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Kahlil Watson is whiffing at everything

Watson’s great results conceal a big underlying problem.

Jupiter Hammerheads infielder Kahlil Watson holds his bat in the dugout @_kahlillwatson_/Instagram

From afar, it may seem like Kahlil Watson is thriving in his first full professional season. One of the youngest players in the entire Florida State League, he’s hitting 60% better than the league average in terms of weighted runs created plus. In an environment that’s notorious for suppressing home runs, he has gone deep five times in less than a month with Low-A Jupiter, showing power to all fields.

On the other hand, Watson has already been yanked from games on two occasions, seemingly for losing his composure. He has committed a team-high six errors (both fielding and throwing miscues).

Despite his great production, I’m actually most concerned with Watson’s bat. In between all the extra-base hits, the top draft pick is swinging and missing at everything.

Watson enters this week with strikeouts in 44.2% of his plate appearances. That is the second-worst rate among MiLB qualifiers in the Marlins farm system, edged out only by Beloit defensive specialist Nasim Nuñez (44.9%). There are 891 total qualifiers across all minor league affiliates and Watson ranks 871st. This is despite the fact that the lefty swinger has had a platoon advantage the vast majority of the time.

Of course, Watson occasionally faces talented pitching prospects in the FSL, but this has been a constant problem regardless of the quality of his competition. In each of his 18 games played during the 2022 season, Watson has had at least one swinging strike.

He is whiffing on high-velocity pitches (97.4 mph example):

He is whiffing on low-velocity pitches (75.8 mph example):

He is whiffing on pitches in the dirt:

He is whiffing on pitches up at his eyes:

And he is whiffing on pitches over the heart of the plate:

One-quarter of all pitches thrown to Watson this season have resulted in swinging strikes (sixth-highest rate in MiLB). If that keeps it up, it would be worse than any qualified Low-A player has posted over the last five seasons.

Even though it’s still so early in the 2022 campaign, swinging strike rate normalizes more quickly than most stats do because the denominator is pitches (rather than plate appearances, innings pitched, etc.). Watson is succeeding for the time being in part because he’s going up against Low-A fielders. He can continue making hard contact, but his .455 batting average on ball in play will come down dramatically once he ascends to the upper MiLB levels.

Universally regarded as a Top 100 MLB prospect, Kahlil Watson will eventually need to make adjustments at the plate to realize his full potential.