Call him Italian Breakfast, like much of Royals Twitter. Call him the Italian Nightmare, as George Brett did in the spring.
But maybe the best thing you can call Vinnie Pasquantino right now isn’t a nickname at all. It’s a Major Leaguer.
The Royals are calling up MLB Pipeline’s No. 98 overall prospect to The Show for the first time, the club announced Monday. The move comes after Kansas City traded first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana to the Mariners for right-handed pitchers Wyatt Mills and William Fleming.
Pasquantino has become a cult hero in the Minor Leagues because of his unique ability to combine elite plate discipline with plus power.
At the time of Monday’s promotion, the 24-year-old, left-handed-hitting first baseman was hitting .280/.372/.576 over 69 games at Triple-A Omaha. His 18 homers, 36 total extra-base hits and 67 RBIs were all tops in the International League, while his .948 OPS and 144 wRC+ placed second among the circuit’s 94 qualified batters.
Expand the list to a much bigger list of candidates, and Pasquantino still finds a way to stand out. Entering Monday, there are 770 Minor League qualifiers. Pasquantino is the only one of those 770 with a walk rate above 12 percent (12.5), a strikeout rate below 13 percent (12.2) and a slugging percentage above .500 (.576). He’s also swinging and missing at only 7.7 percent of his pitches, putting him 69th-best among those 770 and well below the MLB average swinging strike rate of 11.1 percent.
What does that mean? Pasquantino can do damage, a la the slugging numbers, but he isn’t sacrificing whiffs or walks to produce his extra-base hits by the handful. His swings are purposeful and aided by a discerning eye at the plate.
Not bad for a player who went in the 11th round of the 2019 Draft out of Old Dominion.
That Draft position might make those new to Pasquantino believe that he’s a breakout prospect this season. Instead, this ascent is just a continuation of his dominance since he signed for $125,000 three years ago. Pasquantino has yet to post a season OPS below .900 in the pros, and his career 151 wRC+ is 14th-best among the 1,472 Minor Leaguers with at least 500 plate appearances since the start of the 2019 season.
The Virginia native bats from a slightly open stance and has drawn credit from Royals coordinators and evaluators for the way he uses his lower half to create lift upon contact. In Omaha this season, 43.3 percent of his batted balls were flyballs. He tends to see pitches well through the zone, leading to the high walks and low strikeouts, and won’t often get totally fooled.
If there is a drawback to Pasquantino’s offensive game, it’s in his lefty-righty splits. While he’s walked more times (13) than he’s struck out (11) against southpaws this season, his .250/.347/.476 line is a solid drop-off from his .295/.384/.627 performance against right-handers. Only one of Pasquantino’s 16 doubles and six of his 18 homers have come off lefties.
There is another slight ding in value in that Pasquantino remains first base-only on defense.
The Royals moved Top 100 prospects Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto around the diamond this year in order to make the most of their athleticism and find avenues to playing time in KC. (It’s notable that Pratto, another first baseman, was passed over for Pasquantino in this case.) However, Pasquantino is listed with a 30-grade run tool in MLB Pipeline’s prospect profile and described himself as a “good runner, not a fast runner” on the MiLB podcast “The Show Before the Show.” He can still make plenty of plays at the cold corner and should hold his own defensively in the Majors, but the inability to show defensive versatility blunts his value and heightens his need to hit.
Then again, Pasquantino has hit everywhere he’s been so far in pro ball. Forget the fountains of Rome. Starting Monday, this Italian Nightmare is setting his target on the fountains of Kauffman Stadium.