Friday, August 12, 2022

Fantasy Baseball Prospect call up: Here’s why Vinnie Pasquantino is a must-add first baseman

We’ve been waiting for Royals top prospect Vinnie Pasquantino to get the call to the majors for a few weeks now and it’s finally happening, according to reports Tuesday.

Pasquantino, a first baseman, will get the call from Triple-A Omaha after the Royals traded Carlos Santana to the Mariners. Santana, who had a sub-.600 OPS through the first two months of the season, has been hot in June and could provide a nice boost for a Mariners squad that has disappointed this season and just lost Ty France for what could be a significant amount of time with a Grade 2 flexor strain in his left elbow. However, Pasquantino getting the call is the most interesting part of this for Fantasy players. 

Here’s what you need to know about Pasquantino, who doesn’t necessarily carry as much hype with him to the majors as some other prospects, but who could be an impact bat nonetheless:

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Who is Vinnie Pasquantino?

Pasquantino is a 24-year-old former 11th round pick from the 2019 draft out of Old Dominion University who has risen quickly through the Royals minor-league system since missing the 2020 season due to COVID. He hit .300/.394/.563 in 116 games in 2021 between High-A and Double-A, and has continued to mash in Triple-A to open this season, with 18 homers in 69 games.

However, while the power is a big part of Pasquantino’s appeal as a hitter, his plate discipline is probably the biggest outlier skill. In 242 games as a professional, Pasquantino has struck out just 140 times, and his plate discipline has been especially impressive in the high minors – he has played 124 games between Double-A and Triple with a 12.7% walk rate and 11.6% strikeout rate. That’s more walks than strikeouts, to be clear.

Pasquantino didn’t find himself on the top prospects lists coming into the season for real baseball, because he’s plodder on the bases who was a little bit old to open the 2021 season at High A, and his raw power rates out as more good than standout quality. 

That kind of profile for a 1B-only player means they really have to hit to provide a ton of value, and it’s a type of prospect who tends to get overlooked in real-life rankings, where toolsy, up-the-middle guys have a little more latitude in how and where they can ultimately make an impact. But for Fantasy, we really only care about whether they can hit, which is why Pasquantino snuck into Scott White’s top-100 Fantasy Baseball prospects list coming into the season, and it’s why he’s been one of Scott’s top prospect stashes all season long. 

We think Pasquantino will hit. But how excited should Fantasy players be?

Pasquantino’s Fantasy outlook

Well, if you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that things have been tough for rookies in recent seasons. On the whole, rookies have an 85 wRC+ this season, meaning they’ve been 15% worse than the league average hitter, the sixth-worst showing by rookies collectively over the past 20 seasons – and three of the eight worst have come over the past three seasons.

Pasquantino, of course, profiles as a contact-heavy power hitter, a profile you would expect to have an easier time with the transition. However, you can point to similar prospects who haven’t exactly hit the ground running over the past couple of seasons. Let’s compare Pasquantino to two heralded first basemen who have disappointed early in their MLB careers: Andrew Vaughn and Spencer Torkelson

  • Vaughn (23 at MLB debut): .278/.386/.472 in 57 G in the minors, 12.6% walk rate, 15.4% strikeout rate
  • Torkelson (22): .267/.383/.552 in 121 G, 14.5% walk rate, 21.5% strikeout rate
  • Pasquantino (24): .293/.382/.574 in 242 G, 12.1% walk rate, 13.2% strikeout rate

Pasquantino has more of a minor-league track record, which can be viewed as both a positive and a negative; on the plus side, he’s had a lot more experience and exposure to the more talented pitchers of the high minors, but he’s also been a few years older than both Vaughn and Torkelson were when they were coming up.

I think that might suggest that Pasquantino is a bit safer than either Vaughn or Torkelson, but perhaps has less long-term upside – the latter of which certainly squares with how each was viewed among prospect types coming. 

However, I don’t want to undersell the potential upside. Per Baseball America, Pasquantino’s max exit velocity last season was over 116 mph, suggesting plus raw power in addition to his plus hit tool. Now, he may not get to that plus raw power often in games because he doesn’t sell out for power, but he hits the ball in the air to the pull side enough that, if Pasquantino translates, he should do so as a viable power option, if not a superstar. 

Which is all to say, the upside here is something like the best versions of Yuli Gurriel, perhaps. Remember, though Gurriel has often been a contact-over-power guy, he did peak as a 31-homer hitter with a .298/.343/.541 slash line – albeit in an era where balls left the park more readily than they are this season. 

Pasquantino seems especially well suited to translate right away with his contact-oriented profile, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect him to be a difference maker right away. The combination of skills and apparent safety do make him a must-add player in Fantasy in my eyes, but I’m slotting him more in the CI range in my rankings – 20th, just behind Luke Voit and ahead of Jared Walsh

Which is to say, I would drop the likes of Gurriel, Torkelson, Walsh, Trey Mancini, Nate Lowe, or Rowdy Tellez for him. That’s not a guarantee that Pasquantino will be a must-start player right away, but I do think he has that potential. And that potential is worth chasing. 

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