Jake Slaughter‘s professional career can best be summed up by one word: Waiting. He had to wait for his age-25 season before breaking out in 2022 at Double-A Tennessee. Before that, he waited to be selected in the later rounds in the draft not once, but twice by the Cubs. He was first taken in the 36th round in 2016 out of high school, then he went on to play two years at LSU before being selected in the 18th round in 2018.
Heck, he even had to wait before he could start his 2022 season. He made his season debut on May 11, a little over a month later than the rest of his teammates. Slaughter credited minor league hitting coaches Eric Patterson and Rachel Folden for helping him the most in getting to where he is now.
“That month being down in Arizona was tough mentally, and trying to stay ready, having good people around me down there helped me a lot,” Slaughter explained to me.
As a 24-year-old in 2021, he slashed .242/.309/.317 in 399 plate appearances between South Bend (375) and Tennessee (24). Combine that with the late start to the 2022 season and Slaughter wasn’t really on many prospect radars. That assessment changed quickly based on his offseason adjustments.
“I changed my setup a bit,” Slaughter explained. “How I was standing and how I was hurting the way I get my swing off. I changed pretty much how I use my body [when loading], which ended up looking like a small difference but it made a lot of change.”
The 6-foot-3, 230 pound infielder broke out in a huge way with 23 home runs and 36 stolen bases this past season. He was the Southern League Player of the Month in June and also took home the league batting title thanks to a .293 average. His power, speed, and a .284/.381/.514 slash line between High-A and Double-A would have been enough to earn Minor League Player of the Year for the organization in most seasons.
Of course, most seasons don’t see Matt Mervis doing what he did.
Slaughter had swatted only eight career home runs in parts of three previous seasons, so his 23 dingers this year nearly tripled that. Developing more power was one of the goals he and the Cubs staff prioritized as part of his offseason plan.
“I’ve really wanted to get the power that I knew I had and actually put up the numbers,” Slaughter said. “[It was] getting the right swing and mindset to do it. I’ve always been a very competitive person and I feel like I’ve competed well throughout my career. I tried to take on the attitude throughout the year of playing with a lot of confidence and really cutting it loose.
“For me this year, I was playing really loose and confident and trying to do damage at the plate every at-bat. I felt that attitude helped me out a lot throughout the year.”
Another area in which Slaughter showed big improvement was his groundball percentage, which he reduced from 54.1% last year to 41.5% this past season. This not only helped unlock his home run power, it also led to a career-high in doubles.
“A lot of my swing changes were to change some things that hindered my ability to get the ball in the air,” Slaughter explained. “I knew that was a big area. I had a pretty solid year in 2019 in my first full season but I didn’t drive the ball like I knew I was capable of with how hard I hit the ball.
“It just took a while to pull some puzzle pieces together. The ability to drive the ball in the air and not only drive it in the air but pull the ball with backspin, which helps translate to a lot more home and double for me.”
The power was evident with some of the moonshots he hit this year in both Tennessee and South Bend.
Jake Slaughter gets all of this one. pic.twitter.com/SobZmPElSc
— Jordan Miller (@Miller_MiLB) August 21, 2022
Jake Slaughter gets ALL of this one for a 3-run HR pic.twitter.com/HFoljqrfZT
— Jordan Miller (@Miller_MiLB) May 27, 2022
Power is to be expected from a player of his size, but speed is another big part of Slaughter’s game and something he takes great pride in.
“I worked on my speed a lot this offseason and my jumps,” he said. “I had a goal to get 20 [stolen bases]. I got 20 and I was like I guess I’ll keep going. Even when I got to 20 it wasn’t about the stat, it was about helping the team win and stealing in the right situations.”
Tennessee manager Michael Ryan encouraged Slaughter to stay aggressive on the base paths, showing him how many more runs the team scored when he stole a base. Being able to impact the game with both his bat and legs made Slaughter a huge part of Tennessee’s team success this season, as they became one of three affiliates to make the postseason in their respective leagues.
Slaughter is Rule 5 eligible this winter and there are so many variables before the December draft that I don’t feel comfortable speculating on yet. What I can say for certain is that the adjustments he made this year and the numbers he put up as a result have firmly put him on the prospect radar for me.
According to most scouts, Double-A is where you find out if a prospect is a big leaguer. I’m no scout, but I believe Slaughter showed this season that he can make it at the highest level. The ability to adjust and improve, not to mention the confidence in that ability, will serve him well next season and beyond.
“My goal for next year is to be a big leaguer, that is the main goal for me,” Slaughter said. “I think I set myself up with a good opportunity next year.”