When the Shelby Miller trade was announced, the news was certainly bittersweet. Maybe bitter-bittersweet depending on what you think of Aaron Blair‘s value and what you think Dansby Swanson can be down the road. But it was certainly bittersweet because of the loss of Ender Inciarte, a guy who’s been a much-needed spark at times for the D-backs while showing tremendous versatility in the field and relatively consistent league-average production at the plate. It really is hard to see him go.

But every departure signals a new opportunity. Contrary to what you may have heard, the Diamondbacks will not only play with two outfielders next year (unless they get really advanced on us). Someone is going to get Ender’s playing time. Or, maybe, a couple of someones are going to get Ender’s playing time. Saying that one man will fill his role is probably unfair to how many hats Inciarte successfully wore while wearing Sedona Red. I’m not crazy about David Peralta being the backup center fielder, but then again, if the Diamondbacks are really going to do damage this season, A.J. Pollock will probably start 150+ games in center and so I guess 12 starts from anyone else may not kill you (although you could surely do better than Peralta). Maybe they add a veteran outfielder at some point or maybe they don’t. It’s kind of crowded already and they just lost a guy.

And still, if Inciarte was going to be the starting right fielder 75-80% of the time, someone else is going to have to do it. That could be Peralta, but he rates better in left. Exactly which hole that gets filled isn’t so important right now, but acknowledging that there are a bunch of starts open for another, or perhaps “other,” corner outfielder(s) is. There are really four candidates for this work: Yasmany Tomas, Socrates Brito, Peter O’Brien and Other McOther. If you had to pick one person from that group to absorb the extra work, Tomas would seem to have the inside track. He’s owed the most money, probably has the highest upside and has the most experience at the major league level despite not living in the United States for a whole calendar year to this point. That probably tells you what we’re up against here.

I don’t want to discredit Brito, who I think has a chance to be a really nice player, or O’Brien, who I think really could be a starter this season at first base for a second division team, or McOther, who doesn’t exist but really also does, here. All of those guys bring something to the table. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be in this post to begin with. But it’s Tomas that commands our attention because just as he’s mostly likely to absorb the bulk of the work, he’s also not without some glaring weaknesses. As I’ve said before, his plate discipline is the most robust issue with his game:

From (Tomas’) “Hitter At-A-Glance” profile:

  • Against Fastballs, he has had an exceptionally aggressive approach at the plate with an above average likelihood to swing and miss.
  • Against Breaking Pitches, he has had an exceptionally aggressive approachat the plate with an above average likelihood to swing and miss.
  • Against Offspeed Pitches, he has had an exceptionally aggressive approachat the plate with a league average likelihood to swing and miss.

He’s, apparently, super aggressive at the plate with a strong tendency to whiff. This much has become self-evident.

Even with his power, Tomas is going to need to get on base to offset his limited defensive value. The issues above aren’t going to help him accomplish that. So I really got to wondering, “what are the odds that Tomas really does improve this facet of his game?” On the one hand, you don’t want to give up on the guy given that he was coming off of a long layoff, was new to the U.S., tried and failed to play third base, started his year in the minors before being rapidly called up and was just 24 when it all transpired. On the other, he looked really lost at times, seemingly chased everything and took some really ugly hacks that didn’t mesh with the initial scouting reports of a slugger with plus-plus power. Weighing all of that, his trade value is as hard to peg as are the chances that he takes a big leap forward next season.

So I decided to take a look at a few key indicators: walk rate, strikeout rate, on-base percentage and weighted runs created plus. I threw isolated power in there, too, just for fun. Starting with the items that most pertain to Tomas’ weaknesses (BB%, K%, OBP), I looked at 56 players who made their rookie debut between 2010 and 2012, then tracked them through their first three seasons. Players who did not play significantly, got hurt for an entire year or didn’t survive three seasons were cut. This does leave a selection bias in play, just so we’re all aware.

Here is how that group performed by OBP over their first three seasons:

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 7.26.12 PM

Okay, so, maybe not the most clear. Let’s instead look at walk rate:

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 7.32.16 PM

Maybe that’s a little better, maybe it’s not. Try strikeout rate:

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 7.33.26 PM

If you look closely at all three, there are little improvements to behold. The OBP’s of most players improved by a very small margin as they progressed. The walk rates climbed slightly and the strikeout rates fell. But those are very small changes to the initial picture. So small, in fact, that it’s probably best that we just make a table and put these funny-colored lines to bed.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 8.28.11 PM

There is clearly some precedent for growth here, even if it’s a relatively small one. The walk rate and strikeout changes won’t wow you, but OBP does change significantly within the sample and the power does tend to come around, combining for better offensive production overall. Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Tomas will experience some kind of breakthrough via exposure alone. Saying that “another year of experience” will make the difference doesn’t necessarily appear to be true. Yes, it does give him opportunities to improve, but he’ll have to do that mechanically as the virtue of time won’t do it for him.

Maybe looking for comps within the sample is really the way to go. Based on walk and strikeout rates, his comparables are, and you might want to sit down for this: Chris Johnson, J.P. Arencibia, Mark Trumbo (!), Todd Frazier and Wilin Rosario. Johnson had better contact skills and more power output, Arencibia has been a perennial disappointment, Tomas struck out nearly 20% more often than Trumbo did in his debut, Todd Frazier has done some nice things and Wilin Rosario is recently out of a job. Outside of Frazier, who cut the K’s a little and upped his walk rate while hitting for substantially more power, there just aren’t any real success stories here. Trumbo and Johnson are useful in some capacities but worthless in others. I’m not even going to bother writing about Arencibia and Rosario.

This isn’t to say that Yasmany Tomas is doomed. Maybe my sample of players is unjust to him. To be fair, none of these guys fled from Cuba and tried to acclimate to U.S. baseball at the same time they broke into the majors. They all had a much more straightforward entry into the big leagues with far more normalizing exposure along the way. But based on these admittedly small pieces of information, it would seem that a major leap forward might be wishful thinking. And it’s going to take some wishful thinking to come to fruition if the Diamondbacks are going to accomplish what they’ve clearly set out to achieve. So here’s to hoping that Yasmany Tomas defies these odds. Here’s also to hoping that you won’t be astonished if he doesn’t.

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16 Responses to Can Yasmany Tomas Take a Big Leap Forward?

  1. Bradford says:

    Call it rose-colored glasses, (or maybe Sedona Red) but I see Tomas taking a major step forward next year. As you mentioned, adjusting to a new culture can be extremely difficult, and is something many of his comps did not have to deal with. Another year stateside should yield a more rested mind.
    I also picked up an encouraging sign from Tomas’ performance last year. He seemed to have an ability to hit the ball where he wanted, something that contributed to his decent average, even when he was not hitting the ball particularly hard. If he can begin hitting the ball with more confidence, I say he becomes a much better hitter.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yeah its so hard to adjust to making millions of dollars..i think it may of been more the case of the buffet and slider.

  3. Jeff says:

    One thing that statistics are really bad at taking into consideration is the momentum had when given regular playing time. When watching Tomas this season, it was obvious that he was a much better hitter in the beginning of the season when he was playing every day and was in a regular rhythm. His struggles only really started to mount when he was put in a backup role and saw limited starts. Then it appeared that he would try and do too much and try to hit the ball out of the yard every swing so as to try and become a regular starter again maybe. Just some thoughts that are particularly relevant when analyzing his season last year that the stats can’t show.

  4. Eddie says:

    Anonymous does not know what he/she is talking about, for the record.

    • Dave-Phoenix says:

      You know what they say.

      Better to be silent and have people think you are an idiot, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt….

  5. Dave-Phoenix says:

    I would say the D-Backs are in basically the same situation as last year despite losing Inciarte.

    Brito will start out the year exactly where Inciarte started out last year, as the 4th outfielder. He’ll get lots of playing time relieving all 3 of the other outfielders.

    As the year progresses, performance will determine if Tomas’ or Brito becomes the everyday right fielder.

    As far as Tomas’….

    I’m interested to see if he shows up to spring training in better shape and mentally fresh. Last year had to be tough on him….

  6. Anonymous says:

    Okay it was the culture change.

  7. Kevin says:

    Thanks for writing this article. I couldn’t stop thinking about Tomas in right most days instead of Ender. I can’t say you have given me much hope, but hey, ’tis better to know what to expect than to be let down. Maybe Socrates will break out!? $10 million AAV for Wilian Rosario. great.

  8. Lamar Jimmerson says:

    Good to know just how unlikely it is that Tomas will improve much at the plate. And this doesn’t even mention Tomas’s below-average baserunning and well-below-average fielding. I noted at AZ Snakepit that given reasonable projections with respect to his value with the glove and on the basepaths, Tomas will need to hit like at least Brandon Belt, and possibly as well as Jose Bautista, to be a 3-4 WAR guy. It’s highly unlikely.

    Tomas as a 4th OF who gives you depth and can play regularly against lefties: fine. Tomas as starter: not gonna be pretty. Let’s hope Brito develops quickly; for that reason, I hope they give him regular ABs in Reno and don’t roster him as the 5th OF.

    For a team that is in what you call TCW, trading Inciarte certainly was dumb… I appreciate y’all’s efforts to find a reason for the FO’s seeming madness, but I’m afraid you’re looking for something that isn’t there.

  9. Larry Person says:

    Like it or not, productive or not, Thomas will be the D’backs primary RF this season, replacing Ender. The bigger question/debate will be who leads off this year in place of Ender, who lead off more than any others in 2014? Is Pollock the best choice and best use of Pollock? Is there really any other option?

    • Lamar Jimmerson says:

      I agree that this is a huge question. Chip has said that as of now A.J. would be his leadoff guy. It’s too bad, as that weakens the middle of the lineup considerably, but what choice does he have?

      If there are no more significant roster changes, perhaps Gosselin or Drury, if one is starting at 2B, could be used to lead-off against lefties. (Owings has a career .255 OBP v. lefties, unbelievably.) Gosselin, in a small sample, has a .385 OBP v. lefties. Drury doesn’t seem to have much of a platoon split. Of course, neither of these guys has any speed. And neither may be a starter.

      Then there is Ahmed: career .327 OBP v. lefties. That might be serviceable and he has much more speed.

      Maybe against righties you could bat Peralta lead-off. Career .368 OBP versus righthanders. I don’t see any other options there other than A.J.

      So if we avoid batting A.J. leadoff, then you might could do this (as they say in Texas):

      Versus LHP:

      1. Ahmed
      2. Gosselin/Drury
      3. Pollock
      4. Goldschmidt
      5. Tomas
      6. Castillo
      7. Peralta
      8. Lamb

      Move up Peralta above Castillo if you don’t want both lefties in a row. If Owings is your starting 2B, move everyone up one and slot him 8th.

      Versus RHP:

      1. Peralta
      2. A.J.
      3. Goldschmidt
      4. Lamb
      5. Tomas
      6. Castillo
      7. Gosselin/Drury/Owings
      8. Ahmed

      • Kevin says:

        Lineup construction has been going through my head since we traded Ender as well. In all the permutation I came up with, I never had Peralta leading off — so that’s interesting.

        Chip talked about having AJ leadoff and batting the pitcher 8th, to give AJ more RBI opportunities with a position player in front of him after the first time through the lineup. I recall an article on this website that basically said batting a position player ninth makes little difference statistically.

        I think the first thing Chip does is pencil Goldy into the three spot — how do not have that guy coming up in the first inning. After that, platoon considerations probably come into play — but I like the Royals who keep the same lineup regardless of the opposing pitchers handedness — and I think the D-backs should do that, so here’s mine

        1) Pollok
        2) Ahmed
        3) Goldy
        4) Peralta
        5) Castillo
        6) Lamb
        7) Tomas
        8) Owings

        This lineup kind of spreads out our weakest links and balances L/R as best as possible. Thoughts? Thanks for reading! I’ve also seen project lineups on TV that have Lamb in the 2 hole.

        Regardless, facing Pollok, Goldy, and anyone else in the first inning will be a challenge for any pitcher!

  10. […] outfield, we know that will be David Peralta, Pollock and Yasmany Tomas, the main question being whether Tomas will take a big step forward. In the infield, there’s a chance that Jake Lamb will start more games — and we should […]

  11. […] last season, the trio above would have still made the most sense, but now that Inciarte is gone and Tomas will try to fill his shoes, there may be even more incentive to mix and match. Platoons are well-known around here and have […]

  12. […] course this leaves a few things out. Yasmany Tomas now gets a chance to play and, hopefully, grow. The bullpen will be less stressed, in theory, because starters can likely carry more innings. […]

  13. […] comment refers to “adjustments.” Those are things I’ve written about here in the past when it comes to Tomas and Ryan and I recently discussed them on The Pool Shot. It’s not […]

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