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What is Yasmany Tomás’ upside in Arizona and how he can get to an acceptable playing level?

The Diamondbacks signed Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomás two offseasons ago to a 6-year, $68.5M contract. The contract itself contains an opt-out after the 2018 season, which we are hoping for long term planning is exercised. The first two seasons he hasn’t been up to par, some of that not being his fault because we can agree Tomás probably should have spent a good chunk of 2015 in AAA Reno to remove the pressure of developing him at the MLB level. There have been some good and bad moments over his career and his bat is slowly developing along. He still has youth on his side, just turning 26 last month. That’s usually when players hit their prime.

Over the first two seasons, Tomás has been sub-replacement level with a -1.3 bWAR in 2015 and -0.4 in 2016. Tomás’ defense is sub-standard and should never play RF with the big dimensions for most NL West ballparks, a full season in the OF he was worth 22 runs below average for defense and position values on Baseball Reference and 19.7 runs below average on Fangraphs. So you’re already -2.4 bWAR and -2.2 fWAR before factoring in offense, which was the main reason for signing him in the first place.

If I were to grade out his 2016 tools on the scouting scale (20-80), this is how it would look:

Hit 55/60: His ability to barrel up baseballs drastically improved as he posted the 9th best hard-hit rate in MLB (41.0%) and the 31st lowest soft-hit rate (14.9%, only Goldschmidt and Lamb rank lower). Tomás was also able to reduce his ground ball rate by 7% and move it all to fly ball rate without negatively impacting his line drive percentage. Hard hit balls in the air tend to leave the ballpark.

Power 70/75: Tomás has the ability to hit 40 HR in almost any ballpark, the only question is if he can further increase his fly ball rate without negatively impacting his line drive rate so he can still hit for a respectable average (.272 career hitter). I project 35/75 in terms of HR and XBH in Arizona, although in smaller ballparks could threaten the league lead in bombs.

Defense 35/40: Tomás should never be asked to play right field again. Injuries did force him to move back there, but his poor range in the field yielded more extra bases than it did in left field. Tomás’ arm strength and accuracy were much better in 2016 and if he can continue to improve route efficiency and functional arm strength. Tomás might be able to improve his defense to slightly above -2.0 dWAR. Preferably, I’d like to see him get in a lot better shape and drop about 20 pounds in the offseason with arguably his most important season coming up and playing for potentially an even bigger contract.

Baserunning 30/40: Tomás is never really going to be a fast runner, but the coaching staff can help him out by not making poor decisions and getting him thrown out by 30 feet at home plate (Tony Perezchica, you know what to do). As I said with defense, I would like to see Tomás in better shape because the Diamondbacks are one of the best teams running the bases ever since 1B coach Dave McKay joined the team in 2014. I’m hoping Tomás can at least develop into a break-even baserunner so that’s not another thing stealing from his bat.

There’s optimism for Tomás making a continued improvement going into 2017. He increased his batting runs from -6 to +7. However, when considering defense (-20 runs projected for 2017) and baserunning (-4 runs projected for 2017), Tomás batting and replacement runs need to exceed 38 to reach 1.5 WAR (or 14 runs above replacement) with the next two years at 2/$23M and 1.5 WAR per season would be enough to cover it. Assuming 600 plate appearances playing everyday in LF, Tomás replacement runs would be about 22 runs for replacement plus league run values. So now the bar becomes 16 batting runs to get to 2.0 WAR. So where would the 10-run improvement half to come from?

I crunched through the numbers and Tomas to get to 16 batting runs would have to put up a 125 wRC+. I have him projected for 111 wRC+ in 2017, but I’ll play the What If game. Turning 10 outs into productive results (2 walks/HBP, 4 singles, 2 doubles, 2 homers) pushes the wRC+ to 122 and batting runs to 14.3. The next step would be to convert 4 singles into extra base hits (3 doubles, 1 homer), and you get Tomás to the necessary number. Overall it’s a .281/.325/.542 slash line with 38 doubles, 1 triple, and 36 home runs, and 39 free passes (BB+HBP). If Tomás’ bat can make similar improvements from 2016 to 2017 as he did from 2015 to 2016, then he should be able to start putting forth positive value and living up to the contract. Ideally the team doesn’t re-sign him if and when he opts out.

As Shoewizard pointed out this offseason, for Tomas to get up to 2.0 WAR, his offense would have to improve by 20 runs. His basic formula is turn 10 outs into walks and turn 10 singles in homers. While I’m not sure he will be able to completely achieve that particular goal, one thing he needs to do in 2016 is make less outs from a rate standpoint and do more damage when he does get hits. I’m a bit skeptical of Tomás reaching his 40 HR potential in Arizona, but if he does that then the contract itself might eventually work out.