On the day before the All-Star break, the Milwaukee Brewers were facing a short bench. Ryan Braun was hobbled with a sore knee and Orlando Arcia’s status was up in the air after an on-field collision with Keston Hiura the night before. Neither player would be out long enough to require an injured list stint, though, so instead David Stearns decided to jettison his 13th pitcher — in this case, Burch Smith, who had worked the night before — going with a seven-man bullpen in order to add another bat to the bench. That player wound up being shortstop prospect Mauricio Dubon, earning his first ever call-up to the game’s highest level. He made his big league debut as a pinch-hitter that afternoon, becoming the first player born and raised in Honduras to make it to The Show. He stayed on the roster over the break and made another pinch-hit appearance in last night’s game, so far going 0-for-2 against MLB pitching. That’s nowhere near large enough of a sample size to draw any conclusions from, of course, so what can we expect from the soon-to-be 25 year old infielder?
Dubon has a slender, wiry build, standing 6’0” tall but tipping the scales at only 160 pounds. He stands at the plate with his feet square, knees bent, and hands at about shoulder level. A leg-kick serves as his timing mechanism and triggers his load as his quick hands generate plus bat speed through the hitting zone.
Dubon has become quite a polished prospect since getting drafted by the Red Sox in round 26 back in 2013 and coming to Milwaukee in the Tyler Thornburg trade after the 2016 season. In fact, he would have likely made his MLB debut in 2018 amidst the notable struggles of incumbent shortstop Arcia. Unfortuntely, a torn ACL in May ended his season prematurely, ruining what looked like a breakout campaign at the highest level of the minors — Dubon had compiled a .343/.348/.574 slash in 114 plate appearances and was riding a 23-game hitting streak before the injury.
When Mauricio returned fully healthy to Triple-A to begin the 2019 season, he quickly showed that the time missed while recovering from his knee surgery was not a detriment to his advancement at the plate. In 83 games for the San Antonio Missions before getting called up, Dubon hit .307/.343/.491 with 14 home runs. Starting with his first promotion to the Pacific Coast League in 2017, Dubon has worked to hit the ball in the air more often, topping a 40% fly ball rate in each year that he has played in Triple-A. That shift in approach, along with changes to the baseball being used at that level, have helped Dubon realize a level of home run hitting prowess that he has never displayed before; he’s smacked 14 dingers for the Missions this year, the first time he’s ever surpassed the double-digit dinger threshold in any full season of his career. It is worth keeping in mind, though, that the run-scoring environment in the PCL is pretty crazy this year. Dubon’s otherwise impressive .835 OPS translates to a merely average 100 wRC+, though DRC+ is a little bit higher on his work, giving him a 10% better-than-average mark of 110. The Missions do play their home games at the most pitcher-friendly park in the PCL, though, so there is more to Dubon’s success than simply the league he was playing in.
Dubon has a good approach at the plate and strong bat-to-ball skills, including strikeout rates under 17% in every full season he’s played as a professional. He’s an aggressive hitter who hasn’t drawn many walks against advanced-level pitching, including a mere 4.1% BB rate in Triple-A in 2019. But his excellent hand-eye coordination and lightning-quick right-handed bat routinely draw praise from scouts, who believe that he’ll ultimately settle in as an average-or-better hitter. He’s been given a 55 hit tool from MLB Pipeline and a future hit tool grade of 60 from Fangraphs. We’ll have to see if the home run stroke is for real or merely a product of the juiced baseball, but regardless the consensus is that Dubon should have at least doubles power, and now the possibility for more now appears to exist.
Dubon hasn’t shown the same type aggressiveness, or success, as a thief on the basepaths at the higher levels as he did before he reached Triple-A, especially since returning from the injury. He swiped 31 bags in 40 attempts while playing 74 games for the Biloxi Shuckers in 2017, but he has successfully stolen only 22 bases while getting nabbed 15 times in 168 Triple-A games spread across the last three seasons. He still grades out as having above-average speed, however, but he no longer appears to be the base-stealing catalyst that he was once expected to be.
Baseball America praises Dubon as a “natural shortstop” who boasts the requisite soft hands, terrific range, and strong throwing arm that make him a fit just about anywhere on the infield. MLB Pipeline and Fangraphs are somewhat less bullish on his defensive ability, giving him 50 grades in the field though noting that scouts do believe that he could adroitly fill a super-utility style role. In addition to his regular work at the six, Dubon has played a fair amount of second base, as well as some third base and center field (though the outfield work was before his trade to Milwaukee). Baseball Prospectus’ metric Fielding Runs Above Average credits Mauricio with +6.1 runs across his time at Triple-A this year.
Overall, Dubon’s advanced, contact-oriented approach with the bat and his defensive versatility should help make him a high-floor player, someone who can at the very least be a useful bench piece on a contending team. The overall ceiling coming into this year was thought to be something along the lines of an average, everyday regular at shortstop, though that becomes higher if Dubon’s newly-found home run power sticks.
Word is that behind the scenes, the baseball industry is higher on Mauricio Dubon’s future than the public scouting community has shown to be. He is a high-energy player with an excellent makeup and work ethic, and there is a growing belief that he could be marketed as a major piece within a trade package for a significant player this summer. He has been told that his current stint with the big club will be a short one, and it is likely that he’ll be the first person sent out once the team needs another fresh arm in the bullpen. But if Dubon does wind up sticking around with the org through this year’s trade deadline, it might not be much longer after that before we see him get a shot at playing shortstop regularly for the Menomonee Valley Nine. He is clearly big league-ready, and the player ahead of him on the depth chart might be running out of rope based on recent comments from management about his defensive decline in 2019.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus