There was no single more disappointing prospect in the Astros system last year than Jiovanni Mier. Obviously he wasn't the worst performing prospect, but nobody had bigger expectations other than Jordan Lyles and Jason Castro. All of the big name prospectors were raining praise all over the Mier name and had many fantasy players were drooling over the chance to draft him. Even a publication like Project Prospect had him listed as a top three short-stop prospect in all of baseball going into last season. Who wouldn't be all over a short-stop with the amount of power potential he flashed in short-season ball. Plus, he wasn't just some slugger either. He also had a walk rate over 10% and his strikeout rate under 20%
Needless to say, his short-season performance set expecations way too high. Mier saw his average dip significantly all season and at times he hovered around the Mendoza line. His walk rate lowered but remained north of 10% and his strikeout rate actually improved by close to a whole percentage point. This is just about the one area you could actually not point to as an area of concern in his game last season. His power was almost not existant at times but he at least managed to hit a good amount of doubles at times. Defensively, he accumulated a lot errors, but that is to be expected and we'll discuss why later.
So, what is different about Mier this year that has many Astros fans skeptically getting their hopes back up? We'll look into his stats and draw some conclusions after the jump.
First, I really want to try to find a key to what could have been wrong with Jio coming into last season that caused his sudden and unexpected disaster last year. Jio showed up to camp last year and quickly started dealing with a shoulder issue that prevented him from making throws for much of the spring. Could he have been dealing with shoulder issues all season? Not likely, but possible. It also came out that Jio struggled to keep weight on the entire season and overall lost a good amount of weight last season. Could that have been an issue? Definitely! We all know that transition to full season ball can be hard on these guy's bodies and the weight loss could be a factor in his ability to not only produce bat speed to make contact, but to actually drive the ball.
But, what could have caused Jio to lose so much weight throughout the season? My assumptions may not be warranted, but I think it has something to do with his off-season preparation. I don't think I'm imagining this, but it's quite possible since I can't find it anywhere, but I vaguely remember a quote from Ed Wade or Bobby Heck making a general comment about working in the off-season and not surfing. If Mier didn't prepare for the season the way he should have, his body easily may not have been ready and that stress of a daily workload could have led to the injury in the spring and the weight loss.
This season, he's doing the exact opposite. He's driving the ball more as the season goes on and looks like his play is getting stronger and he's acting like a leader but tutoring the rest of the infield. It almost seems like he has a whole new mindset coming into this season and it's showing.
Now let's dig into his stats some. As a caveat, we are still looking a small sample size, but with over 100 at-bats, I think we can start to draw some raw conclusions. His walk rate has sky-rocketed versus last year to an outstanding 17.5% but has also seen his strikeout rate increase to 22.2%. I honestly don't think either rate will stay there but it is nice to see that his eye is improving and he's reading pitches better. I suspect his walk rate will be closer 15% and strikeout rate closer 19%. That walk rate should allow him to maintain his OBP much better than it has in the past.
The batting average is a much better .288 this season but it is being supported by a BABIP of .370 which is the highest of his short career. We've seen high BABIP being sustained before in Low-A with guys who hit high LD% with JD Martinez and Chris Wallace. His LD% is trending upwards and is at 19% right now, which is lower that the two other hitters mentioned, but he can also counteract them with his speed. His speed isn't great, but it is better than theirs. His BABIP last year was a normal .294 but his LD% was a low 14%. As I mentioned before, I think his strikeout rate will lower and he'll put more balls in play which could help his average if he does see a decline in BABIP.
As for his power, he has already hit more home runs than last year but his home run rate isn't as high as it was in Greeneville. His ISO is still a solid .174 for a short-stop but is shy of that .214 from Greeneville which is supported not only by his seven home runs but his six triples. Those triples were likely a fluke of very bad defense so don't expect those triples. He's countering with a much higher doubles rate that is much more sustainable. That kind of power will also translate a little better in upper levels as he's hitting a lot into the gaps. Either way, his power is evident again and soemthing he severely lacked last year.
Overall, offensively he's having a huge rebound season with his OPS at .875 and something we were expecting last year. That stat line is already having fans clamoring for him to be in Lancaster and Jonathan Villar being demoted. I'm not ready to join in, but we are getting close to that point. With his offensive performance trending upwards, he may force the Astros hand and promote him to Lancaster. I don't expect a JD type promotion all the way to Corpus because he's still so young and no need to push him too hard. But, the question still lies of what to do with Villar. Does he get demoted? Does he get pushed to AA if he's hitting better? I don't see Wladimir Sutil or Brandon Wikoff taking playing time from either in AA.
The only area we haven't covered is defense now. We've seen plenty of reports describing his as athletic and smooth in the field. That translates into what has been described as an above average range despite being just average in speed. Another factor for him is his arm. Yes, he had a shoulder problem last year but his arm is really good. It's not a cannon, but its definitely strong enough to play short. The best aspect of his his arm is his very quick release that allows him to take his time fielding and still get the ball to first in time. Last year he had thirty-four errors in 129 games if he were to play the same amount this year, he's on pace for just twenty-three errors this season. That's a significant improvement. Although, errors are a poor way to judge fielding, but for now that's all we have. Even Adam Everett piled up a high error count in the minors. These guys are told to be aggressive and force the play so that they can push their limits to improve so errors are expected. The fact that his errors are down though, should at least be a positive sign.
The whole goal of this article was to see if we were witnessing a turn-around with Mier, and I really think we are. We've seen an improvement in just about every statistic, even if it is a small sample size. Zachary Levine's brief insert on Mier being a team leader with the rest of the infield is probably the biggest thing I've seen though. He seems to have a whole new mind-set which could be the reason for his turn-around. That really speaks for his character and make-up and we've seen the weight that Bobby Heck and Ed Wade put on that.