Projecting Yasmany Tomas coming out of Cuba was a difficult proposition. As with other players who’ve made that move, the availability of video, scouting reports, and statistics was limited. Accounting for any adjustments he might make while moving from Cuba to the United States also posed its share of problems. Moreover, attempting to turn Tomas into a major-league third baseman was always likely to produce a tough learning curve for the 24-year-old. When the Diamondbacks called up their $68.5 million investment with the $14 million signing bonus a little over a week into the season, the move seemed puzzling as he didn’t even have a starting spot waiting for him. He rode the bench for a week or so before Jake Lamb went down with a foot injury, opening up an everyday role. Tomas has hit very well so far with a .345/.379/.436 line, but has eschewed his raw power in games in favor of taking the ball the other way.
As a prospect, Tomas was known for his incredible raw power. Kiley McDaniel wrote up Tomas back in September, and noted Tomas’ power as his best tool.
The carrying tool here is raw power, which draws anywhere from 60 to 70 grades on the 20-80 scale from scouts, but the question mark is how much he will hit. Tomas has a short bat path for a power hitter and quick hands that move through the zone quickly. The tools are here for at least an average hitter, but Tomas’ plate discipline has been questioned and he can sometimes sell out for pull power in games (here’svideo of a particularly long homer in the WBC). Some scouts think it’s more of a 40-45 bat (.240 to .250 average) that may keep Tomas from getting to all of his raw power in games, while others see a soon-to-be-24-year-old with the tools to hit and think the hot streak of Cuban hitters in the big leagues will continue with him.
After just a little over 100 plate appearances, Tomas has yet to unleash his power on the league like the player in the scouting reports, hitting just a single home run, this opposite field blast:
Tomas might have had a problem selling out for pull power in games prior to joining the Diamondbacks, but that has not been an issue thus far. His pull percentage of 22.5% is third-lowest out of the more than 250 players who’ve recorded at least 100 plate appearances this season. Only Ike Davis and Billy Burns pull the ball less often than Tomas and even Ichiro Suzuki pulls the ball more often. Tomas has gotten good results thus far, with a .420 BABIP carrying the load for his hitting line.
The questions about Tomas’s plate discipline in the report above have been well-founded. He’s swung at more than 40% of pitches outside the strike zone, ranking among the top-20 (or bottom-20) players by that measure, and his 57% swing percentage places him in the top-10 among all hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. As should be expected given the frequency with which Tomas swings, he hasn’t walked much: just six times in 116 plate appearances.
Given his reputation as a free swinger and a power hitter, it’s possible that pitchers are pitching Tomas away, making it difficult for him to get inside pitches to pull. This is Tomas’s zone map showing where pitchers have been working Tomas, from Brooks Baseball.
Pitchers have been pitching Tomas low and away, providing many opportunities to put the ball in right field and fewer opportunities in the middle of the plate or in where Tomas could pull the ball with power. However, look at Tomas’ swing rate, also from Brooks Baseball.
For the most part, Tomas has avoided swinging at the outside pitches, and instead taken his hacks when the pitchers throw the ball down the middle or come in on him. Take a look at this double against Jaime Garcia.
Tomas had a 3-1 count, when hitters are often looking for a pitch to hit that they can pull. Garcia provides him a very hittable pitch in a belt-high 90 mph fastball down the middle. However, Tomas makes no attempt to pull the pitch, instead knocking it down the right-field line for a double. That’s not to say Tomas is only slapping the ball to right field. His home run was also on a pitch in the middle of the plate. When Garcia comes way inside on Tomas, he has no choice but to pull the ball down the third-base line.
Tomas can hit the ball hard when pulling as seen in the shot above. His spray chart shows plenty of pulled ground balls as well as some deep doubles to left field.
What the spray chart fails to show is Tomas getting the ball in the air to his pull side. While line drives are preferable to fly balls, a majority of home runs come on fly balls and Tomas is not getting many balls in the air as the spray chart by batted ball type shows.
Those deep doubles, which are good for Tomas, are line drives, but his rare pulled fly balls are not getting much distance. Tomas’ sub-.100 ISO is surprising given his scouting reports coming into the season. We expected something closer to an all or nothing type player, but we have seen a contact-heavy BABIP-dependent hitter thus far.
The good news for Tomas and the Diamondbacks is that, early on, Tomas has found a way to be a successful hitter while attempting a defensive transition to third base. As the league adjusts to Tomas’s free-swinging approach and desire to take the ball the other way, he might need to show off a few more of the tools that caused the Diamondbacks to offer him nearly $70 million. We don’t yet know what kind of hitter Tomas will become, but if the power potential can be paired with his decent contact rate, he could become a very good hitter. The Diamondbacks have an interesting decision on their hands with Jake Lamb set to return from the disabled list. Arizona already has a crowded outfield and Lamb earned the starting job out of Spring Training. The team could send Tomas back to Triple-A and let him work on getting to his power and fielding everyday, or they could work to find everyone enough plate appearances as long as they contribute at the big-league level. Until Tomas struggles, there’s little incentive to lessen his playing time given Arizona’s plans for Tomas’s future with the club.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.