Rangers Expecting Big Things From Nomar Mazara in 2018

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 30: Nomar Mazara
ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 30: Nomar Mazara /

After a couple of, say, “sobering” articles on Rougned Odor and Cole Hamels, I felt compelled to shine a little bit of light on the Texas Rangers.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, Texas Rangers, right fielder Nomar Mazara hit the Rookie League at the age of 17 and has been nothing short of steady since day one. As a prospect, he was highly regarded for his bat — both contact and power — peaking at #14 on MLB.com’s 2015 report. As he was signed without the fanfare of recent players such as Luis Robert or Yoan Moncada, Mazara seemed to fly under the prospect’s radar as he ascended the minor leagues.

From 2012-2015, while in the minors, Mazara’s cumulative slash line was .270/.353/.439. He totaled 56 home runs and 263 RBI, striking out 425 times while taking 200 bases on balls. With obvious wiggle room for the various levels and difficulties of the minors, Mazara’s season averages would have been something around this:

.270/.353/.439, 110 H, 106K, 14 HR, 66 RBI, 50 BB (in roughly 110 G)

Obviously, the difference between Mazara’s 54 games played in the Arizona League, and his 111 played in AA Frisco are supremely noteworthy; however, these minor league averages are compelling. Contrast them with his first two seasons with the Rangers:

.266/.320/.419, 137 H, 112 K, 20 HR, 64 RBI, 39 BB (2016, 145 G)

.253/.323/.422, 140 H, 127 K, 20 HR, 101 RBI, 55 BB  (2017, 148 G)

(I am also going to re-emphasize that Mazara played the 2016 and 2017 seasons at 20 and 21 years of age, respectively. When Aaron Judge was 21, he was a college student at Fresno State.)

Often, when a young player performs at the level that Mazara has, the expectations suddenly go through the roof. If a kid can his 20 bombs with an OPS of nearly .750 as a rookie, the sky is the limit, right?

When Mazara’s 2017 looked eerily similar to his 2016, some folk around baseball began to grumble. Sophomore slump? Another prospect bottoming out?

Where were the fireworks? The 40 bombs? The .330 average? Where was, I don’t know, a young Magglio Ordóñez?

In 2017, Mazara’s 101 RBI was fifth-best in MLB, behind the guys you would expect (Stanton, Judge, Martinez, Betts), as well as a few you might not (Jay Bruce, tied with Nick Castellanos). He was ahead of guys named Harper, Puig, Calhoun, Santana, and Heyward.

His home run total put him at 16th among qualified right fielders, his strikeouts, 12th, and his slugging percentage, 18th. In other words: middle of the road. Mazara’s career WAR to date is a whopping 0.5; that is to say, he has been almost exactly a league-average right-fielder.

Mazara’s game hasn’t evolved in the way that many people might hope. At least, not in the sexy, attention-grabbing ways listed above. There are a few things to make note of with Mazara, though; things that certainly suggest that he’s steadily going to raise his game, little by little, and continue making good on the promise he’s shown thus far.

A closer look

While his 2016 and 2017 lines look similar at first glance, a couple of things do stand out. First, in a similar sample size, Mazara’s RBI total was up nearly 40 in 2017, from 64 to 101. Looking at his numbers with runners in scoring position, Maz hit .303 in ’17, versus .241 in ’16. This is a huge improvement and one that shouldn’t be glanced over.

He also struck out less, and, perhaps more importantly, put the ball in play with more frequency. In 2016, six of Mazara’s 28 hits w/RISP were home runs. In 2017, only three of his 47 hits cleared the fence; 32 of them, however, were singles.

To me, that’s a young player learning how to hit situationally. 32 of his 47 hits with runners in scoring position were singles — certainly not sexy, but when they push a run (or two, if it’s Elvis Andrus or Delino Deshields) across the plate, that might be the difference in winning or losing a ballgame.

Where certain the Texas Rangers certainly seem to want those sexy stats that so many fans measure greatness by, Mazara — if last year is an indication — is content simply to do his part, get on base, and keep an inning going. For all of his ho-hum, Maz was fifth in all of baseball in runs batted in, after all.

Another reason for optimism with regards to Mazara is that he showed improvement in 2017 in perhaps his weakest area: versus left-handed pitching. It seems that the Texas Rangers made a concerted effort to give him every chance to figure out lefties, as he was in the lineup almost every day of last season.

Mazara vs. RHP in 2017: 431 AB, 112 H, 19 HR, 97 K, .260 AVG (.274 in 2016)

Mazara vs. LHP in 2017: 123 AB, 28 H, 1 HR, 30 K, .228 AVG (.234 in 2016)

While it might seem that Maz regressed against lefties, a closer look shows that his walks and ISO went up, while his strikeouts declined, even if only marginally. His “hard-hit” rate also improved, which seems to be especially telling.

Two seasons into his career, Mazara has a 28.7% hard-hit rate, along with a ground ball rate just under 48%. Soft contact + ground balls aren’t often a player’s best chances of getting on base — especially 6’4 right fielders carrying 220 pounds.

So, why the faith? And what’s with the MVP talk?

I suppose the thing that many Rangers fans (and perhaps Bill James, too) is banking on is Mazara’s baseball acumen. On the one hand, through his first two professional seasons, Maz has been just a league-average player.

On the other, though, being league-average to begin one’s career is more than most ballplayers can say for themselves. Taking things a step further, being “just” league average at 20, and 21, years of age? That’s pretty remarkable.

The idea is that Mazara is only going to keep improving; that his strikeouts might go down as his hard-hit rates go up; that his RBI totals will increase as his batting average increases as he gets the ball into the air more and his bat versus left-handed pitching continues to come around. These are the things that great players do. They adjust.

These things are far from guaranteed, and the list of players who failed to make adjustments to their game is very, very long, but Mazara has been on an accelerated pace his entire career and hasn’t ever seemed in over his head. The kid was 19 years old in AA and slashed .271/.362/.470. It should be noted, too, that he spent all of 23 games in AAA before coming to Arlington in April, and staying.

Baseball is one of the few — very few — sports in which a player near 30 is smack-dab in the middle of his prime. Football and basketball often see players decline around 30; in baseball, some of a player’s greatest seasons might not even come until then. Barry Bonds’ had arguably his best season as a 37-year old. For a less, say, controversial example, Albert Pujols’ most otherworldly season came in his 29th year.

More from Texas Rangers

All of this to say, Mazara has nothing but time to continue chipping away at baseball. The Texas Rangers don’t seem rushed with him — in fact, they seem more than satisfied with his play to date — and his upside is, depending who you ask, sky-high. Those Ordóñez comps may not be far off, really — a .309 lifetime hitter who averaged 26 and 108  over a 15-year career? Who didn’t even play in his first major league game until he was 23 years old?

Whether or not Bill James’ MVP speculation rings true, Nomar Mazara is one of the Texas Rangers’ brightest — and youngest — stars. For all of the figuring out what players do in their first few seasons, Mazara has shown a steady approach to hitting since his debut as a 20-year-old in 2016.

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Whether it happens this year, or next, or the year after (2020 would put Mazara at the ancient age of 25 — sticking with the theme from above, Aaron Judge was 25 in his rookie year), the Texas Rangers have an exciting young player to watch man right field this season. 2018 might not be friendly to the boys in Arlington; watching Mazara continue his maturation would surely assuage some of the Texas Rangers inevitable suffering this summer.