Nico asks: OK, so I remember your piece from late February on Jorge Vasquez, and I just re-read it as a refresher. How can people be so sure his skills won’t translate to the bigs? He is absolutely raking in Scranton – is there some obvious sign that he will be useless against big-league stuff? I’ve just never heard of such abstract reasoning for why we shouldn’t see what a player can do at the big-league level. Thanks!
JoVa has been killing in Triple-A so far this year, currently ranking in the International League with eleven homers behind teammate Justin Maxwell, who has a dozen. His .389 wOBA is undeniably gaudy, but there are obvious flaws in his game. First and foremost, his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. Vazquez has drawn just five walks this season despite being one of the league’s preeminent power hitters, and in 730 plate appearances since signing with the Yankees back in 2009, he’s drawn just 23 unintentional walks. That 3.2% walk rate is on par with noted big league hackers like Orlando Cabrera, Alfonso Soriano, Juan Uribe, and (sadly) Robinson Cano. Except we’re talking about a guy in his late-20’s drawing so little walks against minor league competition.
With that low walk total comes a ton of strikeouts, we’re talking 235 in 686 at-bats in the system (34.3%). Vazquez has struck out 37 times in 127 at-bats this season (29.1%), and even in the Mexican League he was almost always over 30%. Strikeout rates that high by older players in the minors almost always stem from one of two things (often both): the guy just can’t recognize breaking balls, or he has a huge hole in his swing that pitchers exploit. Given the low walk totals, I’m guessing it’s more of the former in Vazquez’s case. The power is real, no doubt about it, but he’s a two-true outcomes guy at Triple-A, and that doesn’t really translate to the show.
Then there’s the defense, which he doesn’t really offer. JoVa’s should be viewed strictly as a first baseman if he has to actually wear a glove, though he’s played some third in the minors. He’s playable at the hot corner the same way Eric Hinske was, in an emergency or late in a blowout game when you want to rest the regular. Jorge’s a short (5-foot-11) and pudgy (225 lbs.) dude that just doesn’t move around well. I can relate. He’s really more of a DH than anything else.
Joe mentioned Mitch Jones in his February post, a guy that spent parts of seven seasons just annihilating the minor leagues (.249 ISO) in the Yankees’ system before bolting for Japan (and eventually coming back). It’s a good comparison in the sense that both Jones and Vazquez are classic AAAA-types, though the former’s career walk rate in the minors (9.9%) is more than double the latter’s. Jones was also athletic enough to play the outfield the entire time. Shelley Duncan is cut from a similar cloth, but he walked more than Jones and struck out way less than both guys (24.3% strikeout rate in the minors). And again, he could handle the outfield.
Vazquez opened some eyes with a great Spring Training and has carried that success over into the regular season, but you have to be careful with guys like this. He’s way old for the level at 29, he doesn’t lay off enough pitches out of the zone, and his defensive value is negligible. JoVa’s a great organization guy, and maybe he gets a cup of coffee with someone somewhere down the line, but he offers little to his Yankees team as presently constructed.