Like Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach has failed to impress in his rookie season, but Larnach has a lot more wiggle room for many fans. Larnach is, after all, 2 years younger than Rooker and Larnach barely played above the A+ ball level with only 181 plate appearances in AA in 2019. The loss of the 2020 season made a mess out of a lot of the projections for prospects with the prospects who were getting their first taste of the high minors in AA probably being hit the hardest. Larnach’s production this year hasn’t been what fans had hoped for, but with his limited upper MiLB experience, there’s reason to hope it was bad luck or a single pitch that troubled him on way to his .223/.322/.350, .677 OPS, wRC+ 89, OPS+ 88, wOBA .301 performance across a significant 301 appearances at the plate.
Since Larnach doesn’t have the MiLB track record Rooker does, it’s important to take a peek at who Larnach was expected to be. Prior to his draft year in 2018, Larnach was a 40th round draft pick out of high school in 2015 and wasn’t considered a high round pick before his breakout junior season at Oregon State.
|2018||Rk / Low-A||a21||.303||.390||.500||.197||.890|
|2019||A+ / AA||a22||.309||.384||.458||.149||.842|
After the draft, MLB.com had Larnach as the Twins’ 6th ranked prospect and gave him scouting grades as follows: Hit 55, Power 55, Run 40, Arm 55, Field 50, Overall 50. Larnach was widely considered a bat only prospect due to his poor speed limiting Larnach to projections of a serviceable defensive option in left field. Larnach’s hit tool was considered very advanced as he drove the ball hard off the bat, had experience in the Cape Cod league with wooden bats against high levels of competition and used the entire field which largely made him immune to shifts. That said, Larnach’s hit tool wasn’t considered plus-plus because of the fair amount of swing and miss at the plate. Once in college, Larnach had raw strength and bat speed from putting on 50lbs of weight to his high school frame, but his draft stock stayed low through his sophomore year as he needed to hit for power to generate high interest levels. When Larnach’s power appeared to blossom with 19 home runs in 2018 as a junior in a tough college division, scouts rocketed Larnach up the draft ranks despite the limited track record as it was always felt he had the potential to grow into the long ball.
Unfortunately, Larnach’s swing looks to be more like Joe Mauer than Justin Morneau so the home run power hasn’t re-materialized and 2018’s long ball show is beginning to look more like an aberration than the norm. Larnach’s ceiling is likely far lower now, but it doesn’t mean he can’t provide value at the MLB level using only an advanced hit tool and serviceable defense in the corners; he’s just not going to be projecting as a regular All Star. That would still be a huge win for the front office. So let’s dive into the metrics to see what’s going on cause this year was ugly.
First off, was Larnach just unlucky in his first taste of the big show? Luck can bounce both ways and a half season worth of baseball can quickly shift around across a full season of plate appearances.
*BaseballSavant has xBA at .209 which results in 54.34 hits, but since that’s not a real number, I rounded down to 54 hits. His xSLG was .368 which resulted in 95.68 bases so I rounded up to 96 for xSLG calcs. I used Larnach’s actual walks and hit by pitch numbers to calculate his new xOBP so I could calculate his xOPS.
There isn’t an obvious luck factor to see in the numbers. A few points of AVG loss is more than made up for by some SLG improvement. As a player who was touted as using the whole field, Larnach has been pretty pull heavy with a 39.9% / 33.5% / 26.6% pull, center, opposite ratio, from BaseballSavant, but it’s not a profile where the split would be particularly effective. Still, Fangraphs reports MLB teams frequently deployed the shift against Larnach anyway. None of Larnach’s home runs went to the opposite field this year with virtually everything in left field just winding up as a single. The lack of home runs and extra base hits is to be expected once Larnach’s batted ball data is reviewed; he’s been a heavy ground ball hitter at about 45% grounders. Fangraphs and BaseballSavant differ in the fly ball data with Fangraphs showing 35.4% vs. BaseballSavant’s 29.7%. Despite the relatively poor outcomes for Larnach, he does hit the ball fairly hard as advertised with an above average 90.0 mph exit velocity, and MLB average-ish 41.1% hard hit and 9.5% barrel rates according to Statcast metrics. Larnach’s reported launch angle should be a productive, but non-optimal 13.1* despite all the grounders. It’s also worth looking into his splits performance, since he is a lefty. In regard to that, he was utterly unplayable against LHP with a wRC+ of 44, but his performance against RHP isn’t truly good enough to justify a platoon role with a wRC+ of 109. It does provide some silver lining since southpaws throw less than 30% of innings at the MLB level. A step forward could make Larnach a platoon type player.
All this brings us to plate discipline. Larnach’s solid enough 10.3% walk rate suggests he has a capable enough eye at the plate, but the 34.6% strikeout rate is well below MLB average so lets dig in here a bit. Warning… here’s where it goes off the rails. Larnach has a somewhat better than average O-swing% (swings outside the strike zone) which supports the argument for an MLB caliber eye at the plate shown in the chart.
However, the PitchFX and PitchInfo data from Fangraphs O-contact% rates at abysmal 38.2% and 32.9%, respectively. Expanding beyond the O-swing results shows Larnach is passive at the plate, swinging only 43.8% of the time (bottom 17.5%) with the 3rd worst contact rate among the 252 batters with 300+ plate appearances in MLB this year. Lending support to being passive at the plate, Larnach takes a called strike 18.1% of the time, which is more often than over 3/4 of other MLB batters. Honestly, it looks like Larnach is struggling to tell balls from strikes so he’s hoping for a walk or a meatball, but when he does swing, he often misjudges the pitch and winds up whiffing. In fact, whiffing more often than 96% of other MLB batters with 300+ plate appearances based on Fangraphs’ data. It’s bad. It’s real bad.
We know Larnach is struggling with pitch recognition based on the data, but is it a specific pitch or pitch category where he might be able to adjust his game to prevent being exposed? Unfortunately, no. Larnach crushes 4 seam fastballs, but he doesn’t really hit much else. The data from BaseballSavant shows he’s utterly outmatched by MLB secondary pitches in general.
Looking into Larnach’s run value by pitch on BaseballSavant shows Larnach cannot identify a changeup (18.4% of pitches), cannot handle sliders (19.0% of pitches) and also struggles greatly against sinkers (15.9% of pitches). Larnach has been a little better than MLB average against curveballs (11.3% of pitches), though. Essentially, don’t throw Larnach a 4 seamer or curveball and the opposing pitcher will probably be fine. It’s worth noting Fangraphs’ data from PitchFX and PitchInfo both back up BaseballSavant’s data. Comparing Larnach to other MLB hitters based on PitchFX data from Fangraphs, Larnach is in the bottom 5% for changeup and bottom 30% for the slider performance, but that’s a raw runs produced number without context of how many pitches he’s seen of each. Looking at BaseballSavant, Larnach is bottom 4% for changeup (7/175), 9% for slider (25/290) and 11% for sinker (25/245) per pitch seen, based on hitters with at least 50 plate appearances vs. those pitches. There are literally no pitches which Larnach produces positive value other than the 4 seam fastball… and maybe ever so slightly, the curveball depending on the source.
Defensively, Larnach’s speed is his limiting factor already at just age 24. Larnach’s sprint speed is 26.5ft/sec which is significantly below median for MLB or corner outfielders at 27.3 or 27.5ft/sec, respectively. That said, Larnach does accelerate to his top speed quickly and he’s been an average MLB route runner despite limited experience. This lives up to the scouting reports at draft day which said Larnach possesses good baseball instincts in the field to help make up for his disadvantage in speed. In addition, Larnach has arm strength which is graded above average which should help prevent base runners from confidently stretching their hits for another base or carelessly tagging to advance. Larnach is unlikely to ever be an average or plus defender on the field, but he may remain serviceable for a few years, especially with good positioning and a steady position to play.
Let’s summarize the good and bad here. On the good side of things, Larnach can clearly crush 4 seamers and was solid against curveballs despite his limited experience against high level pitching and loss of the 2020 season for development against full competition. Pitchers looking to get an out aren’t going to be able to do it with Larnach at the plate simply by throwing heat past him as he’ll catch up to it and make them pay and woe be the righty pitcher who with a 4 seamer and curveball as their bread and butter. When Larnach makes contact with his swings, he hits the ball a little better than the MLB average hitter with good exit velocity and he was able to accomplish those things despite having very little experience at the high MiLB level. Larnach’s instincts in the field are good, he makes the most of his physical abilities and the combination of skills and ability allow him to play corner outfield effectively enough so he’s not a glorified DH at this point in his career. Furthermore, Larnach was just getting a good taste of AA before the lost 2020 season and his call up to the MLB squad was potentially hastened by other player injuries, perhaps a bit earlier than the Twins wanted. With encouraging numbers from AA in 2019, the 2021 campaigns struggles may just be a bad season influenced by confidence issues and Larnach is still relatively young coming into his age 25 season next year. Finally, Larnach has plenty of MLB options left to give him room to take a step forward. Of course, that’s the optimistic view. On the not good side, Larnach is not particularly young for a prospect, either as he approaches the end point for prospect status at age 25, and while he did lose out on 2020 in terms of professional seasons, he was part of the Twins alternate site where he got a lot of valuable coaching time. Larnach was arguably more advanced than other college juniors when he was drafted because of his experience in the Cape Cod league which uses wooden bats and he was scouted as a polished bat who wouldn’t need much time to get up to MLB ready. He’s had some time now and his small, but somewhat relevant sample size from his demotion to AAA wasn’t encouraging. There’s a big difference between AA and AAA when it comes to location and refinement of pitches, the polish, so to speak. There are a lot of players who can’t make that adjustment and given how poorly Larnach handled MLB pitches, it may not be a coincidence he wasn’t able to hit in AAA. In fact, Larnach was totally and completely outmatched by most pitches MLB pitchers throw and his track record, age, current swing and batted ball data don’t leave a lot of room for power projection so being the kind of hitter who can simply punish any mistake for a home run like Sano doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards.
Clearly, it would be foolish to write Trevor Larnach off at this point, but there's good reason to cool his stock dramatically. Let's hope he can make some adjustments to prove this data isn't the norm and he just had a bad season!