Balance is crucial to success in baseball, whether it be at the plate, on the mound or on the stat sheet.
Of particular importance on the stat sheet are strikeouts and walks, because the gap between the two rates continues to widen at the major league level. In fact, the gap between strikeout rate and walk rate reached 12.9 percent through the first two and a half months of this season after peaking at 12.7 percent in 2014 and 2015. See chart at right.
Given this league-wide trend, it follows that players who can balance their strikeout and walk outcomes have a higher probability of finding success in the majors. For example, when we ran the numbers in 2014, we singled out then-prospects such as Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa because they had strong walk-to-strikeout ratios in the minors. The same query in 2015 turned up Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto and Stephen Piscotty.
So now we turn our attention to this season’s batch of prospects with strong walk-to-strikeout ratios. The ranking that results includes only players who strike out 20 percent of the time or less (because they can theoretically weather a bit of attrition in this category as they face better pitchers) and those with an isolated slugging percentage of .100 or greater (because hitters who show no power see almost exclusively strikes from opposing pitchers and, therefore, draw fewer walks).
Rates stats included are measured through games of June 20.
1. Alex Bregman, ss, Astros
Team: Double-A Corpus Christi (Texas). Age: 22.
BB/SO: 1.48. BB: 13.2%. SO: 8.9%. ISO: .267.
Bregman earned a reputation for bat control and plate discipline at Louisiana State, and now the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft has added power to his portfolio to produce the finest first half by a prospect. Astros big league shortstop Carlos Correa also excelled with his walk-to-strikeout ratio when he was a prospect, and Bregman should join Correa in the Houston infield later this season, possibly at third base.
2. Kevin Newman, ss, Pirates
Team: Double-A Altoona (Eastern). Age: 22.
BB/SO: 1.13. BB: 8.6%. SO: 7.6%. ISO: .121.
The former Arizona shortstop and 19th overall selection in 2015, Newman only recently advanced to Double-A from high Class A Bradenton. Regardless, his hitting approach is professional grade, and he has a long track record for hitting for average and for showing balanced strikeout and walk rates. Only below-average power could impede Newman’s impact potential at higher levels.
3. Willson Contreras, c, Cubs
Team: Triple-A Iowa (Pacific Coast). Age: 24.
BB/SO: 0.88. BB: 11.7%. SO: 13.3%. ISO: .240.
Contreras recently made his big league debut, but for the first two and a half months of 2016, he served as the finest hitting catcher in the minors. He made a significant offensive breakthrough in 2015 at Double-A Tennessee, drawing 57 walks against 62 strikeouts and winning the Southern League batting title, and he carried that progress to Triple-A this season while continuing to add power.
4. Andrew Benintendi, of, Red Sox
Team: Double-A Portland (Eastern). Age: 21.
BB/SO: 0.85. BB: 8.2%. SO: 9.7%. ISO: .193.
The BA College Player of the Year last year remained on the board until the seventh pick of the 2015 draft, and Benintendi had no trouble carrying his hitting approach at Arkansas to pro ball. He has hit .308 with more walks (58) than strikeouts (52) in his career up through Double-A. Listed at just 5-foot-10, the center fielder has a slight frame—but strong forearms—and has driven the ball to the gap consistently this season despite hitting just four home runs.
5. Jake Bauers, of, Rays
Team: Double-A Montgomery (Southern). Age: 20.
BB/SO: 0.80. BB: 12.5%. SO: 15.6%. ISO: .129.
While Latin American shortstops Ozzie Albies and Willy Adames are younger than Bauers, he was the youngest draft-eligible position player in the Southern League in the first half. The lefty-hitting first baseman-turned-right fielder ranks second in the SL with 36 walks, and his sweet swing, advanced plate discipline and improving power production mark him as a precocious prospect on the rise.
6. Dansby Swanson, ss, Braves
Team: Double-A Mississippi (Southern). Age: 22.
BB/SO: 0.69. BB: 11.5%. SO: 16.6%. ISO: .156.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft whom the Diamondbacks exchanged for Shelby Miller last December, Swanson needed only a month at high Class A Carolina this season before being deemed ready for Double-A. He notably struck out 16 percent of the time as a Vanderbilt junior in 2015, and his whiff rate has climbed to 18 percent though his first two months in the Southern League, a trend that bears monitoring.
7. Josh Bell, 1b, Pirates
Team: Triple-A Indianapolis (International). Age: 23.
BB/SO: 0.69. BB: 11.6%. SO: 16.8%. ISO: .209.
The switch-hitting first baseman may not be the smoothest defender—he converted from right field last season—but his bat improves each season, which has him on the cusp of a big league callup. Bell’s name litters the International League leaderboards. He ranks among the circuit leaders for average, RBIs, walks, on-base percentage, extra-base hits and slugging.
8. Willy Adames, ss, Rays
Team: Double-A Montgomery (Southern). Age: 20.
BB/SO: 0.64. BB: 12.8%. SO: 19.9%. ISO: .209.
Tampa Bay tends to target the right players when making deals. The Rays acquired Jake Bauers (above) when they traded Wil Myers after the 2014 season, and they picked up Adames when they dealt David Price to the Tigers at the 2014 deadline. Those two now rank as the system’s top two position prospects. Adames’ youth, power production, batting eye and position value make his strikeout rate tolerable.
9. Brandon Nimmo, of, Mets
Team: Triple-A Las Vegas (Pacific Coast). Age: 23.
BB/SO: 0.64. BB: 11.3%. SO: 17.7%. ISO: .185.
The first-ever first-rounder from the state of Wyoming could be nearing the moment of his big league debut. Nimmo hit just .260 at Las Vegas with four extra-base hits in April to fall off the radar a bit, but in his past 40 games he has hit .356 with 1.037 OPS and .245 isolated slugging percentage. The lefty-hitting center fielder has maintained his strong walk-to-strikeout ration in that time.