How Can Minnesota's Three Rookie Sluggers Avoid A Sophomore Slump?

Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is all about making adjustments.

The best players in the game know that their approach can’t stay stagnant for too long. Otherwise, the opposition will make the necessary alterations to win each battle. Whether from a day-to-day perspective or year-to-year, change is essential to being a successful major league player.

So, for the three rookies that buoyed Minnesota’s offense for much of the second half of last season, they must be ready to make the necessary adjustments as they head into their second season. Royce Lewis, Edouard Julien, and Matt Wallner are crucial parts of Minnesota’s roster going forward, and they will need to evolve alongside the game if they hope to have prolonged careers.

Here are the adjustments that will be necessary for each player to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump:

Royce Lewis

The former top prospect debuted briefly in 2022, but not enough to surpass rookie eligibility for the following season. But Lewis was the spark that seemed to ignite Minnesota’s offense when he was healthy last year, especially in the postseason. The 24-year-old slashed .309/.372/.548 with 15 home runs in just 58 games played. That production was roughly 55 percent better than league average (155 wRC+) and marked one of the better offensive seasons that the Twins have received from a rookie in the last decade.

While he was incredibly successful when healthy, a few marks on his stat sheet suggest he needs to take action when it comes to his approach. Lewis was fantastic against fastballs (.337 batting average, .683 slugging percentage) and pretty good against breaking balls (.278 BA, .467 SLG). While he provided a respectable average against off-speed (.308 BA), he struggled to provide any power on those offerings (zero extra-base hits).

Hopefully, Lewis will make that adjustment naturally by getting more experience against off-speed pitches in the majors. He can get his timing right with more opportunities to see these pitches in-game. Ideally, he’ll find the same success he’s shown against fastball and breaking ball offerings.

Edouard Julien

Sure, the Twins were always bound to miss fan-favorite Luis Arráez after they traded him to the Miami Marlins last off-season. But the player that ended up being his replacement as a second baseman/designated hitter hybrid ended up impressing in his own right. Julien had a well-rounded .263/.381/.459 (136 wRC+) slash line worth 2.8 wins above replacement in only 109 games played.

Julien’s defense at second base was iffy in the first few months of his campaign, but he deserves a lot of credit for his in-season improvements. He ended up being a league-average defender (49th percentile outs above average according to Baseball Savant), even after that slow start. By the time the postseason came around, he looked like a passable, if not comfortable, defender.

The adjustment that Julien will need to make depends on his defensive home going forward. If the club is adamant about keeping him at second, he’ll need to pick up where he left off last year defensively. If Minnesota’s front office decides that Brooks Lee deserves most of the playing time at that position, Julien will need to figure out how to be a passable option at first base.

Matt Wallner

The pride of Forest Lake also debuted in 2022, playing an 18-game stint before returning to Triple-A. He hit .291/.403/.524 in St. Paul, forcing his way back to the majors. Following his promotion, Wallner helped propel the offense with his rookie peers. He hit .249/.370/.507 (144 wRC+) with 14 long balls in 76 games played, playing mostly in left field.

Wallner has a lot of the boom-or-bust swing that Twins fans have seen from powerful players like Miguel Sanó and Joey Gallo. But while Wallner’s strikeout rate may be concerning, he’s a more discerning hitter than Sanó and Gallo.

He will have to cut down on his whiff rate, or the times he swings and misses, to alleviate his 31.5% strikeout rate. That’s easier said than done, of course. Nobody is suggesting that will be easy. But like Lewis, if Wallner can continue to see MLB-caliber pitching, he could get acclimated to identifying and eliminating certain offerings. That’s especially true against breaking balls, where he had an unsightly 41.1 percent whiff rate. Hopefully, that gives him a better game plan to continue to do damage while mitigating his deficiencies against the yacker.

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