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These parts of Everson Pereira’s game will be critical to watch down the stretch

Pereira will only get a small sample of data, but it will still be crucial to see how he performs.

Washington Nationals v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Last season, I fell victim to buying far too much into Oswaldo Cabrera’s incredible play down the stretch of the season. It’s not that it was completely crazy to think that he could be a solid regular — the defense was so impressive and the switch hitting was compelling. However, I wrongfully ignored key aspects of his game that were exposed early on in his debut, in the playoffs, and throughout the recent seasons of his minor league career. If I took a step back and looked at the larger sample that was his minor league career and cup of coffee in the big leagues, I probably would have still been optimistic, just not nearly as much as I was immediately following the season.

It’s a lesson learned for me. There’s a reason why he struggled when he initially came up, and there’s a reason why the Yankees didn’t give him a chance a bit earlier. I think the swing change that he made to get more power out of his bat was legit at the time. However, swing changes might not last forever! And even if they do, it’s possible other holes may be exposed. Anyways, I say all this because we’re dealing with a similar situation this season with Everson Pereira called up and likely to be the everyday left fielder unless things go very poorly. Whether he plays his tail off or struggles mightily, Cabrera’s example proves how we need to proceed with caution when jumping to conclusions with limited data. On the other hand, it is literally the job of the Yankees to use this month and a half to draw some conclusions about how to handle left field in 2024.

When I think about small sample data that is sticky over time, there are a few things that come to mind. But my personal biases elevate two things above all else: hit tool and swing mechanics. I’m going to detail some information on both and why they’re important in the context of Pereira.

The Hit Tool

In-zone contact rates have become a vital part of evaluating minor league players as they move from facing lower minors pitching to upper minors pitching. Fastballs get faster, breaking balls get breakier, and players get smarter. They’re more able to expose a hitter’s holes while avoiding their strengths.

From the hitter’s perspective, you can only be viable in the big leagues depending on how much hard contact you’re making on pitches in the zone. There’s no doubt Pereira has the power to play in the big leagues, but he’ll need to prove he can make consistent contact. Those types of metrics are sticky even in a small sample. So far, Pereira has passed every minor league test. Even if his in-zone contact rates have been worrisome in the past, you only know what a player will do if they’re given the opportunity.

The Swing

Heading into the season, FanGraphs’ scouting report on Pereira had a piece on the outfielder’s mechanics not being actualized for consistent launch. In simple terms, that means he has a ton of bat speed, but his bat path wasn’t geared for making consistent contact in the air. But this season, he saw some tangible improvements while becoming more of a gap to gap hitter. In his 35 Triple-A games, his groundball rate settled in at 47.9 percent. That was a big increase from his 31.8 percent rate in Double-A, but the regression was expected with improved pitching.

If you’re going to toe the line of contact frequency, you better be getting the most out of when you actually put the ball in play. To do that, you have to hit the ball consistently in the air in some capacity. When the season is over, a particular number we can pay attention to will be his SweetSpot%. That number represents the percentage of a player’s batted balls hit between eight and 32 degrees. Ideally, that number is in at least the mid-30s. Time will tell if Pereira’s swing has gotten adjustable enough to create lift at different heights and locations.

Like I said earlier, there are other aspects of Pereira’s game that will be important to analyze in the next month or so. Baserunning and fielding are important for any player, but since his carrying tool in the major leagues will be his bat speed, it’s impossible to not put all of our focus there. I’m not expecting him to be the best version of himself, but if all goes well, he will put up respectable contact and sweet spot rates.