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The Nick Pratto Rollercoaster Is Still Trying to Level Off

It isn't time to hit the panic button, as there will be plenty of highs and lows moving forward.

The Kansas City Royals have fielded a ton of rookies this season, with each and every one of them boasting different pluses and minuses in their respective profiles. Some don't draw many walks but have good hit tools. Others strike out a lot but have impressive raw power. A few even have minor question marks about their defense.

For Nick Pratto, who is either a game short of or has already reached the 40-game mark by the time you're reading this article, he's an interesting case study in his own right. 

Pratto, who struggled immensely back in 2019 before taking advantage of Kansas City's revamped hitting development program and rebounding in a big way in 2021, was too good for Triple-A pitching this year. In 74 games with the Omaha Storm Chasers, the 23-year-old was getting on base at a 37.4% clip while posting a 15.1% walk rate with a .244 ISO. Those numbers weren't on par with his 2021 production, yet they were still enough to get him to the big-league club. Entering Friday's play, Pratto is slashing .203/.286/.439 with a 100 wRC+ — right at league average. That stat line is being saved by a hot week or so of play, however. 

After an outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 23, Pratto was on an eight-game hitless streak. Dating back to his MLB debut, he was also hitting just .163 while posting a .236 BABIP and 66 wRC+. Drawing walks wasn't a problem for the smooth-fielding first baseman, as he did so to the tune of 11.3%. Strikeouts remained a massive weakness for him, however; he went down on strikes 36.5% of the time. All of this, combined with an average exit velocity of 84.4 mph, led to disappointing overall results at the plate. 

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Even counting an 0-for-4 game on Thursday, though, Pratto's last six games have been nothing short of exemplary. 

In a split sample of contests against the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox, Pratto is slashing .360/.385/.880 with four doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs. For reference, he'd collected just five doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs in his previous 33 games combined. This hot streak has been extremely kind to Pratto, and he did all of that damage in games one through four of the aforementioned sample. He has just one hit — a single against the White Sox on Wednesday — in his last two outings. 

Aug 16, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Nick Pratto (32) reacts to a called third strike against the Minnesota Twins in the seventh inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

This level of production, of course, is far from sustainable. Pratto can't walk just 3.8% of the time and have a 253 wRC+ and .528 wOBA for the month of September. He can, however, continue hitting the ball harder and tweaking his approach. Pratto's hot week features a much higher hard contact percentage (58.8%) and pull percentage (also 58.8%) than his season averages of 34.2% and 48.7%, respectively. He's done much more damage to fastballs this week than over the full season, totaling 3.2 fastball runs above average (per FanGraphs) in his last six games alone but boasting just 1.6 on the year. Simply doing more damage on pitches he should be clobbering is paying dividends.

Pratto's plate discipline numbers don't see much change. His swing percentage outside of the zone isn't much higher, his overall contact rate is comparable and his swinging strike percentage is identical to his 2022 data. In fact, the only noticeable change is that Pratto has swung at 7.3% fewer pitches inside the strike zone. His tendency to not swing has always contributed to his high strikeout rate, and the fact that it isn't doing him many favors here is interesting. 

As with anything in such a short period of time, there are some simple answers as to why Pratto suddenly heated up at the plate. Perhaps it's just good luck. Maybe he's just seeing the ball better. Regardless of what it is, though, he needed it. Having a multi-game cold spell is never good for a young player, especially when he wasn't doing very well before it arrived. The Pratto rollercoaster has had its fair share of downs thus far, and it's currently riding along at an insanely high upward slope. It will likely come back down soon, but it may not level off. That's okay, because it's far too early to draw a final conclusion about his profile either way. This was what Kansas City signed up for.