Pittsburgh Pirates' outfielder Joshua Palacios could have a major breakout season in 2024.
The Pittsburgh Pirates took Joshua Palacios in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft in the 2022-2023 off-season. The minor league phase rarely produces high-end talent. Most minor league Rule 5 picks become nothing more than organizational depth swapping hands. But Josh Palacios has a lot of factors that could lead to him having a big year in 2024.
On the surface, you're probably wondering how. Palacios batted a poor .239/.279/.413 line, .297 wOBA, and 83 wRC+. He had an above-average 21.2% strikeout rate and a .174 isolated slugging percentage with ten dingers in 264 planet appearances, but he also only walked 4.5% of the time. Even though his .318 xwOBA is better and closer to the league average, there are no numbers here that suggest a massive breakout beyond a league-average batter.
Of course, a league-average hitter out of the minor-league phase would still be great. But Palacios has a lot more going for him beyond just that. Palacios showed that he has some raw power under the hood. He had a 91.5 MPH exit velocity, a 45.8% hard-hit rate, and a 9.8% barrel rate. Take a look at some of the players who had numbers similar to Palacios's. Sean Murphy posted nearly identical numbers with a 91.4 MPH exit velo, 45.5% hard-hit rate, and a 9.4% barrel rate. So did Jorge Soler with a 91.2 MPH exit velo, 47.8% hard-hit rate, and 9.5% barrel rate.
Palacios had an impressive .385 xwOBACON. This is expected weighted on base average on contact, or as many like to call it, wow BACON. This is one of the many new-aged statistics that have come because of the advancements in Statcast technology and data. It basically describes how good a player was when they made contact. xwOBACON is how good/bad they were expected to be on contact.
This was about 26 points higher than Palacios' bottom line wOBACON. On top of that, he was among some very good hitters, like Josh Naylor, Christian Walker, Nathaniel Lowe, and Francisco Lindor, all of whom didn't drastically over or underperform their wOBACON compared to their expected number.
That's still just one statistic. What other reasons are there to believe in a Josh Palacios breakout? Well, Palacios' 7.5 degree launch angle is low, but not to a worrying degree. There are a lot of players with a launch angle between seven and nine degrees and an exit velocity between 89-92 MPH. Some include J.D. Davis, Lars Nootbaar, Edouard Julien, even Bryce Harper from last season. The most comparable is Michael Harris II, who had a 7.7 degree LA, 91 MPH exit velocity, and 10% barrel rate.
You might be a bit worried about Palacios' plate discipline. Sure, he had a solid strikeout rate, but a sub-5% walk rate is low. Overall, he had a 0.21 BB:K ratio. But do you know who else had a sub-0.30 K:BB ratio? Michael Harris II.
Baseball Savant compared Palacios to five different batters (four of which had significant playing time in 2023). Those include Harris, Ryan O'Hearn, Eloy Jimenez, and Freddy Fermin. All five batters had a barrel rate within 1% of each other, an exit velocity within 1.5 MPH of one another, and four of the batters had a K:BB ratio under 0.30 (the others were Ryan O'Hearn at .18 and Fermin at 0.26). Harris II, Jimenez, Fermin, and O'Hearn had a wRC+ ranging from 105 at the lowest (still 5% better than the league average) to 118 at the highest.
I think I've presented enough evidence to support that Joshua Palacios could be a major breakout candidate in 2024. The outfielders could be more than just a platoon/fourth option. There's a chance he is getting regular playing time sometime next year.