Over the last couple of years, the Royals have made a point of finding international signings from unlikely places. Every team focuses intently on the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. The Royals have cast their net a bit wider, signing players from Nicaragua, Brazil, and recently, Japan.
One of the most hyped of these signings from the unknown was Marten Gasparini, an athletic but extremely raw prospect signed back in 2013 out of Cervignano, Italy. Gasparini was 16 years old at the time, like many international signees, and came from a part of the world with very limited baseball competition. Still, the Royals saw enough potential in him to give him 1.3 million dollars, the most ever given to a European prospect by any team.
Then, Gasparini essentially disappeared. He toiled for a couple of seasons in rookie ball, never realizing the potential of his tremendous athleticism, struggling particularly at the plate. In 2015, he showed enough to leave rookie ball by hitting .259/.341/.411/.752 and was sent to Lexington in 2016 as a 19-year-old outfielder.
Since then, Gasparini has spent two-and-a-half years trying to find it at the plate, and recently, it looks like he might finally have the South Atlantic League figured out.
Though he struggled for most of the first half, since a multi-hit game on June 27, Gasparini’s been on fire, hitting .349/.423/.508/.930. That’s good for a 166 wRC+ over that stretch and he’s brought his full-season slash line to .247/.302/.353/655. His walk rate is up just a bit to 11.3%, but the bulk of this success comes from simply getting more hits. His BABIP over this time is a remarkably unsustainable .526, but that could also point to harder contact on Gasparini’s part. Having seen him play a few times during this stretch, I can say that Gasparini has been squaring balls up more lately and he certainly looks more confident at the plate.
What concerns me, beyond the fact that this is a small sample size AND arbitrary endpoints, is that Gasparini is striking out at a similar rate as previous seasons, roughly 30%. That’s way too much for his profile. The only type of hitter that can strikeout that much is someone who’s going to hit balls out and walk a lot. Gasparini needs to get his strikeout rate down into the low 20s to help maximize his on-base ability.
But maybe that’s the next stage of development for him. It was always going to take Gasparini more time than most to develop. As a prospect from a place with virtually no baseball competition, he won’t be the kind of guy who moves quickly through each level. But he’s still only 21 and won’t turn 22 until next March. To see him squaring balls up with more consistency is a positive sign for a prospect with a lot of potential.
Photo Credit: MiLB.com