There is a common trope in professional sports that the second year in a professional's career is a “down year”, a Sophomore Slump. The thought process goes that the rookie comes out of the gate hot and eventually the rest of the league adjusts and learns how to keep the player from performing as they did when they first entered the league.
It happens all the time and you can look no further than the last three NL Rookies of the Year award winners. Devin Williams won in 2020 and in 2021 had the highest era of his young career, Jonathan India won in 2021 with a slash line of .269/.376/.835 with 21 homers and then in 2022 he hit just 10 home runs and slashed .249/.327/.705, and finally Michael Harris II won in 2022 hitting .297/.339/.853 and this year, 2023, he has found himself hurt and hitting just .268/.317/.761.
The Phillies have their own sophomore in Bryson Stott. The 25-year-old second basemen made his MLB debut in 2022 as he ended Spring Training with a spot on the big league roster. The start of his career was not what he or the team was expecting. In his first nine games of his career he hit .131/.161/.328. He was sent down to Triple-A in April to further work on his game and the air was let out of the room. However, in May, he was called back up due to an injury to the then-Phillies shortstop Didi Gregarious. He was given a second chance and made the most of it. He became known for being a tough out, fighting off pitches and having good at bats. By the end of his rookie year, his average climbed to .234. He definitely had some weakness that he had to address, namely fastballs up in the zone and his power was still lacking. According to Baseball Reference, against average or better power pitchers, he hit for a lowly .201 striking out 22% of the time. Against finesse pitchers, that batting average jumps to .294 and the strikeout rate drops to 13%. Overall he was striking out 19.1% of the time with a walk rate of 7.7%. Not something you like to see from your young prospect who is known for getting the bat on ball.
However, the signs were there towards the end of the year and especially the playoffs that Stott’s confidence was building, and he was going to make a leap in 2023. The quintessential at bat that puts this on display is in game three of the NLDS. Spencer Strider was cruising at the start of the game and in the bottom of the third inning Stott stepped up to the plate with Marsh on first. After going down in the count early, Stott proceeded to foul off four pitches that looked to be easy strikeouts and he hit the ninth pitch down the right field line for a double that opened the flood gates for the Phillies. It was something of a coming out party for the young infielder. He showed that he can go head-to-head with the best pitchers in the game and not give up an inch.
2023 rolled around and the Phillies made a big splash in free agency by bringing in shortstop Trea Turner. That forced Stott to move to second base full time and there was little doubt he would grab the opportunity by the horns and never let go. From game one, Stott has been the most consistent player on this team at just 24 years old and surrounded by perennial All Stars and big money players. He has slashed .305/.341/.773 with eight home runs and 35 RBI. He has accumulated 109 hits which is already more than the entirety of his 2022 season. He’s been a menace on the base paths, swiping 16 bases already (four more than 2022) and only being caught twice. His walk rate has dipped slightly from 7.7% to 5% but his strikeout rate has also dipped from 19.1% to 15.9% which is something not today seen from second year players. He is seeing 4.18 pitches per plate appearances which puts him eighth in the NL and his .305 batting average has him eighth in the entire MLB. He has become one of the hardest outs to get in baseball and this is only his second year.
His defense has been an underrated part of his game since he was a prospect. This year, playing exclusively at second base, according to ESPN he has accumulated a 0.7 dWAR which has him ranked seventh for qualified second basemen. According to baseball-reference, Stott’s rtot score which is the total runs above or below average the player was worth based on the numbers of plays made stands at 2 for 2023. In 2022, playing mostly shortstop, Stott has a rtot score of -5. The eye test confirms this as he is constantly making diving stops, great throws on double plays and making the right play when put in uncomfortable situations while also making the “every day” plays expected by a good second basemen.
Something that cannot be quantified or measured is Stott’s presence in the clubhouse. Bryson Stott has turned into a clubhouse “good vibes” guy. It is obvious to see how much fun he has playing this game and for the Phillies. He is a spark of good energy to the veterans and he is one of the founding members of the “Day Care”. You can find him and Marsh dumping water and messing with the “Player Of The Game” during post-game interviews. He has also clearly gained the trust of the Rob Thomson and the coaching staff. He has moved around the lineup, plugging holes where they need it. He is a lineup Swiss Army knife that is able to perform out of any spot or role.
The sophomore slump has yet to reach Bryson Stott, in fact it’s the reverse, he’s never been better. He continues to open eyes of the Phillies organization, fans, and the other teams. It’s only a matter of time until he is representing the Phillies at All-Star games and on the national stage. It’s exciting to see a home-grown product like Stott excel in so many ways. It will be fun to watch him grow and reach his highest ceiling as a baseball player.