One-time Mariners prospect and former Mariners and Reds outfielder Wladimir Balentien has been playing in Japan since 2011 and this year he’s making a serious run at the single-season homer record.
Balentien, who hit 31 homers for the Yakult Swallows in both 2011 and 2012, has 50 homers through 98 games this season. Yakult has 33 games remaining and the all-time record in Japan is 55 homers by Sadaharu Oh in 1964, Tuffy Rhodes in 2001, and Alex Cabrera in 2002.
Balentien always flashed 30-homer power coming up through the minors and went deep 15 times in 511 at-bats as a big leaguer, but he struck out a ton and struggled to post decent batting averages. This year for Yakult he’s hitting .335 with as many walks (76) as strikeouts (76) and sports an OPS near 1.300.
Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.
Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.
What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.