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Jeimer Candelario may have more power than expected

An unexpected amount of pop early in his career hints at an undervalued asset.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

At the head of the Detroit Tigers’ youth movement, Jeimer Candelario is proving to be every bit the player the club was promised when they acquired him from the Chicago Cubs last July. He continues to display a discerning eye at the plate with ability to get on base and find the gaps in the outfield from either side of the plate. It’s early in his career, but the hit tool and discipline are as advertised.

But one aspect of Candelario’s game, one that has seldom been discussed, has shown up so far in 2018: his ability to hit for power. Through 83 at-bats over 20 games this season, 10 of his 23 hits have gone for extra bases (five doubles, two triples, three home runs). Of these three home runs, none have left any doubt of their destination, traveling an average of just over 418 feet, per Statcast.

I know: sample size, etc. But as he approaches the 300 plate appearance plateau, Candelario has reached the point where more accurate conclusions about his abilities can be drawn.

And it’s possible that Candelario’s ability to hit for power has been sold short.

Looking at his statistics through his time in the minor leagues, it’s not like Candelario ever lacked for extra base-hitting power. Across AA and AAA for the Cubs in 2016, he registered a .464 slugging percentage with 56 of 134 hits going for extra bases, including 39 doubles. Similarly, in 2017, he slugged at a .484 clip during his time at AAA for both the Cubs and Tigers, with 55 hits (more than half of his 108 total hits) being of the extra base variety, including 36 doubles and 15 home runs. His isolated power rating during these years? .208 and .203, respectively.

This carried over to his time in the major leagues with the Tigers in 2017 as he posted nine XBH in 93 at-bats, slugging at a .468 percentage. This, in turn, has carried over to 2018, where Candelario has continued to build upon his progress, with a slugging percentage and ISO of .494 and .217, respectively.

Through Monday, he is posting a career slugging average of .434 and an isolated power rating of .163 (explanation of this metric can be found here). Both of these sit above league averages in the time since Candelario made his first major league appearance in 2015.

As a prospect, MLB Pipeline gave Canderlario a 55 grade in terms of power, while FanGraphs put a 50 grade—which is league average—on his raw power. That distinction between raw and game power is one that MLB Pipeline doesn’t make, but it involves a more detailed breakdown of a player’s tools. In this case, shots like the 440-foot blast Candelario launched a few weeks back suggests that perhaps the raw power has been underestimated.

There are still some aspects of Candelario as a hitter that cast doubt on whether or not he can truly take that raw power to the field. His .217 ISO cracks the top 50 so far, but only barely. His 89.25 MPH average exit velocity is on par with the league average. However his maximum exit velocity so far is 111.4 MPH, which ranks 88th overall—just inside the top third—and is right in line with plenty of notable power hitters. The strength and bat speed to be a real power threat is in place. That average exit velocity, however, speaks to some work remaining to maximize that power in games.

Whether or not Candelario develops into an above-average power hitter is, at the end of the day, irrelevant. As the team’s go-to #2 hitter, he’s expected to get on base, not to be the power hitter in a lineup that features Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos. His ability to produce consistently as a switch-hitter while drawing a solid ratio of walks, makes him a valuable asset. Any heavy-hitting would be icing on the cake. But the development of a consistent power bat would certainly be a welcomed addition to the already-valuable arsenal of tools he has to offer.