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.

Video

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).

28 Responses

  1. MK

    McLain has got to be considered a disappointment as a first round pick so far.

    • Optimist

      Not yet, this season is when he needs to prove himself – age 23, power and OBP still good, as Doug noted was moved to AA. More AA this season, and a later move up to Louisville would be fine and set him up for MLB. 17th pick is hardly a sure thing, and he only needs a little more development – no glaring holes in this report. If he can maintain the BB/K % and the power he’ll be very useful.

    • Declan

      He looks fine to me. Most picks are busts. If you get a solid regular and not an all star you have done well. You can’t find a gem every time. Go back and look how terrible the 2016 draft with Senzel was. Tons of first round picks flamed out. Off the top of my head Bieber is the only one who turned into a star.

      • Doug Gray

        If most picks are “busts” then they actually aren’t busts, the expectations just aren’t aligned with reality.

    • Stock

      I am not sure there are more 3 players chosen after him in the first round of the 2020 draft that are better prospects. Could the Reds have done better? Yes but not many picks behind him are better.

    • MBS

      I’m not feeling but with McLain, I think he was trying show he has power. Hopefully they steer him into a more line drive approach. He also started in AA instead of A or A+.

    • MK

      Let’s see, from Doug’s scouting report above, the only tools he is above average is arm and speed and fringe above average power. I would say Aquino would fair better in that rating system. It doesn’t say 1st round pick. I always smile when I see him listed at 5’11”. I’m 5’10 have stood next to him and am at least 3” taller.

      • BK

        The problem with Aquino is that it’s hard to overcome a “Hit” tool rating that is in the 20 to 25 range. Offensively, it just keeps him from tapping into the other tools that are all outstading.

      • Doug Gray

        The problem with Aquino is that he can’t hit for average and he doesn’t walk…. so he’s a guy you simply can’t play every day. As I wrote earlier in the offseason about non-tendering him…. the only reason he was of any value this season was because of his defense, and mostly that was tied to his arm. He can’t hit enough to play every day on any team that shouldn’t be folded unless they have 5 injuries ahead of him and are forced to play him, so it’s really tough to look at him as a guy you should even carry on your 26-man roster. He can’t hit and while he’s fast, he’s not a base stealing threat. Do you really carry a pinch runner who can’t steal and a guy who’s solid on defense in the corners with a big arm?

        A guy like McLain might not hit for much of an average, but I think there’s a better chance he could than Aquino…. but even if he is just a .225 hitter, he’ll walk, he can run, and he can play defense. That’s a solid bench guy anywhere. I just can’t make that argument for a guy like Aquino who has big time power that he can’t use, and good speed that he doesn’t exactly use well, and an elite arm that only matters if he plays and well…. he shouldn’t play.

      • Redsvol

        Yes, another firsts round mistake. Him and Austin Hendricks appear to be busts. The track record of 5 foot 7 draft picks is not very favorable.

      • Andrew

        I’m sure you thought India was a bust until about June of 2021. But ok MK, he’s a bust…

    • Bdh

      He OPS’d over .800 at AA in his first full season of minor league ball. Would’ve been a 20/30 player too if he didn’t spend time on the IL. He’s still a top 100 prospect in the minors. How can that be looked at as disappointing?

      • Andrew

        MK throws shade at everything. He’s kind of bitter and very negative….

  2. Jon

    You’re logic tool is plus, and flashing plus-plus in this thread. Lol

  3. Stock

    I looked into McLain’s stats more yesterday and think he was very unlucky. I focused on the 2 months after he came back from injury and after looking at these numbers think he is far from a bust.

    K% – 24.6% – Average
    BB% – 17.8% – Exceptional
    K/BB – 1.38 – Exceptional

    ISO – .204 – Good
    OBP – .377 – Good
    SLG – .428 – Below Average
    OPS – .805 – Good

    BABIP – .290 – as expected.

    However, I have a self-created stat called Adj BABIP. BABIP eliminates HR in the numerator and HR and K in the denominator. The thought is all balls in play should average out to a batting average of about .300. If your BA is low it is an indication you are striking out too much. My thought is that the luck in batting average is in the singles. Triples and doubles are hit hard enough that they usually are not lucky. If you replace HR in the BABIP equation with extra base hits you get an adj BABIP which should be about .250. McLain’s adj BABIP after he came back from injury was .174. This means he did not get the number of singles one would expect. If you bring his adj BABIP up to .250 his line becomes: .266/.411/.428/.839 and no one is calling him a bust.

    As for Hendrick, I would hardly call him a bust after what he did from August 1 on.

    People speak highly on CES and in his time in the Reds organization he had an ISO of .213 a BB% of 4.1% a K% of 25.7% and a K/BB ratio of 6.3. In the same time frame Hendrick had an ISO of .278, BB% of 15.3%, a K% of 27.1% and a K/BB ratio of 1.8.

    These are hardly bust numbers. I am not sure where Hendrick will start next year but if he starts in AA he will be 2 years ahead of CES based upon his age when he reached AA.

    • MBS

      I hope you’re right about Hendrick. 1 or 2 of Hendrick, Allen, and Hinds working out will be big for the organization. I feel like Hinds just needs to not get injured and he’ll be fine.

    • Stock

      More complete stats on my CES/Hendrick comparison from the time CES came to the Reds organization:

      Hendrick: .247/.373/.526
      CES: .309/.351/.419

      OPS:
      Hendrick: .899
      CES: .770

      BABIP/Adj BABIP:

      Hendrick: .288/.208
      CES: .376/.326

      Hendrick was better even though he was unlucky and CES was very lucky. In fact other than Elly De La Cruz Hendrick’s .899 OPS in August and September was probably better than any player in the organization with at least 100 PA.

      Way too early to call Hendrick a bust.

      • Redsvol

        Stock – I think you could cherry pick a 2 month period of any 2 players and make any case you wanted.

        Ces had a major adjustment coming to a new team with different hitting, fielding and coaching philosophies. It is clear that CES’ professional experience shows a much better player than Hendricks. Your comparison more than likely shows either a young player incurring a major transition or poor development and coaching from the new club (our Reds).

      • Stock

        I didn’t exactly cherry pick. I picked the last 2 months of the year. Call it what you want but my thought is Hendrick’s dramatic decline in K’s was because of coaching in Dayton. He was not the only hitter who saw a decline in K’s in their time at Dayton this year. The one thing holding Hendrick in Daytona is that he struck out too much. I don’t know if this will continue into next year but I sure would not call Hendrick a bust at this point. A player such as Hinds who has shown zero ability to get his K% under 35% should be considered a bust before Hendrick.

        And in no way was I stating that CES was a bust. I have him and Hendrick back to back in my rankings

  4. RedsGettingBetter

    I think McLain could be considered a “bust” if he fails to improve in 2023 season at AA ball. I don’t know but maybe this 2nd year he can figure it out and get his way to AAA it is very encouraging he can have a good walk rate and lowered his K rate finishing 2022 before AFL league. Just watch him in ST to see the signals…

    • Doug Gray

      There’s no such thing as a bust in baseball. Sorry, there just isn’t. By the time you get outside of the top 10 of the draft, historically, you did a good job if the guy you drafted is a solid bench player or reliever.

      • RedsGettingBetter

        I got it Doug, maybe the concept of a “bust” here is related more about the existing high hopes when the player is drafted versus the results you are getting from him in reality. It is not just a literal meaning I think…Thanks for your response..

  5. fan in St. Louis

    Trammel’s ML stats 258 ab 108 so 30 w

    Doug I don’t know your reservations nor strengths you felt when he was a top Red minor leaguer. I only offer him as an example of potential versus reality

  6. DaveCT

    Late to the Matt McLain party but the 2021 summary by BA writers had his main issue entering 2022 as lack of power. In season, we hear he’s looking to get to his power in game more. So it’s pretty clear he chased power at the expense of strikeouts this year. One, I’d rather have to do this in the minors. And, two, we’ll see if they has learned anything in 2023. I still don’t see him as a bonafide starting player, at least on a competitive team. His versatility and average tools make him more of a plug and play guy to me. And there’s value in that. One other benefit is it opens the door to one of our more elite talents to claim an infield job, such as Arroyo.

  7. AMDG

    McLain had a 0.300 BABIP last season, so it would seem his low BA wasn’t due to “luck”. But rather, due to his high K rate.

    In 2021 McLain had a similar 0.300+ BABIP, but his K rate was 8% lower, resulting in a BA about 7% higher.

    So, if he can cut the K’s, he should get the hits.

    Hopefully he can fix the swing & miss. The fact he had so many walks suggests perhaps that is possible – of course Dunn had tons of walks and also tons of K’s…

  8. Stock

    I have to disagree AMDG. First the .300 BABIP is a ML (pre shift) average BABIP. The fielders in the minors are not at the same level as those in the majors. Second several factors are in play with BABIP. Speed and power both play roles. Players who hit the ball hard will have a higher BABIP. Players with speed will have a higher BABIP.

    In the Southern league there were 10 players with an ISO of at least .200 that had enough AB to show up in the stats. The sample size is fairly low but the numbers makes sense (with one exception).

    I classify speed with at least 10 SB and at least a 70% SB success rate. Here is the BA for players split into groups.

    K% (19.5% – 24.5%), Speed (Above): .274
    K% (19.5% – 24.5%), No Speed (Above): .259
    K% (24.5% – 29.5%), Speed (Above): .232
    K% (24.5% – 29.5%), No Speed (Above): .260
    K% (29.5% – 34.5%), Speed (Above): N/A
    K% (29.5% – 34.5%), No Speed (Above): .234
    K% (34.5%+), Speed (Above): .232
    K% (34.5%+), No Speed (Above): .214

    With the exception of the 24.5% – 29.5% category these are fairly uniform. Every 5% increase in K% costs a player about 0.015 in BA. Non-Speed costs a player about 0.015 in BA.

    Based upon this small sample size and my assumptions McLain’s BA should have been about .260 and no one would be calling him a bust.

    As a group these 10 players had a .313 BABIP.

    • Old Big Ed

      I’ve kinda always believed, under a similar theory, that SABIP would be a better measure than BABIP. Otherwise, on a day with the wind blowing in at Wrigley, Brandon Claussen (or me, for that matter) is every bit as good as Greg Maddux, except for walks and strikeouts. In reality, on that blustery Wrigley day, hitters would hit the ball much harder against a replacement level pitcher than against Maddux, resulting in more doubles and triples. I haven’t seen the SABIP stat, but haven’t looked too hard, either.

      McLain does have some odd numbers, so I think that he likely did have a better year than might appear from the raw numbers. Jonathan India was a bit like that in 2019. There is no question, though, that he needs to pare down the strikeouts from 2022 (an outlier year for him on Ks). The K-rate in 2022 seems to be related to what I believe is probably an unwise attempt to generate more power.

      McLain will play his age 23 season this year, and is certainly no bust.