We're more than a month into the season, approaching the time when sample sizes begin to matter. Numbers can look funny in small doses. Sometimes that's due to exaggerated hot or cold streaks, but sometimes real changes in a player's tools and skills are happening right in front of us. Among this season's early achievers, which players have most significantly improved one of their core tools with a chance for keeping it up?
Ramirez has added real long-ball power into the mix this season, adding about 3 mph to his average fly ball velocity. But he's doing it a little differently, and more problematically than his teammate. Ramirez's average launch angle has spiked upward by more than 6 degrees, due in part to a big bump in his popup rate. He's pulling even more of his ground balls than his teammate Francisco Lindor, to the point that it's a concern. Growing into your power is one thing; selling out who you are for more thump is another, and Ramirez may be crossing that line.
Is it real? Yes, at least in the short term. The intermediate to long-term cost may be prohibitive, however. Jose Ramirez should not focus on becoming Jose Lopez.
Last year was a wake-up call for Conforto, who was demoted at midseason, only to demolish the Pacific Coast League. He, too, has significantly ramped up his fly ball and line-drive velocity, though his ground ball velocity is down thanks to his adding a bit more uppercut to his stroke.
He has at least temporarily licked two of his 2016 problems, lowering his popup rate and modifying his dead-pull tendency on the ground -- defenses now shift against Conforto at the risk of him going the other way. Conforto is on his way to increasing his power ceiling without compromising his hitting. Now, if we could only get him to face left-handed pitching on a regular basis.
Is it real? Yes, with the caveat that he needs to face lefties to prove that he's an all-around plus hitter.