DETROIT – For the first time in his professional baseball career, Jeimer Candelario is an everyday starter at the MLB level, and so far, it hasn't been easy.
Candelario was the Tigers' top position prospect after being acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the 2017 Justin Wilson trade, ranked among the top 100 prospects in all of baseball. He played 27 games for the MLB club last year and excelled, showing advanced plate discipline and some extra-base power.
But the 24-year-old is getting his first true taste of being an everyday MLB player, as he broke spring camp as the team's starting third baseman. Candelario is batting in the most important spot in the lineup, the No. 2 hole, and bumped Nicholas Castellanos to the outfield.
Through nine games, he's struggling to get into a rhythm.
Candelario is batting just .179 this season with more strikeouts (11) than hits (seven). He's made a couple of errors at third base and has just two extra-base hits in 39 at-bats. He's got as much talent as any of the Tigers' young prospects, so what's to blame for his cold start?
Quality of contact
Even though he doesn't project as a big home run hitter, Candelario has shown solid extra-base power in the minor leagues, racking up 204 doubles, 20 triples and 71 home runs in seven minor-league seasons.
But through 39 at-bats this season, Candelario simply isn't hitting the ball very hard. He's registering soft contact just as often as hard contact -- both 25 percent of his batted balls -- and his line drive rate is at a career low.
Candelario has put 28 balls in play so far this season, and only three have registered as line drives. He's hit 17 ground balls, which would typically translate to a higher batting average. He's not hitting his grounders very hard, however, and his 46.4 percent pull percentage is allowing teams to shift him toward the right side of the infield.
While he's had good numbers going the opposite way as a minor leaguer, Candelario has been more of a pull hitter in 2018. Whether that's a concentrated effort from Candelario to generate more power or a result of how pitchers are attacking him, we'll find out as the season progresses.
It's way too early in the season to worry about Candelario, especially since he was excellent for the Tigers during an even longer stretch last season. But it's worth noting that weak ground balls to the right side have been his kryptonite so far.
One of the factors working heavily in Candelario's favor is his advanced plate discipline, which is a skill that can generally translate from the minors to the MLB level.
Candelario has posted strikeout rates below 20 percent and walk rates around 12 percent consistently throughout his professional career, which has resulted in a career on-base percentage of .350 across all levels.
As the No. 2 hitter in the Tigers' order in front of Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos, that type of on-base ability is what made Candelario an attractive prospect during last season's trade deadline fire sale.
He demonstrated that ability last season in Detroit, drawing 12 walks compared to 18 strikeouts in 27 games, good for a .406 OBP.
During his early season slump, Candelario has been a bit uncharacteristic in terms of strikeouts, whiffing in 25 percent of his plate appearances. He's drawn five walks, but his K/BB ratio should improve.
Is it time to worry?
The answer is no.
Candelario is one of dozens of MLB players off to slow starts this season, especially those playing in winter conditions.
Candelario was acquired to be part of the Tigers' next competitive era, so he should get every opportunity to play his way out of this slump and improve as a major league hitter. One 4-4 game would raise his OBP to .333, and nobody would remember the cold start.
He's only 24 years old, and this is his first full-time job in The Show, so don't raise the alarm on Candelario just yet.