Just like in any other major league baseball season, this season there have been a great many players playing the game as rookies. These players now have some MLB experience (and stats!) under their belts to go along with an extensive minor league career stat sheet. It’s time to do some rookie analysis!
For a player to qualify as a rookie, for the purposes of this article series, the player has to be classified at fangraphs.com as a rookie. All stats are courtesy of fangraphs.com unless otherwise indicated.
Today I want to look closely at two young talents that have hit a combined 36 home runs this season in a combined 573 plate appearances. Those talented prospects turned MLB rookies are none other than St. Louis Cardinals shortstop / second baseman Paul DeJong and Chicago Cubs second baseman Ian Happ.
279 plate appearances, 19 HR, 34 R, 46 RBI, 0 SB, .305 batting average
Mr. DeJong did not make my top 100 prospects list this past offseason. However, just because he didn’t make my top 100 prospects list doesn’t mean he wasn’t thought of as a good prospect. He was a good prospect that had a nice upside to his game. There just were at least 100 other prospects I liked better than him.
It’s safe to say that fantasy baseball owners who have Mr. DeJong on their teams are quite happy with how he has produced this season. Entering the season he was coming off a 2016 season where he spent all (552 plate appearances) of his time in AA ball. While there he had a .200 isolated power (ISO) and 22 home runs while hitting for a .260 batting average. The power display in 2017 shouldn’t be a huge surprise (other than maybe it coming right away in his rookie season) because of that 2016 performance. The batting average shouldn’t be a surprise either as he has usually had a similar batting average.
The concern I have with Mr. DeJong is his strikeout percentage (K%). In his time at the major league level this season he has posted a 30.5% K%. That is an awful strikeout percentage. His number of home runs and high BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), which has helped his batting average look very nice, has made it easy for fantasy baseball owners to stomach this strikeout percentage. The big question these fantasy baseball owners should be asking themselves is this: How long will he continue to hit for a batting average at or above .275 going forward with this high strikeout percentage? So far so good…but I sense some negative regression coming with the batting average.
Another concern is Mr. DeJong really doesn’t walk all too often. His 3.6% BB% (awful) shows that.
The glass half-full crowd will look at his 24.7% K% that he had in 190 AAA ball plate appearances this season and his 26.1% K% that he had in AA ball in 2016 and say that it’s possible Mr. DeJong will adjust some at the major league level in time and drop his K%. That possibility could very well happen. However, we also must accept that the major league level of play is a noticeable jump in level of play compared to the competition in AA and AAA ball. I’d say it’s more unlikely than likely that he cuts his K% down by much at all.
So, in short, what you currently see is what I think the ceiling for Mr. DeJong is. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his batting average take a dip down to the .280 to .290 range though this season. The sample size is large enough with him at the major league level that I can see him having some full-season 30 plus home run seasons ahead of him with a .260 or better batting average.
294 plate appearances, 17 HR, 39 R, 42 RBI, 7 SB, .244 batting average
Just like with Mr. DeJong, here we have a hitter that has a high strikeout percentage (30.3%). However, unlike Mr. DeJong, this prospect turned player only has a .244 batting average. So, why is Mr. Happ’s batting average so much lower than Mr. DeJong’s? Well, a nice chunk of the reason is Mr. Happ only has a .297 BABIP in comparison to the high .380 BABIP that Mr. DeJong has been blessed with. In short, it seems that Mr. DeJong has been much more fortunate with the balls that he doesn’t miss while swinging finding their way to being hits more often that Mr. Happ’s have.
On December 19, 2016 I wrote this about Ian Happ:
“Assuming Mr. Happ has a full healthy 2017 I would project 17 home runs to go along with a .268 batting average with 14 stolen bases when you combine his stats from all levels of baseball.”
To read the entire article CLICK HERE.
Well, Mr. Happ has exceeded my home run projection this season as he already has 26 between his time in AAA ball and the MLB level. This has been a very pleasant development with him in 2017 and he had an ISO of .317 in AAA ball and has a .260 ISO at the major league level.
Let’s get back to Mr. Happ and the subject of strikeout percentage (K%). Prior to his time at the major league level his highest K% was 23.6% (A ball in 2015). Now, while this and all his other minor league system strikeout percentages receive grades of poor from me, I need to say a couple of things. First off, I’m a tough grader in this area. Secondly, he has typically had an average or better walk percentage (BB%). His 8.5% MLB BB% is average as well. He has consistently displayed a great approach at the plate and also very solid plate discipline.
Mr. Happ is past what I feel will end up being his MLB career ceiling when it comes to ISO as I think it comes down a bit by the end of the 2017 season. This is a guy though that, depending on how he approaches his at-bats, could be a 30 plus home run guy with a .270, maybe .280 batting average, or he could be a 20 plus home run guy with a .295 or higher batting average. He also should be a double-digit stolen base guy.
If I could only keep one player, and I had to choose between Mr. DeJong and Mr. Happ, well, Mr. Happ would be the guy I’d keep.