A few days ago, MLBTR’s Anthony Franco looked back on the trade that sent LaMonte Wade Jr. to the Giants. At the time, Wade had a fairly unimpressive track record, but did have a knack for generating walks and limiting strikeouts. Whether that was what piqued the Giants’ interest or not, it worked out for them, as Wade had a nice season in 2021. His strikeout rate shot up, but he still hit 18 home runs and slashed .253/.326/.482, for a wRC+ of 117.
A young hitter’s command of the strike zone can often be a helpful indicator of future success, like it was in Wade’s case. Mookie Betts was never at the top of prospect lists, as he was on Baseball America’s Top 100 only once, coming in at #75 prior to the 2014 season. But looking back on his strikeout and walk rates in the minors, perhaps it should have been more obvious that he was a superstar in the making. At Low-A, A-Ball, High-A and Double-A, he posted a BB/K above 1.00, meaning he walked more than he struck out. At Triple-A in 2014, it was 0.87, still very impressive. Jose Ramirez never appeared on Baseball America’s Top 100, and even just among Cleveland prospects, he peaked at #9 in 2014. He also kept his BB/K rate around 1.00 for most of his time in the minors, and has carried that forward into the majors as well.
That’s not to say that every minor leaguer with a strong BB/K rate will turn into a superstar like Betts or Ramirez. Jace Peterson put up solid BB/K rates as well, but has settled in as an average-ish role player. Austin Barnes also had a keen eye throughout the minors, before becoming a solid second string catcher. But those players can still be plenty useful for a big league club. Can we find the next hidden gem of this type? Let’s sniff around. Here are some standout BB/K numbers from the minors in 2021.
Alejo Lopez, infielder, Reds, BB/K at Double-A and Triple-A in 2021: 1.41
A 27th round selection of the Reds in 2015, Lopez had never appeared on the club’s top 30 prospects list at Baseball America prior to this season. (He would eventually crack the midseason rankings, coming in at #21.) He had posted strong strikeout and walk numbers in rookie ball action in 2016 and 2017, putting up a BB/K above 1.00 in each year. In 2018 and 2019, he played in A-ball and High-A, with his BB/K slipping to around 0.50 in each year. After the pandemic canceled the minor leagues in 2020, Lopez hit the ground running in 2021. In 92 games between Double-A and Triple-A, he hit .320/.401/.447, with a walk rate of 11% and strikeout rate of just 7.8%, leading to a huge BB/K of 1.41. He got called up for his MLB debut and didn’t hit much, but in a tiny sample size of 23 plate appearances. He’ll turn 26 in May.
Isaac Paredes, infielder, Tigers, BB/K at Triple-A in 2021: 1.19.
In 2018, Paredes reached Double-A for the first time and put up a BB/K rate of 0.86 in just 39 games. In 2019, he returned to Double-A and played in 127 games, improving his rate to 0.93. In 2020, the pandemic wiped out the minor leagues, but Paredes made his big league debut. The transition to MLB wasn’t terribly smooth as he hit .220 over 34 games, with a BB/K of just 0.33. In 2021, he spent the bulk of the year at Triple-A, playing 72 games there, hitting .265/.397/.451 while walking in an incredible 17.8% of his plate appearances and striking out just 14.9% of the time, for a BB/K ratio of 1.19. He also got into 23 more MLB games and had a BB/K rate of 0.91 there. Paredes has appeared on the backend of Baseball America’s Top 100, coming in at #94 before the 2019 season and #100 before 2020. He’s still quite young, as he won’t turn 23 until February.
Steven Kwan, outfielder, Guardians, BB/K at Double-A and Triple-A in 2021: 1.16
Kwan was selected by Cleveland in the fifth round of the 2018 draft and got into 17 games that year in the lower levels of their system. In 2019, he played 123 games at High-A, with a BB/K of 1.04. After missing out on 2020 due to the pandemic, he spent 2021 between Double-A and Triple-A, playing 77 games in total and logging 341 plate appearances. Overall, he hit .328/.407/.527, along with a walk rate of 10.6% and strikeout rate of 9.1%, winding up with a final BB/K of 1.16. He’s never been on Baseball America’s prospects for Cleveland, though he did just barely crack FanGraphs’ list a year ago, taking the final spot on a list of 49. The Guardians added him to their 40-man roster in November.
Tyler White, infielder, Blue Jays, BB/K at Triple-A in 2021: 1.10
A 33rd round draft pick of the Astros in 2013, White has never been viewed as a top prospect. He only appeared on Baseball America’s top 30 Houston Astros’ prospect list once, coming in at #16 back in 2016. But he has always had a good eye for the strike zone. His first crack at Double-A was 59 games in 2015, where his BB/K was 1.20. In 57 games at Triple-A that same year, it was 1.11. He made his MLB debut the following year and appeared in parts of four seasons from 2016 to 2019. He showed some promise with the bat in 2017 and 2018 but floundered in 2019 before joining the SK Wyverns of the KBO for 2020. In 2021, he signed a minors deal with the Blue Jays, playing 105 games and hitting .292/.424/.476. His walk rate was 18.1% and his strikeout rate was 16.5%, for a final BB/K rate of 1.10. Despite that tremendous year at the plate, he never got the call to the big leagues, likely due to his limited positional flexibility. Other than one game at third base, he was exclusively a first baseman or designated hitter in 2021. Now 31, he signed a minor league deal with the Brewers last month.
Cooper Hummel, utility, Brewers/Diamondbacks, BB/K at Triple-A in 2021: 1.03
Hummel was selected by the Brewers in the 16th round of the 2016 draft and never appeared on Baseball America’s top 30 prospects for the club. In 2021, he started the year at Triple-A and got into 46 games for the Nashville Sounds, racking up an incredible BB/K of 1.58. He was flipped to the Diamondbacks as part of the Eduardo Escobar trade and got into 46 more games after that. Although his BB/K was just 0.63 after the trade, he still finished the year at 1.03 overall. Oh, and he hit .353/.429/.575 after the deal. Now 27, the Diamondbacks added Hummel to their 40-man roster in November.
Jonah Bride, utility, Athletics, BB/K at Double-A in 2021: 1.00
Bride was a 23rd round selection of the Athletics in 2018. He hit well in his first couple of minor league seasons, but took a step forward in 2021 in terms of plate discipline. His walk rate and strikeout rate were equal at 17.1%, as he had exactly 57 of each in 334 Double-A plate appearances. He’s never been on Baseball America’s top 30 Oakland prospects, but FanGraphs just placed him 17th in the organization, noting that he recently started an attempt to convert from an infielder into a catcher. He was added to Oakland’s 40-man roster in November.