Mike Tauchman deserves nothing less than the clickbaitiest of headlines. He’s my favorite player nearly no one has heard of or cares about, a name I draft that genuinely forces people to Google his name, a Triple-A hitter not only too old to be a prospect but also maybe too old to be a post-hype prospect, if he ever were a prospect, which he never was. No one has heard of or cares about him because of any combination of: (1) he is not and never was a prospect; (2) there are a fair number of actual prospects in Colorado’s actual farm system who are actually exciting; (3) prospect status notwithstanding, he has no path to playing time because the Rockies habitually bury their actually exciting talent. At 28, Tauchman ain’t getting any younger, and I ain’t either. He deserves all the hype he can get, and I’m here to dish it out.
I’ve had my eye on Tauchman for a couple of years now. In 2015, at Double-A, he hit .294/.335/.381 with 25 stolen bases, a 12.3% strikeout rate (K%), and an 8.3% walk rate (BB%). I’m a sucker for non-prospects with what appears to be plus contact skills and another above-average tool — in this case, speed. Contact skills break not only the game’s best prospects but also make the game’s sleepiest non-prospects. (I consider contact the prospecting world’s biggest market inefficiency.) Tauchman’s biggest problem was he sorely lacked power, hitting just three home runs across 563 plate appearances. His 2016 season, at this point at Triple-A, was more of the same: .286/.342/.373, 23 steals, 14.6% strikeouts (7.0% swinging strike rate), 7.6% walks… and one home run, good for an astounding 1.0% home run-to-fly ball rate (HR/FB).
Despite the complete absence of power, Tauchman struck me as the kind of hitter I envision Garrett Hampson could be: a high-average speedster, not unlike Ender Inciarte or maybe, more ambitiously, Lorenzo Cain.
Then 2017 happened. In 475 plate appearances, Tauchman hit twice as many home runs as he did in his entire career previously (1,622 plate appearances). Most impressively, though, he retained his excellent contact skills, recording a scant 7.7% whiff rate coupled with a 15.4% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate.
It’s one thing to break out. It’s another thing to break out and put together one of the Minor Leagues’ best power-contact seasons in the last decade. And it’s yet another thing to break out and not only sustain those gains but also improve on them: in 2018, Tauchman hit for more power, struck out less often, and improved his walk rate more than 50%. Tauchman, as firmly a non-prospect as anyone, had maybe two of the best individual power-contact seasons at Triple-A of the last decade.
I looked at every qualified hitter-season in Triple-A dating back to 2009 (so, the last decade). I filtered all the seasons in which a hitter recorded a better combination of plate discipline (as measured by strikeout and walk rates) and power (as measured by isolated power, or ISO) than Tauchman did in 2017 — the weaker of the two seasons, mind you. The results are sparse:
- Dee Brown, 2009
- John Bowker, 2009
- Matt LaPorta, 2009
- Micah Hoffpauir, 2010
- Michael Aubrey, 2010
- Taylor Green, 2011
You may have noticed that this list, aside from being absurdly inauspicious, doesn’t feature a single season after 2011. It wasn’t as difficult in the late-aughts and early-teens to post gaudy power numbers with decent plate discipline. Just like strikeouts have increased steadily at the Major League-level, so, too, have they increased in the minors. Comparing Tauchman’s feat to another era of hitting does his feat a disservice.
So, I indexed every hitter-season in my query (that is, I scaled every performance according to the league’s average line in Triple-A in each year). The results are even sparser:
- Stephen Cardullo, 2016
Cardullo, Tauchman’s teammate, is the only hitter to fit the criteria of besting Tauchman’s 2017 performance in terms of adjusted strikeouts, walks, and power. It would behoove me, of course, to pay lip service to the friendly hitting environs of the Pacific Coast League (PCL). The league-average ISO in 2018 in the PCL was between 16 and 17 points higher than in the International League. OK, fine — let’s index each league for power.
- Luis Antonio Rodriguez, 2010
Ah, yes — 30-year-old journeyman Luis Antonio Rodriguez, of whom I’d never heard prior to writing this sentence.
Tauchman’s lack of comps, especially of good comps, does not preclude him from success. It simply means these waters are mostly uncharted. (Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.) Not having comps, however, is no fun, so I relaxed the thresholds and compiled a promising shortlist of comparable hitter-seasons:
Hoskins is a superlative comp. I’m also shamelessly a big-time Vogelbach truther, although not publicly (he has quite the collection of followers on Twitter). And, frankly, I was (and should still be) a big-time Calhoun truther as recently as last year. We’ve barely had a chance to see what these guys can do; it’s insane to think we know what they’re capable of.
It’s equally insane to not even try to find out if Tauchman can produce at the Major League level. Anyone who doubted the legitimacy of Tauchman’s breakout no longer can. Hardly anyone has achieved in the last decade what Tauchman achieved in his 2017 breakout, let alone his 2018 over-the-top raise; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize Tauchman’s power-contact achievements the last two years have almost no precedent, singularly and in aggregate, in the last decade, at least by the metrics by which I’ve chosen to measure them. I mean, really, no other string of consecutive seasons at Triple-A the last decade comes even reasonably close. (And I’ve barely touched on Tauchman’s speed, which is modest but remains in tact — he stole 28 bases the last two years alongside those 36 home runs.)
A mostly-unprecedented display of contact skills and power does not make Tauchman elite in either category. That, I should make clear. Truthfully, he probably grades out above-average for each and nothing more. His fairly shallow launch angle holds him back a little, and it’s no guarantee the double-digit walk rate sticks. I don’t think Tauchman is truly a Hoskins redux — Hoskins’ launch angle is much steeper; their power plays up in totally different ways — but I could imagine Tauchman putting together an ideal-case batting line not unlike George Springer’s 2018 season (22 home runs, six stolen bases, 20% walks, 10% strikeouts, .265/.346/.434, 119 wRC+), a down year for Springer. Basically, Tauchman could be a bad George Springer, which was a top-75 player last year. Tauchman being a bad George Springer is akin to finding a $5 on the ground: you did virtually nothing to earn it, and now you can buy a breakfast burrito. I’ll take that!
I’m not even sure where this all leaves us. You’ve now finished reading the definitive Mike Tauchman hype post, and Mike Tauchman still has scarcely any playing time available to him. Tauchman’s only realistic in-roads are in the outfield — presumably left field, although he spent most of his time in center — but that’s probably Ian Desmond’s primary home. (Good lord, that Desmond signing.)
But at least you’re a Tauchman fan now. Or you’re not! Your loss. The projections aren’t particularly fond of Tauchman either. I would guess they’re still not sold on almost 1,000 plate appearances of offensive dominance because it came out of nowhere at a very late age. I don’t care! Late-career breakouts happen all the time; the Rockies’ own Charlie Blackmon didn’t break out until age 27 and didn’t show legitimate power until age 29.
Color me a believer. And if the old adage, the cream rises to the top — the fantasy baseball axiom-equivalent is to deride no path to playing time, as there’s always a path carved out by injuries and poor performance — then 2019 will be the Year of Tauchman. Spend your 46th-round pick on him in your National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) draft-and-hold and let’s ride this out together for better or for worse. You’ve got virtually nothing to lose and a bad-George Springer-breakfast burrito to gain.
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