By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Majors): 145 G, 516 AB, .266 BA, 20 HR, 64 RBI, 0 SB, .739 OPS
When the Texas Rangers signed Nomar Mazara as a 16-year-old international free agent in 2011, they had high hopes — evidenced by the then-record signing bonus given to the outfielder. Mazara sped through the Minor Leagues and somewhat surprisingly had a full rookie season with the Rangers just five years after signing. Though he managed to put together a pretty good season in which he posted a 1.2 WAR, the debut year was just a sneak preview of what many expect to be a lot more to come.
The raw power as a teenager is what excited scouts about Mazara, and it didn’t take long for him to show it off in the Minor Leagues. The Dominican Republic native, then 19 years old, hit 22 homers in 130 games between Class A and Double A in 2014. That season landed him on most Top 100 prospects list, but the following year the power waned a bit. He hit just 14 homers in 131 games, advancing as far as Triple-A. Despite the power slump, the season was still a good one as he managed a .296/.366/.443 line. He continued to climb the prospect ranks and was expected to spend most of his age-21 season at Triple-A, but after just three games he was called up on April 10 and never looked back.
Mazara’s rookie year got off to a blazing start, and on June 11 he was hitting .322/.371/.490 with 10 homers in 54 games. From that point, the power dipped a bit and it took him 91 games to hit another 10 homers. In the second half, Mazara posted a disappointing .242/.306/.417 line. It was evident that he had hit the dreaded rookie wall.
So where does Mazara go from here? He’ll be turning just 22 years old this season, so it’s important to remember that he’s still developing. Many of today’s best hitters were still toiling away in the Minors at this age. The fact that Mazara was already able to post a productive season in the bigs is promising.
Like most young hitters, Mazara could benefit from developing better plate discipline. He swung at pitches outside of the zone at a 33.4 percent clip last year, which was 15th highest among outfielders. He also swung at the 10th lowest percentage of strikes among outfielders, so his pitch selection still clearly needs work and will hopefully improve as he continues to get more looks at Major League pitching.
It’s a good sign that he can’t really be classified as a free swinger (44.7 Swing%), and he also doesn’t swing and miss much. His 8.6 SwStr% (swinging-strike percentage) was actually one of the lower percentages in the league among outfielders last year (21st, one spot better than Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper). He makes good contact (80.7 percent), so while the walk rate is relatively low at 6.9 percent, Mazara should be able to improve his numbers since strikeouts aren’t really a concern.
While the contact rates and high averages in the Minors are signs towards improvement, the question will be whether or not Mazara can improve on his power without cutting down on his average or striking out more. The outfielder’s fly ball rate (29.7) was low last year. If he can improve on that, his reasonable 16.3 HR/FB rate indicates that more homers should come. ZiPS and Steamer projections have his sophomore numbers basically right in line with his rookie output, so they seem to think the development won’t necessarily come right away in ‘17. A repeat of his rookie year wouldn’t really be a bad thing as long as he doesn’t regress. There’s plenty of room for improvement for Mazara, and it will be fun to watch and see just how quickly, or not so quickly, he progresses.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.