I had to ask. You know, the name.
Vinnie Pasquantino is simultaneously an absolutely perfect old-timey baseball name as well as the kind of extraordinarily Italian name a soap opera might give to the new, suave doctor from Brooklyn. I first read the name a little over two and half years ago, and it immediately popped out to me.
So, there’s got to be a story, right? Right?
“Sorry there isn’t more to it,” Pasquantino told me in an email. “My mother and father couldn’t come up with a name for me—my dad wanted something Italian, my mom wanted ‘Derek Jeter Pasquantino’ (half kidding). One day, they were at Food Lion and my father bought a baby name book. He was reading names off to my mother from the Italian section and when he read ‘Vincent Joseph’ she perked up.”
But Pasquantino’s name isn’t the only thing interesting about him. Every year, writer and statistician Dan Szymborski runs crunches the numbers for his projection system, ZiPS. When he ran his 2022 projection for the Kansas City Royals, something curious stuck out. In a system that boasts the talent of Bobby Witt, Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez—three of the top 50 prospects in Major League Baseball, per Baseball America—it is one Vinnie Pasquantino who is projected to have the best offensive production at the plate next year.
Yes, that is the same Pasquantino whose name is almost painfully Italian, the same Pasquantino who was selected 319th overall in his draft. You may not know his name now, but there’s a very good chance you won’t forget it.
So, how did Pasquantino—or, well, Vinnie, because as he told me, he’s always “just Vinnie”—go from 11th rounder to most intriguing name in the entire Royals farm system? Well, if we’re starting somewhere, we’ve got to start at his dynamite minor league numbers. His overall stats speak for themselves: in 2021, Pasquantino put up a triple slash of .300/.394/.563 across 513 plate appearances in two levels.
Vinnie kicked off the year at the Royals’ new High-A team, the Quad Cities River Bandits, and it was rather immediately clear that Vinnie was too advanced for the level. As a player drafted from college and in his age-23 season, this happens sometimes.
But it is the way that Vinnie performed that raised more than a few eyebrows. See, the River Bandits played in the High-A Central League where, like the rest of baseball, strikeout rates had spiked in the last few years. The league average strikeout rate for the Central League is 26.4%. Vinnie, on the other hand, struck out in only 13.8% of his plate appearances.
This is noteworthy on its own, of course, but it is particularly noteworthy because Vinnie isn’t a slap-hitting, contact-oriented middle infielder. Listed at 6’4” and 245 lbs., Vinnie is just about Travis Kelce-sized. And he hits dingers: 24 of them, in fact, last year.
VINNIE PASQUANTINO WITH A BIG BLAST TO GIVE THE NATURALS A LEAD!@VPasquantino mashes a two-run shot with two outs in the 8th, his 10th long ball of the year with the Naturals!— NW Arkansas Naturals (@nwanaturals) September 15, 2021
▼ 8 | #NWANaturals 3 Springfield 2
Vinnie was promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas after 276 marvelous plate appearances in High-A. The jump from High-A to Double-A is always a crucible of sorts, where hitters and pitchers alike are filtered through tough competition. But in Vinnie’s case, he just kept hitting. In Double-A, Vinnie put up the rare “3/4/5” triple slash of .310/.405/.560, simultaneously hitting for average and hitting for power. However, his greatest achievement was once again plate discipline: Vinnie walked more than he struck out, walking at a 13.1% clip and striking out at an 11% clip.
It is harder to walk than it is to strike out. That’s simple math; you can strike out on three pitches, but it takes at least four pitches to walk. To walk more than you strike out requires tremendous plate discipline, and to do so over such a long period of time is almost unheard of: there were 370 players who accrued more than 150 plate appearances in Double-A in 2021. Vinnie is the only one who walked more than he struck out.
Players like Vinnie in general are pretty common: college hitters who crush the lower levels of the minor leagues. But players like Vinnie specifically are the first edition holographic Charizards of the world. They are few and far between.
Vinnie was born on October 10, 1997, just four days after Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees would suffer their final defeat by Cleveland in the American League Divisional Series. A Virginia kid through and through, Vinnie was born in Richmond and attended James River High School in Midlothian on the edge of the Richmond metro. When given the chance, Vinnie left Richmond—only to go some 100 miles southeast to Old Dominion University.
That choice was a good one for Vinnie’s career, and he knows it. “Going to Old Dominion was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Vinnie told me. “I couldn’t be more appreciative of what they have done for me.”
Baseball is different than it used to be in a lot of ways, and player development is the next horizon for Moneyball-minded clubs—which, in 2022, is every club. But it’s not just the big leagues that are seeking ever-increasing amounts and types of data. In fact, some colleges have dug deeper and quicker into the types of data-driven processes than even MLB teams.
Vinnie credits Old Dominion’s mix of data availability and old-school teaching. “Old Dominion does a great job of incorporating old school and new school baseball techniques. They have all the tech that a person could need, while also still developing a feel for the game of baseball.”
Plus, as Vinnie points out, on field growth is only a part of what makes a good baseball product. “Chris Finwood, Karl Nonemaker, Mike Marron, Logan Robbins, Adam Wisniewski, Shaun Wood, John Penn, and many others did a great job through my years of making it a place baseball players want to go to school to develop on and off the field.”
Wanting to get better is a drive that every good baseball player possesses. Unfortunately for Vinnie, there was a hurdle that got in the way less than a year after he was drafted: COVID. But the virus wasn’t enough to stop Vinnie from grinding and improving. Every Tuesday in the summer of 2020, Vinnie and other Richmond area baseball players leveraged the area’s depth of talent to put together a group of pro, college, and college committed baseball players for live batting practice. In August, they even played a pair of exhibition games against the Peninsula Pilots, a collegiate summer league team in Hampton.
The Royals were also with Vinnie and the other minor leagues along the way. Vinnie explained that the Royals made Zoom calls with their minor leaguers at least once a week, keeping track of what they were up to and providing advice through the power of the internet. And when he finally stepped onto the field, he was ready. More than ready, as the poor pitchers in High-A and Double-A could attest.
When I asked Vinnie about how he achieved his success at the plate, his response was simple. “I go to the plate with a plan and do my best to execute it.”
Digging a little deeper, Vinnie said that consistency and hunting pitches were two of the main things that he tried to do. “I just work to have good at-bats on a consistent basis in an effort to make the pitcher and defense work. Having a good plan helps me make sure when I get to two strikes I am still comfortable in the batter's box.”
It’s clear Vinnie knows what he’s talking about—while you sort of have to in order to see the success he has had in his professional career, such command of the material is extremely helpful to replicate that success. What was interesting to me, though, is that Vinnie didn’t bring up launch angle or lift at all, instead focusing on something simpler: see ball, hit ball hard.
“When I get a pitch I want, I do my best to put it into play, as hard as possible.”
Of course, the Royals and Vinnie are probably thinking about ideal launch angles to some degree, as you can’t hit home runs without hitting the ball in the air. In mid-September, Vinnie had three home run-worthy swings in a row, with the first two going foul before finally getting what he was looking for and punishing it. You don’t get that kind of plate appearance without a swing that can at the very least generate fly balls and line drives.
Lol…These swings are on three consecutive pitches from Vinnie Pasquantino. Finally straightened the third one out for HR #24. pic.twitter.com/8yk9qui9hM— Royals Farm Report (@RoyalsFarm) September 17, 2021
But Vinnie didn’t bring it up, and his answer is perhaps an insight into how on earth he’s doing what he’s doing. Vinnie is trying to hit the ball hard and he’s trying to make defenders work. So many sluggers are content with a whiff or a strikeout in the name of generating the right velocity at the right launch angle. To their credit, that is often a reasonable trade, and not everyone has the plate discipline or bat control for that approach. Vinnie, however, has all the tools in his pocket, and he has chosen to use them.
The on-field results simply speak for themselves, and Vinnie isn’t yielding to harder competition. “[Double-A pitchers] have forced me to adjust because I have to go up to the plate with a more detailed plan of what I am looking for. Because if pitchers won’t give in, then neither will I.”
Vinnie Pasquantino does not have a Wikipedia page. He is listed under the omnibus page “Kansas City Royals minor league players,” but that’s not quite the same. Maybe it’s an infinitesimal detail, but it speaks to a hard truth: It’s hard to be a professional sports player. It’s harder still to be a professional baseball player drafted when Vinnie was drafted. Less than 5% of draftees taken in the 11th round—Vinnie’s round—eventually make it to the big leagues. With only 1,200 total 40 man roster spots available across the league, the players who stick are the best of the best of the best. The competition is brutal.
Vinnie, for his part, channels his inner Han Solo when it comes to his chances, and he knows that failure is a part of baseball.
“I do my best to not worry about statistics when I am playing, because I believe if you’re worrying about numbers while playing, you’re going to play worse. It is a game of failure at the plate anyway, so if I am worried about numbers at the plate, I won’t be able to focus on having a good at bats.”
Fortunately, Vinnie’s minor league performance has been enough to raise some eyebrows. I reached out to Dan Szymborski, who explained there were a few things going for Vinnie.
“What I find encouraging about Pasquantino is that he adjusted so well missing the 2020 season while being promoted aggressively,” Szymborski told me. I also asked him about how ZiPS values different minor league stats, and Szymborski explained that the three true outcomes—home runs, walks, and strikeouts—are the stats that translate the best from the minor leagues to the big leagues. That’s great news for Vinnie, who excels in all three.
What isn’t great news for Vinnie is the roster situation. He’s not on the 40-man roster, and therefore can’t be easily called up to the big leagues until room is made for him on the roster. Additionally, there’s a reason why discussion about Vinnie is about his hitting and not his fielding; while he’s a plenty capable defensive first baseman, scouts see him as limited to first base in the big leagues.
That’s not really a problem—pretty much every team in MLB can use a solid first baseman who bats well from the left side of the plate—except that Vinnie is rather deep on the depth chart. Hunter Dozier, Carlos Santana, and Nick Pratto are all solidly ahead of him, with MJ Melendez and Salvador Perez also potentially in the mix for first base and DH playing time.
Vinnie doesn’t really think about that stuff. Like with the discussion about his swing and approach, his general baseball philosophy is straightforward. “I really just love baseball and have a great time playing the game,” Vinnie told me.
In other words, all this is to say: keep an eye out on Vinnie Pasquantino, the man with the unforgettable name. Something tells me you won’t have to try too hard to pay attention. His plate appearances demand it.