The Other Nomar – #3 in a 5-Part Series
A reminder – we’re looking at the ways the Rangers can replace Adrian Beltre. So far, we’ve checked outside Arlington, and come up with my personal favorite if we take the mercenary route: Jonathon Lucroy. Then, we explored, piece by piece, the possibility of supplementing Lucroy with pieces from inside the system, and checked out the first leg of our foundation for the future – Lewis Brinson. This time around, we’re looking at the bona-fide stud of the Rangers future – our very own Nomar: Nomar Mazara.
In terms of polish, Nomar Mazara is a step closer to what we’re hoping Lewis Brinson will become.
He also has struggles from a contact perspective, but he’s got a swing made for line drives that’s developing drive and power as he matures (he’s entering his age 21 season). Here’s Grant Schiller’s take on sweet-swinging Nomar, with my favorite excerpt from that piece here:
“The advanced approach and abilities at his young age are what really stand out for Mazara. He doesn’t pop out, he utilizes the entire field, has a very professional outlook. During his time in Frisco a year ago, he seemed at times to be toying with pitchers. The first couple months the Santo Domingo, DR, native seemed determined to put the ball in play and work to the opposite field. The results? OBPs of .377 and .388 in April and May. As the season moved into June and July the focus seemingly became more on driving the ball. What happened? 19 extra base hits (11 HRs) and slugging percentages of .565 and .449, respectively. In August, Mazara was promoted to Triple-A Round Rock where in a small sample size of 20 games he put up a .358/.409/.444 slashline.”
Consider this, in terms of natural power, when it comes to Mazara’s tools. From the great Jamey Newberg FIVE years ago:
Mazara’s power is already remarkable — some have suggested no Latin American teenager has shown as much raw power potential since Miguel Cabrera 12 years ago — and his slender 6-foot-5 frame will certainly fill out, carrying plenty of added weight and strength.
The frame really hasn’t filled out fully yet. At 6’-4”, it can hold more than 195 and still maintain a lithe athleticism. But to have the power he does at “just” 195 says so much about the purity of his mechanics. It will be important that he maintain the flexibility and athleticism he has now, because he willl not become Miguel Cabrera – truly a hitter of generational greatness. However, it’s not a stretch to expect consistent .280 seasons with 20+ homers and 30+ doubles, plus average to above-average defense and an above-average and accurate arm from either corner outfield spot.
I am not a scout, and with the exception of the occasional RoughRiders game, I never get to watch these guys in person, and have no insight into their makeup. But I do have analysts I respect, and Keith Law is one. Here’s an excerpt of his report on Mazara that says a lot:
“Mazara received a then-record $5 million bonus as a Dominican amateur in 2011, back when he was a skinny kid who had bat speed and a projectable frame. He showed an advanced approach for his age right away in the Arizona Rookie League in 2012, and it has continued to improve. Between his plan at the plate, the bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination, he has become a versatile hitter who’ll work the count, use the whole field and who’s starting to come into his power as well. He can still be too aggressive early in the count and often pulls hard ground balls to the right side on pitches he should take the other way or let pass, but he’s rarely fooled, and he hits the ball hard enough that even some poor swing decisions are going to work out for him.”
I wrote last year that I thought his peak would be 25 homers with a .280/.360/.520 sort of line when he’s filled out, and if anything, I feel better about his upside after his 2015 performance.
I was lucky enough to see Mazara in Frisco. He had a bad night – spinning off the ball rather than turning on it, which speaks to Law’s assessment of ground balls to the right side versus hanging back and driving them up the middle, but he has the natural hand speed and strength to do it. When I saw him, his stance was wide and quite open. I actually don’t mind that, but it takes a lot of discipline to hang the front shoulder in with that approach.
If he learns to do that consistently, two things will happen: 1) the walk count will go up, because he’ll track the ball deeper before committing, and 2) he’ll start to use the whole field for singles, not just power. That’s big, because major league pitchers will eat up a guy with a pull-happy approach. Plus, being a lefty, ground balls in the hole at 2nd are outs. Grounders to short in the hole, with his speed, can turn into singles. That’s huge for a young player, because slumps are a certainty, and sometimes, a few ground-ball singles deep in the hole get you out of them without requiring a mechanical tweak. That’s huge. As we’ve seen with Mitch Moreland, who has been one of the Rangers more streaky hitters, when you have to consistently tweak your stance to break slumps, muscle memory suffers and streakiness prevails. It’s a Catch 22 spin cycle.
The thing I’d like to see Nomar do is get a bit quieter with his lower body. He takes a hard versus a soft stride which means, when his timing is on, his power is explosive. However when he loses track of the ball, especially on offspeed stuff away, he rolls over or has to throw his hands out and loops soft grounders the other way. He’d do well to study the master of the soft stride, Tony Gwynn (who wouldn’t?), as his natural power means he can give away a bit of weight shift for balance and not lose his ability to drive the ball gap to gap and even over the wall. Clearing the fence by five feet counts the same as by 50, as another soft strider (Rafael Palmeiro) eventually learned. Well before he ever saw a PED, Raffy used a quiet lower body and fast hands to loft shots just over the wall, and he was always a master of the opposite field line drive. I think a soft toe tap would do wonders for Mazara.
My prediction is he’s in danger of being rushed – although a good, healthy Ian Desmond should keep that from happening – and a spring of working with Anthony Iapoce would help a lot. Iapoce worked with many a Cub hitters with the same active lower body as can over take Mazara’s mechanics, and quieted down the likes of even a leg-kicker like Anthony Rizzo so that his natural power could take over. I think this March will go a long ways in telling us what to expect for 2016, and it will hopefully be more of what we saw last year in Frisco and Round Rock, and a precursor to a challenger for an All Star spot by 2019 or so. Just in time for him to form the second leg of the post-Beltre era.
That would be an awesome peak, and it’s not unrealistic to dream on. I don’t know if he’ll quite get to that OBP he needs to in order to fully realize his power but let’s hope. Again, let’s take a look at his trends similar to what we did with Brinson, from 2012 to 2015, across levels Rookie through to Triple A (with levels combined for season totals):
Mazara hasn’t seen the trends of Brinson, in terms of strikeout to walk ratio. With the exception of his understandable struggles as a 18-year-old in A-ball, he’s been almost exactly a 2:1 K to walk player. That’s definitely acceptable for a player with pop. The more important fact is whether his AB per strikeout rate have improved, and that they have. He struck out more than 1/3 of the time in rookie ball, but was only 17 and matched that with an .830 OPS, and a solid mix of power (13 doubles, 3 triples, and 6 homers).
The real light-up season was last year, split between the Rangers two highest stops, Frisco and Round Rock. There, across 490 at bats, he saw his home run totals drop from the previous season’s great 22 (again, partially thanks to High Desert A-ball) to a very respectable 14, along with 26 doubles and a pair triples. He finished with his highest batting average, and second-highest OBP. It speaks more to the production he’d shown at all levels, rather than a decline, that his .808 OPS looks almost average when compared to his Age-17 .830 and Age-19 .840.
What the numbers show is a player of quite impressive consistency: as he’s gone up, his performance has generally stayed solid. Throwing out his off-year as an 18 year old in A ball, we see a steady climb in average, a roughly consistent OBP, and a very consistent slugging average.
Let’s use our friendly MLBfarm.com spray chart again, just because it’s so darn much fun – seriously, I spent about two hours playing with it before I actually wrote this article – you can compare players, add or remove data points. It’s like Sports Nerd stargazing. Which is also pretty nerdish – but I digress.
This one I love: almost perfect distribution, across all hits. That’s a maturity that goes right along with the consistency we talked about. You definitely see his power is a bit stronger to pull – unless your name is Mike Piazza, that’s going to be the case – but what I like here is that the singles are consistently distributed enough that you can’t shift him, at least not based on success.
So let’s take a look at failure and see if there’s any indicators.
Ok, first thing that’s nice to see: for all of 2015, the man popped out 8 times. EIGHT times (broken down on a yearly spray chart – chart shown is career). Wade Boggs went an entire season without popping out to the infield once, according to a scouting reports book I once read. I can’t swear to that, although it was Boggs, so I wouldn’t put it past him. Basically, there are no low-stress outs when he makes contact. However, there’s a huge trend: groundouts. If I’m facing Mazara, I shift my infield hard to the right, giving up the occasional opposite-field single for a few more groundouts until he starts to adjust.
Now, given his consistency, the money is on his adjusting, but to do that, as I noted earlier, it would help to have a softer front-foot landing. If he can improve the grounder-to-the-right-side rate, we’re talking 20 points in batting average and, again, I’d bet a longer look at the ball, and a sacrifice of just a bit of power – a few doubles into singles, a few homers into doubles to left – but a higher OBP, fewer strikeouts, and a spray chart closer to Tony Gwynn than David Ortiz.
So we have Brinson, and we have Mazara. But the leg of this support structure that has the potential to be strongest and most impactful is the third part – Joey Gallo. See you tomorrow.