CHARLESTON, WV – He’s not a flashy prospect like Ke’Bryan Hayes, or a toolsy outfielder like Tito Polo, or even a bruiser like Carlos Munoz, but Mitchell Tolman might be the most important player to suit up for the West Virginia Power this season. It’s easy to overlook the 5′ 11″ second baseman, but one glance at his accomplishments and statistics in his professional career reveals just how talented this utility man is.
Drafted in the seventh round in 2015 as a third baseman out of the University of Oregon, Tolman immediately made an impact with the West Virginia Black Bears (Morgantown). In Morgantown, he led the team in hits, doubles, triples, and walks and ranked near the top in slugging percentage and batting average. Tolman finished the year with a .304/.407/.411 line.
In the field, Tolman started the season at third and then shifted to second base when first-round pick Ke’Bryan Hayes joined the team late in the year. Combining the two positions, Tolman had more assists than any other Black Bear in 2015.
When the Black Bears made it to the New York-Penn League championship, Tolman led off.
“I like to be the one who leads off innings usually,” said Tolman. “I like to get on there and try and steal a base if I can. I know sometimes I’ll get thrown out, but that’s just who I am.”
That aggression served Tolman well in the best-of-three series. He went 3-for-9 and reached twice on walks. In the first of Morgantown’s two wins, Tolman singled to lead off the bottom of the 11th and then used his heads-up approach to base running to reach second on a throwing error. Two batters later, Tolman came around to score the winning run, putting Morgantown one win away from the championship.
That electricity and hustle were part of what made this contact-driven utility infielder a seventh-round pick. So far Tolman has lived up to his scouting report — a contact hitter with a knack for getting on base and experience in every corner of the field. A solid minor leaguer with some projectability as a utility man in the majors.
But in the last three months with West Virginia, Tolman has shown us something else: Power.
As of the end of June, Tolman has blasted six home runs — as many as he had in three years of college ball. He is turning his doubles gap power into long ball power, and most of the homers scream over the fence as line drives.
With his compact body and quick bat, Tolman generates his power by keeping his weight back and his body still until he unleashes his full power into the ball.
“It’s just being smooth with the swing instead of [having] a lot of moving parts,” said Tolman of his newfound home run form. “When I’m on time and my head’s not moving and my lower half is still, I’m able to generate all the power I have in me and consistently make good swings.”
Even when those swings don’t result in home runs, Tolman makes solid contact. He now leads the Power in hits and his production has increased with each successive month. A slow start in April still saw him slash .243/.308/.371. He got back on his feet in May, hitting .284/.387/.392. June has been his best month by far as he finished with a .312/.418/.484 line.
“I’ve been told, and I know now, too, that when you shoot for doubles and when you hit the ball well, every now and then, you get enough, and it gets up over [the wall],” said Tolman. “So that’s still my approach. Stay in the gaps and stay who I am instead of getting big and starting to fly balls out to the infield.”
This easy approach also helps Tolman keep his strikeout numbers down. Daniel Arribas and Ke’Bryan Hayes, the two current Power players ahead of Tolman on the home run list, have both been taking healthy cuts recently and have seen their strikeout rates balloon. Between April and June, Arribas’ percentage of strikeouts per at-bats has nearly tripled while his slugging percentage has fallen from .470 in April to .369 in June. Hayes has experienced a similar, yet less drastic, dip in production.
Tolman, on the other hand, dropped his strikeout rate from 10 percent to 9.7 percent in the same time frame.
Tolman’s offense has not been the only feather in his cap in the 2016 season. Although he has more or less permanently moved to second base due to the presence of Hayes, Tolman has looked good at the new position. Understandably, Tolman says he feels most comfortable at second base, despite being drafted as a third baseman.
“I put a lot of work in every single day. I come out, take ground balls, take double play turns every single day,” said Tolman.
With his burgeoning power and lock-down defense at second, Tolman seems ready and willing to contribute on whatever team he finds himself later this year and into the future. He has proven himself able to master new positions and add new aspects to his game, but one thing about this all-around utility man remains the same: his catalyzing impact on the team as a whole.
Tolman himself put it best: “That’s what I try to do — bring a little energy to everyone.”