After having a solid debut in 2021 after being selected 17th overall in the draft that summer, Matt McLain was given an aggressive assignment to begin the 2022 season. The Cincinnati Reds felt that he could handle the jump all the way up to Double-A and sent the shortstop to Chattanooga to start his first full season as a professional.
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After beginning the season 0-7 in the first two games of the year, Matt McLain went on a tear over the final three weeks of April, hitting .305/.400/.661 with 12 extra-base hits in 17 games for the Lookouts. He carried that into the first week of May, hitting two home runs in two of the first three games of the month.
But he went into a slump start on May 7th and it lasted for the next six weeks. In a span of 35 games he hit just .209/.340/.343, taking him up to June 23rd. That would be the last day he’d play for nearly a full month due to a sore wrist. He returned on July 22nd, and after playing shortstop the entire first half he found himself splitting time between short and second base with Elly De La Cruz joining him in Chattanooga.
After his return to the lineup, Matt McLain saw his walk rate go up and his strikeout rate go down, but he still had some struggles hitting for average. In his 44 games in the second half of the season he hit just .224, but his 34 walks gave him a .377 on-base percentage and he added 19 extra-base hits to help him slug .428.
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Matt McLain Scouting Report
Position: Shortstop | B/T: R/R
Height: 5′ 11″ | Weight: 180 lbs | Acquired: 1st Round, 2021 Draft
Born: August 6, 1999
Hitting | McLain shows an average hit tool.
Power | He shows fringe-average power.
Speed | He has above-average speed.
Defense | McLain is an average defender.
Arm | He shows an average to slightly above-average arm.
There are a range of opinions on the hit tool for Matt McLain, particularly after his 2022 season. Coming out of the draft you would hear scouts giving him above-average to maybe plus grades, but things didn’t look anywhere near that good during his full-season debut as he hit .232 for Double-A Chattanooga and then followed it up by hitting .190 in the Arizona Fall League and striking out 29% of the time. He can and does use the entire field, and his speed could (but didn’t in 2022) help him pick up some additional infield hits, but that hasn’t really made much of a difference for him with hitting for average because his ability to make contact simply wasn’t there for parts of the season.
In the first half of the season he walked 14% of the time he came to the plate, which is very good, but he also struck out 31% of the time, which is not. After he returned from the injured list in the second half his walk rate jumped up to 18% and his strikeout rate dropped to 25%. Both of those were good signs, but the hits didn’t really follow as he still hit just .224 in those 44 games after the return.
He’s going to have to find a way to make more contact and have that lead to a higher average. He showed improvements there in the second half, though he still struggled to make contact in the Arizona Fall League. It was a bit of an aggressive promotion to Double-A in his first full season, so there’s some time for him to continue to make adjustments and figure it out. While the hit tool seemed to go in the wrong direction, the power seemed to play up a bit. McLain had 17 home runs in 103 games for Chattanooga.
While McLain isn’t a plus-plus speed guy, he’s fast. No one will confuse him with some of the fastest players in the league, but he is a very good baserunner and can use his speed very well. He should provide plenty of additional value as a runner – both in terms of stealing bases and simply taking extra bases on the base paths.
Defensively McLain can handle shortstop, but he doesn’t stand out there. He also spent time at second base and looked good at the position. Where he winds up in the end may be more about finding a place for him to play rather than moving him to a position because he can’t play it from a defensive perspective. Shortstop or second base are options for him on the dirt, but with his speed and experience in college as a freshman playing center field make that a potential option as well.
Matt McLain Spray Chart
Interesting Stat on Matt McLain
He showed big home and road splits in 2022. At home he hit .261/.417/.528. On the road he hit .204/.308/.382. His walk rate was significantly higher at home and he made a bit more contact. The power split didn’t come from home runs – he had nine at home and eight on the road in one fewer game played – but he did have 15 doubles at home and just six on the road. Chattanooga has typically played as a home run friendly ballpark in the past, but it did not do so in 2022 where it’s park factor for home runs was just 88 according to Baseball America (but it was 108 for runs scored).