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Sheldon Neuse becoming the hitting machine we once hoped he’d be

Off to a hot start, in similar fashion to when he was a prospect

Oakland Athletics v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

When the Oakland A’s first acquired Sheldon Neuse as a prospect midway through 2017, he went on a rampage through the minor leagues. He jumped from Low-A up to Double-A by the end of that summer, and while his Triple-A success varied over the next two years, he ultimately crushed the ball in Las Vegas in 2019.

Through it all, one feature of his stat line remained consistent. Whether he was streaking or struggling, slugging or peppering for a high batting average, striking out a lot or getting the bat on the ball, he always carried a high BABIP. That is, when he made contact, however often that was, it tended to fall for hits a lot.

  • 2017: .397 BABIP
  • 2018: .385 BABIP
  • 2019: .368 BABIP

Sometimes it coincided with great production, like his 149 wRC+ across three levels in 2017, or his 27 homers in Triple-A in 2019. When Triple-A was in pitcher-friendly Nashville in 2018, his power disappeared and his strikeouts spiked, but he kept posting a high Batting Average on Balls In Play.

Neuse didn’t see any action during the pandemic in 2020, eventually falling down the depth chart, and he was traded to the Dodgers the next winter. He didn’t stick in the majors for Los Angeles in 2021, but during his 78 games for their Triple-A club he put up another high .357 BABIP.

Normally, a high BABIP for a hitter isn’t something you want to rely on too heavily. But when it’s a consistent long-term display for years in the minor leagues, it can be a sign that the prospect is simply hitting the ball especially well.

Now Neuse is back in Oakland, having returned on a waiver claim in March. He made his way onto the Opening Day roster, and injuries throughout the lineup have helped open up an everyday opportunity for him early on. The 27-year-old is taking full advantage.

Through a dozen games, he’s doing exactly what we once hoped he would back when he was a promising prospect. After three more hits on Thursday, he’s batting .368 on the strength of an absurd .520 BABIP, adding up to this stat line:

  • Neuse, 2022 OAK: .368/.429/.474, 180 wRC+, 1 HR, 4.8% BB, 28.6% Ks

Those numbers are packed with red flags. A high strikeout rate is a better bet to win out long-term over a high BABIP. All but two of his 14 hits are singles, so he’s not connecting for deep drives and extra bases. He’s not hitting the ball especially hard at all, with a mediocre exit velocity below 89 mph, and all three hits today registered in the mid-80s in exit velo as well.

Given those details, I wouldn’t normally put too much stock in this kind of two-week sample. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, and reassess how things look when reality sets in after a few months of daily grind.

However, this April hot streak gets my attention precisely because it’s Neuse. His whole profile as a prospect was that he just kept banging out hits at a rate beyond reasonable logic, and now this month in the majors he’s banging out hits at a rate beyond reasonable logic. That’s an especially interesting pattern.

We’re still well within small-sample territory, and this early success could easily prove to be a fluke. That usually would be the wise bet when it comes to a hitter fueled entirely by BABIP. Even a success story would mean that .520 mark falling down to the mid-.300s range, and that will take a toll on his batting average especially if he doesn’t cut down the strikeouts.

But for now, Neuse is putting on a clinic, spraying liners all over the park and finding turf more often than not. His line drive rate is in the Top 10th percentile in the majors, and he’s hammering the opposite field as much as anybody in the sport. That doesn’t mean everything will keep landing, but he’s not just sneaking lucky grounders through holes.

He’s beginning to look like the hitting machine whose progress we excitedly followed throughout the farm system for so many years, and he’s doing it while helping out at three different infield positions on defense and getting high marks for his glove work. There’s a long way to go before Neuse is for real, but he’s sure cranking the volume up to eleven this month.