When the Red Sox acquired elite closer Craig Kimbrel, they were forced to send off four promising prospects to make it happen. Leading the way was outfielder Manuel Margot, who at the time was Baseball America’s 24th best prospect during its midseason report. Margot boasted plus contact and power tools with borderline elite base-running and solid defense.
While not exactly the elusive five tool prospect, with concerns about game power, Margot was still about as close as you can get, especially in return for a relief pitcher. San Diego was insistent to get him in return, and he is now showing them why it was a good choice.
A look at Margot’s unassuming build would have you believe he’s more of a scrappy player, relying on the thinnest of margins to get by. However, he has some flash that he has been showing along with the scrap. Some tend to forget that Margot is still just 22 years old and has a .158 isolate slugging. While this is around league average, peak power doesn’t start until around age 24, and it increases heavily on the way which can only mean good things. He also has some time to fill out still, as he has muscle but is still somewhat wiry. There definitely seems to be more power in his future – more on that in a moment.
What really makes Margot exciting is his hit tool. There are still questions on if he can fill out enough to tap into his power potential enough to warrant a middle of the order spot, but Margot is showing the beginnings of elite contact ability. He is fourth in the majors in opposite field batted balls at 32.8%, and while there’s usually a strong correlation between this and batted ball luck, his BABIP is only .307, right around league average. Margot isn’t hitting the ball hard enough yet, his hard contact percentage is just 26.6%, but if he develops stronger wrists those balls shot the other way are going to turn into hits.
The key to tapping into contact and power tools is a good approach at the plate. Margot has a slightly better than average 19.5% strikeout rate and a slightly below average 5.8% walk rate. This follows with some accuracy the stereotypical Dominican approach, swing early and often, which has doomed some hitters who have extraordinary talent.
The good news is Margot does not show an unrestrained approach as we look deeper. His swing rates, both inside and outside the zone, are good at 29.6% and 62.0%. In fact, they’re both better than the league averages of 30.8% and 63.8%. It’s not that he’s just swinging at everything trying to make contact or hit dingers; he has an established approach, and a patient one at that.
I keep mentioning his age and youth. That’s to remind you he still is a rookie and a good approach takes a lot of reps at the dish to properly form. Fortunately, Margot has the main pieces in place for it. As he has able to develop and learn to manipulate the zone and count more to his liking, he is going to get some better pitches to hit. And at some less tangible angles, instead of what he has done we can look at what he has been projected for, and what he is projected for – it’s quite appealing.
FanGraphs boasts the KATOH forecasting system for prospects, and it has completely fallen in love with Margot. He makes a lot of contact without the whiffs, and these guys historically are awesome. While ZiPS and Steamer projection systems are a little more bearish on him, they still have him as about average for center field, as opposed to the miserable projections these systems give most rookies. The projection systems are not biased by name or pedigree, only by what the numbers say. And they are starting to hop on board the Margot hype train.
If you’re looking for a guy to blow up down the stretch, I can’t endorse Margot for that. But, if you want a guy who in the next couple of years could turn into a Mookie Betts type? It’s not impossible. In fact, Betts is one of the better comparables so far for Margot. They have similar contact and batted ball numbers and patterns, and their career numbers through the minor league levels are similar.
Margot still has time to bulk up, and he very well could to start tapping into that power potential. He has a good approach that we can expect him to refine more with more plate appearances, and with is you have a potential star in the making.
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