The Cleveland Indians have, at worst, a top-five rotation in baseball. They’re deep and good, and in particular the top three are quite filthy. One has won a Cy Young award, another was in talks for it for half of 2016 and the third is a sexy pick for the award from people trying to look smart. Again, they’re very good.
So when Texas Rangers second year outfielder Nomar Mazara savaged them brutally in the season-opening series, it was surprising to say the least. It’s one thing for a Joey Gallo to hit a ball to the other side of Dallas, he still struck out roughly 25 times. Mazara, as Rangers fans already have an idea of and others should learn quickly, is truly awesome.
When you’re a top prospect in a very good farm system, in this case ranked third by Baseball America when he was last eligible in 2016, you have some expectations. For about two months last year when Mazara was a rookie, he looked to be blowing those expectations out of the water. In April and May he slashed .302/.348/.479 and was on pace for 36 home runs over a 162 games.
Mazara’s swing is purpose-built for Globe Life Field, and the cannon attached to his left shoulder makes for some dazzling outfield assists. The year didn't end as well as it started, slashing .248/.307/.389 with only 11 home runs, two more than he'd hit in the first two months. It's not surprising — he was a rookie and the league figured him out. Based on the one man wrecking crew he was against the Indians, he may have solved the problems pitchers have made for him.
There's no way to slice it - hitting .583 against such an excellent rotation is quite a feat, especially for a 21-year old. It was a hard .583 too, between the mammoth home run, the pair of doubles and the 63.% hard hit rate, he was teeing the ball up even if he kept finding fielders with it. Hey, let's watch that home run again real quick.
He has such insane power, and unlike his teammate Joey Gallo, he can get the bat to the ball consistently. Maybe not being seven feet tall helps, but as he grows in the game and learns how to be a better player Mazara is only going to make more contact, harder. Last year one of his few flaws that led to a season long "learning experience" was his not laying off breakers down in the zone.
When the ball was in the zone, he got the bat on it. When it was low, it was too tantalizing for him. That makes sense, he was 21, he'd blasted through the minors, and hadn’t seen real, incredible changes and curves that major leaguers can just casually spin. But even his not being able to handle off-speed stuff and whatnot, Mazara kept improving on one aspect.
As the months wore on and his rate stats dropped, the ball started coming off the bat at increasingly screaming velocities. Admittedly, the format this brilliant website doesn’t quite show it as well as the source on Baseball Savant, but Mazara was steadily improving the consistency of the of the velo off that bat. That eventually leads to runs. This is what I like to see, and what any baseball fan likes to see. the improvement of a young player who has the potential to do dazzling things. The ball wasn't always hit in the right direction, his 48 percent ground ball rate was proof of that, but if these past couple days are any indication (GB% at 27.2 over the series) he's begun to solve at least that problem. It probably shouldn't be any indication since it's 12 at-bats, but a the same time right out of spring would be a great time to see a youngster working on new tweaks, before he starts struggling and falling back on old habits.
Also, Mazara had this graceful moment:
It’s literally art in motion. Ballet on a ball field. How can we not be excited to see a young gazelle patrolling the outfield in Arlington? It's not the right climate for gazelles, Texas I mean, but that covered stadium they'll have soon should fix that.
Hey, let’s watch him hit a homer again.
Sure, everyone looks good and smooth hitting a home run. But look again. That’s right, it’s still great. He’s probably going to do this 300, 400 more times in his career. And each one is going to be just as dope. The easy power, the fluidity, the fact that was a 96 mph fastball up in the zone. He’s probably a mere mortal. But who’s to say for sure?
Also, is his dad’s name Ramon? Because that’s how Nomar Garcaparra got his name, by reversing it. I will name my firstborn Ttirrem. He will be upset.
This isn't about the Indians. The Tribe has its own amazing players that anyone could write overly excited, borderline fanboy articles over because they make up for run-scoring errors by hitting two booming home runs. But Mazara is Texas' own hopeful young dynamo, and he made Cleveland's opening series more than just a little tense. As long as these two teams keep contending for titles the Indians are likely to suffer at the hands of Mazara a couple times. He's just coming into his second year and already did his best Miguel Cabrera against the Indians impression.
Just imagine what he looks like with another year under his belt. In a word, trouble.