Sample sizes can be dangerous with sports data. With baseball, there are so many factors that play into sample sizes of a player at the plate. In the minors, it presents a different set of factors outside of a new hitter a pitcher is facing for the first time. For example, the Pacific Coast League with teams playing at a higher sea level, some numbers can be, and pardon the bad pun, elevated.
In this situation, we are looking at shortstop Eddys Leonard, who the Detroit Tigers acquired at the trade deadline for cash. The Leonard pickup was barely noticeable. Fans and media alike were perplexed on why Eduardo Rodriguez was not traded. Then, when the details emerged, Tigers fans were upset and outraged. The impact (insert prospect) from the Dodgers was not coming.
But so far in his first 19 games at a new level in Toledo, Leonard is batting .362/.439/.638 (25-for-69) with a WRC+ of 163 over 19 games. He has shown extra base power, with seven doubles and four home runs, with a good walks to strikeouts. (9BB, 12SO). It gets more interesting as we look at the more advanced metrics.
He has an average exit velocity of 90.8 MPH, hard hit rate of 39.3% and barreling the ball up around an 8.2% clip. Both the exit velocity (87.7MPH) and hard hit rate (37%) are above league average, and barrel rate is just shy of 8.3% for the International League average. To put that in perspective, he is up there with Parker Meadows, Tyler Nevin, Andy Ibanez and Zack Short, who all have seen time in Detroit, in a small sample size.
In the scouting report for Tigers Minor League Report, the write-up spoke about being a bat first prospect with solid defense. During my last trip to Toledo, he hit a double off the wall in left-center, then later hit a home run. While that was good to see it backed up the bat first profile, I wanted to see how he did with the routine plays at short, and he showed he could play the position just fine. Overall, you could see why the Dodgers, at the age of 22, he was on the 40-man roster.
Can Leonard replace Javier Báez?
This “hot take” is bound to come up as Leonard continues to hit well in Toledo, while Baez struck out in the bottom of the 9th situation in Tuesday's game against the Yankees that once again have fans in those two camps. Keep Baez because of his defense, or get rid of him, despite the six-year, $140 million dollar contract that is attached to him.
The fans who want him out have a beef. Baez now posses the worst WRC+ among qualified hitters in baseball now at 57 wRC+. However, he is in the 96th percentile in outs above average on defense.
Detroit has currently both Leonard and Ryan Kreidler listed as shortstops and are on the 40-man roster. But Kreidler has been inconsistent and seems destined to be a utility man off the bench. If you are looking on the prospect front, the drop-off is steep past Triple-A.
When speaking to the media after the trade, Scott Harris mentioned him getting time in the outfield. So the Tigers had another player in Triple-A who did not have a set position per se, but as we get to know Harris, he likes players who can go all over the diamond. Both Leonard and Kreidler, like others in Toledo, have been following this pattern, but so far, Leonard has seen a vast majority of his time at short. However, during this current series with Iowa, he has started in center and left field.
So what is the end game for Leonard? The Detroit Tigers have a unique problem. For the first time in perhaps, who knows, decades, Detroit have a series of bat first profiles. Colt Keith went 4-for-5 and continues to rake Triple-A pitching. Harris must decide on what he will do with several come the off season, but it appears in a small sample size, Leonard is making his case as well.