MLBPipeline.com’s Jim Callis recently drew the ire of Birdland when he ranked his current top 30 major league rookies based on their future potential. Again, he was ranking not on current stats or performance, but future potential.
In an interview for this article on that topic, Callis said he had some concerns about Mancini moving forward.
“I worry he doesn’t walk much,” Callis said. “His strikeout-to-walk ratio is pretty high and I wonder if big league pitchers are going to solve him a little bit more going forward and I don’t think he offers a whole lot of other value. I don’t think he’s a very good defender and he’s probably more of a first baseman, which limits his defensive value. I would take every hitter on that list over him pretty easily.”
Mancini had a very strong 2017 season. He hit .293/.338/.488 with 26 doubles, four triples, 24 homers, 78 RBIs and an OPS of .826. Mancini’s 159 hits led major league rookies and ranks second-most by an O’s rookie, trailing only Eddie Murray, who had 173 in 1977. Mancini’s 24 homers trailed only Hall of Famers Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. among O’s rookies. Ripken hit 28 homers in 1982 and Murray hit 27 as a rookie.
Mancini was among the rookie stat leaders in the big leagues in several categories. He ranked 26th overall in the American League among all players in OPS at .826. He kept good company with Houston’s Alex Bregman 25th at .827 and Cleveland’s Carlos Santana 27th at .818.
In trying to ponder and project Mancini’s future performance, one comparison worth looking at for me is Mancini’s rookie year versus Jonathan Schoop’s first two full seasons in 2014-2015, the second of which was ended early by injury:
Schoop in 2014-15: .237 average, .269 on-base percentage, .405 slugging, .674 OPS
Mancini in 2017: .293 average, .338 on-base percentage, .488 slugging, .826 OPS
This is no apples to apples comparison. Schoop was an international amateur signing out of Curacao and Mancini a college draft pick. Schoop reached the majors at age 21 for the first time and Mancini at 24. One is a second baseman and one a left fielder. But they are both batters with lower walk rates who have some pop in their bats. We are comparing them through their first season and two seasons in the majors.
If Mancini can make some of the improvements Schoop made, he might really take his offense to a special level.
This year Schoop’s walk rate improved from 3.2 percent in 2016 to a career-best 5.2. Mancini’s walk rate of 5.6, while well below average, already exceed’s Schoop career-best mark.
Schoop this year, according to FanGraphs.com stats, posted a career-best rate of chasing pitches outside the strike zone. He improved from swinging at 43.0 percent of non-strikes to 37.1 percent. He chased fewer pitches and had his best year in this category. Mancini’s chase rate was 36.8 percent in 2017.
Schoop’s rate of swinging and missing strikes was 13.8 percent this season, down from 17.5 in 2015 and 16.2 in 2016. Mancini’s rate for this year matched Schoop at 13.8.
Neither player gets high marks for his plate discipline skills, but Schoop didn’t need to grade above average, or even average here, to put up big offensive numbers. Mancini didn’t either. Schoop improved his walk rate, etc. just to get to levels that Mancini is already at as a rookie. This could bode well for Mancini to take his offense to higher levels over the next few seasons. It is not like Mancini wildly chases pitches - he doesn’t. But he doesn’t walk much either and his walk-to-strikeout rate is one of the worst on the team. There is room for growth. There was for Schoop and he did make improvements.
On defense, I think you had to see Mancini play every night to note that he was not a liability out there, showed a decent and accurate arm, and made some big defensive plays. He is just not going to be as athletic as a smaller, faster player, but his athleticism is probably underrated overall.
Mancini hits to all fields and showed impressive power to right and right center. He hit .293 versus both lefties and righties. He hit .340 with runners in scoring position. He was more than adequate on defense. He fits in seamlessly in the clubhouse, already well-respected by the vets. He is a quick study and devoted to getting better.
Is his ceiling an elite talent like Manny Machado? That is likely aiming too high. Could he put together an offensive season next year or down the road that Schoop did in 2017? Certainly seems so to me.