Week: 6 G, 22 AB, .364/.423/.818, 8 H, 4 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 4 BB, 3 K, 0/0 SB (Triple-A)
2023 Season: 25 G, 90 AB, .367/.449/.733, 33 H, 9 2B, 0 3B, 8 HR, 13 BB, 23 K, 0/0 SB, .410 BABIP (Triple-A)
The Toledo Mud Hens are one of the better teams in the International League this season, ending the week with a 17-9 record, tied for second place in the International League West. That did not stop Mark Vientos from continuing to steamroll the competition, hitting .364/.423/.818 in six games this week with four doubles and two home runs. With the month now over, April 2023 will go down in the books as Mark Vientos’ most successful April. Of course, given his historic struggles in the first month of the season in years prior, any kind of marginal success would have likely been his best. He is ending the month hitting .367/.449/.733 with 17 total extra base hits, 9 doubles and 8 home runs. He drew 13 walks in 25 games, a 12.1% walk rate, and struck out 23 times, a 21.5% strikeout rate. In 73 at-bats against right-handed pitchers, Vientos is slashing .356/.443/.781 with 7 doubles, 8 home runs, 11 walks, and 19 strikeouts. In 17 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, Vientos is slashing .412/.474/.529 with 2 doubles, 0 home runs, 2 walks, and 4 strikeouts. On the week, against the Mud Hens, he averaged a 95.1 MPH exit velocity on 20 batted ball events, and on the season, is averaging a 94.8 MPH exit velocity.
His 8 home runs are tied with Ruben Cardenas for fourth in the International League, trailing Christopher Morel (11), Peyton Burdick (10), Luken Baker (10), Keston Hiura (9), and Jake Bauers (9). His .733 slugging percentage is third, trailing Morel (.835) and Bauers (.797). His 1.182 OPS is also third, trailing Morel (1.298) and Bauers (1.245).
The right-hander is not doing anything particularly different to open the season which would explain his success. His ground ball rate, fly ball rate, infield fly ball rate, and line drive rate are all within a few percentage points of the percentages he posted last season, also with Triple-A Syracuse. The same can be said about his spray chart- there are no major differences in his pull percentage, up-the-middle percentage, or opposite field percentage. His .410 BABIP is high, resulting in such the gaudy batting average and on-base percentage that he currently has, but he has demonstrated the ability to maintain a fairly high BABIP in the past, posting a .350 BABIP in 101 games with Syracuse last season and a .350 BABIP in 83 games, 72 with Double-A Binghamton and 11 with Syracuse. Suffice to say, Vientos is hitting the ball hard, and it’s either landing in the stands, or landing where they ain’t.
Week: 2 G (0 GS), 4.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K (Double-A)
2023 Season: 7 G (0 GS), 10.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 ER (1.74 ERA), 3 BB, 19 K, .278 BABIP (High-A)
Nathan Lavender was born in Hudson, Illinois and homeschooled until he began high school, attending El Paso Gridley High School in El Paso, Illinois. He was a dominant golfer, winning a pair of conference championships, and was a four-year letterwinner in baseball, posting a cumulative 0.71. One of the better pitching prospects in Illinois in his senior year, Lavender ended up going undrafted in the 2018 MLB Draft and elected to attend the University of Illinois, passing up on virtually every other Big Ten school in addition to a handful of others he was looking at.
The southpaw appeared in 17 total games in 2019, his freshman year, starting 4, and posted a 4.08 ERA in 28.2 innings for the Fighting Illini, allowing 21 hits, walking 24, and striking out 37. Lavender would pitch in a pair of games for the for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod League that summer, and would then next pitch in March 2021, following an injury sustained that winter and then the cancellation of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. He started the 2021 season off on the right foot, going 5-0 in his first few starts, but ended up regressing a bit and posting a 4.11 ERA in 57.0 innings, allowing 55 hits, walking 15, and striking out 79. Following the conclusion of the Fighting Illini 2021 season, he played for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the new MLB Draft League, where he posted a 7.65 ERA in 20.0 innings. The Mets drafted him in the 14th round of the 2021 MLB Draft and ended up signing him for $125,000. The southpaw was assigned to the FCL Mets in September and appeared in 4 games for them at the end of the year, posting a 1.35 ERA in 6.2 innings with 3 hit allowed, 2 walks, and 12 strikeouts.
Lavender was assigned to the St. Lucie Mets at the start of the 2022 season and was excellent there, posting a 0.48 ERA in 18.2 innings over 10 games, allowing 11 hits, walking 11, and striking out 30. Lavender was promoted to the Brooklyn Cyclones at the beginning of June and spent the remainder of the season there, missing roughly a month from the end of June to the middle of July on the injured list. In 16 games total, the left-hander posted a 2.48 ERA in 29.0 innings, allowing 21 hits, walking 15, and striking out 37, giving him a cumulative 1.70 ERA in 47.2 combined innings with 32 hits allowed, 26 walks, and 67 strikeouts over the course of the 2022 season.
The left-hander throws from a three-quarters arm slot, driving off the mound and folding his top half over, resulting in a lower his release point. His slingy delivery helps give his pitches some additional natural movement but has had a negative impact on his command in the past.
Lavender throws a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, generally relying on the two-seamer more than his four-seamer. Both pitches virtually live in the same velocity band, hovering around 90 MPH, with his four-seam fastball more effective up in the zone thanks to its flatter approach angle and his two-seamer more effective low in the zone thanks to its sink and extra movement.
He uses his changeup and slider almost equally, the former offering sitting in the mid-80s and the latter sitting in the mid-to-high-70s. His changeup is generally his most effective secondary pitch, especially when used down in the zone. His feel for the pitch comes and goes, but when he is feeling it, it can be an effective weapon against right-handers. The slider has big, slurvy break, sweeping across the strike zone, and generally is mostly used against fellow left-handers.