It’s not like Nomar Mazara was bad to end 2016. Sure, he wasn’t what one could call “amazing,” but after a week or so of games, it’s seeming almost as if he wanted to go ahead and get his sophomore slump out of the way in the second half of his first season, so he could jump into 2017 with that formality taken care of.
In six games so far, Mazara has two doubles, two homers, 10 total hits and five strikeouts. That’s not a huge sample size, and it’s far too early to begin making assumptions or presumptions of what his season will look like, but from a non-numerical point of view, the signs are there that Mazara’s prepared to have the kind of season that validates his top prospect ranking in 2016.
Of course, the Rangers haven’t had much luck with their top prospects. Jurickson Profar was hurt, and then was hurt again, and is just now getting the chance to actually develop at the major league level and show what kind of bat and defense he can bring. Joey Gallo’s had a shaky ride since leaving Double-A, occasionally able to show the otherworldly power, but a lack of consistent at-bats has given him trouble with finding his stride against advanced pitching.
Both these former top prospects have seen more success in the limited sample we have from 2017 thus far, hinting at a possible resurgence, and if a rising tide lifts all boats, only one question remains: Is Mazara the tide, or simply rising with it?
If Mazara’s late-2016 slump, which looked slightly sophomoric, is the baseline, then we should compare future performance against it. Some hitters have never recovered from the sophomore slump. This is commonly attributed to pitchers getting to face a new guy for the second and third time, and a “book” being developed on their tendencies – has happened before.
Jason Heyward’s first season in 2010 was his best year, overall, until 2015 (though one could argue that despite the low batting average, his homer-happy 2012 was as good as he’s gotten). Similarly, both Upton brothers came up through the minors with lauded potential, only to not quite get there after a quick start.
So, what does a non-recovered season look like for Mazara? In the last 64 games of 2016, Mazara hovered around .242/.306/.417, striking out 59 times. Using no projection system other than logic, a second season of similar hitting would possibly have him hovering around the .250 mark, but hitting his share of home runs. This isn’t an ideal result for a prospect pinned to being Texas’ starting right fielder for many years to come, but it’s also not an unproductive major leaguer. However, that outcome seems, right now at least, to be fairly unlikely.
The exciting thing about Mazara has always been that he’s seemed preternaturally unruffled by the struggles of minor and major league life. No matter how long the slump, or how difficult the game, he’s had an ability to let it go and visibly approach the next game without pressing or pushing – two dangerous habits for a young player to form. There will always be slumps – even Adrian Beltre slumps. It’s how they’re handled that oftentimes makes the difference.
On the other hand, Mazara’s coolness means it can be difficult for those of us tasked with attempting to dissect baseball from the outside to get a good read on him. Is he back, insomuch that he ever left? Possibly. Unlike his comrade Rougned Odor, who wears his emotions and confidence on his sleeve (and in the ferocity of his swing), Mazara doesn’t have a particular “tell.”
We’ll just have to keep watching baseball games, and possibly, quietly, the homers will pile up.
By Kate Morrison