One year ago, Jack Suwinski was one of three prospects coming over to the Pirates in the Adam Frazier trade.
Suwinski was in Double-A at the time in the San Diego system, showing a boost in his power production. That resulted in a .282 isolated power (ISO), which didn’t carry over to Altoona, where Suwinski had a .139 ISO to finish the season.
The power returned this year.
Suwinski opened the season in Altoona, hitting three homers in 57 plate appearances, for a small sample sized .333 ISO. The small sample came at the right time, making Suwinski a short-term callup to the majors due to a COVID outbreak in April.
The power remained in the majors.
Suwinski was in the majors for 250 plate appearances, hitting 14 homers and putting up a .230 ISO. The difference between this power and the power he showed in Double-A was that this power came with a low average and on-base percentage. Suwinski was hitting for power, but nothing else.
Oneil Cruz has power.
We’ve seen that power in the majors, for sure. Cruz has five homers in 116 plate appearances this year, and a .200 ISO. Cruz has hit for more power in the minors, and is definitely capable of more power results in the majors.
Just like with Suwinski, Cruz is hitting for power and not much else. Take a look at the MLB results so far.
Very similar outcomes. A key difference is that Suwinski draws more walks. The outfielder is striking out 30.4% of the time, but walking 9.6% of the time, making up for the .198 average. Cruz has a higher average, but a 36.2% strikeout rate shows it’s not better contact skills. He also has a 4.3% walk rate.
In each case, power doesn’t do much if it comes with an on-base percentage below .300.
The Pirates just traded Daniel Vogelbach to the Mets. Vogelbach had a nice season at the plate, hitting for a .228/.338/.430 line with 12 homers and a .203 ISO. He joined Suwinski, Cruz, and Bryan Reynolds as the only Pirates with an ISO over .200 this year.
Vogelbach’s overall offense seems obtainable for Suwinski. It would only require a slight drop in strikeouts and an increase in walks. Vogelbach struck out 24.1% of the time, but walked 14.4%.
Last week, Wilbur Miller wrote about how the Pirates aren’t swinging the bat, and Vogelbach was one of the most extreme cases. He’s only swinging 31.9% of the time this year. By comparison, Suwinski is swinging 43.6% of the time.
Somewhere in that difference, Suwinski is making enough bad swing decisions to lead to a difference in walks and strikeouts.
The overall difference? Suwinski was sent to Triple-A, while Vogelbach was sent to the Mets.
I’m going to throw out a few more names of players who were acquired by the Pirates last year, and their 2022 numbers in the majors.
Michael Chavis came over in a smaller deal for left-hander Austin Davis, in a swap of post-prospects. Chavis had a lot of power potential, and has shown that with a .171 ISO. He follows the trend of Suwinski and Cruz in that he is only hitting for power.
The line from Chavis: .236/.275/.407
Diego Castillo was added in the Clay Holmes trade around this time last year. The Pirates called him up to the majors early in the season, and he’s shown the power potential he was advertised as having. Castillo has a .170 ISO and ten homers.
The line from Castillo: .200/.243/.374
Hoy Park came over with Castillo in the Holmes trade. He’s got a .160 ISO in just 59 plate appearances this year.
The line from Park: .220/.281/.380.
One of the players who came over with Suwinski was Tucupita Marcano. He’s had 78 plate appearances in the majors, with a .229/.280/.357 line. That’s not a lot of power, with a .129 ISO.
You don’t need to hit for massive amounts of power to have value though. Ben Gamel has a .133 ISO. He also has a .245/.338/.378 line, and is the fourth most valuable position player on the team this year. He’s not the best MLB player, but he is a consistent MLB player who can provide solid value off the bench.
Like Vogelbach, Gamel excels over all of the other younger hitters in drawing walks. He has a 26.2% strikeout rate, but a 12% walk rate.
Like Vogelbach, Gamel might be traded this month.
Are we starting to see the difference between MLB players and those who are trying to stick from the minors?
I don’t play much golf, but I think the phrase “Drive for show, putt for dough” is pretty common and understandable.
The concept is that you can hit the ball a really long way on your first shot, but it’s really about what you do in the following shots that defines your overall success.
If you’re on a pro-level, par five course, a home run drive might put you in position for a birdie.
You’re not getting that birdie if you shank the next three shots.
One-for-four with a homer and three strikeouts doesn’t work at the top level in any sport.
It’s difficult to hit a home run in the majors.
It’s also difficult to get on base at an above-average rate.
It’s really difficult to do both at the same time.
You see this in the minors as players are developing. It’s almost like there are two approaches.
Do you sell out for power, and try to learn how to hit from a power approach? Or, do you sell out for contact and on-base, but try to find spots to add power?
Those are two extreme approaches, and most players fall on the vast spectrum somewhere between them.
It’s hard to ignore that the Pirates have a lot of players who fall closer to the “sell out for power” extreme.
It’s even more difficult to ignore that these players aren’t really improving at also learning how to hit from this approach.
Suwinski will be a big test. He was sent to Triple-A, which is his first stop at the level after 250 plate appearances in the majors. In the first 18 plate appearances in Triple-A, his results have been the same as the majors, selling out for power and getting nothing else.
Ideally, he can learn better pitch recognition with this power approach, and improve his OBP to Vogelbach territory.
I mean, ideally, he also learns how to hit for a higher average in the process, but that might be asking for too much from this point.
It’s difficult to hit a home run in the majors.
Suwinski has shown he can do that.
So have a lot of other young Pirates.
Now, he’ll get to work to see if he can add the on-base ability to the power. That will be a test to see if the Pirates can develop MLB hitters by slowly adding to and building up their games.
Suwinski isn’t the only test.
The Pirates still have plenty of players trying to add to their power in the majors.
And one of them is Oneil Cruz.
Thus, it’s very important that the Pirates can teach their hitters how to do more than just hit for power in the majors.
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Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.