How Isaac Paredes became such a big hit for the Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG – When Rays officials first took notice of Isaac Paredes, he was a teenager who played shortstop for the Cubs’ Class A team in South Bend, Indiana, in 2016-17, with an offensive profile to get the ball without much to spray power across the field.

“His hit tool was very clear,” said assistant general manager Kevin Ibach, a Rays pro scout at the time. “This was a guy that we really identified as an all-field guy, ironically now, and probably more of a guy who doubles more than he hits home runs.”

As the Rays continued to watch Paredes and throw his name around in conversations with Cubs officials, they began to see signs of what he could become and became increasingly intrigued.

Especially after Paredes was traded to Detroit in July 2017 and started looking more like a second or third baseman in the field and flexing some muscles at the plate.

Isaac Paredes is currently the Rays' best offensive player, a right-handed power hitter with a penchant for pulling the ball.
Isaac Paredes is currently the Rays’ best offensive player, a right-handed power hitter with a penchant for pulling the ball. (JEFFEREE WOO | Times)

“His profile started to change a little bit,” Ibach said. “You were still in awe of the hit tool and you thought you were starting to see some of the emergence of pull-side power. … So I think as he matured in the minor leagues, he became more and more of a complete hitter, not just the hit-over-power guy. And he kind of evolved into what he is now.”

Right now, Paredes is the Rays’ best offensive player, a right-handed power hitter with a penchant for pulling the ball. He added a 31 homer/98 RBI/.840 OPS performance to his resume last season and could potentially add a first All-Star appearance next month.

“It’s hard to put in one word, honestly, having a guy like that in the lineup that you know is going to roll out those (quality) at-bats every time,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said. “It’s a Yandy (Diaz)-like feeling from last year, especially with runners in scoring position, where he gets on the plate and you think, OK, at least one RBI gets through.

“You know he’s going to get the job done, and after that we’ll be in a good place.”

Paredes was certainly worth the time the Rays put into him for years, ultimately landing him in the final days of 2022 spring training when weeks of talks with the Tigers led to a deal.

The Rays gave up 2019 All-Star outfielder Austin Meadows, ostensibly to create an opening for top prospect Josh Lowe, in exchange for the No. 71 pick in the draft (which they used to take outfielder Ryan Cermak , who currently plays at Class A Bowling Groen) and Paredes.

Isaac Paredes hits a two-run single during a game against the Miami Marlins on Tuesday in Miami.
Isaac Paredes hits a two-run single during a game against the Miami Marlins on Tuesday in Miami. (LYNNE SLADKY | AP)

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Although there was extensive internal debate about the merits of the deal and the wisdom of making major changes to a team that captured back-to-back division titles and a World Series appearance in 2020, they went ahead with it.

Now they couldn’t be happier that they did.

“When we look back and see how Isaac has developed as a player,” Ibach said, “it’s very clear we made the right decision.”

The 25-year-old Paredes is also pleased given the limited opportunity he got with the Tigers in the 2020-2021 season. He hit .215 with two home runs, 11 RBIs and a .592 OPS in 57 games across five stints in the majors.

He started 2022 in the minors with the Rays, was given a 10-day look when Ji-Man Choi went on the injured list in early May, and was called up again in mid-May when Brandon Lowe was injured. It has stuck around ever since.

The way Paredes has continued to develop as a hitter has also impressed the Rays, especially with his consistency in what is a somewhat unusual approach: pulling the ball with force extremely down the left-field line (all 63 home runs in his career were to left or to the left). -center) but willing to use all fields for singles, especially deep in counts.

“It’s really hard to do with the ability he has to do it,” coach Chad Mottola said.

To illustrate his point, Mottola notes the discomfort among Ray’s staff in occupying the third base dugout on the road, knowing how powerfully Paredes can hit inside pitches.

“He’s pulling some balls that we’re not ready for yet,” Mottola said. “We have learned that we always have to be alert when we are on third base. Boys usually can’t do that.”

Isaac Paredes celebrates after hitting a home run off Yerry Rodriguez during a game against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field.
Isaac Paredes celebrates after hitting a home run off Yerry Rodriguez during a game against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field. (JEFFEREE WOO | Times)

More impressive, Mottola said, is Paredes’ excellent strike zone awareness and the generally quality at-bats that result.

“That doesn’t get the attention it should get,” Mottola said.

Nor does the overall improvement Paredes has made this year, especially by increasing his average. That was his main focus in an at-large bid, he said through team interpreter Manny Navarro, to feel “a lot more comfortable learning the game, playing the game a little bit better and knowing where my strengths are.”

After averaging .229 through his first four seasons, including .250 last year, Paredes was hitting .292 with 10 home runs, 37 RBIs and an .866 OPS through Friday.

“He knows who he is as a hitter,” manager Kevin Cash said, “and he’s very good at stepping up and being that guy.”

Growing up in Mexico with the nickname “Winsy” (WIN-see) from a song his family sang to him as a child, Paredes said he was driven by one thing: “The goal was always to reach the big leagues.”

With All-Star voting kicking off last week, there has been a lot of talk that Paredes, who has played primarily at third base this season, is the most deserving Ray. It’s unlikely that Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez will be beaten out for the starting spot, but he’ll have to hope he’s chosen by the players or selected as a backup by Major League Baseball.

Any reason to go to Arlington, Texas in mid-July would be worth it.

“I think being in the All-Star Game is something you can never forget,” Paredes said. “I think it would be something really cool.”

But it may cause a little problem. Although Mottola praised him for developing into a quiet leader who “leads by example” in the clubhouse, Paredes says he prefers to stay out of the spotlight. (Though he’s excited that Sunday’s game will feature his first promotional item: socks for kids 14 and under.)

“I’ve always been a serious guy,” Paredes said. “I’ve never liked all that attention. I think I like it more without all that pressure.”

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