When the Cincinnati Reds drafted Taylor Sparks in the 2014 draft’s second round, the scouting reports that came along with it read something like this: Huge tools, big time power, potentially a plus defender, lots of speed, very aggressive plate approach with questionable pitch recognition skills.
Essentially, the reports suggested that Sparks was the ultimate boom-or-bust type of player. The upside was huge for him with so many strong tools to work with, but there was a lot of downside as his ability to recognize pitches enough may hold him back from being able to use several of those tools that rated out very well.
The Reds sent Sparks to Billings for his first taste of professional baseball after being drafted in 2014 and the results showed some of the same things his scouting report suggested. The third baseman had 24 extra-base hits in 55 games. He also stole 14 bases in 15 attempts. There were also 84 strikeouts in 240 plate appearances (35%), but that also came with 31 walks (13%). The walk rate was very high for a player who had reportedly had issues with pitch identification and an aggressive approach, but the strikeout rate told a different side to that story too.
The next logical step for Sparks would have seemingly been a bump up to Dayton, but when Tanner Rahier was suspended it opened up the opportunity to jump up to Daytona. For the first three months of the season, things did not go well for the third baseman, hitting just .247/.277/.380 with nine walks and 93 strikeouts in 280 plate appearances. The walk rate was an incredibly low 3.2% and his strikeout rate was at a very high 33.2%.
July has been a big turn around for Sparks as he’s hitting .300/.360/.478 on the month. His batting average on balls in play on the month is a bit high, sitting at .403 which is inflating those numbers a little bit. But, there are signs of improvement as well. The former second round pick has seven walks and 27 strikeouts in 100 plate appearances on the month.
Looking at just his walk and strikeout rates by month, July stands out.
July has the best walk rate so far on the season and it’s not close. July also has the lowest strikeout rate on the season and it’s not close. There’s still plenty of room for improvement in both areas, but the month has seen good steps forward.
There could have been a bit of a turning point of sorts in June, though it may have begun to show up in the power department instead of the walk and strikeout departments. Let’s compare the power output in April and May versus June and July:
The sample size is nearly identical and the difference has been massive. Twice as many doubles, three more triples and twice as many home runs. There was obviously an adjustment that he was able to make, going from roughly league average isolated power (SLG-AVG) to more than twice the league average.
There’s still plenty of work to do on the offensive side of the ledger for Taylor Sparks, but he’s taken some steps forward of late and shown several different signs of improvement. His assignment to Daytona to begin the year was probably too aggressive, but given the circumstances there weren’t too many options either. After a rough start, things are really turning around.