(Photo via the Wiki Creative Commons, seen here)
Moving from the Atlantic Sun Conference to the MLB draft can be a big jump, as the average draft position of ASC players has hovered around 800. Max Pentecost far surpassed the conference’s ADP when the Toronto Blue Jays selected the catching prospect with the 11th pick in the 2014 draft. How did he improve his profile? How has it translated to the minor leagues?
Hitting Profile, Defense
Improving his plate discipline helped his draft stock, as he moved from 32 K/ 21 BB during his 2012 freshman year to 26 K/ 30 BB during his 2014 junior year. During his time at Kennesaw State (KSU), he improved his OBP from .364 as a freshman to .482 as a junior, which put him on the radar at catcher for many MLB teams. While some may argue that the quality of pitching in the ASC is not the same quality as other Division I conferences, Pentecost’s ability to maintain similar plate discipline (22 K/ 16 BB) and post a .424 OBP as the MVP of the 2013 Cape Cod League showed that he is capable of handling better pitching.
Pentecost used a line-drive swing path to bolster his hitting profile. Making consistent contact led to a top-five batting average (.346) in the 2013 Cape Cod League before leading Division I with 113 total hits (.441 BABIP) in 2014, which earned him the second highest batting average (.422). His gap power grew from 16 doubles during his freshman year to 24 doubles as a junior at Kennesaw State. Hitting six home runs in the Cape Cod League along with nine home runs at KSU in 2014 elevated his status by proving he had some pull-side pop, which sent his 1.109 OPS and .205 ISO skyrocketing.
As a catcher, his 1.9 average release time allowed him to register 13 runners caught stealing as a sophomore and 22 as a junior. He posted a .983 fielding percentage his sophomore year and a .976 fielding percentage his junior year.
Injuries, Minor League Resume
Unfortunately, Pentecost had elbow surgery in 2011. Two labrum surgeries in 2015 cost him a whole season, and he spent the 2016 season as a designated hitter for Lansing (Low-A) and Dunedin (High-A). The number of surgeries may have limited his effectiveness during his time in the minor leagues.
While adjusting to stronger pitching in the minor leagues, Max Pentecost’s ability to make contact (79% contact at Lansing; 78% contact at Dunedin) illustrates that he could contribute a decent batting average (.294 BA in minors) in the future. His ability to stay short with his swing and square up fastballs have allowed him to hit 19 home runs and 31 doubles over the last two seasons, which has contributed to a .795 OPS in the minor leagues. Pentecost hit nine home runs in the first half of the 2017 season before a DL stint in August cut into his playing time and power (0 HR) in the second half. While he may never surpass double-digit home run totals into the teens during one season, he has enough raw power to make contributions when he’s healthy.
Unfortunately, not every one of his skills has translated from college baseball. His strong plate discipline from Kennesaw State has bordered on average in the minor leagues, as seen in his 151:49 strikeout-to-walk split. In 2017, his strikeout rate (19.7% K%) and walk rate (7.3% BB%) at High-A Dunedin remained consistent with his average numbers from Single-A Lansing in 2016. Even though his swing is still built for line drives, trading line drives for ground balls did not help his cause in 2017. Getting back to his 26 percent line-drive rate from 2016 may lead to more productive at-bats and a higher batting average. While Pentecost raised his 39 percent fly-ball rate slightly with Dunedin, the fact that 27 percent of them were infield flies only provided easier outs for the defense.
Although Pentecost wants to stick at catcher, he played 22 games at first base and 19 games behind the dish in 2017, which shows that the organization could continue to use him at first base and designated hitter in the future. During his return to the field for Dunedin, he successfully threw out seven base runners in 15 stolen base attempts, and he allowed three passed balls in 162 innings.
The multiple injuries that have affected Max Pentecost’s arm strength remain a concern for him to stick at catcher long-term. His hitting tool, consistent contact, and gap power provide his path to playing time. Continue to monitor how he performs in the Arizona Fall League.
(Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Rotowire, and MILB.com)