Twins

Trevor Larnach Has Reached His Tipping Point

Photo Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

As the baseball world rounds third, heading into their beloved College World Series, it’s easy to look back at this time four years ago with fond memories. In the spring of 2018, Oregon State was on its way to capturing the game’s crown in Omaha, led by top draft prospect Nick Madrigal. The Chicago White Sox would take him fourth overall in that year’s draft thanks to an incredible college season where he hit .368 with 15 stolen bases. However, that Beaver baseball team boasted another first-rounder who’s in the majors. The Twins drafted outfielder Trevor Larnach with the 20th pick, and he has gone on to outperform his former teammate so far in their young MLB careers.

Larnach was on top of the world four years ago. In Game 2 of the championship series, he hit a mammoth go-ahead home run in the ninth inning for the soon-to-be champions, igniting a spark of excitement in Twins territory for their new prospect. His illustrious college career peaked, then he immediately started packing his bags for his first season of professional ball.

Presently, it appears as though Larnach is trying to break through yet again. He is reaching new heights this year, and the excitement among the Twins’ faithful is palpable again. He might not be on top of the world, but his performance in the season’s first couple of months has been better than expected, just as it was through his first 38 games last season.

But don’t forget, the fanfare of his hot start faded around this time last year, and he floundered in the second half.

Don’t be mistaken. Larnach is a young player whose career by no means hinges on the second half of his second MLB season. But the question remains as fans try to paint the picture of the 2022 Twins team. Is this year going to be different, or is Larnach, 25, rounding third and heading straight for another brick wall?

What happened last year?

There’s a lot that Twins fans want to forget about the 2021 season, but Larnach’s first 38 games shouldn’t be on that list. He was thrust into big-league action out of necessity but showed why the Twins drafted him in the first round three years prior. He slashed an impressive .254/.358/.429 (.787 OPS, 119 wRC+) in his first 38 games, thanks to his massive numbers against fastballs. Larnach mashed six of his seven homers off the heater and had a .506 slugging percentage.

But once opposing pitchers started catching on and making adjustments, things hit a snag. Larnach tripped on the proverbial base and slowed considerably as he hit the home stretch.

Pitchers started feeding him a heavy diet of breaking balls and off-speed pitches, where he had a miss rate of more than 54%. It’s not uncommon for college hitters to face this challenge after going pro, but the tipping point occurs when they show the ability to make adjustments of their own to counteract their opponents’ efforts. But that didn’t happen in Larnach’s rookie season. He stumbled for much of the year after that 38-game mark, with a brutal .194/.288/.276 (.584 OPS, 60 wRC+) clip, and the Twins demoted him to Triple-A in mid-August. Larnach didn’t just hit the wall; he slammed George of the Jungle style into it and couldn’t peel himself off fast enough.

Why this year could be different

While Larnach has started to show some regression recently, his first 38 games this year have still been very encouraging. He has a very good .252/326/.454 slash line (.780 OPS, 123 wRC+), which is a near duplicate of that span last year. Better yet, he has some underlying numbers to suggest his performance is no fluke. He currently ranks in the 80th percentile and better in average exit velocity (87th percentile), max exit velocity (91st), and hard-hit percentage (81st).

While he still struggles to track off-speed pitches, his improvement against breaking balls has been one of the better developments on the team this season. Last year, he hit a putrid .167 in this area with just two extra-base hits. But this year, he’s up to a .256 average with a .538 slugging percentage. Larnach only has a .189 expected batting average on these pitches, suggesting he could be in for some regression, but the Twins will gladly take what they can get from Larnach until then. At the very least, even a slight improvement from last year can change opposing pitchers’ approach when they face him. And if he can continue to improve on his tracking of breaking pitches, maybe he can start to reign in his near-31% strikeout percentage. Better yet, he could work the count to see more fastballs here and there.

If his season stays on this current trajectory, Larnach would finish the year with 3.6 fWAR, 50 extra base hits, and Gold Glove caliber defense in the corner outfield. The question is, can he pick up enough momentum to break through the wall this time around?

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Photo Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

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