As the Mets youth movement has taken hold with Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty in the Major Leagues, utility prospect Mark Vientos keeps working away in Triple-A Syracuse. After smacking 24 home runs and hitting .280/.358/.519 in 101 games with the S-Mets in 2022, the 23-year-old is batting .364/.446/.764 with six long balls in his first 15 games this season.
Even with a cup of coffee in the majors last September, the Mets feel that Vientos needs more seasoning in Triple-A. Part of that involves his defense and transitioning to the outfield, but one wonders if the club doesn’t have questions about how he will be able to translate his hitting to the majors.
One of the highlights of Triple-A moving to the automatic balls and strikes system in 2023 is that we now have some access to Statcast data for Triple-A players. This is a great revelation as previously this information was kept proprietary by MLB teams and kept as secret as the codes for Fort Knox.
With that said, and with a handful of games worth of data on the Triple-A season, it is worth taking a quick look at Vientos, and what the Statcast data says about him. Perhaps in that we can find the answer as to why the Mets seem so hesitant to give him a lengthy shot in the big leagues.
Thus far, Vientos has hit 41 balls in play, and 22 of those balls that qualify as “hard contact”, with an exit velocity of 95 mph or more. Of those hard-hit balls, 14 have come on four-seam fastballs, three were changeups, one was a cutter, three were sliders and one was a curveball.
So he crushes fastballs, not a surprise. Most good power hitters do, that’s why pitching has trended toward throwing mostly breaking balls for the past few years. What separates the wheat from the chaff (or in this case a AAAA masher from a big leaguer) is the ability to hit a breaking ball.
Vientos this season has struck out 17 times, and only four of those have been on a breaking ball. However, that is not to say that he has mashed on those pitches either. In at-bats ending in a slider, curveball or sweeper, he is a combined 2-for-12 with a pair of walks. Against changueps he is not much better, going 2-for-9 with five strikeouts.
Compared to the 1.924 OPS that he has put up against four-seam fastballs or the .989 OPS against sinkers, and it becomes evident that Vientos’ biggest growth as a hitter needs to be hitting something other than a fastball.
Naturally, we are dealing super small sample sizes here, and in the coming weeks, these data may show a very different picture. However, the data we have from Vientos in the majors at the end of last season supports the same conclusion, in another super small sample size.
For now, we are simply searching for answers with the very limited resources available. That answer seems to be that Vientos just isn’t good enough yet against non-fastballs to succeed in MLB. The good news is that he is still young and has time to develop that ability. He’ll just have to work on developing it in the International League for the time being.