Grand Junction, Colorado —— It’s a bit of an understatement to say Carlos Rincon has put up prolific strikeout numbers across the first three seasons of his professional career. In 369 at-bats in 2017, he’s whiffed 153 times, including a 38.6% strikeout rate during his time with Low-A Great Lakes, where he slashed just .198/.270/.404/.674 before being demote to rookie ball late in the year with the Ogden Raptors. And across his career, over 547 professional at-bats, Rincon has whiffed 205 times (33.9% strikeout rate) despite already slugging 34 home runs and 27 doubles (.499 career slugging percentage) in that same time frame.
It’s not a great sign for either his short- or long-term futures if he’s unable to make a wholesale adjustment at the plate, and suddenly—just like Ibandel Isabel, and DJ Peters, and Johan Mieses—the Los Angeles Dodgers have themselves another high-risk, feast-or-famine slugger who will entice with incredible raw power just as he frustrates with an inability to consistently put the ball in play. We’ve seen the up-and-down nature of all three of those aforementioned names, most particularly the maddeningly inconsistent Isabel, but what if Carlos Rincon is a little bit different than your average all-or-nothing young prospect? What if there’s a better set of tools here that could pull him out of his disturbing strikeout path in the next few years?
I took some time to observe Carlos Rincon over the weekend during Ogden’s road series against Grand Junction (we’ve got a pretty extensive video on him below), and he struck me as a better hitter and better overall athlete than he’s been given credit for to date in his career. Yes, he has a pull-heavy approach that leaves him open for exploitation on the outer half, but his hand-eye coordination and ability to manipulate the barrel are both more advanced than I expected considering his age and level. When he does go the other way, he can do so with authority and can use his bat speed to still hit the ball with authority to right field. Of course, that isn’t where his approach typically takes him. Per MLBFarm.com, here’s the 2017 spray chart for Carlos Rincon, with a pull-heavy power look:
And matching up with the spray chart, also from MLBFarm.com, here’s the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder’s heat map:
That’s about what you’d expect from a 19-year-old kid, especially one with above-average raw power who was demoted back to rookie ball after struggling mightily with strikeout problems in Low-A, and it confirms the unrefined approach. Plainly put, Carlos Rincon is trying to kill the ball (which is good!), but he can really only do so consistently when given something on the inner half of the plate. He’s lost against better pitching down and away, and he can’t always cover the plate like he should, and that’s created this year’s concerning strikeout numbers as well as his uncertain prospect future. Ironically, though, he’s really not that far off becoming a far better overall hitter. No, he’s not likely to suddenly hit for average with a few adjustments in his approach this winter, but I think he can cut down on the strikeouts—while maintaining his impressive power—if he can find a power alley back up the middle.
Here’s the thing: Carlos Rincon is a strong guy considering he’s still just a teenager, and his bat speed is far above average, so he doesn’t just need to sell out for an all-or-nothing pull approach to hit home runs. Sure, he can muscle a few balls out that way, but if he starts to specifically try to hit the ball the other way, he’ll get his fair share of doubles and home runs in that right center field gap just because of his bat speed. (It’s possible; I just spoke to another young prospect with far less raw power than Rincon who has already found his opposite field home run stroke to right-center field.)
This weekend, I saw Rincon hit one particularly beautiful homer to right-center field in Grand Junction, and he did it on an easy, smooth swing without trying to do too much. When he does that, he manipulates the barrel in a way that, believe it or not, reminds me of one of the best short-season hitters I’ve seen this year. That suggests to me Rincon isn’t as far off from all-fields production as his strikeout numbers might make one assume. His hand-eye coordination is better, too, than what you’d typically see out of a strikeout artist, and the entire combination here says to me that the Los Angeles Dodgers prospect has the ability to become a better hitter and overall gap-to-gap slugger than he is now if only he can commit to a marked change in approach.
Does this mean Carlos Rincon will ever hit for average, or ever cut his strikeout rate by half? No, most likely not, and as a power-first hitter, he’ll almost certainly see strikeout rates north of 25% even with a change in approach. But with his enticing raw power, a 25% strikeout rate is more than acceptable in this day and age; a 39% strikeout rate like the outfielder had in Great Lakes this year is not. It’ll take a significant adjustment to make this happen, but Carlos Rincon has enough bat speed, strength, and raw power to continue to hit home runs even if he starts going more often to right-center field, and his contact ability and plate coverage will greatly improve in the process, buoyed by his already above-average hand-eye coordination despite the strikeout problems. Perhaps that’s generally true of every feast-or-famine power hitter, but I think it’s particularly important Rincon make this adjustment because he actually has the ability to manipulate the barrel and still find success to right field without seeing his power numbers dip.
Time will tell if Rincon can ever make this happen, but considering he’s still just 19 years old, the Los Angeles Dodgers have some space here to see if he can put together a more well-rounded plan of attack at the plate. If he does it, he could turn into a DJ Peters-type of hitter: still high strikeout totals, but far better plate coverage and more consistent, raw power to the opposite field. If he doesn’t, Rincon will almost certainly flame out in the upper minors as more advanced pitchers exploit him in a way similar to what will undoubtedly happen in the next few years to both Ibandel Isabel and Johan Mieses.
Put it that way, and perhaps 2017 was something of a fork in the road for Carlos Rincon.
As promised above, here’s our full video of the Los Angeles Dodgers outfield prospect, taken this weekend during Ogden’s road series in Grand Junction, Colorado:
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