With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at DH/C Yohel Pozo.
We have talked on here, on Twitter, all over the place, about the polarizing nature of Joey Gallo, and how Joey Gallo does everything well except avoiding strikeouts and hitting for average.* Joey Gallo draws walks at a high rate, hits for power, plays very good defense, and is a quality baserunner. He does everything that doesn’t affect his batting average well. But because he has such a poor batting average, and because he strikes out so much, there’s a fundamental resistance from folks who grew up viewing baseball in a certain way to the notion that Joey Gallo is good.
* (Those two things, incidentally, are generally going to be pretty strongly correlated. Batting average is dependent on putting balls in play. When you don’t put the ball in play, it is either neutral (when you walk or have a HBP) or is bad (when you strike out). You can have a high OBP while striking out a lot by walking a lot. But its really, really hard to hit enough homers and have a high enough BABIP to have a high batting average when you strike out a ton.)
The flip side of this — the anti-Joey Gallo, if you will — is Yohel Pozo.
Yohel Pozo has historically never hit for much power. Pozo has a career minor league ISO of 143. To put this into context, Yuli Gurriel had a 143 ISO in 2021, which ranked him 105th out of 132 qualified major leaguers. Nathaniel Lowe, whose lack of power in 2021 is something both disappointing and a subject of much discussion, had an ISO of 151.
So while Yohel Pozo isn’t a Yonny Hernandez-type slappy, he’s also not someone you would describe as having power.
Now, to be clear, you can be a productive offensive player with a 143 ISO if you get on base. Yuli Gurriel had a .383 OBP to go with his 143 ISO, resulting in a 134 wRC+. Starling Marte, a player we have talked about as a potential Ranger target, had just a 148 ISO, but he had a .383 OBP as well, and also had a 134 wRC+. Nathaniel Lowe wasn’t great, but he had a .357 OBP to go with his .151 ISO, so he was able to put up a 115 wRC+.
Its a matter of getting on base. However, unlike the players in the previous paragraph — and unlike Joey Gallo, the Yang to his Yin — Yohel Pozo doesn’t get on base at a high clip. His career minor league OBP is .326, because he very rarely walks.
Pozo is listed as a catcher, but he’s not a good defender. When Jonah Heim missed time in late August, the Rangers used Jose Trevino as their catcher for eight straight games — including seven games in seven days — before breaking down and finally starting Pozo behind the plate. He caught one more game in the majors, in mid-September, and then was promptly sent back to the minors.
Every other appearance Pozo had with the Rangers, he was a designated hitter or pinch hitter. As Chris Woodward said when Pozo was called up in August, they brought Pozo up to hit, not catch.
Baserunning? Per Statcast, Pozo is in the bottom 20% of the league in sprint speed. He didn’t attempt any steals in 2021. He is 12 for 17 in his career in stolen bases. Baserunning is not a strength.
But Yohel Pozo can hit for average. In his minor league career he has hit .288. In his time in the majors with the Rangers he hit .284.
And he can make contact — he had just 10 Ks in 77 major league plate appearances. There were 503 MLB players who had at least 70 plate appearances in 2021. Only 23 of those players had a better K rate than Pozo in 2021.
And so we have the anti-Gallo — not much power, no speed, no defensive value, but a good average and good contact ability. And just like there are folks who see Gallo’s Ks and average and conclude he can’t be good, there are folks who see Pozo’s average and lack of Ks and say he must be a good hitter.
And 2021 was actually a very nice season for Pozo. The Rangers lost him as a minor league free agent after 2020, when he signed with San Diego, but then selected him in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, because San Diego didn’t protect him on their AAA roster.
Pozo started the year in AAA Round Rock and hit well, finally earning a promotion in the middle of August, 2021.
In his first day in the majors, Pozo singled in his first major league at bat. A few innings later, he homered. It was a great debut!
And then the next day he had two more hits. He was red hot! The Rangers may have found someone!
And then Pozo quit hitting. After that hot start, Pozo went 17 for 66 with 4 doubles and no home runs. When Pozo was sent back down in mid-September, he had slashed .284/.312/.378 in 77 PAs, with 10 Ks against 3 walks. Pozo had a 90 wRC+. He had a .300 wOBA and, interestingly enough, a .300 xwOBA.
That’s not going to get it done for a DH.
That said, Pozo is still just 24 years old. He does have extremely good bat to ball skills. He slashed .337/.352/.622 for Round Rock, and that’s very good. Now, the League Formerly Known As The PCL is very hitter-friendly, and he racked up much better road numbers than home numbers in the minors, but still, I am confident the Rangers would like to keep him around for 2022 and see if they can get some more out of his bat.
Pozo is, as I’m writing this on Friday morning, still on the Rangers’ 40 man roster, but he may not still be on there by the end of the day. The Rangers may need to clear a 40 man spot or two for players they want to protect from the Rule 5 Draft, and Pozo would seem to be one of the prime candidates to be designated for assignment. Pozo also, however, would seem to have a good chance of clearing waivers, and since he has never been outrighted before, if he does clear waivers the Rangers could keep him in their system for the 2022 season.
Pozo’s 2021 season ended with his stock significantly higher than it was when 2021 started. He still has improvements to make if he’s going to have a major league career, but the possibility looks much greater now than it did seven months ago.