Drafted in the 11th round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox, infielder Carlos Asuaje has had success at every minor league level over the course of his professional career. Starting in short-season ball as a 22-year-old in 2013, Asuaje hit well over 52 games and 204 plate appearances slashing .269/.366/.368 with a 127 wRC+. Although Asuaje was small in stature and didn’t hit for much power, he did show a consistent all-fields approach along with a discerning eye at the plate (27 walks to just 33 strikeouts).
To kick off the 2014 season, Asuaje moved to Low-A ball, where he continued to hit. In 90 games there, Asuaje posted a .305/.391/.542 slash line with a 156 wRC+. More importantly, Asuaje continued to show impressive plate discipline while also showing some power, to the tune of 11 home runs in 383 plate appearances. Asuaje matched his impressive performance upon being called up to High-A, posting a .323/.398/.516 and a 157 wRC+ over his last 39 games. In just over 500 plate appearances in that 2014 season, Asuaje hit 15 home runs in total.
Despite his big 2014 season, Asuaje took a bit of a step back in 2015. In 131 games in Double-A in 2015, Asuaje slashed .251/.334/.374 with a 107 wRC+. He also saw a slight decline in his power numbers on top of that. However, Asuaje’s BABIP fell by nearly 50 points from its lowest point in 2014, so it appears that at least some of that decline was due to less batted ball luck.
Following the 2015 season, Asuaje found himself traded alongside Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, and Logan Allen to the Padres in return for closer Craig Kimbrel. At 24 years old, Asuaje suddenly found himself a part of a new organization. After spending the whole 2015 season in Double-A, the Padres started Asuaje out in Triple-A with hopes that he could contribute to the big league club by year’s end. Asuaje ended up playing a career-high 141 games in 2016, with 134 of those coming in Triple-A. In those Triple-A games, Asuaje came just shy of 600 plate appearances, slashing .321/.378/.473 with a 127 wRC+. It wasn’t the best line of his career, but it was definitely his best since 2014, and even better because it came at the highest level of the minor league ladder. Asuaje also got a small taste of big league action at the end of the season, slashing .208/.240/.292 in a 25 plate appearance cup of coffee.
Even though Asuaje got some big league action at the end of 2016, he began the 2017 season back in Triple-A with the El Paso Chihuahuas. Asuaje ended up playing in 62 games back in Triple-A, slashing .250/.369/.373 with a 100 wRC+. This was obviously a step back from his prior season performance, but he posted a 40:33 walk to strikeout ratio, which is unheard of in today’s game. The Padres called up Asuaje for a small taste of action in late May, but called him up for good in late June. And Asuaje was a lot better in his second taste of big league action, slashing .270/.334/.362 with a 90 wRC+. Although he did see some decline in his overall plate discipline, with his strikeout rate rising over 20 percent for the first time in his career, Asuaje had a productive season overall. With more than a half year of big league baseball under his belt, fans should be expecting a little more from Asuaje in 2018.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer: 78 games, 334 plate appearances, 8.4% walk rate, 18.7% strikeout rate, .251/.319/.359, 84 wRC+, -0.3 BsR, 0.5 DEF, 0.4 fWAR
ZIPS: 143 games, 609 plate appearances, 8.5% walk rate, 19% walk rate, .241/.312/.357, 81 wRC+, -1.3 BsR, 2.1 DEF, 0.6 fWAR
Even when he was first acquired from the Boston Red Sox, Carlos Asuaje has always been labeled as a bench bat. However, players surprise you, and there is really no reason to not see what you have in Asuaje in 2018. It appears that the Padres are willing to give him some chance, but with an outfield and infield logjam, it’s hard to see Asuaje getting the everyday second base job unless he really surprises. Between the two projections listed above, the first one seems like the more likely scenario based on playing time, but I would expect Asuaje to at least match, if not improve on, his 2017 offensive numbers. No matter how the 2018 season shakes out, it appears that Asuaje’s long-term fate is already sealed: Luis Urias appears to be the Padres’ guy at second base, leaving Asuaje as a bench player at best. With that being said, Asuaje has all the makings of a useful bench piece on a winning ball club. Every team needs that kind of guy, and with solid plate discipline, some positional versatility, and a great work ethic, Asuaje is the kind of player you want in a clubhouse on a team trying to compete.