In the 2016 season, Michael Beltre jumped onto the prospect radar after hitting .299/.399/.481 between the Arizona League Reds and Billings Mustangs. That came along with 26 walks and 38 strikeouts in 219 plate appearances. He was showing a little bit of everything. There was some pop in his bat, he was walking plenty, he was making contact at a good rate. Oh, and he also had 13 steals in 14 attempts. The numbers on the surface were good. The scouting reports also looked good, suggesting more power was in there and that the speed was real for the switch-hitter.
There was one stat, though, that maybe should have stood out a little bit more, but it wasn’t one you would see on many pages: ground ball rate. In 2016 Michael Beltre hit the ball on the ground 55% of the time. It’s pretty difficult to hit for power when you are hitting the ball on the ground with high frequency.
Last season the Cincinnati Reds sent Michael Beltre to Dayton, and after a quick start to the season (he hit .313/.411/.500 in the first two weeks), he struggled most of the season and finished the year with .238/.323/.324 line. His walk rate and strikeout rates were still solid or better, but his power from the previous season completely disappeared. Well, sort of. He did hit the longest home run in the Reds farm system that I was able to track in 2017, launching one 453 feet for the Dragons. You can watch it below.
But, his ground ball rate went up and his day-to-day power output went away. Last season he had a ground ball rate of 62%. The highest ground ball rate in the Major Leagues in 2017 was 58% by Dee Gordon. Suffice to say, he was hitting ground balls at an incredibly high rate, and it’s likely the reason his power disappeared despite having plenty of ability to hit the ball both hard and far.
Back in Dayton for 2018, Michael Beltre is once again out to a hot start. But this year it’s even better than last year. Through his first 16 games – he got a late start, joining Dayton on April 17th – he’s hitting .364/.500/.527. That’s come with six extra-base hits, six steals (he only had nine last season, and he was caught nine times, too), and he’s walked as often as he’s struck out.
His walk rate is up significantly. He’s walked 21% of the time this season, which is also his current strikeout rate. The strikeout rate is up a little bit on the season, too. It’s not a rate at which there should be any concern. Any time that a player is walking as often as they strike out, it’s a good sign. But that may not be the most important thing that’s changed this season for Michael Beltre.
While we are dealing with a small sample size of just 16 games played, there’s been a very noticeable difference in the batted ball profile for Michael Beltre. He’s been getting the ball into the air with far more frequency in 2018. To this point in the season he’s hit ground balls just 39% of the time. His line drive rate is currently 34%, too. While it’s unlikely that his line drive rate remains that high (the tops in the Majors last season just 28%), the overall ratio of ground balls to non-ground balls is something that could remain. And if so, that’s probably a good sign of things to come.
There’s some pop in the bat for Michael Beltre. You would see it at times in the past. He’s got bat speed, and he’s got strength. When he hits the ball hard, he can really hit the ball hard. Elevating the baseball while being able to do that is going to increase the chances of extra-base hits, which in turn is going to lead to better production. Perhaps this is just a blip on the radar given the sample size. We’re going to have to wait and see, but the early returns are showing good signs of progress.