I think my adoration for Chase Vallot knows no bounds. I ranked him as my number one Royals prospect prior to the season, and if you follow me on the Twitter you’d see on your timeline every so often an update on how he is doing. For those of you who haven’t made the bad decision of following me, consider this a glimpse as to what it would be like as a snapshot of those rants.
As of this writing, Vallot’s career looks like this:
After a tough April, Vallot has had a strong May/June:
His numbers are all over the board there. In his best month by wRC+ he hit .207 but in his best month by batting average he struck out 40% of the time and had a .500 BABIP. May/June is probably the true depiction of what a future Vallot could look like (but I’d shave off some of that BABIP and batting average). A guy who walks, hits for power, but struggles to make contact.
I don’t think it should surprise you that I’m extremely analytical based (it’s not like Vallot is without tools of course). So some may see the batting average that struggles to break even .230 most years, but I see the OBP that has been above .365 each of the past two seasons, a walk rate that’s taken a big jump (which might be an outlier of course), and an ISO that has climbed at each level. Vallot of course isn’t without his warts. The strikeout rate is drastically high to the point that it’s a huge red flag. However I think as a possible counterpoint you might notice that his swinging strike% (percentage of strikes that were swinging - don’t confuse this with whiff%) has decreased at each level.
Let’s run a query of those two items to see what minor league players have shared those two similar numbers (in regards to his 2017 results) and have made the major leagues. First the strikeout rate:
So obviously not a great list. Villar is a SS so the bar is much lower for him and the majority of his career WAR is based on one season. Ishikawa is a long time journeyman who has gotten various cups of coffee throughout his career, and fellow Giant Jarrett Parker is an underwhelming hitter who didn’t lose rookie eligibility until age-27.
So obviously we know striking out a lot is bad, but you can counteract the strikeouts by hitting for power. We’ll cover that later. Now onto the swinging strike% comparables:
Okay, let’s be real here. We need to do some more filtering than that. Those guys may have had the similar swinging strike rates as Vallot but they struck out a lot less.
Let’s try it again:
Alright so still not a great list when the crown jewels are Javier Baez and Joey Gallo. Both guys who are electric players but the major flaw in their game is of course the strikeouts. If there’s any consolation here, at least the swinging strike rate is good to decent and not a barrier in and of itself.
With two home runs on Monday night, Vallot now has three straight seasons with ten home runs or more. That’s not a particularly rare feat but in context of his age it is. Not many players have 10+ home run seasons before turning 21 (I count 309 out of nearly 30,000 individual minor league seasons since 2006).
That’s a pretty nice list to be on. Gallo appears again (and will again in just a second) as does Baez, while bona fide sluggers Sano, Stanton, and Sanchez are major league mainstays for a long time. The only “busts” here are Chris Marrero, Matt Dominguez, and Cody Johnson. Travis Snider probably belongs in that class as well but at least he managed 3 wins in his career and isn’t an awful career hitter.
The other thing Vallot does well is walk, and that’s what maybe makes his plate discipline so peculiar. He does strike out a lot, but he doesn’t have an awful swinging strike rate and he’s obviously able to lay off pitches given how often he walks. Now this could be because pitchers don’t want to give him anything in the zone to hit, which is seemingly a good sign because he’ll take his free passes.
There’s only a handful of 20-year olds in A+ that have walked as much as Vallot. On that list is Gallo again, as well as players who have reached the majors (Ruiz, Decker, Cowart) and also some at one point top 100 prospects (Olson, Winker, Bradley, Gallo).
He’s also among the leaders in the minors this year in walk rate:
It’s tough to ask for a player to be like Joey Gallo. He has arguably the most raw power in the minors and is know for the filthy batting practice shots he takes (like the time he hit a car at the Futures Game). If though there was a career path you’d want Vallot to follow it would be Gallo’s.
For his minor league career Gallo posted a 156 wRC+, a 14.7% walk rate, and struck out 34.7% of the time (he also hit a laughable 152 home runs in the minors). There are still questions on the future of Gallo, but despite his flaws he at least seems like a big league regular and he was once a top 20 prospect.
Gallo has out hit Vallot at each level really but the similarity is in walk rates, strikeout rates, and power. Vallot for what it’s worth has ran a much lower swinging strike% as well.
Make no mistake, Gallo was mythical because of his prodigious power and how he destroyed the minor leagues. Vallot hasn’t reached that point but he has had a strong minor league career. It’s also worth mentioning that Vallot has the positional advantage (for now) as he’s a catcher, if only in theory, against Gallo was a 3B. If Vallot were anything other than a catcher (or SS) then he’d be a lot lower down my totem pole of Royals prospects. Even if he ends up being a bad catcher the profile still is passable if he can drop the strikeout rate a bit. Mike Napoli has had a successful career despite being terrible behind the plate and striking out. Of course, that’s like the 90th percentile outcome and not one we should expect from Vallot.
What I’m banking on with Vallot is that swinging strike% bringing down his strikeout rate. He decreased it each year, and if he can live in that 13-15% range then that should also bring down the strikeouts to a more manageable level...should.