An 0-4 in the first game of New Hampshire’s doubleheader with the Nationals’ Harrisburg affiliate yesterday dropped Bo Bichette’s average for the season to .264. He struck out 3 times (fanning 6 times in 14 ABs in the series against the Senators), and is hitting .194 over his last 10 games.
After leading the minor leagues in hitting last summer as he rocketed his way up the top prospect rankings, this is the first prolonged slump of his young career. Scouts were lukewarm about his brother Dante’s long-term prospects even though he too tore up short season ball when he first turned pro, and his career stalled at AA, and he’s now playing independent ball. Bo may not plateau at that level, but is it time to be a little bit concerned after he struck out three times yesterday?
From a stats perspective, there are some reasons to be concerned. Bichette’s 20.6% K rate is the highest of his career, as his GB rate of 45.2%, which suggests some swing-and-miss, as well as some weak contact.
From a scouting viewpoint, Bichette seems to be more aggressive this year than he was last. He’s swinging at a lot of pitches early in the count, and is finding himself in pitcher’s counts more often than not. Few hitters will produce sparkling numbers in that situation, and Bo is no exception, producing a .193/.193/.333 line. What’s more concerning is that he’s been in behind-the-count situations almost twice as often as he’s been ahead, although it bears pointing out that his 11% walk rate is above his career average.
When he swings, Bichette seems to be just missing the barrel lately. His 3rd AB yesterday was a microcosm of his past 10 games. Hunting a first pitch fastball, Bichette took a mighty hack at an elevated pitch and fouled it back to the screen. The next pitch was a hanging breaking ball on the outer half, with the same result. The 3rd pitch in the sequence as a fastball down and in that resulted in another foul, while he laid off the 4th, a breaking pitch in the dirt. Another breaking ball up in the zone had him out in front, and he took a huge rip but missed – somewhat surprising, because Bichette is well-known for his ability to cut down on his swing with two strikes.
Should we be concerned, or is this just a dry spell that he’ll eventually break out of? History suggests the latter – he did put together a 9 and a 10 game hitting streak in April, a month in which Bichette hit .292/.364/.427. Evaluators passing through the northeast have all commented on his vastly upgraded defence. Bichette is showing the requisite footwork, hands, arm strength, and ability to make the double play pivot of a Major League Short Stop. With fellow prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr receiving national attention, is Bichette maybe pressing a bit much? That’s a tough question to answer, but it does appear from his approach that he’s not as patient at the plate as he has been in the past. This may just be a stretch of adversity that it seems like most minor leaguers go through – the successful ones learn how to adjust. Past performance suggests that Bichette will.