Tenn for Tenbrink
Dave may be missing out on seeing the system’s best pitcher in Michael Pineda (Robles isn’t a bad consolation prize), but one player of interest that he will be seeing is LF Nate Tenbrink, who was promoted on the off day with Joe Dunigan hitting the DL.
Tenbrink is one of the bigger stories in the minor league system right now because he was hitting .379/.452/.649 for the High Desert Mavericks while going fourteen for fifteen on stolen base attempts. With a month and a half in the books, he’s maintained a 1.100 OPS after he hitting only .282/.357/.431 last season. He’s nearly surpassed his triple and home run totals for all of last season in just forty-three games played, and is on pace to increase his walk totals by 50%. So what in the blue blazes is going on with him?
Coming into the ’08 draft, Tenbrink was lauded for his physical tools, but was regarded as a guy for whom the game didn’t come naturally. Brilliant in batting practice, he’d show a mediocre approach in the games. On the field, he’d make a flashy play one inning and then botch the next grounder. His arm was strong, but he threw too many balls away. If tools had been the main criteria for judging a player, he would have easily gone in the first five rounds, but as it stood, he slipped to the M’s in the seventh.
So what can we say about Tenbrink’s performances now? For two straight months, Tenrbink has run a BABIP of over .400. His overall line drive rate is around 12.5%, if the splits are to be believed, but he seems to be hitting everything hard and the balls are dropping in for him. Ordinarily, there would be reason for a great deal of caution in evaluating these stats, but here are a couple of reasons why Tenbrink might be different.
One is the home/road splits. We’d expect that he be able to hit in Mavericks Stadium, because frankly, everyone competent does. The unusual thing with Tenbrink though is that he hits better on the road. In Adelanto, he’s posting an average of .395/.490/.556, with a BABIP of over .450. While touring the rest of the California League, he’s hitting .366/.416/.731 noticeably lower walk numbers and a drop in BABIP, but it’s accompanied by a spike in power. Unlike Poythress on the other side of the diamond, these aren’t necessarily park aided either. Where Poythress has five or more dingers in a known hitters haven in Lancaster, two of Tenbrink’s home runs have come in San Jose, which has a park factor of 81 of 100 for home runs off left-handed bats.
Another reason to think that Tenbrink might be turning into a legitimate prospect is his left-right splits. Acknowledging that the left-handed sample is only 53 at-bats, there’s no BABIP difference between the two and he only loses about fifty points of OPS against southpaws. He does seem to hit them a bit differently, with a 17% line drive rate and 56% fly balls, compared to less than 11% line drives and 39% flyballs on right-handers, but that and eye numbers aside, the results are close, and normalizing for luck only brings them closer.
Tenbrink’s true level of talent is not likely going to be this kind of production going forward, but a .900 OPS at the minor league level doesn’t seem unreasonable for him. Aside from whether the offense is sustainable or not, one major question I do have for him is what position he’ll play in the future. He has all the tools to play the infield, but inconsistencies have pushed him primarily to left, where he’ll likely spend most of his time for the D-Jaxx.
It’s not easy to place his performances in a good context just yet, but his stock is certainly on the rise.