March 26, 2018

Is Johan Camargo a Candidate to Continue to Exceed Expectations?

Johan Camargo is penciled in as the Braves’ starting thirdbaseman in 2018, at least to start the season.  But most evaluators view his ultimate role as that of a utility infielder.  He’s played all over the infield and even got into a game in leftfield in Atlanta last season.  He has the versatility and athleticism to have a role in the majors.  The question has always been whether Camargo will hit enough to be anything close to a major league regular.  In 538 minor league games, he posted a rather unimpressive slash line of .279/.333/.369, but hit .299/.331/.452 in 82 games in the majors last season.

We often look at players who didn’t perform all that well in the minors and assume they can’t possible perform all that well in the majors.  But, sometimes players’ improvements outpace their promotions and guys put up better stats in the majors than they did in the minors.  There are some indications Camargo may be one such player.

From a statistical standpoint, Camargo improved greatly from 2014 to 2015.  After a couple of seasons in rookie ball as a teenager in 2012 and 2013, his worst season of pro ball was 2014.  He played mostly Low-A ball in 2014, with some time in High-A.  The next season, his first full season in High-A in 2015, his numbers jumped.  He’s improved every season since, even though he’s been promoted steadily.

From a scouting perspective, Camargo has the size and athleticism that suggests projection and improvement.  He’s listed at 6 feet and 160 pounds, so he has the frame to add strength and weight (i.e., power).  He also has the athleticism to play shortstop and has for most of his minor league career.   The fact that he signed out of Panama means he’s been a project more than a finished product, even more so than other amateur players signed internationally.  Panama is not exactly a hotbed of amateur baseball talent.  When a player comes from a country without high-level amateur baseball competition, it may take him longer to get enough reps against quality competition to actualize his talent.

On the flip side of all this, the bottom line is, regardless of the reasons, Camargo did not perform well in the minors offensively.  Even if he wasn’t able to hone his skills against top amateurs, of course it’s possible he won’t be able to make up that lack of development against quality competition as an amateur.  Also, his solid major league numbers in 2017 included a high batting average on balls in play, a walk rate of only 4.7 percent, and only 4 homeruns in 82 games.  His impressive stats may have been smoke and mirrors, although he did hit 21 doubles in 82 games.  But, he’ll need some of that doubles power to turn into homerun power.

Even those who are optimistic about Camargo’s future should realize his upside is limited.  He hasn’t posted high OBP’s since he was in the low minors, except for his solid performance last season in Triple-A and the majors.  But, again, the numbers last season were driven by high BABIP’s, even in Triple-A.  We tend to forget, though, that BABIP is a bit different for hitters than for pitchers.  While BABIP is more luck- and defense-driven for pitchers, hitters have a bit more direct influence on whether their batted balls turn into hits.  And it’s not as if Camargo’s high BABIP was a result of a bunch of seeing-eye singles.  Between Triple-A and the majors (and a game in Rookie ball) last season, he hit 30 doubles in 116 games.  Yes, if he puts up decent numbers again, they may be driven by BABIP but he may have some ability to consistently put up good BABIP’s.

It’s unreasonable to think Camargo is going to be some sort of star or even an above-average regular.  But, there’s some indication he can be more than just your typical utility infielder who can barely hold down a major league roster spot because of versatility and an ability to play shortstop.  The Braves are right to not just assume he’s that and to give him a shot to play everyday, once he’s healthy this season.



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