Cincinnati Reds rookie infielder Matt McLain has been named National League Player of the Week. McLain is off to a torrid start to his MLB career and has quickly become one of the Reds’ best hitters.
In 35 plate appearances, McLain recorded 15 hits, three doubles and two home runs. He drove in seven runs, walked three times, stole a base and only struck out six times.
Coming into the season, McLain likely expected to be in Cincinnati at some point during the 2023 season, but not immediately. Then, McLain absolutely tore the cover off the ball in AAA-Louisville, hitting a staggering 12 home runs and driving in 40 runs in 38 games.
The Reds called McLain up before their May 15 game in Colorado against the Rockies. All McLain has done since then is lead the Reds with a 181 wRC+, according to Fangraphs.
McLain’s advanced approach has been key to his early success. His strikeout percentage is the sixth-highest on the team among players who have played at least 12 games. While that number is high, his walk rate is the fourth-highest on the team, suggesting that his strikeout rates might be due for some positive regression. He is working counts at an impressive rate and that should only improve with experience.
McLain’s Hot Week
The rookie’s award-winning week spanned the team’s two series against the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. McLain hit safely in all seven games, reaching base multiple times in each game as well. He recorded his first four-hit game of his career on Sunday, May 28, in an 8-5 win over the Cubs. The Reds went 5-2 over McLain’s hot stretch.
McLain collected his first two major league home runs in back-to-back games as he went deep in the middle two games of the St. Louis series. His second home run was helped by Cardinals outfielder Oscar Mercado in spectacular fashion.
Over the past week McLain has cut down his strikeout rate from a season average of 28.1 percent to 17.1 percent. Keeping that rate below 20 percent is much more manageable. McLain needs to put the ball in play as much as possible to take full advantage of his speed.
So, how does McLain keep up this blistering pace? In short, he doesn’t.
McLain is currently hitting .380 with an OPS of 1.056. For perspective, those numbers would rank first and second in all of baseball, respectively. 2022 AL batting champion Luis Arraez is hitting .377 and 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge has an OPS of 1.087. Those would be two outstanding players keeping McLain company at the top of baseball, if he qualified.
Sure, McLain is due for some regression as pitchers learn how to pitch to his weaknesses, but he looks like he could develop into an All-Star level hitter.
With what the Reds have coming up through the minor leagues, the potential lineup could be one of the more potent in all of baseball. Elly de la Cruz and Christian Encarnacion-Strand could be major league regulars within the next month. Noelvi Marte will be a little longer in the minors, but has been raking in AA-Chattanooga this season as well.
As soon as mid-2024, the Reds could trot out an infield of Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Matt McLain, Elly de la Cruz and Noelvi Marte, with Jonathan India at DH or in a corner outfield spot as well. That would be one of the youngest and most exciting offensive corps in all of baseball — and it is not that far away, Reds fans.
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Featured image courtesy of Reds.com
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