Minnesota selected Larnach to the big leagues in early May. A 2018 first-round pick, Larnach rose rather quickly through the minors with huge performances up through Double-A. Along the way, he cemented himself as one of the Twins’ most promising prospects — and indeed, as one of the top farmhands in the sport. Entering the year, Baseball America placed Larnach inside the game’s top 40 minor league talents.
The hope was that Larnach and/or fellow top prospect Alex Kirilloff would hit the ground running to cement themselves as potential everyday options alongside Byron Buxton and Max Kepler in the Minnesota outfield. Neither player has yet tapped into their considerable offensive upside, though. Kirilloff hit .251/.299/.423 over 231 plate appearances before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. Larnach has stayed healthy, but he’s hit at a below-average level (.223/.322/.350) for the first time in his professional career. He started the season well, but Larnach’s been mired in a dreadful slump of late, with just two multi-hit games since July 5.
To his credit, Larnach has continued to show plenty of patience at the plate this season, as he did throughout his minor league tenure. The 24-year-old has walked in a quality 10.3% of his plate appearances, swinging at a lower-than-average 28% of pitches outside the strike zone while attacking pitches in the zone at a near average rate. While Larnach hasn’t chased much, he’s simply made too little contact when he has swung. His 62.9% contact rate is the third-lowest mark (above only Mike Zunino’s and Javier Báez’s) among the 228 hitters with 250+ plate appearances this season. That’s led to a massive 34.6% strikeout rate that’s fourth-highest (lower only than Zunino’s, Bobby Dalbec’s and Báez’s) in that group.
While Zunino and Báez have offset their huge strikeout totals with huge power and plus defense, Larnach hasn’t offered that sort of complementary production. He’s always been seen as a bat-first prospect, so the lack of defensive value isn’t a surprise. But Larnach has hit just seven home runs in 301 plate appearances and has a below-average .127 isolated power (slugging minus batting average).
He’s hit the ball solidly, but it hasn’t been the elite contact quality necessary to succeed with a strikeout rate at its current level. According to Statcast, Larnach has made hard contact (defined as an exit velocity of 95 MPH or higher) on 41.1% of his batted balls. That’s above the 35.5% league average, but it’s not at the level of Zunino (48.9%) or Báez (45.6%). Similarly, Larnach’s average exit velocity and barrel rate are right around the 60th percentiles. Zunino has an 89th percentile average exit velocity and a 100th percentile barrel rate, while Báez sits in the 72nd and 86th percentiles in those respective metrics.
More simply put, hitters with that kind of swing-and-miss need to be among the best in the league at driving the ball when they do make contact. Larnach has been above-average but not elite in that regard.
Obviously, Larnach’s first crack at the majors hasn’t gone as he or the organization would’ve hoped. That said, it’s much too early to write off the possibility of him figuring things out. He’s a career .306/.384/.473 hitter in the minors, where his strikeout rate is a far more manageable 21.8%. And he was making the jump to the majors this year with essentially no Triple-A experience. Last year’s canceled minor league season — coupled with the delayed start to the 2021 minors campaign — has kept Larnach to all of three career games at that level.
He’ll head to St. Paul for what’ll presumably be a more extended Triple-A run. If he performs at anything close to his level up through Double-A, he figures to get another look in the big leagues at some point soon. The Twins are playing out the stretch on a disappointing season, and they’re certainly holding out hope Larnach can contribute to a 2022 team they’re expecting to compete in the AL Central.