Meet the Newest Underrated Diamondback

When we’ve written about the Diamondbacks this offseason, we’ve highlighted their seeming lack of depth, behind the stars. They appeared to be in position to give too much playing time to potential zeroes, potential zeroes like Yasmany Tomas. Tomas, of course, cost the Diamondbacks a fortune, and he remains plenty young and capable of turning things around, but he’s coming off a terrible season. You don’t want to guarantee anything to that kind of player. Turns out, the Diamondbacks don’t need to.

Some years ago, you easily could’ve argued Paul Goldschmidt was the most underrated player in baseball. Later on, A.J. Pollock became maybe the most underrated player in baseball, and then, David Peralta looked super underrated, and Ender Inciarte looked the same. Maybe there’s enough here to call it a pattern. And, now the team has a new candidate. He hasn’t proven anything yet, so he’s not underrated on the Peralta or Inciarte level, but it’s time to look out for Socrates Brito. All anyone cared about was the name. It’s become time to care about the player.

The Diamondbacks have liked Brito for a few years, but it was only down the stretch last year he started to look like a major-league player. You might’ve missed it, but Brito got a small stretch of time in the bigs, and now he’s having the kind of spring training that could result in his winning a regular job. Specifically, Tomas’ regular job. We know that Pollock is locked in. We know that Peralta is locked in. Many of us assumed Tomas would get the remaining opportunity, and he still might, but Brito has done everything to get himself 500 at-bats. Even the average baseball nerd doesn’t know a lot about him. Here’s one place to start:

Brito maybe isn’t quite as fast as Dee Gordon, and you can learn only so much from one triple. But know this: Brito is fast. Conspicuously fast. His first big-league hit was an infield single, and I timed him at four seconds flat. That would make him one of the better runners in the game. His triple time was similar to those posted by Gordon, Billy Hamilton, Delino DeShields, and Billy Burns. Brito doesn’t have 80-level speed, but if he wanted to talk to runners on that level from his own level, he could do so without needing a phone. Brito is a sprinter, and that raises his floor.

In the minors, Brito’s played all over the outfield. Last year he started 24 games in left, 41 games in center, and 54 games in right. He is center-field capable, which makes him a plus in a corner, and where some speedy types give back a bit of their value with lousy arms, Brito has what you could almost call a cannon. Despite the bounce, this is an excellent throw to third base, and Brito’s arm is both strong and accurate. At 23, it’s not like Brito’s about to slow down, so before we even talk about the offense, we have an above-average defensive outfielder. Maybe — maybe — a great defensive outfielder, although I can’t claim to know much about Brito’s routes.

The bat’s the question, as people try to figure out whether Brito’s a fourth outfielder or a starter. He’s never played in Triple-A, and he’s barely played in the majors. At Double-A and below, he’s managed a .741 OPS, which is neither good nor bad. But there have been signs of real progress. Brito improved his contact ability between 2012 and 2013, and then he did it again in 2014. And then he did it again in 2015. And even within 2015, Brito’s got a remarkable split. This is what happens when you cut Brito’s season in half:

Socrates Brito, 2015
April – June 281 0.266 0.295 0.386 0.120 0.315 4.3% 17%
July – October 275 0.336 0.382 0.520 0.184 0.383 6.5% 16%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

That’s all from Double-A and, briefly, the majors. The first split looks like it belongs to a future journeyman. The second split, when combined with the defense, looks like it belongs to a top prospect. Offense clicked for Brito in the second half, as he got more consistent with his quality contact. Observers have noted that Brito looked like he just had more of a plan, and while you might be tempted to dismiss a lot of this as BABIP fluctuation, the power also played up. Brito isn’t ever going to be a power hitter, but he has double-digit-homer ability. He’s not the slapping type.

With Brito and Tomas, you have almost opposite players. While they both like to swing, Brito’s left-handed, and Tomas is right-handed. Tomas will go only as far as his power can take him, while Brito could need barely any power to be successful. Away from the plate, Tomas is a negative, and Brito is a positive. Tomas’ advantage is what he’s already cost to his organization, but the Diamondbacks aren’t blind, and they’re definitely looking to win right away. Brito is winning them over, and it would be hard to argue they’d be wrong to give him a shot.

To be absolutely clear here, Brito isn’t a star. Not yet. He hasn’t demonstrated he can hit enough against the most advanced competition, and until he does that, he’ll be something of a risk. He’s projected on our pages for a 76 wRC+. Juan Lagares comes in at 85. The Diamondbacks would argue that projection is low, and I think it’s low, too, but the projection is just based on what Brito has done in his own past. It’s not unreasonable, and prospect people haven’t placed Brito at the top of their rankings.

But, you know, Goldschmidt was never a Baseball America top-100 prospect. More relevantly, Pollock was never a top-100 prospect. Peralta was never a top-100 prospect. Inciarte was never a top-100 prospect. Inciarte feels the most comparable, here, although he makes more contact, while Brito has more power. Inciarte has been worth 6.1 WAR in a season and a half. Baseball-Reference has him at 8.9. In the minors, Inciarte had a .716 OPS, and he didn’t play much in Triple-A. Brito might not be an Inciarte-level defender, but the former Diamondback is proof of how valuable you can be even when your bat’s unspectacular. Brito has the skills.

This is about more than just a hot spring training. Yasmany Tomas has the salary commitment. Brito has the well-rounded skillset. If he struggles to put the bat on the ball, he’ll forever be a backup, but he’s made steady progress. It doesn’t look like he needs to make much more. Meet the newest underrated Diamondback. You’ve already known him for his name, but you’re going to know him for his baseball.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

Pretty please write about Joey Rickard next?

6 years ago
Reply to  TOC

I saw Rickard play in his final season at U of A. You’ll like him a lot.