I hear things a lot. I hear things from coaches, players, broadcasters, and scouts throughout the course of a season. Some of those things come in small soundbites versus large chunks of information. But over time, it becomes like a little puzzle. And most of those things are about who is improving over the course of the year. I have my own thoughts as I am going to more pre-games and games than ever before now that South Bend is in the Western Division of the Midwest League.
One of the players who I really enjoyed watching develop in 2022 was Luis Verdugo.
You could tell right away in infield practice that this dude is a great defender. The only question about him going forward last season was would his bat produce enough to get him consistent playing time? And that answer turned out to be a resounding yes. From June 1 to the end of the season, he hit .289 with 5 HRs and 19 doubles. He had a .389 OBP to go along with a 127 wRC+. In that span, he only struck out 13.7 % of the time with an .806 OPS. That, my friends, was a pretty good 73 game stretch!
Heading into 2023, here are five things to watch for from Mr. Verdugo as he moves a step closer to Chicago as he should be in Tennessee to start the year.
1. A Few Pounds
I’m not expecting Luis Verdugo to go back to Tijuana this winter and just start bulking up. But you could clearly see last summer that his shoulders began to broaden, his chest began to expand, and adding a few pounds into his upper torso might turn some of those many doubles he had last year into home runs. 30% of his hits last year were doubles and that could improve this year to go along with just the home runs he hit last year. You could see the gap power improving all year long as he just seemed to drive the ball that way naturally at the plate.
2. Continue to Improve on Strikeouts.
One thing you can clearly tell about Verdugo is that he has pretty good knowledge of what is a strike and what is not. He only struck out 70 times all of last year, it’s not the lowest in the Cubs’ system but you could tell that he’s pretty judicious at the plate. In 2021, he had a 28% strikeout rate and he cut that down to 16% last year. I wonder how low he can go in 23?
3. Increase Walks
Verdugo did not walk a lot as he only got a free pass 46 times or 10.9%, which was more than double from 2021. Can he get it somewhere between 12% and 14%? Combined with number two above, I think he could do it.
4. Go the Other Way
He’s improving in this category as he was 49.3% pull heavy in 2021 at Myrtle Beach. Last year, that dropped down to 40% and his balls up the middle increased to 26% and to 32% to right field. Part of me wishes FanGraphs had some gap percentages because I really think that is where he needs to drive the ball. Unfortunately, they do not.
5. The Routine Play
Verdugo is such an instinctive player at third base that sometimes the routine play does not end in a routine manner. It doesn’t happen very often. He only had 17 errors on the year with a fielding percentage of .928. I’d like to get to see that fielding percentage higher.
As you can see, it’s not a bad list, it’s just small incremental changes and improvements that could take him from good to very good pretty quickly. With his flare on defense and the potential for power this year, he’s going to be one of my favorite players to watch in 2023.