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Remember when Gleyber Torres looked like one of the most talented young hitters in the game? It wasn’t that long ago, really. After launching 38 homers (and terrorizing Orioles fans in the process) over 144 games in his age-22 season in 2019, it appeared that he was ready for fantasy stardom. However, he’s been lost in the wilderness ever since, batting just .254/.330/.377 over 201 games dating back to the start of the 2020 season. In addition to his struggles at the plate, his subpar defense at shortstop resulted in a move back to second base. While his surface numbers this year (.729 OPS) don’t indicate signs of hope, the turnaround could be upon us.
Simply put, Torres is hitting the ball harder than ever before. According to Baseball Savant, he’s in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity, 89th percentile in hard-hit percentage, and 67th percentile in barrel percentage. After his average exit velocity sat at 87.1 mph last year, he’s all the way up to 92.4 mph this season. His number of hard-hits (95 mph-plus) per swing is registering at 19.1 percent after he was at 13.3 percent last year.
We know that these batted ball numbers aren’t necessarily predictive of future events, but it does tell us that he has deserved better this season. A lot better. He’s at .317 in terms of xBA and .596 in xSLG compared to his modest .243/.292/.437 batting line. Only 11 hitters (min. 50 balls in play) have a wider gap between their batting average and their expected batting average. Meanwhile, only 13 hitters have a wider gap between their wOBA and their xwOBA.
Torres appears to be utilizing a more aggressive approach at the plate, as well. He’s swinging at about the same rate as he did in 2019 (52 percent this year compared to 51.8 percent), up from 46.7 percent last year and 41.9 percent in 2020. He’s also swinging outside of the zone a lot more often, but it’s not really hurting him. His strikeout rate sits at 15.8 percent, which would be a career-best. So the aggressiveness is working for him at the moment.
None of this is to say that Torres is somehow fixed and back on track with the superstar we all thought he would be in the early part of his career, but he’s doing something different and the underlying metrics like it, even if it hasn’t shown in his stat line just yet. This could be the time to buy before things start to even out for him.
In last week’s mailbag column, I tried to come up with my best explanation about what to do with Kelenic in dynasty leagues. I settled on the idea of him being a “forced hold.” It’s sort of a cop-out answer, but honestly it’s hard to give up on a player who had such high expectations. And if you are open to the idea of trading him, you probably still want a lot to justify moving on. It’s just a really tough spot. But there’s no question that Kelenic needs to be moved down a bit in dynasty rankings, especially in contrast to the way teammate Julio Rodriguez has made some impressive adjustments on the fly.
There was quite a bit of anticipation last week as the Mariners were prepared to come to Citi Field to take on the Mets. Kelenic, a former first-round pick of the Mets, was infamously dealt to Seattle in the deal which brought Edwin Díaz and Robinson Canó to Queens. Mets fans were critical of the trade from the start — with good reason in terms of process — and feared that Kelenic was on track to be a future superstar. It hasn’t turned out that way yet, obviously. And rather than have Kelenic face the media and the scrutiny from the Mets at Citi Field — and win some ballgames — the Mariners decided to demote him just before the start of the series. It was actually the one-year anniversary of his call-up last season.
I actually think the Mariners did Kelenic a big favor. He was already deep in it and there was no reason to add the pressure of coming to New York. If you thought he was pressing already, well, it’s hard to see how this would have been a good thing for his headspace. Hopefully Kelenic can begin to get his confidence going again in a less-pressurized environment and come back and have a successful career. He’s only 22 years old, after all. There’s obviously more question about that outcome at this point, though.
Through 123 major league games, Kelenic now owns an ugly .173/.256/.338 batting line. Among non-pitchers with at least 450 major league plate appearances, only John Vukovich (Vuk!) has a lower career batting average. Yes, batting average isn’t the end-all, be-all, but Kelenic has actually been worse this year than he was as a rookie. He’s struck out in 37.5 percent of his plate appearances, with an oddly-low contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone. He was just 3-for-51 (.059) with 36 strikeouts and one walk in two-strike counts.
As Mariners assistant general manager Justin Hollander said in a piece from Daniel Kramer of MLB.com, the team doesn’t feel Kelenic needs a change in mechanics, but rather to show a more consistent approach.
“He was getting out of his approach a little bit, not sure what he wanted to do in each individual plate appearance and just sort of searching. And when he was losing his fuel for what his approach needs to be, that's when we felt like, ‘OK, it's probably time.’”
If there’s any positives to take away from this season so far, Kelenic has looked better defensively. And while there’s a lot of blue on his Baseball Savant page, he maxed out at 114 mph on his first homer of the season back on April 14. That put him in some elite company among major league hitters. It’s these little flashes that will keep us coming back for more.
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Alex Ramirez on the Rise
While the Mets parted with a top outfield prospect in Kelenic in the trade with Seattle and 2020 first-round pick Pete-Crow Armstrong in the Javier Báez deal with the Cubs last year, it looks like they could have one of the fastest-rising outfield prospects in the game in Alex Ramirez.
After slashing .258/.326/.384 with five homers and 16 steals over 76 games as an 18-year-old during his first taste of pro ball last year with Class A St. Lucie, Ramirez has dominated the level to the tune of a .362/.394/.562 batting line through 30 games this season. He’s hitting .390 (23-for-59) with three homers so far this month.
Ramirez gets high marks for his defense in center field, but there’s still some work to do with his game. While he’s brought his strikeout rate down to 19.7 percent compared to 31.1 percent last season, he’s walked just five times in 137 plate appearances. Long and lanky at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, it’s easy to imagine him filling out and adding more power to his game. He’s still a ways off from patrolling center field on the big stage in orange and blue, but there’s still a chance to get in on the ground floor in some dynasty leagues.