high rate of called strikes
  • His batted ball profile, heavy on flies, and light on line drives, does not support a .353 BABIP
  • His defense has been weak, having posted a UZR/150 of -3.5, which adds risk to his playing time if he slumps

Overall, it’s been a very solid debut for Suzuki so far. It’s a bit of a disappointment that he has posted just an 11.1% HR/FB rate, but I think that clearly rises. Given a strong walk rate, his value gets a big boost in OBP leagues. I would easily hold here if I were an owner.

Sheldon Neuse | 3B OAK

Neuse is the least prospecty of this group, last being ranked 51st on his team among top prospects. He’s already 27 and has had a couple of short stints in the Majors, but nothing more than 66 PAs. He has bounced around organizations, so it was fair to be skeptical that he would hit now with the Athletics, let alone even be given an opportunity to start every day. Amazingly, as the Athletics sit at the bottom of the wOBA rankings in all of baseball, he has been just about the only bright spot, with a .330 mark.

Good News:

  • His batted ball profile, heaving on line drives, and light on fly balls and pop-ups, lends itself to a high BABIP (though probably not .386 high!)
  • He has already attempted five stolen bases, putting him on a near 23 stolen base pace over 600 PAs, which is not a fantasy contribution anyone expected

Bad News:

  • Though good for BABIP, a 17.6% FB% is extremely low and really caps his home run potential
  • He’s had a history of high BABIP marks, but it’s hard to imagine him maintaining a .386 mark all season!
  • His low Barrel% and mediocre maxEV suggests a HR/FB rate spike isn’t imminent, which means he’ll have a tough time contributing in home runs if he doesn’t improve that FB% dramatically
  • He has been terrible defensively, at both first base, and third base, which has been the position he has played the most, posting a -29.7 UZR/150 there, which puts his playing time at risk if/when that BABIP declines and his FB% doesn’t rebound, improving his power output

The best thing Neuse has going for him right now is that he’s on the league’s worst offense, which means the Athletics don’t exactly have any better alternatives. They certainly won’t be yanking their best hitter from the starting lineup anytime soon! But I don’t think he’ll remain their best hitter for much longer as his offensive profile is mostly smoke and mirrors.

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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2 months ago

“He has been really bad defensively, posting a UZR/150 of -11.7, so he might need to keep hitting and avoid an extended slump to remain in the lineup every day.”

You said this re: Pena. Feels extremely misleading to use one defensive stat to make a definitive statement regarding his defense when this website has him as a great defender and he’s in the 92nd percentile in OAA.

Detroit Michaelmember
2 months ago
Reply to  jbgocubs

Defensive Runs Saved (which powers the bb-ref version of WAR) thinks he’s even better than Statcast OAA. Perhaps a better summary is that the defensive metrics are mixed and we’ll need more than a quarter of a season to sort them out.

Harrison Friedman
2 months ago
Reply to  jbgocubs

He’s certainly unlikely to be benched by the Astros due to defensive reasons, having watched many of his games this season. UZR just doesn’t capture shifts, unfortunately.