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Carlos Asuaje: The Ceiling Or The Floor?

Since being called up last year after the Yangervis Solarte injury, Carlos Asuaje is off to a slow start, batting just 2-12 with one extra base hit.  This is nothing new for Asuaje, who has struggled in each of his brief stints with the big league club.  In fact, Asuaje has just a .194/.237/.278 slash line over his twelve game career with the Padres.  Clearly, it’s far too small of a sample size to be indicative of the caliber player Asuaje will one day be, but it also isn’t the most auspicious start for a player known for his advanced approach at the plate.  Still, there’s reason to believe that Asuaje will have a future with the team in some capacity.

If you’ve read our Top 50 prospect list (or really any of the major lists like MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, Minor League Ball, etc.), you’ll notice that Asuaje is considered to be a top twenty prospect for the Padres with Jim Callis even ranking him as high as ninth.  As a 25-year-old with little major league experience, there’s reason to be skeptical of such a high ranking, but it’s a testament to his ability to hit a baseball, garnering grades of 60 for his hit tool.

During his debut season with the organization last year, that hitting tool was on full display as he hit .321 for AAA El Paso.  While he hasn’t quite replicated those numbers this season because of poor luck (.278 BABIP), he continues to impress with his ability to spray line drives all over the field.

In a discussion with David Laurila of Fangraphs, Asuaje echoed that his success as a hitter is largely because he’s a student of the game, relying on advanced data and launch angle to guide him into a line-drive flyball approach.  “It’s something I definitely focus on,” Asuaje told Laurila.  “Being a smaller guy doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. If you hit ground balls, you’re going to be out, especially at the major-league level. Guys don’t boot balls, they don’t throw poorly, and you’re not going to outrun the baseball. You have to play the odds, and the odds are that if you hit the ball in the air, you have a better chance to be successful.”

Given his 5’9” and 160 pound frame, it may be an unusual approach, but he lacks the speed normally associated with players his size.  With one stolen base on the year, he’s not a burner by any stretch.  Without the speed to out-run groundballs, steal bases, or turn singles into doubles, the onus is typically on a player to compensate with power. It’d be difficult to see that power coming from Asuaje, and while he’s not devoid of power, it’s below average.

Both of those issues limit his ceiling, leaving many to wonder why scouts and prospect lists are so high on him even if the hitting is good.  For Asuaje, there are really a couple of things that stick out besides the hit tool itself.

First, Asuaje has a high floor; we often forget that the percentange of prospects who develop into a player that sticks in the major league is extremely low.  At the very worst, Asuaje will likely be a strong utility player off the bench for years to come.  At best, he’s a high average, high OBP batter that can play near the top of lineup or surprise from below.  He won’t knock your socks off in the field, but he could be an solid, everyday second baseman.

Secondly, that advanced approach at the plate has his walk rate at 14.3 percent and his strikeout rate at 11.9 percent at AAA this season, and his past numbers continue to be strong for a guy who doesn’t intimidate pitchers with power.

Lastly, along with that advanced approach in terms of plate discipline, Asuaje is devoted to perfecting his approach at the plate, also telling David Laurilla, “I try to take video of myself every day, in the cage or maybe even in BP. I have a tripod that I set up, and I do my own video to analyze my swing. These are non-game-action swings. I want to practice like I play. If you can do something consistently off a tee, or in soft toss, it can translate to a game.  I keep notebooks, as well. I try to keep track of every pitcher I face, and every at-bat that I have. It can be kind of tough to write down the 0-for-4s with three strikeouts, but there’s something to take away from everything.”

While the results have been meager so far, Asuaje is the type of prospect you should expect to stick with the big league club soon enough.  It may take a little adjusting before he performs, but with the hit tool and approach he has, he should be a fixture on the team moving forward.  What remains to be seen is if that role will be as a utility player or a regular, especially with the abundance of middle infielders in the system and a young Luis Urías relatively close to the majors.

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