More than one reader has asked recently for my take on San Francisco Giants rookie infielder Kelby Tomlinson. Recently promoted to the major leagues, Tomlinson is doing his best Matt Duffy impersonation, hitting .321/.376/.414 between Double-A and Triple-A followed by a .355/.376/.516 line in his first 31 major league at-bats. Like Duffy before him, Tomlinson wasn't a highly-rated prospect coming up but is sure performing like one right now.
Okay, so where did this one come from?
Texas Tech, actually, drafted in the 12th round in 2011. Living in Kansas, I keep close track of the Big 12 college players so I was familiar with him. Looking back through my old notes, here is the report I wrote for myself after seeing him play in 2011:
Athletic, lean, lively body, +run, aggressive, good jumps. Swing mechanically simple but kind of slow, hits up middle/opposite field. Good eye, no trouble reading breaking stuff, weak contact vs 92 MPH fastball, no present power, projection for gap-pop if he adds strength to frame? Dunno why but I think that can happen. Average range but + instincts, arm average or slightly below strength for SS, however ++accurate, quick release, steady eddie. Hustles, good effort, appears alert at all times. UT infield projection, sixth round or later. Consider for shadow draft and sleeper college pick articles.
This is typical of the notes I make for myself while researching prospects. A report from a real scout would include projections or observations on the 20/80 scales but I’m a writer, not a scout, and I like using words.
Tomlinson didn't hit much at the lower levels, batting just .224/.309/.296 in Low-A in 2012 and .243/.330/.318 in 2013. He improved in 2014, hitting .268/.340/.323, still lacking power but showing a bit more with the bat while swiping 49 bases. All along he's been a fine defender at second base, adequate at shortstop, and a threat on the bases, these assets keeping him employed even when he wasn't hitting.
So here he is at age 25, suddenly showing more pop and arriving in the majors as a result. Watching him play, and comparing him mentally to the 2011 version, the 2015 edition of Tomlinson looks like the same guy in most respects. He still does a decent job making contact, still runs well, looks alert and can handle his infield duties without trouble. I don't see any massive changes in his swing or approach, but the ball just seems to travel further now.
Kelby Tomlinson spray" data-chorus-asset-id="3986108" />
That's his MLBfarm.com spray chart from 2014. Here is the chart from 2015:
Sure looks like he's pulling the ball more.
Further evidence of a pattern change: in 2013 his GO/AO ratio was 2.26. In 2014 that dropped to 1.73, and in 2015 it is now 1.29.
More balls hit in the air now, more balls being pulled.
I"d love to compare video from 2011 to video from 2015 to break down any subtle mechanical changes, but don't have that kind of information available at the moment (if you do, speak up). Nevertheless, it seems fair to conclude that Tomlinson is stronger than he was four years ago and is now driving pitches that led to weak contact in the past more effectively.
I don't think Tomlinson is going to replicate what Duffy has done in a larger sample and I wouldn't expect him to keep hitting .300+. But he can probably hit .260 with enough speed and defensive contributions to carve a career as a utility player.
What do you think?