Welcome to our 2020 Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2020. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player. For each edition we’ll describe the season in a sentence, look at the positives from the year as well as negatives, look back at our one big question from the season preview and look ahead to the 2021 season. We’ll be going in alphabetical order of the players on this list. You can look over that list and drop a name in the comments if you think I left anyone out who should be mentioned here. Got it? Good. We start things off today with Jonathan Araúz.
2020 in one sentence
Jonathan Araúz completed the main goal of his season, which was simply to stick on the roster all year, and while playing he struggled with consistency he also showed some good signs for a young player with limited experience above High-A before this season.
While Araúz was indeed able to stick on the major-league roster all season, he didn’t exactly finish his first taste of major-league playing with a eye-opening numbers. The rookie finished the season with a wRC+ of 78, meaning he was 22 percent worse than league-average. That said, while the numbers weren’t great he did show off a patient approach that indicated he wasn’t panicking at the plate despite having just 28 games under his belt above High-A. Over his 80 plate appearances this year, Araúz walked 10 percent of the time, an impressive number for a player with his experience. The passive approach isn’t a complete positive, as we’ll get to in a minute, but in general it’s better to see the patience than an overaggressive approach that gets a lot of young players into trouble.
Beyond that, there weren’t a whole lot of numbers that jumped off the stat sheet for a positive in 2020 for Araúz. If you want, you can parse through some of his splits to find some minor positives. Like, for example, he finished with a 112 wRC+ at Fenway, or that he was much better at the plate with runners on base (105 wRC+) compared to when the bases were empty (58 wRC+). Those are more neat facts about his season than any actual positive to carry forward, though. His overall season sample was only 80 plate appearances, so no split is going to be large enough for it to be worth actually getting into in detail.
Honestly, the biggest positive for Araúz was that he stayed in the majors all season. The shortened year and the fact that the Red Sox were out of contention within weeks helped that, but it ensures for the Red Sox that they get to keep the former Astros prospect. As a Rule 5 pick, he would have been returned to Houston’s organization had he been taken off the active roster. It was pretty clear at times that he was in over his head, but as I mentioned above he had a workable approach and now he’ll be able to get back on a normal developmental schedule with an organization that liked him enough to take him in the Rule 5 Draft and take the steps required to keep him around for the long-term.
Everyone’s numbers need to be taken with some grain of salt given the small sample in the shortened season, but Araúz has an extra layer given the lack of high-level experience discussed above. That said, there were clearly some issues in his game that need some work as we look forward in his career. I mentioned in the positives section that there were some negative aspects to the approach, and that was that he let too many strikes go by. Per FanGraphs’s batted ball metrics, he swung at just 56 percent of pitches in the zone compared to a league-average rate of 68 percent. That is how you get to a 26 percent strikeout rate with a swinging strike rate (8.7 percent) about three percentage points lower than league-average. The patient approach is a nice building block, but there’s certainly such thing as too much passivity. Being ready to attack strikes is going to be an important developmental step for him in 2021.
Beyond the approach, Araúz was also particularly susceptible to breaking balls last season. Granted, he didn’t exactly have tremendous success against fastballs or offspeed pitches, but he struggled most against breaking balls. According to Baseball Savant’s numbers, he whiffed a full quarter of a time against breaking balls while posting an average exit velocity of 82 mph and a negative launch angle. None of this is a huge surprise as young hitters often have trouble in their first experiences against major-league breaking balls, but if Araúz is going to stick long-term he’s going to have to be able to fight these pitches off more often.
The biggest issue I found with Araúz, though, is that he was far too easy to defend. If he develops to something close to the best possible version of himself, he’s going to be the kind of hitter who relies on walks and singles, as there just isn’t a ton of power in the bat. He played into that a bit this year, too, with a high line drive rate and low fly ball rate. It’s easier to get those singles with line drives and ground balls, but that is less true in today’s game if you aren’t spraying the ball all over the field. Araúz needs to use the entire field if he’s going to have success at the plate, but in 2020 he pulled the ball just about half of the time while going the other way under 20 percent of the time. As a result, defenses shifted him on about 70 percent of plate appearances with batted balls (per FanGraphs). A player who needs to rely on walks and singles is going to have a hard time finding success if they are so easily shift-able.
The Big Question
There was! The weirdness of this season certainly played into his hands and that linked post came before the pandemic changed everything, though. It goes without saying that keeping a player with Araúz’s numbers is much more difficult over the course of 162 games compared to 60. Plus, if there were minor-league games, who knows if C.J. Chatham or Jeter Downs or someone else forces their way into Araúz’s spot. All that said, we can only deal in the world in which we’re living, and here Araúz pulled it off.
Looking Ahead to 2021
After spending all of 2020 in the majors, look for Araúz to spend most of 2021 in Worcester. (Side note: Going to be a while until I stop typing Pawtucket the first time around.) That is, assuming there is minor-league baseball next year. The point is there is clearly more to work on for him, and he needs consistent playing time to get it. Maybe as soon as late 2021 or 2022 he can come up for good and be a productive utility man, but in the shorter term expect him to head to the minors.