Nick Pratto’s first trip through the big leagues did not go as planned. The main concern for him as he was hitting well in double and triple-A was that his strike-out rate would be problematic in the bigs. That is exactly what hampered his debut. Still, there are some positives from his 2022 season, and he is far from a bust at this early stage of his career.
Pratto began 2022 in Omaha where he slashed .228/.369/.449, which is pretty good, but a step down from his 2021 numbers at the same level. The big problem was a considerable drop in slugging, nearly 200 points. He had 28 extra-base hits in 374 plate appearances compared to the year before when he had 39 in only 270 plate appearances. He also played 49 games for the big league club, where he managed a .184/.271/.386 line, good for an 82 wRC+. It was disappointing, but not abysmal.
Again, the main problem is swing and miss for Pratto. He struck out 36.3% of the time in the majors, which is just too much to overcome. Only three qualified hitters in 2022 struck out more than 30% of the time, and of them only Eugenio Suarez managed a significantly above-average year at the plate by having a solid walk rate and slugging above .450. For Nick to make it in the big leagues, he will need to drop his strikeouts down and bring the power up. He has shown the ability to do just that in AAA, and the only question is if he can ever translate that into the majors.
There are a couple of different ways to be a high strike-out hitter. One is to be a free swinger, think Javy Baez. There are also free swingers who don’t strike out a lot, like Salvy, because they have high contact rates. Nick Pratto is neither of these things. His swing percentages in and out of the zone are not unusual, and his plate discipline is actually more similar to Vinnie Pasquantino than these free-swinging types. The problem for Pratto is not that he swings at bad pitches, but rather that he does not make enough contact. His 14.7% swinging strike rate would have ranked the 12th highest in baseball among qualified hitters. Similarly, his in and out-of-zone contact rates would rank in the bottom ten. That is not to say his rates are impossible to make work, players like Nelson Cruz have done just fine with low contact rates.
I think Pratto has every chance to be an impact player on the offensive side. Players who hit 36 homers across double and triple-A at 22 are not a dime a dozen. It just might take him a little longer to get there than fans like.
Defensively Nick should be seen as the best first base option the Royals have. He looks the part, and I have seen nothing when watching games that makes me think he can’t be a plus defender. Be wary of looking at total defensive contribution to see how his year went. He spent some of his time in the outfield, which did not go particularly well. Not that we should be surprised that he struggled playing out of position. UZR liked his first base play at 9.3 runs above average per 150 games. That was only a 340 inning sample though, so not even close to enough to trust it completely. OAA and RAA both liked him less at -1 outs/runs above average. He has a perfect fielding percentage, has rated as a plus defender in every scouting system I have seen, and UZR thought he handled it well in his first stint, so I am going to go on assuming that he will be a solid defender at first.
As far as rookies coming up for the first taste goes, this is definitely not what we wanted or expected, but it is not an unusual outcome either. I would give him a C on the season because he was fine in AAA and did not completely fall apart in his first time in Kansas City. We need to see him take a step forward next year though, this is not going to be acceptable as he leaves prospect status behind. If he can get his K% down to 30 or lower and bring his slugging up more in line with what he has shown the past two seasons in the minors, there is no reason Pratto can’t be an everyday first baseman.
What grade would you give Nick Pratto for his 2022 season?
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