Avoiding sophomore slumps

Scouts and stats explain how these five phenoms can build on strong debuts

Updated: February 8, 2013, 6:54 PM ET
By Teddy Mitrosilis | ESPN Insider
Manny MachadoRich Pilling/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesMachado showed impressive power as a rookie, but pitchers exploited his aggressiveness.

Whether it's the veil of small sample sizes being lifted, adjustments being made or something else, second seasons cater to unforeseen surprises. And Desmond Jennings' 2012 season provides an interesting case study.

In 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder came up in mid-July and posted an .805 OPS with 10 homers and 20 steals in 63 games and was a crucial cog in the Rays' late-season push to the playoffs.

Expectations were huge heading into 2012, and while he stole 31 bags and ranked seventh in runs (85) among left fielders, valuable to both Tampa Bay and those who compete in fictional digital baseball, there were also huge flaws built around his .314 OBP and .388 slugging.

Jennings succumbed to eagerness too often, recklessly pursuing fastballs regardless of count. He gave away many at-bats by expanding his zone against heaters when ahead, walking himself back into counts that begged for breaking balls. When ahead in the count last season, he had a 24 percent chase rate on fastballs, which is below average and a bad idea for someone whose job is to work the count at the top of the lineup. It's hitting's equivalent of self-mutilation.

A classic "sophomore slump," right? Well, not exactly.

Jennings improved his ability to spit on off-speed away, improving his chase rate on off-speed away from 31.5 percent to 22.5 percent, and by some advanced measures (such as OPS+), he was still almost league average offensively.

Per FanGraphs, he put up 3.5 WAR backed by exceptional defense and baserunning, which makes you shiver at the storm coming if he can temper his eagerness at the plate.

With the help of evaluators, stats and video, we've pinpointed five second-year players who will be under the same microscope Jennings was under last season and identified the holes they'll need to close as the league begins to figure them out.


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Todd Frazier | 3B, Cincinnati Reds