During the life of a top ten prospect, there is always overreaction, unnecessary comparisons and gratuitous “his ceiling is a lot like this former Tribe star” drops. Indeed, in the Indians system every third baseman is comped to a young Jim Thome, every plus hitter to Manny Ramirez, every plus defender to Kenny Lofton. And with Lindor being a plus defender, not comparing him to Vizquel is treated as a sin.
As well, it seems to be a human condition to have great hope in what is “next”. In Cleveland, despite the “waiting for next year” attitude, prospects are gold because we have yet to see their imperfections. Thus, when a hot streak occurs, interest in specific players’ spikes, especially when that missing element finally seems to have aligned.
Thus is the case of Jesus Aguilar, a prospect, who following his 2011 was a hot topic in the Indians system. The hyping of Aguilar was based on two specific things: 1). The Indians inability to acquire a right handed bat with power. 2) Aguilar providing plus power over multiple levels at the age of 21.
Yet Aguilar’s power production over the course of his development has fluctuated as he has attempted to become more effective at other facets of the game.
Indeed, tracking Aguilar through the minors leads one to believe he was making a collection of changes which while necessary where sapping some of his production.
The most discernible statistical shift in this chart exists in Aguilar’s decreasing isolated power. This is concerning but of course some of it is to be expected for a few reasons.
The first is the normal promotion process through the minor-league system, as a player continues to climb the ladder the quality of opposition improves which tends to suppress offensive statistics that fringe on gaudy in the AZL, short season or low-A.
The second piece to address is park factor, or more simply how hitter friendly the home park is for hitters, specifically power production. In the minor-league system, the Indians have a diverse set of parks, some of which are pitcher friendly, some hitter friendly.
In Aguilar’s case, his last two seasons were spent in two pitcher friendly parks, both Five County Stadium and Canal Park adversely affect homer production. Five County Stadium comes with a HR factor of 95, leaning mildly towards pitcher friendly. While Canal Park sits at 88 for HR and 98 for doubles. These parks are ISO suppressant so that explains a piece of his decreased home run output.
Thus, in terms of both the promotion process and the park influence some of Aguilar’s power woes were to be expected. However, another piece was at play, the Indians organization emphasized two important pieces for Aguilar which was improving in terms of plate discipline and contact rate, which often goes hand in hand.
Often times this causes periods of time were there is reticence swinging the bat, which while having a positive affect on OBP can sap power production. As Aguilar has made impressive steps in terms of plate discipline, both shrinking his strikeout rate and raising his walk rate, it had an affect on his power.
Which brings us to this off-season, 18 home runs in 58 games an ISO of .269 and an OBP of .400, an off-season to trigger immense optimism.
Of course projections have become lofty, excessive hubris abounds surrounding Aguilar, but some uptick in expectations is wholly reasonable.
After looking at the influence of park effect, and approach adjustments which suppressed power for a period, I believe that Aguilar could be a 20-25 home run, .340 OBP type at the big league level. While Aguilar has not established a more stable floor for a big league career, he has certainly raised what his ceiling could be both in terms of power and OBP ability.