1 Flaw Every Top Young MLB Star Needs to Fix This Offseason

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 11, 2021

1 Flaw Every Top Young MLB Star Needs to Fix This Offseason

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    Let's make Wander Franco even better.
    Let's make Wander Franco even better.Will Newton/Associated Press

    Young talent has been and still very much is all the rage in Major League Baseball, but even the game's best young players can still get better.

    As for how? Well, we have ideas for 10 of them.

    We sought to highlight these players' biggest flaw, which meant pointing out the obvious in some cases and digging deep for nits to pick in others. In any case, the sky's the limit if they can address these flaws between now and the start of the 2022 season.

    We'll start with some honorable mentions and then proceed alphabetically with the guys in the spotlight.

Honorable Mentions

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    Ke'Bryan Hayes
    Ke'Bryan HayesJeff Dean/Associated Press

    RHP Ian Anderson, Atlanta

    His first 30 major league starts have yielded a solid 3.25 ERA, but he might do even better if he can further develop his curveball. To date, it's featured subpar movement and gotten hit at a .267 clip.

       

    2B Jazz Chisholm Jr., Miami Marlins

    There's nothing wrong with either his speed or raw power, but he's only going to go so far with a strikeout rate in the 10th percentile. His first step should be cutting down his ugly 41.6 whiff rate against off-speed pitches.

       

    3B Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates

    He's a gifted defender and a promising hitter, but he's thus far made weirdly infrequent use of his pull side in the majors. Of his 42 extra-base hits in his career, only this double and this double were remotely close to the left-field line. He's thus been cutting off a potentially lucrative power avenue.

       

    LHP Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins

    He was generally excellent in putting up a 2.64 ERA as a rookie in 2021, but he had a relatively hard time against left-handed batters. They notably hit .364 against his slider, which is the kind of pitch that typically delivers wins to the pitcher in left-on-left matchups.

       

    RF Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

    His only real flaw is that he's too mean to opposing pitchers, so maybe he should try striking out more.

SS Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays: Defensive Consistency

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    2021 Stats: 159 G, 690 PA, 29 HR, 25 SB, .298 AVG, .343 OBP, .484 SLG, 123 OPS+6.0 rWAR

    As he swung at more pitches than any other hitter in 2021, it's fair to call Bo Bichette a free-swinger. But he's also a career .301 hitter with power and speed, so it's likewise fair to say offense isn't his problem.

    Not as much as his defense, anyway.

    Sure, Bichette was worth three defensive runs saved at shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021. Yet he was in the red for ultimate zone rating (minus-5.2) and outs above average (minus-6), and he indeed committed the most errors (24) of any player at any position.

    Bichette's proneness to errors is partially related to his above-average range, but he also struggles with basic execution. His internal clock often seems a bit off, and he could specifically stand to soften his hands and throw with more accuracy.

    Ultimately, Bichette resembles a younger Tim Anderson on defense. If he can make like Anderson and put in the work of turning himself into a reliable shortstop, his star will shine even brighter than it already does.

OF Dylan Carlson, St. Louis Cardinals: Better Contact Against the Slow Stuff

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    2021 Stats: 149 G, 619 PA, 18 HR, 2 SB, .266 AVG, .343 OBP, .437 SLG, 117 OPS+3.2 rWAR

    After a slow start, it wasn't until the final two months of the regular season that Dylan Carlson truly resembled a star for the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit .301/.364/.503 over his last 47 games.

    Even then, Carlson was still averaging a paltry 86.3 mph in exit velocity on his batted balls. So it went for his entire season, throughout which his exit velo was in the 29th percentile.

    Putting a charge into fastballs wasn't Carlson's problem, as his 90.0 mph mark against heat was better than the MLB average of 89.3 mph. Breaking and off-speed stuff was another story:

    In fairness, Carlson was hardly the only name-brand hitter who struggled to put a charge into the slow stuff this season. It nonetheless underscores how only three of his home runs were against breaking and off-speed stuff. If it isn't already, that's sure to be on his scouting report for 2022.

    The sooner Carlson proves he can hit more than just fastballs for power, the sooner he should realize his potential as a 30-homer slugger.

SS Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays: Figure out RH Fastballs

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    Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    2021 Stats: 70 G, 308 PA, 7 HR, 2 SB, .288 AVG, .347 OBP, .463 SLG, 129 OPS+3.5 rWAR

    Before we go any further, let's acknowledge how incredible it is that Wander Franco is already this good despite being only 20 years old and not yet a finished product.

    The switch-hitting Franco even improved as the season progressed, upgrading his performance against right-handers that went from a .179/.233/.179 line through July 24 to a .278/.336/.468 line after then

    Nonetheless, Franco still has a specific flaw in that he wasn't particularly good against four-seam fastballs. Ones from righties naturally gave him more trouble, holding him to a .233 average and a .350 slugging percentage.

    Looking even closer, Franco really only put up a fight when a right-hander missed down the middle with a four-seamer. In other words, a righty with good fastball command easily neutralized him.

    Is this also true of most hitters? Sure. But Franco has it in him to be so much better than most hitters, and taking care of this would be a major step toward getting to that point.

1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays: A Possible Route to Fewer Whiffs

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    2021 Stats: 161 G, 698 PA, 48 HR, 4 SB, .311 AVG, .401 OBP, .601 SLG, 169 OPS+6.8 rWAR

    Before anyone even mentions it, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s defense is fine. If anything, he surpassed expectations by leading first basemen in scoops and generally doing competent work at first base this season.

    Offensively, it's obviously not going to be easy for Guerrero to improve on his 2021 season. It wasn't just his results but also his peripheral numbers that placed him in the upper-upper echelon of hitters. To wit, his expected batting average and slugging percentage were in the 99th and 98th percentiles, respectively.

    Still, we can't help but imagine Guerrero with something better than a 28th-percentile whiff rate.

    To this end, the Blue Jays slugger was no better than average at laying off breaking and off-speed stuff outside the strike zone, which he chased 31.3 percent of the time. And of those swings, 64.8 percent came up empty.

    If Guerrero can cut down on those whiffs, he might start resembling his dad as a bad-ball hitter. If he instead cuts down on the swings, he stands to draw more walks. Either way, he wins.

2B Jonathan India, Cincinnati Reds: Try Swinging More

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    2021 Stats: 150 G, 631 PA, 21 HR, 12 SB, .269 AVG, .376 OBP, .459 SLG, 113 OPS+3.9 rWAR

    Jonathan India didn't take off early in his rookie season, but he sure did after moving into the Cincinnati Reds' leadoff spot on June 5. In 105 games the rest of the way, he hit .274/.382/.480 with 17 home runs.

    But was India too passive?

    Arguably so, given that he had the lowest in-zone swing rate of any qualified hitter. The inherent complication in suggesting he change that is that it could mess with his overall discipline, which could potentially undercut his rise as one of the game's top leadoff men.

    Still, there is the potential of increased power if India becomes more aggressive within the strike zone. Though his exit velocity was only in the 20th percentile overall, he averaged a sturdy 90.2 mph when he made contact against pitches in the zone.

    If India can attain the proper balance in 2022, his ceiling is as a .400 OBP guy with 25-30-home run power. That's All-Star and maybe even MVP-caliber stuff.

RHP Casey Mize, Detroit Tigers: Eliminate That Platoon Split

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    2021 Stats: 30 G, 30 GS, 150.1 IP, 130 H (24 HR), 118 K, 41 BB, 3.71 ERA, 114 ERA+3.2 rWAR

    What Casey Mize did in his first full season with the Detroit Tigers was perfectly acceptable. If he can so much as replicate it going forward, he'll become a solid mid-rotation starter.

    But if Mize is going to be the ace that the Tigers envisioned when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2018, he'll need to start dominating when he doesn't have the platoon advantage. While right-handed batters struggled against him in 2021, lefty batters had him figured:

    • vs. RHB: .600 OPS
    • vs. LHB: .845 OPS

    It's good that Mize struck out lefties (19.1 percent) at basically the same rate as he did righties (19.4 percent). But lefties drew more walks (25 to 16) and hit significantly more home runs, tallying 17 of the 24 long balls that Mize gave up all season.

    Given that they slugged .808 against it, Mize should scrap his sinker against lefty batters. He might develop a cutter to throw them instead or simply emphasize a curveball against which they slugged just .286.

    Whatever the case, Mize will have All-Star upside if he diminishes his platoon split in 2022.

3B Austin Riley, Atlanta: Solve Left-Handers

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    2021 Stats: 160 G, 662 PA, 33 HR, 0 SB, .303 AVG, .367 OBP, .531 SLG, 132 OPS+6.1 rWAR

    Austin Riley was undoubtedly good in 2021, but exactly how good varies depending on your preferred defensive metric. Suffice it to say that his plus-13 for defensive runs at third base saved in 2021 isn't the complete story.

    What is undeniably true, though, is that Riley should be doing a lot better against left-handers. His splits were especially jarring in 2021:

    • vs. RHP: .941 OPS, 30 HR
    • vs. LHP: .752 OPS, 3 HR

    Riley handled fastballs from lefties well enough, hitting .275 and slugging .478 against them. But breaking balls from southpaws gave him fits, holding him to a .200 average with just two extra-base hits. Among the root causes of that was that he swung over too many breaking balls that landed down and in.

    It was only two years ago that Riley hit seven of his 18 home runs as a rookie against left-handers, so snapping out of the funk they put him in this season should be doable.

    If that does prove to be the case, he could make the leap from a 30-homer slugger to a 40-homer powerhouse.

SS Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres: Fewer Strikeouts, Please

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    2021 Stats: 130 G, 546 PA, 42 HR, 25 SB, .282 AVG, .364 OBP, .611 SLG, 166 OPS+6.6 rWAR

    The numbers that Fernando Tatis Jr. put up this year are impressive enough, but even more so in the context of how he was playing with only one healthy shoulder.

    There is, however, the matter of Tatis' strikeouts. He's yet to carry so much as an average K% in his three seasons with the San Diego Padres, but the whiffs were especially plentiful in 2021 as he landed in the 13th percentile for strikeout rate.

    We could suggest that Tatis shorten up and try to put the ball in play in two-strike counts, but that would be like telling someone in a Ferrari to obey the speed limit. 

    Rather, Tatis just needs to be better about swinging outside the strike zone. While his chase rate was only in the 40th percentile in 2021, he was the worst in the National League at actually making contact when he went fishing outside the zone.

    Ideally, Tatis will cut down on his swings outside the zone. Failing that, he could at least become a better bad-ball hitter. If he's successful either way, an already great player will become basically unbeatable.

LF/RF Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros: Shape Up Against RH Breaking Balls

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    2021 Stats: 140 G, 567 PA, 30 HR, 14 SB, .294 AVG, .359 OBP, .557 SLG, 147 OPS+5.7 rWAR

    Kyle Tucker got off to a slow start for the Houston Astros, but something clicked for him in early May. Over 107 games between May 9 and the end of the year, he hit .329/.394/.620 with 25 homers.

    Tucker's peripheral stats underscored his excellence, as he was in the 97th and 95th percentiles for expected average and expected slugging, respectively.

    Even still, the lefty swinger's performance against right-handed breaking stuff could stand to improve. Even more specifically, Tucker hit under .200 against righty sliders for the third year in a row. By comparison, the average lefty hitter hit .210 against such pitches in 2021.

    Rather than one of zone coverage, this seems to be a recognition problem. Tucker's outs against righty sliders were mostly concentrated down and in, where he was otherwise about as dangerous as the typical lefty slugger against right-handers.

    If this one very specific shortcoming were to vanish in 2021, there won't be anything stopping Tucker from settling in as a regular All-Star and MVP candidate.

LHP Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers: Revitalize That Four-Seamer

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2021 Stats: 32 G, 32 GS, 185.2 IP, 151 H (19 HR), 195 K, 38 BB, 2.96 ERA, 138 ERA+4.4 rWAR

    What a year Julio Urias had for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and perhaps the best part of it was the workload that he handled. With 185.2 innings, he beat his previous career high in the majors by over 100 innings.

    Not bad for a guy who didn't have an especially effective four-seam fastball.

    Though Urias relied on his four-seamer for 47.8 percent of his offerings, opposing batters hit .277 and slugged .484 against it. By run value, it was a below-average pitch.

    That shouldn't have been the case because Urias averaged 94.1 mph with a 94th-percentile spin rate on his four-seamer. However, he was perhaps too predictable with his location, working his four-seamer almost exclusively up and in against both lefties and righties.

    If he can do a better job of varying his locations in 2022, Urias could get the average against his four-seamer back under the Mendoza line like it was in 2020. That would be his ticket to even brighter stardom.

           

    Stats courtesy of Baseball ReferenceFanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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