10 MLB Hitting Prospects With Intriguing Analytical Characteristics
We dove into some of the analytical markers that have become en vogue in regards to pitching performance last week. In hopes of striking the perfect accord, we undergo the task of applying a similar mentality on the hitting side. Pitching and movement in particular have a great deal of complexities, a rabbit hole of information with the ability to get granular within each pitch type. Hitting, while arguably one of the hardest tasks in all of professional sports, is fairly simple on its face. Do you hit the ball? Do you hit the ball hard? Do you walk/swing at strikes? With that information we can get a fairly clear foundational understanding of who a hitter is.
Good hitters typically do two of those things well, while great hitters do all three at an above-average level or better. There’s a variety of metrics available publicly that provide insight to all of this. In the making of this article we contacted sources who provided us with exit velocity data as well as expected data. We will not share specific expected data but will include exit velocity data ranges for the players below. Each of the players discussed here ranked within the top 100 of all minor leaguers in both exWOBA and exISO. We’ll discuss the details of those metrics, as well as a few others, and what findings they present us with.
Additionally, by using the method provided by Alan Nathan we can calculate out estimated bat speed for hitters. As always all expected data for Triple-A is incredibly noisy due to the baseballs used and positive hitting conditions of numerous Triple-A parks.
Exit Velocity: The speed of a batted baseball off of the bat. This is tracked for all batted ball events. There’s different amalgamations of this metric including Average Exit Velocity (the average of all batted balls events), Max Exit Velocity (The highest recorded exit velocity on a batted ball event), as well as percentile measurements. It’s a component of what’s defined as a barrel (the definition of this varies but always includes exit velocity + Launch Angle range). It also directly correlates to two other metrics we’ll discuss: Expected On-Base Average and Expected Isolated Slugging. How hard you hit the ball is a major component of evaluating hitters. This isn’t new, but the precision at which we measure this ability has evolved.
90th Percentile Exit Velocity: When dealing with data there’s a fair share of misreads on single events. For this reason 90th percentile exit velocity is a less noisy way to evaluate the ability to “hit the ball hard”. While it’s still looking at a high end batted ball event (average of batted ball events within the 90th percentile) it eliminates the possibility of a misread, while providing context to a slightly more common batted ball event.
Expected Weighted On-Base Average: This is an all-encompassing measure of the quality of a hitter's batted ball events and serves as a handy way to cross-check the validity or “luck” of a hitter’s production. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (or exWOBA/xWOBA) is calculated from a formula that weighs exit velocity and the launch angle of all batted ball events. In certain batted ball events, run time speed is added into the equation. Much like batting average on balls in play, exWOBA acts as a good way of seeing how lucky or unlucky a player was over a given period.
Expected Isolated Slugging: Isolated slugging is simply the difference between slugging and batting average, subtracting the latter from the former. With expected isolated slugging it’s simply a player’s expected slugging minus a player’s expected batting average. Once again expected batting average and slugging take into account batted ball components (exit velocity, launch angle).
Launch Angle: The angle at which a batted ball leaves the bat. This is measured in increments of degrees. There’s an optimal range of launch angles that spans from 5 degrees to 25 degrees, with the best batted balls between 15 degrees and 25 degrees typically, though that range can vary depending on the exit velocity of the batted ball.
Attack Angle: Is the measurement of the vertical angle of the path of the barrel upon impact with the baseball. The angle is measured within degrees with (Per Driveline) the ideal angle falling between 4 degrees and 21 degrees. This mirrors the approach angle of a majority of pitches. There’s a variety of other concepts discussed in great detail around this idea within the book Quantitative Hitting by D.K. Willardson. It’s a quick and informative read to familiarize yourself with swing path and plane, how it impacts contact quality and subsequently performance.
Contact Rate: The rate at which you make contact with the baseball divided by the number of times you swing. The best metric to identify plus bat to ball abilities, anything above the 80% marker is considered to be plus or better. This is available for most minor leaguers through public sources.
Chase Rate: This correlates heavily with walk rate, naturally the fewer pitches you chase out of the zone, the more walks you’re likely to work. For younger players at more advanced levels it’s a strong marker of baseline approach and quality swing decisions. You can certainly use walk rate as a metric that’s equal in terms of utility.
Anthony Garcia, 1B/OF Yankees | .372 ISO, .493 wOBA, 20.3 BB%, 60.4% Contact Rate
As you’d expect with any grouping where exit velocity is king, the mashers are very much accounted for here. Chief among them is 21-year-old Yankees prospect Anthony Garcia. A large 6-foot-5 slugger with max exit velocities clocked as high as 116 mph, Garcia’s 90th percentile exit velocity (per sources) is above 110 mph and ranks well within the top 10 of the minor leagues. Sources who spoke with Baseball America this offseason all lauded Garcia’s improvements at the plate. Despite a fair amount of swing and miss present in his game, evaluators felt his combination of on-base ability, swing decisions (18.6% chase rate) and plus-plus raw power would allow him to overcome his contact woes. That said, it’s still an excessive three true outcomes approach with questions around where he lands defensively, as most sources we spoke with do not believe his long-term home is the outfield.
Takeaway: Garcia checks two of the boxes at the plate—he hits the ball hard and he walks/swings at strikes. Hitting the ball with regularity is another story, as his 60% contact rate, though improving, is still below-average. His power is so generational that slight improvements in his ability to put the bat on the ball could pay long-term dividends. Garcia is still a somewhat flawed prospect with a very intriguing set of skills.
Diego Cartaya, C Dodgers | .316 ISO, .438 wOBA, 13.1 BB%, 66.4% Contact Rate
Potentially a monster in the making, Cartaya is one of the best hitters based on data in the minor leagues. Cartaya shows above-average raw power with his max exit velocity sitting above 107 mph and his 90th percentile hovering around 105 mph (per sources). Keep in mind that Cartaya was just 19 years old and dealing with a nagging back injury that plagued him all season. There’s certainly some swing and miss (illustrated by his 33.6% whiff rate), but it’s important to keep in mind Cartaya’s age in relation to his competition. He was two years younger than the average Low-A player, and this was his first exposure to pitching at the full-season level. Where Cartaya excels is his ability to optimize his attack angle and launch angle upon contact, consistently getting himself into a strong position to transfer his energy into power. Additionally, Cartaya’s pitch recognition and swing decisions are strengths, as he keeps his chase rate down and takes his walks. Behind the plate Cartaya, like many catching prospects, is a work in progress, but he gets rave reviews on his arm and his improving ability as a receiver.
Takeaway: Cartaya may arguably have been one of the top teenage hitters in professional baseball this year. His optimized swing consistently puts him in a position to square up the barrel and make high quality contact unmatched by his peers. Cartaya’s exit velocities are above-average to plus for his age range and he shows an above-average to plus ability to draw walks. His fringe-average contact rate should improve with experience, though swing and miss may never disappear from the profile.
Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B Royals | .263 ISO, .415 wOBA, 12.5 BB%, 81.5% Contact Rate
Every year without fail, a position player or two rises from obscurity to notoriety based on strong performance. Pasquantino may prove to be one of those players, with several markers that point to a strong long-term outcome. The combination of plus contact ability and strength-driven raw power are rare. Pasquantino, however, possesses great bat-to-ball skills and hand eye coordination. It’s a true plus hit tool as he adjusts to pitch height, velocity and spin with relative ease. His batted-ball profile is strong as well, showing the ability to hit the ball in the air with consistency, generating flyballs at a rate of nearly 40% and line drives at a rate greater than 24%. This is an easy way to spot a few things: first a more level bat plane, because hard hit drives are turning into liners, but also a high amount of squared-up contact.
This is the story of Pasquantino, who does not need to sell out for power, though he is decidedly pull-heavy. His exit velocity data is excellent, with his max exit velocity sitting at over 116 mph and his 90th percentile exit velocity sitting at around 104.5 mph (per sources). This illustrates Pasquantino’s power perfectly—he’ll rip off one of the hardest balls you’ve seen hit or make contact and shoot a liner up the middle. It’s a contact-over-power profile in the physical form of a power hitter. His power, contact and on-base ability may be enough for him to overcome the unathletic, first base-only tag.
Takeaway: As an area scout with an NL Central team said to me recently, “It’s really hard to be a good enough hitter to be an everyday big league first baseman”.
That’s the question with Pasquantino: is the bat as legitimate as it looked in 2021? All of the underlying numbers and metrics point to its legitimacy. In fact, his expected wOBA was somehow higher than his season wOBA of .415. It’s hard to knock Pasquantino much as a hitter because he’s one of the few on this list to hit the ball, hit the ball hard and get on base consistently.
Juan Yepez, 1B Cardinals | .300 ISO, .413 wOBA, 11.8 BB%, 73.7% Contact Rate
Few players have attracted more fanfare than Yepez in recent months, as the righthanded-hitting slugger worked his way up from unheralded Double-A corner infielder to a spot on the major league playoff roster in just a few months time. Yepez stands out for his combination of feel to hit, plate approach and strength-driven power. Where Yepez really excels is against fastballs. In Triple-A Yepez hit .299/.392/.591 versus fastballs with 8 of his 22 home runs coming against the pitch. While he still has trouble with spin, as a majority of his chases will come from breaking stuff away, he mitigates this with above-average in-zone contact and his aforementioned ability against fastballs. His power is above-average, bordering on plus, with max exit velocities exceeding 110 mph and his 90th percentile in the 104 mph range (per sources).
Based on observations in the Arizona Fall League Yepez takes strong attack angles to the ball, particularly fastballs in the zone, rarely missing an opportunity to barrel up. This shows up in his expected data. While he hits the ball hard, he’s not ranked within the elite in that particular area. Instead, he stands out for his tight launch angle variance, with a great deal of his batted balls traveling from an angle range of 5 degrees to 25 degrees. It’s this uncanny ability to manipulate the barrel that allows Yepez a shot to succeed as a bat-first player at the MLB level. Over the offseason Yepez gained 25 pounds of muscle, and while the added strength paid dividends at the plate, it also sapped some of his athleticism and made him a defensive question mark at any of the three positions (first base, third base and left field) he logged time at this season.
Takeaway: Yepez is another hitter that gets the most of his god given abilities by manipulating the barrel for optimal contact and driving the ball with authority. He’s an average contact hitter, with above-average power and an above-average plate approach. He checks two and a half boxes but I do worry that his aggressive nature to chase more than he should could come back to bite him and manifest itself in slipping walk rates at the major league level.
Josh Jung, 3B Rangers | .266 ISO, .421 wOBA, 9.1 BB%, 73.4% Contact Rate
Few players drew the rave reviews that Jung did from within the organization as well as from opposing scouts and coaches alike. A strong all-around player with a tireless work ethic, Jung made adjustments at the plate coming into 2021 that allowed him to connect earlier and drive the ball to his pull side with greater regularity. Jung saw a 20% increase in his pull-side batted balls and a 30% decrease in his opposite field contact. With this new pull-side approach Jung was able to tap into his above-average raw power. It materialized in games, as he slugged .592 with 42 extra-base hits in 78 games played. The metrics backed this newfound extra gear of power, as Jung hit a max exit velocity of over 109 mph with a 90th percentile exit velocity of greater than 105 mph (per sources). Jung is another hitter who squares up with regularity, leading to a high rate of barrel contact (greater than 95 mph and between 5 degrees to 25 degrees of launch angle) and high expected results with an expected weighted on-base average (exWOBA) above .400, an elite marker. Jung is also blessed with excellent bat speed, rating at an estimated bat speed of 78.6 mph—within the top 10 percentile of minor league hitters in 2021.
Takeaways: By adjusting his middle-to-opposite-field approach from his amateur and early pro days Jung was able to tap into another level of in-game power. With above-average bat-to-ball skills, an average plate approach and above-average raw power Jung is optimized and ready to contribute on the big league roster in 2022, as he proved to be one of the best hitters in the upper minors throughout 2021.
Five Players Who Could Be The No. 1 Prospect In 2023
If all of the Top 10 prospects graduate, the obvious question is: Who’s going to be the game’s top prospect at this time next year? We have a few guesses.
Anthony Volpe, SS Yankees | .311 ISO, .449 wOBA, 15.2 BB%, 77.4% Contact Rate
The amount of superlatives coming from evaluators is overwhelming when it comes to the Delbarton (N.J.) High product. Volpe in 2021 hit .294/.423/.604 with 27 home runs and 78 walks to 101 strikeouts. He made major gains over the 2020 shutdown, staying in frequent contact with the organization and putting in noticeable work in the weight room and in the cage. What emerged was a gifted hitter with a high baseball IQ. This materialized in production as well as his underlying data. The shortstop shows above-average bat-to-ball skills flirting with a near 80% contact rate, while displaying almost militant plate discipline, hardly expanding with a chase rate near 20%.
The extra work in the weight room materialized in more in-game power, best exemplified in his 27 home runs and 68 extra-base hits in 2021. Behind the numbers lies an even more encouraging trend as Volpe’s max exit velocity clocked in at greater than 109 mph with an average exit velocity just below 90 mph. Both markers were up significantly from 2019 and the organization lauded his ability to add loft to his swing while maintaining contact. This was achieved by optimizing his attack angle on the ball, and relying on his refined baseline hitterish instincts to translate to a tighter, more optimized launch angle on batted balls. This is where Volpe really excels, optimizing his attack angle at the point of contact and swinging at only strikes he knows he can drive.
Takeaway: Volpe is the best all-around player and hitter on this list with an optimized swing path, plus contact, plus power, plus approach and an up-the-middle defensive profile. The data and his 2021 production back a star in the making.
Orelvis Martinez, SS Blue Jays | .289 ISO, .399 wOBA, 9.5 BB%, 69.2% Contact Rate
The Blue Jays infielder hits the ball hard at just 19 years old. Martinez’s max exit velocity was greater than 110 mph with a 90th percentile exit velocity in the 106 mph range (per sources). This plus-plus raw power really began to translate into in-game power when Martinez began to be more selective with his pitches. An increased focus on expanding less and working the inner half of the plate paid dividends. He’s a heavy pull-side hitter with over 50% of his contact going to that side. However, he does possess the power to drive the ball to the opposite field and his current build portends to potential strength gains. Despite a strong statistical season Martinez actually underperformed his expected markers with an expected wOBA nearly 20 points higher than his actual wOBA and an expected isolated slugging nearly 40 points higher than his actual ISO. All this to say Martinez’s season perhaps could have been better. He played a majority of his games at shortstop but he is likely to slow down as he adds bulk to his frame, ultimately settling in at third base, where his arm should play.
Takeaways: Hitting the ball hard is the substance that cures all ills. As Martinez began to refine his approach and define himself as a hitter he began to materialize into the slugger many envisioned. His underlying metrics say just this—as he became more patient and expanded less he began to drive the ball with greater authority. Martinez is a promising power hitter with a long-term corner infield profile and the plus-plus power to make it work.
Jhonkensy Noel, 1B/3B Guardians | .275 ISO, .436 wOBA, 5.9 BB%, 70.1% Contact Rate
Recently added to the Guardians 40 man roster, Noel missed time due to injury in 2021 but made the most of his time on the field, hitting .340/.390/.615. His expected data backs his surge as well, with his expected isolated slugging a facsimile of his actual ISO. His expected weighted on-base average was below his actual .436 mark but was comfortably in plus territory, pushing up on .400 and ranking within the top 30 of non-Triple-A exWOBA leaders. His exit velocity numbers are breathtaking, with his max exit velocity in 2021 above 115 mph with a 90th percentile of greater than 109 mph (per sources). He ranks extremely high among estimated bat speed leaders as well, ranking within the top 10 of players 20 years of age or younger. This brute strength and twitch allow Noel’s power to play at an elite plus-plus level. This in turn allows him to overcome his aggressive tendencies, but there’s always likely to be swing and miss.
Takeaway: Once again, hitting the ball hard often translates to success. When you hit the ball as hard and with as much consistency as anyone on the planet it leads to greater success. That’s Noel’s season described succinctly, but there are some concerning trends in regards to chase (above 33%) and his fringe-average bat-to-ball skills. Additionally, he’ll need to prove he can hit lefthanders as he moves up the ladder. He struggled versus southpaws in 2021 and it’s further evidence that he’s walking a tightrope with his approach. Noel has Superhero power with unrefined plate discipline.
Alex Binelas, 1B/3B Red Sox | .273 ISO, .433 wOBA, 10.7 BB%, 66.3% Contact Rate
An early slide saw the once highly touted draft prospect hitting just .230/.311/.471 in his junior season with Louisville as the calendar turned to April. However, from April 2 until the end of the season Binelas hit .286/.377/.762, slugging 15 home runs over a 27-game stretch against ACC and SEC competition, rejuvenating what once looked like a lost season for Binelas. It still was not enough to get Binelas back into the first two rounds, as he slipped into the third. The lefthanded power hitter did, however, land in a familiar landing spot with his hometown Brewers. Binelas’ power is impressive, with a max exit velocity in the 111 mph range and a 90th percentile exit velocity above 107 mph (per sources), no surprise to anyone that’s seen him at his best as an amateur.
While hitting the ball hard is important, making contact to reap the benefits of said hard-hit balls is equally important. This is where Binelas has struggled, sometimes unable to make enough contact to reap the rewards of his plus power. Even with excellent overall performance numbers and expected data, Binelas still whiffed at a high rate of 33.6%. His below-average bat-to-ball skills are helped by his plus power, but to a greater degree his above-average plate approach and on-base ability. He does a good job covering the middle-in half of the plate and does well to stay away from the outer half, where his swing struggles to extend on the outer edge. Acquired by the Red Sox at the beginning of December 2021, Binelas joins a cast of similarly powerful sluggers with hit tool concerns and defensive questions.
Takeaway: In 29 games at the Low-A level Binelas performed, hitting for power, getting on base and hitting above .300. His plus raw power and plus plate approach carried over to professional ball, but conversely his contact woes continued. The former Louisville star is blessed with true plus power and shows the baseline skills of at least average on-base ability. Binelas will need to make more contact for this profile to work. While he logged a majority of his time at third base in the professional ranks, he’s likely headed to first base long term, where his bat will have to carry him.
Joe Davis, 1B Red Sox | .212 ISO, .375 wOBA, 6.1 BB%, 75.9% Contact Rate
We’ve run the gamut in terms of player types in this article, and with Joe Davis we find ourselves discussing a 24-year-old former 19th-round pick who spent his entire 2021 season split between the Class A levels. Davis is an aggressive masher who looks to barrel up as frequently as possible, approach be damned. He rarely walks, chases at an extremely high rate (35.3% per sources) and relies on feasting off of lower-level pitching. So why is Davis here? Simply, Davis hits the ball extremely hard while balancing an above-average contact rate. His max exit velocity is above 115 mph and his 90th percentile exit velocity is above 107 mph (per sources). He takes good attack angles to the ball and this leads to a high rate of barrel contact. However, he’s a righthanded-hitting, righthanded-throwing, bad-bodied first base-only masher with a below-average approach.
Takeaway: Davis is the type of player whose data jumps off of the page, but in reality his elite power has little utility long term. However, his power is special and he pairs it with unique bat-to-ball abilities. In order to make this work Davis will need to hit at an elite rate as he moves up the ladder. In all likelihood, Davis will be challenged with a Double-A assignment in 2022.
Gavin Stupienski, 1B Royals | .216 ISO, .379 wOBA, 14.8 BB%, 71.6% Contact Rate
The first real “who?” on this list, Stupienski signed with the Royals out of independent baseball back in mid May. Stupienski played in one game for Double-A Northwest Arkansas before he was demoted to High-A Quad Cities, where he played 37 games, starting 24 games at first base and hitting .264/.376/.482. At 27 years old, this is likely a player at his physical peak who’s significantly older than the competition. That said, adjustments to Stupienski’s swing have led to strong results, particularly from a batted-ball standpoint. He has below-average power but gets his barrel into good hitting position and optimizes his contact.
Takeaway: Likely a system depth player for a few years. Stupienski’s ability to get the most of his swing path and attack angle really play up his overall expected stats. Despite lacking even average raw power Stupienski does barrel up with regularity. He’s an average contact hitter, but makes his bones with plus on-base ability and low chase rates. The sample was fairly small and Stupienski was quite old for the level, meaning it could be a statistical blip performance over a small sample size. That said, I couldn’t pass up the chance to include an independent ball alumnus.
Abimelec Ortiz, 1B Rangers | .349 ISO, .467 wOBA, 19.2 BB%, 79.6% Contact Rate
Statistical deep dives will often lead you to look under stones you may not have overturned otherwise. Abimelec (Abi) Ortiz is one such player. In fact, Ortiz was draft-eligible but went undrafted the past two seasons. He signed with Texas after spending a single season on campus with Florida Southwestern JC. He was assigned to the Dominican Summer League after signing, an unusual choice given his age (19) and stateside collegiate experience.
A lefthanded power bat with a pull-side hitting approach, Ortiz overwhelmed younger competition in the DSL, leading the league in home runs, walking more than he struck out and producing the fourth best wOBA on the circuit. This is even more curious when you consider he produced a wOBA that high while running the fourth lowest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) among qualified hitters in the DSL. Some of this is due to a heavy pull-side flyball approach making it easier to shift infielders and shade the outfield to pull, meaning he’ll likely always run an underperforming batting average on balls in play. It doesn’t help that Ortiz is stoutly built and a below-average runner and athlete who's already likely to log time defensively at first base almost exclusively.
Takeaway: At the plate Ortiz really lets his patience drive his production. He rarely chases, makes lots of contact and shows above-average in-game power, hitting a max exit velocity of greater than 106 mph, a full 5 mph up from his 2020 Perfect Game showcase max exit velocity. He’s old for the DSL by a full year, so it is smart to take some of this with a grain of salt, but it'll be interesting to see how he progresses with a stateside assignment in 2022.