Nomar Mazara has been under the microscope since he was 16, when the Rangers signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 for $4.95 million. It was a record bonus for an international amateur player at the time and still highest bonus ever for a 16-year-old.
Other clubs were stunned. Mazara was a corner outfielder with a big frame and huge raw power from the left side of the plate. The concerns from other organizations primarily centered around two things. One was Mazara’s ability to make contact against live pitching. The other was the unwillingness of Mazara’s trainer, Ivan Noboa, to allow scouts to see him in games.
“I saw him hit them into the trees with legit power,” said one scouting director at the time. “We were scratching our head on the rest of the game, but he had serious juice. We like to see guys in games. Games are a big deal . . . Mazara wouldn’t let us do it. He would only take BP. I can’t tell you exactly what he’d do otherwise. He would not allow us to play him. We just didn’t get any feel or conviction. To his credit, I guess he did it perfect.”
Among the scouts who were able to see Mazara more often against live pitching, there was widespread concern about his swing-and-miss tendencies. Not that he was a bad player, but the record bonus seemed out of line to many scouts given the risk involved in his skill set.
“The biggest debate in the industry is if you saw him hit,” said another scout after the signing who saw Mazara several times. “My grandparents could see he has unbelievable power. We didn’t necessarily see the high-level performance out of him in games that you want to see for that sort of investment.”
Mike Daly, the Rangers’ international scouting director at the time and now their farm director, felt differently. The Rangers’ international scouts had followed Mazara since he was 14. They saw swing and miss, but they also saw special power with enough game contact for the power to carry him.
“We like the power, the makeup and physically he’s 6-4, 190 pounds, as he continues to grow and get stronger, he’s a big strong kid, a big strong MLB-type body,” Daly said after Mazara signed. “It wasn’t only power—we feel his arm is average to slightly above. Average now but with a chance to be above-average in the future. He has a chance to be a real defender there in right field. We thought that he could do some things other than the power.”
In his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League, Mazara showed both the power and the swing-and-miss, with six home runs in 54 games as a 17-year-old, but with 70 strikeouts (a 29 percent K-rate), though he showed a more patient approach than expected with 37 walks. Over time, Mazara toned down the exaggerated leg kick he had used as an amateur to generate power, improving his balance and timing at the plate and allowing him to track pitches better. The evolution shows in his ability to cut down on his strikeout rate every season, dropping to 26 percent in low Class A Hickory in 2013, 22 percent in 2014 mostly repeating the league, then 18 percent last year mostly in Double-A, hitting .296/.366/.443 with 14 home runs as a 20-year-old in the upper minors.
So far, Mazara has justified the initial belief that Daly and the Rangers international scouts had in him, developing into the No. 21 prospect in baseball. He looks every bit like the future middle-of-the-order force the Rangers thought he could become, with little disagreement in the scouting community about his future now five years since his signing.
Mazara has evolved from a power bat with a lot of swing-and-miss into a mature hitter for his age with a promising blend of contact and power. He’s a smart hitter who has a good plan at the plate with the ability to make adjustments within an at-bat. Mazara doesn’t have premium bat-to-ball skills, but he has good hand-eye coordination, makes contact at a steady clip and uses the whole field. He drives the ball with authority, showing plus raw power in games and a chance to hit 20-25 home runs consistently in his prime. Mazara doesn’t have much speed or first-step quickness, so he won’t steal many bases and doesn’t have great range in the outfield. He’s an adequate defender who mostly stands out in the field because of his plus arm with sharp accuracy, which he used to collect 16 assists last year.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Rangers opted to sign Ian Desmond in the offseason rather than give the left field job to Mazara on Opening Day, so the team that knows him better than anyone else didn’t think he would be ready to step in right away. With Shin-Soo Choo going on the disabled list with a strained calf and likely out until mid to late May, the Rangers called up Mazara out of necessity, with Mazara now the youngest player in MLB at age 20 and having just 23 games of Triple-A experience.
Mazara had little trouble handling Triple-A pitching last year or early this season, and while he crushed his major league debut yesterday, it would be wise to temper expectations for 2016 if you’re expecting him to reach his star potential right away. For now, Mazara should be able to get on base at a solid clip and hit 15-20 home runs if given a full season of playing time. Given Mazara’s aptitude, high baseball IQ and track record for making adjustments, expect Mazara to be able to make any needed alterations and get better throughout the season as he gains experience against major league pitching.