It’s not normal. Ya know, what Kevin Made is doing? It’s almost inexplicable.
I ranked the slick-fielding shortstop — the one that forced Ed Howard, the Cubs’ best defensive infielder, over to second base for a few games — as the tenth best position player prospect in the system before this season began. What he had done as an 18-year-old kid in full-season ball last year was enough to put him on the map, however pedestrian the overall numbers were.
Back then, he was listed at 5-10 and 160 pounds — a weight that was probably pretty spot on. His bat-to-ball skills were his carrying trait at the plate as he showcased a knack for making contact with pitches anywhere they were thrown. Unfortunately, that also led to an aggressiveness that saw him 1) not making quality contact and 2) not getting deep into counts and drawing walks. In fact, in his 243 plate appearances in 2021, Made only reached a true hitter’s count (2-0, 2-1, or 3-1) 22 times.
His overall numbers for last year’s campaign were reminiscent of a guy that made contact but didn’t hit for power or draw any walks.
243 PA, .272/.296/.366/80 wRC+, 1 HR, 23.5% K, 2.5% BB, 14.3% Swinging Strike, 56.3% Ground Ball
So to say I’m shocked by the numbers he is putting up this year and the way in which he is doing it would be the understatement of the century. Those same statistical categories:
208 PA, .263/.365/.446/127 wRC+, 7 HR, 20.7% K, 12.5% BB, 10.6% Swinging Strike, 38.1% Ground Ball
There’s so much to address here.
Let’s start off by pointing out the walk rate that has increased from a nearly nonexistent number to a percentage that is above league average. And he is doing that all while striking out less than he was a year ago and swinging and missing a considerable amount less. His plate approach doesn’t even look like the same guy. He is working deeper counts not just for the sake of standing in the box longer, but in a very decisive manner in which he hunts for his mistake pitches in the heart of the zone. But when the count doesn’t go in his favor, he is able to take full advantage of those aforementioned bat-to-ball skills so that he’s not swinging through strike three.
As for the power numbers… look no further than two big points: Firstly, he no longer weighs 160 pounds like was listed earlier and fairly accurate a year ago. By taking one quick look at Made standing in the box, you can tell he has added plenty of muscle, especially to his lower half. This is no longer a skinny child, this is a grown man. Secondly, that ground ball rate. You can’t hit seven times as many homers and raise your slugging nearly 100 points by beating the ball into the ground. A stronger body and rising exit velos + a propensity for getting those hard-hit balls in the air = success in the batters box.
So where would I rank him now compared to the other bats in the system? He’s no longer number ten, I can tell you that much. These changes in approach leading to a significant increase in power and on-base percentage are more than you could ever ask for from a teenage shortstop. But before I can rank him among the Brennen Davis, Pete Crow-Armstrong, and Kevin Alcántara crowd, I need to see Made do this at a new level. Repeating the Single-A level in Myrtle Beach is going to be more common than we have seen in past years given the fact that we have lost Short Season ball thanks to MLB’s contraction of the minor leagues. While I appreciate what Kevin Made has done this season, I think the national pundits will really be put on notice as soon as he starts doing this the next level up in South Bend.