ST. PETERSBURG -- Facing Orioles starter Kyle Bradish on July 21 at Tropicana Field, Isaac Paredes unloaded on a low, 1-0 slider and sent it flying to the deepest part of Tropicana Field. After the ball thudded off the bottom of the wall in center field, Paredes trotted to second base then couldn’t help but grin when he turned toward the Rays’ dugout.
It was the second-farthest he’s hit a ball all season, according to Statcast, at 407 feet -- and it was a double. His next at-bat against Bradish, he bashed a 3-1 sinker out to left-center field. It didn’t travel as far, only 397 feet. But this one went over the wall.
“All the coaches were telling me that I don't have pop to center field,” Paredes said with a smile later that night via interpreter Manny Navarro. “That's why they say to pull the ball.”
Paredes has done that about as well as anyone since joining the Rays last year -- a key reason he’s become one of the most productive (and perhaps most underrated) hitters in baseball this season. The 24-year-old infielder is batting .257/.359/.514, good for an .873 OPS that ranks fifth among all qualified American League hitters, to go along with a team-leading 26 homers and 80 RBIs in 114 games.
Paredes joined franchise icon Evan Longoria as the only primary third basemen in club history to have at least 25 homers and 75 RBIs in the same season. Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers is the only AL infielder with more home runs (29) than Paredes this year. Aside from presumptive team MVP Yandy Díaz, there hasn’t been a more productive hitter in Tampa Bay’s lineup all season.
“I mean, pretty special when you're sitting there and being talked about with Longo and some of the years he's had,” manager Kevin Cash said. “That's pretty awesome.”
The Rays liked Paredes’ plate discipline, swing decisions and contact ability when they acquired him from Detroit for Austin Meadows. But the Mexico native's power has been the biggest difference with Tampa Bay. He hit only two homers in 57 games with the Tigers in 2020-21, averaged a home run every 33.9 at-bats in the Minors and never went deep more than 15 times in a season.
Watching videos of Paredes with Detroit, the Rays saw a hitter who could pull the ball to left field and rack up opposite-field base hits. They also saw untapped potential in his bat if he could pull the ball in the air more aggressively.
“I think we just gave him permission to explore how well he could do it and how often he could do it. It was more to take shots,” Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola said. “That was the message right away, even in [Triple-A] Durham, and we got word that he took to it.”
Mottola paused and laughed.
“I'd love to say there's a lot more behind the story,” he added. “The only thing we do is, when he flies out to deep center, we remind him it's a lot closer to left field. I don't know if that's some deep science or thought, but that's really what it is.”
And it’s been highly effective for Paredes. He’s hit 48 home runs in the Majors, and every single one of them has been pulled out to left or left-center field. According to Statcast, only Mookie Betts (50) and Nolan Arenado (48) have pulled more homers than Paredes (46) since his Rays debut.
“He has really mastered that pull-side home run,” Cash said recently. “You’ve got to know your pitch, you’ve got to know your ability and he's been really good at doing just that.”
That part of his game showed up last season, when he tied Randy Arozarena for the team lead with 20 homers, but he slashed just .205/.304/.435. Paredes has become a more complete hitter this year without sacrificing any of his power, thanks in part to a two-strike approach in which he minimizes his stride in the batter’s box and more readily accepts opposite-field and up-the-middle singles.
In a way, he’s merged the contact-oriented hitter he was in the Minors with the pull-happy slugger he became last season. As a result, his confidence is soaring as high as the majestic, game-tying blast he smashed to left-center on Thursday afternoon.
“I knew I had strength going off to the pull side, but I think last year was the first time I realized it could be a strength for me, especially with all the coaches telling me to just keep on pulling the ball,” Paredes said through Navarro. “But with my two-strike approach to go to right field, I think it’s been a good approach for me to get my hits.”
In the meantime, his coaches and teammates will keep joking about where and when he might finally hit one out to right or center field. The one he bashed last Saturday at Angel Stadium, his 24th, was about as close as he’s come to center. Maybe the short porch at Yankee Stadium will come calling someday?
Not that the Rays are in a hurry to see it, of course. They’re just fine with what Paredes is doing now.
“I think I don't want him to hit the ball [to] right field at all,” Cash deadpanned. “I give him grief when he does it.”