I thought I'd use a couple of items I wrote before the season to look at some of the things that did (or did not) go right in 2023.
Ground Ball Rate - Jadher Areinamo
When we left Jadher Areinamo at the end of the 2022 season, he was coming off a breakout campaign, finishing his age-18 season at low-A. It came with a caveat: once he got promoted to full season ball, his ground ball rate spiked and the doubles power that he had shown in Arizona abandoned him.
In 2023, Areinamo's batted ball stats, included ground ball rate, bounced back to the exceedingly balanced collection he displayed during his stellar complex league season. And the results, eventually, caught up. After a horrid April and mediocre May and June, Areinamo turned it on. This was in large part thanks to his extra-base power returning. He hit 17 of his 26 doubles and three of his four home runs in July and August. Here's to another year of Areinamo spraying line drives all over the field.
Walk Rate - Jeferson Quero
This was one of the few aspects of Quero's game not going well early in the season. Then suddenly he flipped a switch and the walks started to come. He ended up hitting doubles digits in walk rate, although barely. That's a definite plus for a guy whose patience at the plate seemed to be the biggest knock on him in scouts' minds coming into the 2023 season.
The one hiccup: initially when his walks went up, his power went down. And then just when it seemed like he was figuring out how to draw more walks while also getting to his power, he got hurt and didn't hit quite as well when he came back. That is going to be the key for him going forward, finding an approach that allows him to get on base without sacrificing the power potential he has displayed.
ISO - Gregory Barrios
Well, it improved. In a year not a ton went right for Barrios, his ISO moved from .051 to .071. That's probably not as much as Barrios or the Brewers would have liked, but it was at least an improvement. He totaled 24 extra base hits, including his first home run, after having just 13 in his first two seasons combined.
More on Barrios' weird year later.
This was not the season Barrios hoped for.
First the bad. Of all of the players at Carolina who got at least 100 plate appearances, only Blayberg Diaz had worse results at the plate. Despite trailing only Areinamo among Carolina regulars in strikeout rate, Barrios hit only .232. For a guy who doesn't collect a ton of walks or hit for much power, that is not a good starting point.
There were good reasons to think Barrios might be headed for a breakout heading into the season. It seemed the Brewers did, too, as he was hitting toward the top of the lineup a lot early in the year. And the Brewers never really lost faith in him. While Daniel Guilarte's injury problems undoubtedly contributed to this stat, Barrios had the most plate appearances of any Mudcat. No matter how much the bat was struggling, he was kept in the lineup.
Looking at Barrios' batted ball metrics, there is also a bit of weirdness. He went from a guy who went the other way much of the time his first two seasons to a dead pull hitter this year. But nothing else really changed. His already inflated infield fly rate spiked a bit, but I don't know if that was even really significant. His flyball rate was less than a percentage point different. His strikeout rate was pretty much smack in the middle of his numbers from his first two seasons, and while his walk rate fell, it wasn't more than you'd expect going from the Complex League to A ball. It's almost enough to make me wonder if Fangraphs' tracking for this season had him hitting from the wrong side of the plate. How can a guy almost cut the rate at which he goes the other way in half and see nothing else change?
One of two on this list that I am considering wins, Aquino was third in the Carolina League in ERA among those with at least 80 innings. And while the peripherals weren't quite as good, they were still solid at worst.
He had above average ground ball and swinging strike rates, although the strikeout rate was a touch below average for league starters. Hopefully he can build on this season next year at Wisconsin.
Lost season due to injury. After a rough first outing, his Arizona Fall League stint has been good enough to remain promising but not so dominant as work himself into a likely 40-man spot.
Turns out there was a reason the Brewers gave a low-bonus signing with a bit below average offensive stats a ton of playing time at shortstop in the DSL in 2022. Baez was one of the bigger offensive breakthroughs in system in 2022, putting up surprisingly good complex league power numbers for a guy whose ground ball rates approached Mendez/Guilarte territory. The question going forward is going to be patience. Other prospects who saw lower walk rates when they moved into full season ball, like Quero, Chourio and Areinamo, at least had passable walk rates in DSL or complex league. The fact that Baez didn't walk even in the leagues where, let's face it, the pitchers are at their wildest, is a bit of a concern.
Fitzpatrick will try to build off his solid but not spectacular showing in Carolina down under this winter, but for a guy who struggled to stay healthy during his college career, missing a substantial chunk of the season might have been a bigger red flag than his struggles in Arizona while rehabbing. Since I said he stood in for much of the eclectic group of pitchers chosen round five and later last year, most of them except Maldonado had at least solid seasons, although none truly broke out.
I was debating between two relievers I was really high on for this spot. In retrospect, I'd look a lot smarter if I'd gone with Shane Smith. I'd figured that once Pena got settled in more in full season ball, that the walk rate would start to decline. It didn't. It got worse. And the strikeout rate which made him so intriguing in 2022 dropped. How disappointing was his season? He wasn't even Carolina's most statistically promising 20-year-old with a 6.00+ ERA.
It's not really worth giving each a section. Zack Raabe was cut before the season. Jhonnys Cabrera was cut after the season. Blayberg Diaz as of now looks like the backup at Wisconsin next season if only because the Brewers cut so many catchers there is literally no one else. In my defense, of the hitters I would have put in this tier, at least stateside, only Isaac Collins really established himself. The second best season probably belonged to Alex Hall, and it got him cut.
After being one of the youngest pitchers to make his full-season debut with the Brewers in 2021 and then subsequently missing 2022 with injury, Rodriguez looked poised to start 2023 in Carolina. But it didn't happen. It never happened, and perhaps we glimpsed why as he had a disastrous first month in Arizona. The thing is, after that month, he was among the better pitchers on the Brewers' ACL squad. I didn't even notice until looking back for this blog post because his June was so disastrous that it doomed his stats, but he had a better than 4:1 strikeout to walk rate the last two months of the season. Thanks to the sheer number of college pitchers picked/signed last year, he isn't a lock to break camp with Carolina, but it wouldn't shock me if he ended up turning into a solid bullpen piece for them next year either.
It's tough to say that you can really learn much from the successes on this list as it relates to picking breakthroughs for next season. Aquino was more impressive than any of the guys who pitched a significant amount of time in the ACL last year outside of the obvious one, and he was repeating the level. And as far as Baez goes, the closest comparison playing time wise was probably Roderick Flores, who was third behind Yophery Rodriguez and Filippo Di Turi in plate appearances among Brewers DSL players and got a passable amount of time at shortstop. Flores also, however, had a 29% strikeout rate that seems to make it unlikely he'll put together a Baez-like stateside breakout, at least in 2024.
Lessons from the guys who didn't do as well? Well if there are, chances are I didn't learn them. I haven't decided on all my sleepers for next year yet, but there is an above-average chance there will be a fringy rookie-leaguer coming off an injury on there. Because sometimes, I just can't help myself.