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The First Cups of Coffee

Nine players made their 2010 debut yesterday — seven appearing in the big leagues for the first time — on the first day of roster expansion. By WPA standards, four positively contributed to their team, and five negatively contributed in their debuts. Here is my take on the positive contributors; I will write up the negative contributors in the afternoon today.

Brandon Allen, 1B/LF, Age 24, Arizona Diamondbacks.

Debut: +.229 WPA. The only of today’s eight players to have a previous big league career, Allen made his 2010 debut in left field. He had a bloop single to left in the third, and then a bloop fly-out to left in the fifth. In the seventh inning, Allen pulled a hanging slider to right field 419 feet for a grand slam. In the field, Allen made a nice catch against the fence in the fourth, one of four put-outs on the day.

2010 Minor League Season: .261/.405/.528 (.407 wOBA) in 469 PA at Triple-A.

Thoughts on Future: I have to say, more impressive than the grand slam yesterday was Allen’s catch of a slicing Chase Headley fly ball. This makes it all the more likely his 2011 season will be in the Major Leagues, as he’s going to offer the Diamondbacks solid enough play at first base or in left field. At the plate, he’s more than ready. Allen posted a 17.7 BB% this year, which more than makes up for his problems with contact. You can expect both his ISO and BB% to come down next year, but both should still be above league average. Allen is going to have a nice, long big league career; the White Sox must be kicking themselves for trading away Paul Konerko‘s successor at first base.

Darren Ford, CF, Age 24, San Francisco Giants.

Debut: +.214 WPA. Pinch ran for Mike Fontenot at first base in the 8th. Reached second on Tim Lincecum sacrifice. Bolted for third base when an Ubaldo Jimenez pitch hit the dirt, drawing a late throw from Miguel Olivo that went to left field. Ford scored the winning run on the play.

2010 Minor League Season: .251/.315/.365 (.313 wOBA) in 516 PA at Double-A. 37-52 SB/ATT.

Thoughts on Future: With a fairly hot Rockies team three games back, and a great pitcher’s duel brewing between Jimenez and Lincecum, Ford played the role of Dave Roberts in a huge moment. Despite the dissimilarities in their games, Roberts’s late-starting big league career, including 5 seasons with more than 400 plate appearances, would be a decent-enough outcome for Ford. Ford is already an all-world defender in center field, certainly a good baserunner, but his offense lags behind. Ford cut his strikeout rate to a career low this year, but it was met with a career-low walk rate, which had previously been his lone strength as a hitter. Most likely, he’s a fifth outfielder, but given his defensive abilities, his offense doesn’t need to be quite as good as most prospects.

Danny Espinosa, SS/2B, Age 23, Washington Nationals.

Debut: +.004 WPA. Espinosa was credited for a double in his first big league plate appearance, but it was mostly because the hometown official scorer didn’t want to give Donnie Murphy an error. To his credit, Espinosa turned a one-base error into a two-base error with good speed. Espinosa grounded out to second in the 8th, and didn’t record a play in the field.

2010 Minor League Season: .268/.337/.464 over two levels. Hit .259/.332/.461 (.356 wOBA) in 434 PA at Double-A, hit .295/.349/.463 (.345 wOBA) in 108 PA at Triple-A. 25-36 SB/ATT.

Thoughts on Future: I really like Danny Espinosa, because he’s the rare prospect that could stick at shortstop and post good patience and power numbers. But then again, it sure seems like the Nationals are going to stick him at second base, and his patience wasn’t good (7.5 BB%) this season. Both of these alter his prospect rating, and definitely knock him down a notch. Espinosa is also a player that’s going to have to win over an old-school manager, as it’s hard to forecast him ever hitting above .275 with strikeout rates in the mid-twenties.

Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Age 22, Milwaukee Brewers.

Debut: +.001 WPA. One inning, three batters faced, 11 pitches thrown, 7 for strikes. Was 95-98 mph with 7 fastballs, and threw 4 curveballs at 78-79 mph. Allowed groundball single to Miguel Cairo, induced double play grounder from Paul Janish, and groundball out from Ryan Hanigan.

2010 Minor League Season: 2.23 ERA in 24 appearances spread between the Midwest (5 G), Florida State (8 G) and Southern (11 G) Leagues. Ratios between three levels: 5.0 H/9, 0.00 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 12.0 K/9.

Thoughts on Future: We know that his next suspension will be the end of his professional baseball career, so that is noteworthy. With that said, Jeffress was by all accounts a good citizen during his 2010 season, and he made real strides on the diamond. Once a pure arm strength guy, Jeffress flashed a really good curveball yesterday that drew hilariously weak contact from Janish and Hanigan. With that pitch reaching true plus status, and his over-the-top arm angle still producing big velocity, Jeffress profiles as a Major League closer. His blend of strikeouts and groundballs should lead to some real success in that role.

This afternoon: Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda, Brian Bogusevic, Desmond Jennings, Freddie Freeman.


Myth and Legend, Meet Cincinnati

Last Saturday, Peter Gammons sent out an eye-opening tweet, about the newest Cincinnati Red, Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman:

One of the best scouts texted from Louisville that Chapman was 98-105 w/ 91 mph slider and “best velo I’ve ever seen” Friday night. Hi, Cinci

When I woke up Saturday morning and read it, I assumed Gammons had hit “5″ instead of “1″ or “2″, as his tweets are routinely rife with typos. But then, as J.J. Cooper wrote in a fun piece at Baseball America, the story caught on. Apparently Ed Price had beat Gammons to the punch with the 105 mph radar gun reading — which, to be fair, could have come from the same scout — and Cooper reported Baseball America heard a 104 mph reading from a different scout in attendance. The specific number, it doesn’t really matter (it’s not, I would guess, 105). However, we will learn where his velocity tops out at soon, as Chapman has been called up to join the Reds (and, presumably, their postseason roster) on the eve of September. We will all be able to see where his pitches register on the Pitch F/X scale, and soon, we’ll know if he is indeed the hardest thrower in (recent) Major League history.

As fun a narrative as the mythical radar gun reading is, lest we forget that actual important baseball is on the horizon. The Reds’ postseason odds have never been higher than they are today; as Chapman makes his way from Louisville to Cincy, BP has Cincy’s playoff odds at 95.52%. This is nice and consistent with the delicate developmental approach the Reds have taken with their prized lefty: while he was converted to relief on June 23, the team waited until the last possible day to release Chapman to the wolves. Now, barring a team-wide collapse, Chapman will be eased into competitive big league baseball up until October. For the Reds to be able to develop Chapman at their own pace, and create such a gap between themselves and the Cardinals is exactly how Walt Jocketty would have written it.

We’ll see how Dusty Baker reacts to his newest addition, but it’s clear he doesn’t have the same bias against young pitchers that he does with young hitters. While it will take some time for Chapman to up-end Arthur Rhodes as the favored lefty in the bullpen, I do think it’s possible that by October, Baker will have warmed to Chapman as his preferred platoon set-up man (opposite Nick Masset) — especially if Chapman continues and builds upon his recent success.

It’s been 23 days and eight relief appearances since Chapman last gave up a run. In fact, since July 4, Chapman has allowed just three earned runs in 23.1 innings. In this stretch, he’s allowed just 11 hits and 10 walks while striking out 38 batters. And, we’ve seen further improvement recently with Chapman’s control: just four walks in his last 18.2 innings. After a good 13-start debut in the rotation (4.11 ERA, 10.42 K/9, 5.48 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9), Chapman thrived in the bullpen, and now leaves behind the Louisville Bats with a 3.39 FIP to show for his five months of minor league work.

From a stuff angle, obviously the fastball is Chapman’s first weapon of choice. To quote the already linked BA article, “That kind of velocity almost breaks the 20-80 scouting scale.” When paired with his newfound control, the pitch immediately enters the discussion of the Majors’ best fastball. It is, without question, the craziest arm speed I’ve ever seen. He combines it with a slider, which as Gammons noted, sits in the low 90s, and can flash plus-plus in relief. However, the pitch can betray him at times. In Spring Training, I liked his change-up weapon to right-handed hitters better than the slider — though ultimately the pitch bears more importance in his future as a starter than his September and October as a reliever. For two months, it will be all about the fastball.

In late March, amidst the buzz of his Spring Training success, we asked you to project the 2010 performance of Aroldis Chapman. We received 504 entries, and as a reminder, here were the FIP components of your projection: 116.55 innings, 8.36 K/9, 3.88 BB/9, 1.11 HR/9. All this adding up to a FIP in the 4.36 region. But much has changed since then, and now we know his 2010 will be about 20-30 innings split between the regular season and playoffs. Now that you know about Chapman, as a reliever, I’d love to hear some revised predictions in the comments.


Prospects Chat – 8/30/10


Belt Closer to the Bay

It has been a good year to be a first baseman in the San Francisco Giants organization. Aubrey Huff has been one of the season’s great surprises, having his best season since he was 26 years old, a year after the worst season of his career. Huff has expressed interest in returning to San Francisco next season, and while Brian Sabean said that he has “earned consideration” for an extension, no talks have been planned. Throwing a wrench into those negotiations is surely the unbelievable season that Brandon Belt has had in the minor leagues. Promoted to Triple-A before yesterday’s games, Belt tallied a home run, two walks, a steal and three runs in his first game for the Fresno Grizzlies. Now having played across three levels, Belt is hitting .363/.464/.628 (with a .450+ wOBA) in 123 games.

Belt was an above-slot signee after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft out of the University of Texas. After transferring to the Longhorns as one of the junior college’s best players, Belt disappointed a bit in two seasons with the Longhorns, hitting .324/.405/.514 for his career. It’s a good line, but for a first baseman with aluminum bats, and considering the hype that surrounded his transfer, expectations had been higher. But credit the Giants scouting team for not judging Belt by his number output, and instead seeing a guy they could develop into an asset. After all, Belt had struck out just 72 times in 469 Division I at-bats (15.4 K%); only his power numbers disappointed.

The Giants saw something in his approach that could be changed, and for that, I’ll turn to a piece Andy Baggarly wrote for Baseball America [side note: buy a subscription!]:

When the Giants first saw Belt in instructional league last fall, he had a closed stance that served him well as a contact hitter but left him prone to hard stuff inside…”All we did was square him up and give him some direction back toward the middle,” [farm director Fred] Stanley said. “Just kind of free him up so his hips and hands can work . . . and my goodness.”

Indeed. After starting his season 0-for-8 in two games, Belt would post just nine more 0-fers in 75 games in the California League. He would put together an 18-game hit streak in April and a 16-game streak in June, flashing more power as time went on. Even his baserunning improved — after going just 11-for-18 stealing bases the first two months, Belt stole seven straight bases successfully before earning a promotion to Double-A. Belt’s Cal League career ended with a .383/.492/.628 batting line (.486 wOBA)in one of the leagues tougher stadiums in which to hit- at an age just under the league average. The team moved him up to Richmond in the Eastern League, where — according again to Fred Stanley in Baggarly’s piece — “it’s taken some of our batting hitting prospects a few months to get used to that league.”

It took Belt one game. In his Flying Squirrels debut, Belt went 0-for-3 against former first-round pick Brooks Brown. He followed that up with a 12-game hitting steak that included five home runs and six multi-hit games. With above-average speed and a strong left arm (he was once considered a stronger prospect on a mound), I was calling for an outfield trial as early as June. On July 29, the Giants responded, giving Belt a start in left field for the first time all season. In his final 23 games with Richmond, Belt would take the outfield seven times. While his defense at first base is considered an asset, adding some versatility can’t be considered a bad thing — and given the AAA Fresno Grizzlies have had Brett Pill at first base all season, Belt sure enough had his first start yesterday in left field.

According to Baggarly, “the Giants expect to call him up in September.” I’m guessing the promotion to Fresno has something to do with the fact that the Grizzlies are in a Pacific Coast League playoff hunt, while Richmond is near the bottom of the Eastern League standings. Many teams like their prospects to get some minor league postseason experience before reaching the big leagues, and I think it’s likelier we’ll see Belt in San Francisco after the Fresno season ends, rather then when the rosters expand on September 1. I think he could help the Giants against right-handed pitchers; he doesn’t have a bad line against left-handers this year, but in High-A he couldn’t hit them for power (.097 ISO), and in Double-A, his BB-K ratio was 2-12 in 53 plate appearances. He has shown some improvements this year, and I’m not calling him a future platoon player, just not a 22-year-old that should be getting development time against big league lefties in a Wild Card race.

We’ll get into Belt’s WAR potential another day, but suffice it to say, we should begin taking this breakout seriously. Belt now has 536 plate appearances with a solid strikeout rate, a great walk rate, and improving power. As Dave Cameron reminded us around the trade deadline, “In prospect land, things can change a lot in a short period of time.” This is magnified when a team combines good scouting with good developing; it’s magnified even gretaer when a player buys into instruction. Brandon Belt isn’t a future star, but he’s a reason for the Giants to re-consider paying Aubrey Huff for his big season.


2010 Draft Review: NL East

The series ends here.

Links: ALC | NLC | ALW | NLW | ALE | NLE |

ATLANTA BRAVES
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Matt Lipka, Texas HS, ss, 35th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 6 college, 2 HS, 2 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 2/8.

Thoughts: The Braves got everyone inked and in uniform quickly, so rather than list the notable performances so far, I figured it would be easier to make this section longer, and integrate the performances in the post. Drafting without a first round pick this year, the Braves did have a supplemental first and an extra second round pick. The team chose a signable player at every turn, and was among the draft’s smallest spenders in all of MLB. It’s all pretty unexciting stuff, but these are the Braves, and you just figure their scouting department has to know something that we don’t. They always seem to.

This year, it appears the onus was getting hitters in the system that make consistent contact with the baseball. To wit, first round pick has a 11.3 K% in the complex league (.378 wOBA), Todd Cunningham is at 12.5% in the Sally League (.346 wOBA), and Andrelton Simmons at 6.2% in the Appy League (.301 wOBA). This trend continues on, and it’s consistent through all the left-side infielders this team drafted in the top ten rounds. The Braves also drafted small school pitcher Dave Filak, who has a 2.97 FIP in 22 Appy League innings. Atlanta’s draft isn’t the most diverse in talent sets, but they don’t seem worried about it. This seems like a team simply hoping that out of quantity comes quality.

FLORIDA MARLINS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 9.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Christian Yelich, California HS, 1B, 23rd overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 7/3.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 6/4.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The team’s earliest pick with regular playing time so far has been fifth-round pick Robert Morey. The Virginia alum has made nine starts in the South Atlantic League, running a 3.49 FIP through 31 innings. The team isn’t really getting strikeouts or command from Rett Varner, but the guy has a 1.54 ERA because he’s getting a lot of groundballs. You have to go all the way to the tenth round to find a hitter with serious playing time, and it’s Missouri’s Aaron Senne. In 48 games in the NYP League, Senne is hitting .302/.386/.391.

Thoughts: The Marlins weren’t big spenders, but that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. They were sure to sign first round pick Christian Yelich, bought third rounder J.T. Realmuto from an Oklahoma State commitment, and made sure Mark Canha didn’t head back to California. Yelich is obviously the one to watch, but don’t buy his listed position of outfield. He has one of the worst arms I’ve ever seen from a touted prospect, and he’ll be at first base unless they completely re-teach him to throw. He’s going to hit, though. The added pitching should move quickly, as Rob Rasmussen and Robert Morey were among Division I’s most polished. The Marlins will get some big league help from this draft, but I don’t think they have added a star.

NEW YORK METS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Matt Harvey, UNC, rhp, 7th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 8 college, 1 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 7/3.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The one sticking to me is Matt den Dekker, a senior sign from Florida who is 11 games into full season ball, and hitting .390/.468/.512 during that time. If he’s not the story, fourth-round pick Cory Vaughn is, hitting .308/.399/.556 in the New York-Penn League. Vaughn’s power never came as scouts thought in college, but it certainly is showing itself in short-season ball. As Carson Cistulli points out, however, his defense might not be so good. The highest of the hitters drafted, Blake Forsythe, is playing the worst, hitting .226/.298/.321 between the complex and NYP leagues.

Thoughts: If you listed the Mets picks in order of who received the largest bonuses, their top two guys (Harvey and Forsythe) would top the list, followed by 24th rounder Erik Goeddel, fourth-round pick Cory Vaughn, and sixth-round pick Greg Peavy. Goeddel obviously sticks out, and it will be interesting if the Mets are content to use him as a reliever going forward. But any way you slice it, the team went college-heavy here, going with big Division I players with the first 6 picks. There is some upside to be found there, though, so I don’t hate this draft for the Mets. But that really speaks to my optimism about Vaughn, Goeddel and den Dekker.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 8.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Jesse Biddle, Philly HS, lhp, 27th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 7 college, 2 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 7/3.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Biddle has been a nice story in his debut in the Gulf Coast League. Despite a nasty outing in his last start, the lefty still has a 2.51 FIP in 33.1 innings. His 41-to-9 K/BB ratio is really encouraging. Or, at least it’s better than talking about the NYP performances of the team’s college picks: Percy Garner (two bad starts), Cameron Rupp (.326 wOBA) and Bryan Morgado (2.09 WHIP) have all been not-so-good.

Thoughts: Biddle was the only Phillies draft pick to make more than $500,000, so as a result, he’s the key to this draft. The team did go to 300K on four players, three of which came after the 20th round: Kevin Walter, Jonathan Musser, and Brian Pointer were all bought out of college commitments. The college picks were not my favorite, in the slightest, but Biddle really does have the potential to put this class on his back. Philadelphia has done a great job scouting high school pitchers in recent years, and it looks like the trend continued this year.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Bryce Harper, Nevada JC, RF/C, 1st overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 8 college, 1 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 4/6.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Rick Hague had a miserable last season at Rice this year, but moving to pro ball and wood bats have been pretty good for him. Playing mostly in the full season South Atlantic League, Hague is hitting .298/.371/.426 through 105 plate appearances. This is better than the performance of the short-season college guys: Kevin Keyes (.210/.356/.284), Cole Leonida (.143/.226/.179) and Jason Martinson (.236/.336/.328).

Thoughts: I suppose it’s fitting to end this series here, on Harper. It’s kind of intuitive that the team that drafts the best player should have the highest rated draft, but it’s not always the case: oftentimes, paying up for the most expensive player gives teams an excuse to not take any more chances. This was not so with the Nationals. This team also broke slot to sign three pitchers that all seem excellent: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray. Maybe the team didn’t add any offense besides Harper in this draft (though if Hague hits, he was once considered first-round caliber), but with Harper, I’m not sure you need to. Finding the pitching balance to match their offensive addition is really what makes this draft stand out.

Favorite NL East Draft: Washington. Least Favorite: Florida.


2010 Draft Review: AL East

The series continues.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 8.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Manny Machado, Florida HS, ss, 3rd overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 4 college, 4 HS, 2 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 4/6.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Not much of the draft class has started playing, but the team’s Aberdeen affiliate (in the New York-Penn League) has two names to which you should pay attention. Fourth-round pick Trent Mummey has been a regular since being drafted, and will reach about 300 professional plate appearances by the time the summer ends. For now, he has posted a .349 wOBA, with more ability shown in plate discipline than power potential. The team recently added a solid reliever in Clayton Schrader, the Orioles 10th round pick, who received an above-slot bonus to deter him from going to Oklahoma. Schrader has pitched five scoreless innings for the IronBirds, striking out 6.

Thoughts: Without a second-round pick this season, the Orioles were able to not worry about bonus demands from their third overall pick, Manny Machado. Despite his Twitter jokings with Bryce Harper, it was clear Machado would always sign, and this draft class would always be defined by his play. The team, however, does have six other players that earned more than a quarter-million bonus, including their eighth, ninth and, tenth-round picks. I even really like Matt Bywater, the seventh-round lefty from Pepperdine that signed for pretty cheap. This draft doesn’t have a sure thing, maybe with the exception of Mummey, but it is loaded with potential.

BOSTON RED SOX
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Anthony Ranaudo, LSU, rhp, 39th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 6/4.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 4/6.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The team’s top two picks, Kolbrin Vitek and Bryce Brentz, have been regulars in the Lowell Spinners lineup for awhile. Vitek has been much better, posting a .379 wOBA while overcoming a 29.5 K%. Brentz hasn’t been able to overcome his bad contact skills, hitting .187/.252/.320 for Lowell. The only other draftee with significant playing time so far is fifth-round Puerto Rican outfielder Henry Ramos, playing in the Gulf Coast League. Ramos has thrived in Fort Myers, hitting .319/.373/.471 in his first stateside campaign.

Thoughts: This wasn’t the most expensive draft of any team, but it was probably the deepest: six players signed for more than $750,000, which includes two college hitters (Vitek and Brentz), two college pitchers, and two high school hitters. Ranaudo demanded the most money, and he earned it with a fantastic summer in the Cape Cod League. I really like sixth-round pick Kendrick Perkins, and seventh rounder Chris Hernandez was a favorite of the boys behind CollegeSplits.com. This was a team aware of high school pitchers who have historically been the least valuable commodity on draft day, and stockpiled every other type of asset. It should pay huge dividends for the farm system.

NEW YORK YANKEES
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Mason Williams, Florida HS, of, 145th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 3/7.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 3/7.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Much of this class is just starting to get their feet wet in pro ball, but surprise first rounder Cito Culver has been a regular in complex league play. Culver has held his own, hitting .269/.320/.363, and since July 22, has hit safely in 15 out of 19 games. Like any teenage shortstops, he’s been prone to mistakes (13 errors in 41 games) and offspeed stuff (25.6 K%), but there has been nothing about which to worry.

Thoughts: While the Red Sox clearly used their huge resources to put together the foundation of a great farm system in this year’s draft, the Yankees spendings were more middle-of-the-pack. Mason Williams was the only player the Yankees eclipsed seven figures on, and he’s a guy that doesn’t profile to hit for power. I like fifth-round pick Tommy Kahnle, but the crux of this draft are five high school players that the team spent big on. If two of them become trade-able commodities, then this draft has to be considered a success.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 8.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Josh Sale, Washington HS, of, 17th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 4 college, 5 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 4/6.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Both of Tampa’s short-season affiliates have had some interesting contributions. The complex league team has been assigned both first-round pick Justin O’Conner and third-round pick Ryan Brett, and their performances have been the opposite of what you might think. Brett has been amazing in 19 games, hitting .338/.410/.456 (.420 wOBA), with “just” four errors. O’Conner has struggled in 169 PA, hitting .215/.310/.354, struggling mostly with his contact rate. In the New York-Penn League, the Hudson Valley affiliate has the team’s second-round picks: Jake Thompson and Derek Dietrich. Thompson’s impeccable command has led to a 2.26 FIP through 35 innings, though his 6.94 K/9 leaves something to be desired. Dietrich isn’t showing the same power he did in college, and his 4.8 BB% in 33 games isn’t good, but he’s still managed a .288/.340/.432 line.

Thoughts: I really like this draft, and it shows you don’t have to break the bank to impress. Sale and O’Conner are really good value for where they were drafted in the first round, and I really believe in Sale’s bat. The team spent equally on its two college arms, one a safe innings-eater (Thompson) and one a volatile hard thrower (Jesse Hahn). They took some chances later in the draft, and have the farm system to afford taking chances on high school hitters. The balance probably leans a little too far for my liking, but I still think the Rays did well.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Deck McGuire, Georgia Tech, rhp, 11th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 3 college, 6 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 7/3.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The Blue Jays have been cautious with their two supplemental first round high school arms, Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard, both of whom are pitching in the complex league. While both are “starting” games there, they are averaging just 2.45 innings per start. Both have done well, but the star is Sanchez, who has a fantastic groundball rate and a 13.5 K/9. Kellen Sweeney, the team’s second-round pick out of Erik Manning’s town of Cedar Rapids, has had an encouraging start with the same team. In just 36 plate appearances, Ryan’s little brother has walked 10 times.

Thoughts: I love this draft. It appears to be pitcher heavy because the first four picks were all hurlers, but the team’s second-highest bonus getter was fifth-round pick Dickie Joe Thon. Toronto gave Thon $1.5 million to not attend Rice, and he becomes a perfect balance to the “safe” Deck McGuire pick. The team invested heavily in pitching, no doubt, and I really like what Aaron Sanchez has showed so far. But there is hitting to be found here, like Sweeney, Christopher Hawkins, and the two shortstops given above-slot money in the middle rounds. Toronto has worked hard in the last year, both on the international and domestic fronts, at rebuilding their farm system, and I think it will start paying dividends soon.

Favorite AL East Draft: Boston. Honorable Mention: Toronto. Least Favorite: New York.


2010 Draft Review: NL West

The series continues.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 9.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Ty Linton, North Carolina HS, of, 421st overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 5 college, 4 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 7/3.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The team’s two highest drafted signees, second rounder J.R. Bradley and third rounder Robby Rowland, have really struggled in the Pioneer League. Bradley’s ERA (7.46) is worse than Rowland’s (6.30), but neither has a single solid peripheral statistic … Fourth round reliever Kevin Munson has started his career in the Midwest League successfully, allowing just two runs in 14 innings with South Bend, striking out 13.

Thoughts: While some have floated out the notion that Arizona drafted Barret Loux knowing that they’d get the seventh pick in 2011, it’s simply not true. Arizona liked Loux in that spot, but his medicals couldn’t justify a selection. Luckily, the team built in some insurance in the 14th round, drafting two-way star Ty Linton. Between paying him over one million, and paying eighth-round pick Tyler Green 750K, the team does take home some early round talent out of this draft. The majority of their risks came with high upside pitchers, so replacing Loux is a real possibility.

COLORADO ROCKIES
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Kyle Parker, Clemson, of, 26th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 8 college, 1 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 5/5.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Chad Bettis was never consistent at Texas Tech, but he’s been consistently brilliant for the Rockies NWL affiliate. In 10 appearances, Bettis has a 1.12 ERA, 1.86 BB/9 and 0.00 HR/9. He’s getting groundballs at a 2.2-to-one clip, and looks like a brilliant gamble … In one-third the time, fifth-round pick Josh Slaats has been just as good. In 13.2 innings, the big bodied product of hawaii has struck out 23 and walked just 2 … It’s noteworthy that 15th round bonus baby Will Swanner made his professional debut in the Pioneer League yesterday, going 2-for-5 while playing DH.

Thoughts: The Rockies deal with top pick Kyle Parker will allow him to play his senior season at quarterback for the Tigers this fall, and then the team hopes his itch for the gridiron is satisfied. It should be the case, and you’d think that focusing only on baseball next season will allow his abilities to shine through more than ever. Supplemental round pick Peter Tago was a favorite of Marc Hulet, and it’s easy to understand why: maybe no one in this draft throws easier. I think they’ll definitely find a regular contributor out of Tago, Bettis or Slaats. I also like the gamble on Swanner, a catcher they bought away from Pepperdine. This is a nice and diverse haul for the Rockies.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 9.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Zach Lee, Texas HS, rhp, 28th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 5 college, 4 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 3/7.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Of the four first five rounders that have started playing, the two high school guys are in the complex league, the two college hitters in the Pioneer League. High school pitcher Ralston Cash has done well for himself, with a 3.68 ERA over seven starts, and enough movement on his pitches to post a good groundball rate (1.82 G/F) and he hasn’t allowed a home run. He’s joined on the team by James Baldwin (son of the ex-Major Leaguer), who strikes out constantly, but has put up an athletic .272/.321/.367 … Over in the Pioneer League, Jake Lemmerman has been brilliant. The Duke shortstop and fifth-round pick is hitting .355/.424/.560 in the hitting environment, with 28 extra-base hits and 22 walks in 200 at-bats! Third rounder Leon Landry is doing his best to keep pace, hitting .356/.397/.529 while he learns to translate his great speed into something useful on the baseball field.

Thoughts: Herein you will find my mea culpa. I teased Dodgers fans quite a bit in June, as it certainly appeared the team drafted Zach Lee without an intention to sign him. I thought maybe they’d get sixth-round pick Kevin Gausman for above slot, but the $5 million it’d take for Lee? No way. I WAS WRONG. Kudos to the Dodgers for striking a unique agreement, using Lee’s status as a football as an excuse to spread the money over five years. The Dodgers even went above slot twice more, on 11th rounder Joc Pederson and 26th rounder Scott Schebler. But make no mistake, this draft is all about Lee. And, it’s a good thing, because Lee was probably the fourth or fifth best player in the class. A steal at any price.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 8.
Highest Bonus Awarded: John Barbato, Miami HS, rhp, 184th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 6 college, 2 HS, 2 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 4/6.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Highest drafted signee Jedd Gyorko has enjoyed a really nice start to his career, with 52 games spread evenly between the Northwest and Midwest leagues. He’s hitting a combined .335/.396/.495, with a wOBA north of .400. On the opposite train was fifth-round pick Rico Noel, who began with some terrible Midwest League struggles before being demoted to the Northwest League, where he’s currently hitting .297/.453/.365.

Thoughts: It’s pretty hard to not sign your first round pick, especially when it’s in the top ten, and still have a good draft. I think this haul can work out okay for the Padres, but it won’t take the sting out of losing Whitson. His father said yesterday that Karsten’s dream has been to play college baseball, and this really makes you question the scouting done by the Padres: judging the signability of potential draftees is one of a scout’s largest jobs. But moving away from that, the team did build themselves some insurance with sixth-round pick John Barbato. While some certainly preferred unsigned seventh rounder A.J. Vanegas to Barbato, the Padres had to land one of the two. This draft needs Gyorko to become a regular, and either Barbato or Zach Cates to contribute on the mound. It could happen, but it wouldn’t excuse dropping the ball with Whitson.

SAN FRANCISCO
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Gary Brown, Cal State Fullerton, of, 24th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Signees: 7 college, 1 HS, 2 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 3/7.

Notable Performances Thus Far: It’s a tiny sample of a 21-year-old pitcher beating on high school kids, but fifth-round pick Richard Hembree has struck out 15 of the 28 batters he’s faced in the complex league. He’s rocking a negative FIP! Four of the team’s first 10 picks can be found on the NWL Salem-Keizer Volcanoes: Carter Jurica, Seth Rosin, Chris Lofton and Dan Burkhart. The latter is the team’s newest arrival, but he’s been excellent since moving up from the complex league. Jurica, the highest draft pick of the four, has been the worst (.291 wOBA).

Thoughts: This is pretty unexciting stuff. Gary Brown was one of the first round’s most volatile players, and while a lot of the numbers guys don’t like him because he never walks, you can’t write him off just for that. He’s just a guy whose value will be tied closely to his BABIP and the consistency of his defense. If he succeeds in those categories, he can still be a viable big leaguer. But after Brown, what is there? The team paid up a bit for Virginia outfielder Jarret Parker, another risky college outfielder, and sophomore-eligible lefty Mike Kickham. The other picks were all inexpensive, and typically low-upside college hitters. There is no star potential in this draft; just a couple average-ish outfielders and a reliever (Hembree?) here or there.

Favorite NL West Draft: Colorado Rockies. Least Favorite: San Francisco.


2010 Draft Review: AL West

The series continues.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 9.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Kaleb Cowart, Georgia HS, 18th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 3 college, 6 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 5/5.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Here’s what happens when you start your draft with five high school picks: you have a talented, but underperforming, team in the complex league. This is certainly no exception with the Angels given the struggles of Chevez Clarke (.325 wOBA), Taylor Lindsey (.299 wOBA), Wendell Soto (.325 wOBA) and Ryan Bolden (.248 wOBA) in their professional debuts … On the good side is second-round pick Daniel Tillman, who is closing for the man that drafted him, Tom Kotchman. Tillman has been dominant in the role, striking out 32 of the 82 batters he’s faced, while allowing just 20 to reach base.

Thoughts: The Angels farm system was pretty good before June, but with five picks in the first 40, this draft offered the opportunity to completely restock the shelves. Los Angeles took a really interesting approach to their multitude of picks: spending $6.2 million on five high school players. The team is clearly willing to take a couple busts in the name of adding a couple star players. While I like the picks to have a more diverse pedigree, it’s certainly a defensible approach. Cowart is certainly one capable of being a star, and after the first round, the team did go with some college pitchers with a little higher floor.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Michael Choice, UT Arlington, of, 10th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 5 college, 4 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 3/7.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Michael Choice is just 11 games into his first stint, in the Northwest League, and he’s been exactly the player he was in college: 17 strikeouts, 8 extra-base hits, 6 walks in 53 plate appearances. Choice is a Three True Outcome player through and through.

Thoughts: I really liked the A’s first two picks this year, and then after, I couldn’t find a lot to get excited about. Choice is athletic, powerful, but also has an understanding for the strike zone. If the team can cut his strikeouts down even a little — he’ll always be a high-K guy — he could absolutely take off. In the second round, the team drafted and signed Florida prep infielder Yordy Cabrera. He’s older than most high school picks at age 19, but his tools are first round caliber. After that, the team spent more than $150,000 on just three players, all high school picks that weren’t considered elite talents. One of them might ultimately be successful, but even that’s optimistic. After Choice and Cabrera, the draft is littered with potential relievers and bench players.

SEATTLE MARINERS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 8.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Marcus Littlewood, Utah HS, ss, 67th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 5 college, 4 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 5/5.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The highest pick with regular playing time so far is fifth-rounder Stephen Pryor, who has 16 relief appearances under his belt between the Northwest and Midwest Leagues. Pryor has been excellent, striking out 37 batters over 24.2 innings. He should move quickly next season … Mickey Wiswall has split his season in the same way as Pryor, and been just as effective through almost 110 plate appearances: .297/.339/.604.

Thoughts: While James Paxton has yet to sign, the Mariners spent more than $200,000 on just three players this season, and didn’t eclipse the $1 million threshold on anyone, which is principally because the team didn’t draft until 43rd overall, and drafted a player there (Taijuan Walker) without a college commitment. In the next round, the team drafted Marcus Littlewood — who some had talked about as a first-round pick — and bought him away from his college commitment. Missing third-round pick Ryne Stanek is a bummer, but mitigated by the fact that 16th rounder Jordan Shipers took $800,000 to sign. Assuming Paxton does sign, this team will likely end up with four solid talents for less than $3.5 million. They got good value, but they don’t have one of the league’s great talent hauls.

TEXAS RANGERS
Number of Top 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Jake Skole, Georgia HS, of, 15th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of Top 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 4/6.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 4/6.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The team has been pretty aggressive with Skole, sending the 18-year-old to the college-heavy Northwest League. But he’s held his own there, posting a .322 wOBA, but showing a nice 10.1 BB%. … It hasn’t gone as well at that level for Canadian Kellin Deglan, who has a .470 OPS in 10 NWL games. I don’t know why he was promoted from the complex league, where he hit just .286/.355/.357 in 10 games. … Ex-UConn third baseman Mike Olt is a little better fit for the NWL, and it shows: he has a .400 wOBA through 238 plate appearances.

Thoughts: Like the Angels, Texas was busy early in the draft, with four picks in the top 50. Also like LA, the team opted for high school talents early, drafting six of their first 7 players out of high school. But the team did commit money to the college side: Olt was a supplemental first round guy, and the team went above slot to sign enigmatic college pitchers Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch. The current depth of the Rangers farm system allows them to gamble a little bit on draft day. For a team that was facing such financial questions in June, spending this much on the draft was a welcome surprise.

Favorite AL West Draft: Texas. Least Favorite: Seattle.


2010 Draft Review: NL Central

The series continues.

CHICAGO CUBS
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 9.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Hayden Simpson, Southern Arkansas, rhp, 16th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 5 college, 2 HS, 3 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 7/3.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The Cubs performances should serve as a reminder that using short-season statistics to make too many assumptions is problematic. This is because, in the limited time the draftees have been in the minor leagues, the middle-round picks are succeeding far more than the early rounders. While third-round college catcher Micah Gibbs has been a disaster, hitting .143/.229/.162 in 120 plate appearances, fifth-round outfielder Matthew Szczur was so good in the same league (.397/.439/.521) that he was promoted to full season ball. Where fourth-round JC lefty Hunter Ackerman has struggled in the complex league (2.21 WHIP!), eighth-round JC lefty Cameron Greathouse is getting ground balls (3.82 G/F) and strikeouts (9.0 K/9).

Thoughts: This was an undeniably strange draft by the Cubs, who signed just three players for more than $350,000. Tim Wilken has already thrown the gauntlet down for his first-round pick, comparing Simpson to Roy Oswalt on draft day. While they stuck their necks out with that pick, the other big investments in Reggie Golden and Ben Wells seem prudent. The team had a funny focus on smaller right-handers, perhaps seeing a market inefficiency that no one else did. While I like the team’s other picks (Golden, Szczur) quite a bit, it’s their ballsy strategy that bears paying attention to.

CINCINNATI REDS
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Yasmani Grandal, Miami, c, 12th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 6 college, 3 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 5/5.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The team went with four college hitters early, and with the exception of Grandal, all have had a lot of time in the minors. Ryan LaMarre has been a little better than average (.353 wOBA) in the Midwest League, which is more than Devin Lohman (.314 wOBA) or Brodie Greene (.304 wOBA) are doing in the Pioneer and Carolina Leagues, respectively. We haven’t seen as much of the pitchers drafted, although former Oregon State ace Tanner Robles has done a nice job (3.85 FIP) in the difficult Pioneer League environment.

Thoughts: Grandal was a favorite of mine in the draft, and his selection adds another catcher to this system. If there is a worry about his game, I think the bat speed is probably more troubling than his arm strength. I didn’t find the three college hitters particularly inspiring, but then again, they weren’t really the next-best players signed: the team gave a half-million to high school outfielder Kyle Waldrop in the 12th round, and almost one million to sixth-round pick Drew Cisco. These guys add some nice depth, and star potential, to the draft behind Grandal.

HOUSTON ASTROS
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 9.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Delino DeShields Jr, Georgia HS, 2B, 8th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 6/4.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 5/5.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The team got its second and third pick, Mike Foltynewicz and Mike Kvasnicka, signed quickly, and both have had some good experience this summer. Foltynewicz has pitched better (4.26 FIP) than his 5.52 ERA indicates, while Kvasnicka has struggled with the bat while juggling three positions in the New York-Penn League. The most encouraging performances have come from second-round pick Vincent Velasquez (3.59 FIP) and fifth-round catcher Ben Heath, who has hit .271/.383/.516 over two leagues, including the South Atlantic League.

Thoughts: There was probably more pressure on the Astros to draft well — four of the first 58 picks, bad farm system — than any other team in baseball. They went for upside and potential, so it’s definitely too early to judge their haul. Kvasnicka’s early struggles are the most disconcerting, but easily written off given the defensive demands asked of him. And, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not the best college hitter the team drafted, between Heath and Austin Wates. But the key for the draft will be the three top 60 high school guys, who come at an investment of more than $4 million.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 9.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Jimmy Nelson, Alabama, rhp, 64th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 8/2.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 6/4.

Notable Performances Thus Far: It’s pretty easy to just check the Helena Brewers box score to judge how this draft class has done so far: four of the team’s first five signees are there. The best has been either third-round pitcher Tyler Thornburg, who has struck out 20 of the 47 batters he’s faced, or sixth-round bat Cody Hawn, hitting a cool .284/.384/.510. Nelson has been a mixed bag out of the bullpen (3.37 FIP, 4.58 ERA), while Matthew Miller has been unimpressive in the rotation. The team’s first hitter drafted, Hunter Morris, has hit for power nicely (.205 ISO), but his .344 wOBA means the rest of his game is pretty unrefined.

Thoughts: It’s hard to assign the Brewers a lot of blame for not signing first-round pick Dylan Covey, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and opted to attend college close to home rather than sign with Milwaukee. There isn’t much the team could do about it, but truly, without Covey the team’s draft is safe and unexciting. Perhaps Morris or Hawn are the eventual replacement for Prince Fielder at first base (though they won’t be ready in time to make it a seamless transition), and only Thornburg has a large gap between his present abilities and ultimate ceiling. Plain and simple, this is a draft that needed a first rounder.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 6.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Jameson Taillon, Texas HS, rhp, 2nd overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 4 college, 3 HS, 3 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 7/3.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Mel Rojas Jr. hit his 100 at-bat milestone yesterday in the New York-Penn League. While he’s showed little power (.060 ISO) and bad contact rates (25 K%), his patience and athleticism still grade out highly. On the same team, fifth-round pick Tyler Waldron has done a nice job with command and ground balls, but only 5.1 K/9. The majority of this draft class has not begun playing professionally yet.

Thoughts: This is great; this is a team putting their money where their mouth is, and showing a belief in the draft. $10 million is peanuts in the grand scheme of Major League spending, and it’s amazing how much talent it can bring in. In this draft, the Bucs signed two of the best high school pitchers to seven figure deals, and then gave five others at least $400K. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Pirates miss on their four big high school pitchers: Taillon, Stetson Allie, Nick Kingham, Ryan Hafner. And between Rojas, Drew Maggi and Jared Lakind, they might have snagged a future regular, too. This draft has great balance and a great budget. Win.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Zack Cox, Arkansas, 3b, 25th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 8/2.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 5/5.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The team’s first four picks haven’t started yet. The earliest that has is high school shortstop Sam Tuivailala, and he’s been overmatched. The team’s next five picks were signable college guys, and all have done predictably well in short-season ball. Lefties John Gast (0.50 ERA, 18 IP) and Dan Bibona (0.61 ERA, 14.2 IP) have been ridiculous, while the best of the offensive players has been catcher Cody Stanley, both for his offense (.394 wOBA) and defense (56 CS%). Neither Nick Longmire (.842 OPS) or Greg Garcia (.778 OPS) have been bad, either.

Thoughts: St. Louis signed 17 of the first 18 players they drafted, with the exception being Austin Wilson, who I think was insurance in case Zack Cox didn’t sign. Their draft is college heavy, but I think they definitely have a few big leaguers here. Jordan Swagerty should fly through the system and make the bullpen by 2012. Cox has some more volatility than I’d like from a college guy, but his potential is excellent. Tyrell Jenkins was one of my favorite high school guys in the class. The Cardinals did good here, and it’s a good thing, because the farm system needed some depth.

Favorite NL Central Draft: Pittsburgh. Least Favorite: Milwaukee.


2010 Draft Review: AL Central

Here begins our team-by-team reviews of the 2010 draft. Each team is linked to their full draft at BaseballAmerica.com. And: yes, this is still too early to be judging a team’s draft. As a result, I will be pretty neutral in my analysis.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 8.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Chris Sale, Florida Gulf Coast, lhp, 13th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 9/1.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 5/5.

Notable Performances Thus Far: Amazingly, Sale has already made four appearances with the White Sox, running a zero ERA through 3.2 innings. Combine that with 19 strikeouts in 10.1 innings in the minors … The three college pitchers making up the 2-4 rounds of the draft — Jacob Petricka, Addison Reed, Thomas Royse — have all been great in the low minors, though Petricka has moved onto a full season league … Top offensive signee Andy Wilkins is doing what’s expected: bashing in the Pioneer League at a .338/.417/.534 clip, while playing mostly third base … Meanwhile, top high school pick Rangel Ravelo has really struggled (.550 OPS) in the Appy League.

Thoughts: While I found SEC draftees Wilkins and Ross Wilson moderately inspiring, there’s no doubt this draft is centered completely around college pitching. I have to hope and assume that Sale will soak in some knowledge from Don Cooper these last two months, but then be ready to open next season in Double-A, as a starter. Petricka has some fantastic potential, and don’t sleep on ninth-round pick Kevin Moran, who also has a good arm. I’m not a huge fan of one-note drafts — in this case, college pitchers — but those arms have enough variety to not have me write off the strategy completely.

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Drew Pomeranz, Ole Miss, lhp, 5th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 5 college, 3 HS, 2 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 5/5.

Notable Performances: Sixth-round JC shortstop Nick Bartolone is the highest drafted player to have regular playing time so far. After a nice stint in the complex league, Bartolone has struggled in eight games in the New York-Penn League … So, too, have Division I talents Jordan Cooper (4.90 FIP), Tyler Cannon (.247 wOBA) and Diego Seastrunk (.297 wOBA), all picked after the ninth round.

Thoughts: This is a team that gave seven figures to four players, and at least a quarter million to four others. There’s quite a bit of variety in that group, with two million dollar prep hitters (Tony Wolters, Alex Lavisky) and about $4 million in investments to five Division I pitchers. Pomeranz is the key to that group, but there was a time when Kyle Blair was ranked higher, and you have to like getting draft-eligible sophomore Michael Goodnight in the 13th round — he’s a real talent. This is to say nothing of LeVon Washington, who was drafted in the first round in 2009, who has a lot of believers. A diverse and expensive draft is going to get my praise every time.

DETROIT TIGERS
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 9.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Nick Castellanos, Florida HS, 3B/SS, 44th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 7 college, 2 HS, 1 JC.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 4/6.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The Tigers were aggressive with some early drafted catchers, sending third-rounder Rob Brantly to the Midwest League, and sixth-rounder Bryan Holaday to the Florida State League. Brantly has been average-ish, while Holaday has been big with the lumber (.381 wOBA) but not with the glove (2-for-19 throwing out runners) … In fact, that West Michigan team added not only Brantly but a new right side, as Corey Jones (.394 wOBA) and Tony Plagman (.351 wOBA) have really helped the Whitecaps … On the not-so-positive side is Jim’s son Patrick Leyland, who has really struggled in the complex league, hitting .179/.234/.188 in 32 games.

Thoughts: Detroit’s annual financial commitment to the draft is inspiring, and it was no exception this year: Nick Castellanos broke the record for the largest bonus of a guy drafted outside the first round. Detroit also gave seven figures to Chance Ruffin and Drew Smyly, a pair of high-floor college pitchers. Obviously, though, they key here is Castellanos, and this is a huge statement about their belief in his ability. Getting Drew Gagnier in the 17th round was nice, but it’s not a draft I feel overly optimistic about. More than most drafts, it seems like the success of the draft is tied to one player.

KANSAS CITY
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Christian Colon, Cal State Fullerton, 4th overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 8/2.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 5/5.

Notable Performances Thus Far: It hasn’t been an easy road for Christian Colon, who has a .299 wOBA in 180 plate appearances in the Carolina League. We know that Wilmington stadium is death on offense, but a 4.4 BB% and .286 BABIP won’t get it done in the low minors … Third-round pick Mike Antonio has made 15 errors in 24 games at shortstop in the complex league. It’s been a problematic first 28 games, but he has shown some nice gap power … The always enigmatic Scott Alexander has been nothing but in the Pioneer League, with a 4.68 FIP, a sky-high BABIP, and a 6.8 K/9.

Thoughts: For all the thinking that the Royals drafted Colon to save some money for later: Colon actually ended up getting the sixth-most money in this draft. They did spend a bit later, waiting until the midnight hour to get Brett Eibner and Jason Adam signed. While this draft has a lot of diversity, I’m not sure there’s much to be crazy about. Colon will need to stick at shortstop, Kevin Chapman a dominant Thornton-like reliever, and Jason Adam a nice high school diamond in the rough. I like Adam, but the fact that he has a pretty good chance to become the draft’s best player means a failure of scouting in rounds 1 and 2.

MINNESOTA
Number of First 10 Picks Signed: 10.
Highest Bonus Awarded: Alex Wimmers, Ohio State, rhp, 21st overall.
College/HS Breakdown of 10 Highest Drafted Signees: 7 college, 2 HS, 1 PR.
Pitcher/Hitter Breakdown: 4/6.

Notable Performances Thus Far: The team’s two highest drafted hitters are both with the complex league team, and have offered completely different results. Second-round shortstop Niko Goodrum has been a mess through his first 100 professional at-bats, collecting half as many hits (15) as strikeouts (30). Puerto Rican outfielder Eddie Rosario has been great, showing both some power (.137 ISO) and speed (22/24 on bases) … Fifth-round outfielder Nate Roberts has been dominant in the Appy League, hitting .321/.433/.554 through 31 games.

Thoughts: It’s no secret that I really like Alex Wimmers, and he makes a lot of sense with the Twins. Minnesota continued its formula that they’ve built their farm system around: college pitchers with command, prep up-the-middle athletes. Wimmers is joined by Pat Dean and Logan Darnell as pitchers that should move through the low minors quickly. But if they aren’t future stars, the team did gamble with Goodrum and Rosario, and they certainly have some potential stars culled through the International Scouting Department. That said, the team went pretty inexpensive this year, and I’d love to see a few more risks.

Favorite AL Central Draft: Cleveland.


Showcase Circuit Hits Wrigley

Next year, on draft day, the MLB Network will show the usual crop of limited highlights they have on the high school draftees. Much of the video, for a certain group of players, will come from an event played two days ago: the Under Armour All-American Game, presented by Baseball Factory, held at Wrigley Field. This, along with the AFLAC All-America Game, played in San Diego yesterday, are the final significant events in a summer rife with showcases for the nation’s top prospects. The games this weekend surely each had a couple players that will hear their name called by Bud Selig next June.

Living two miles south of Wrigley Field, I had no choice but to make an appearance on Saturday morning to get my first taste of this high school class. In the interest of full disclosure, I was only able to stay for batting practice and the “Home Run Derby.” Lucky for me, the event was televised, so I was still able to catch the game on DVR. Still, it’s amazing how much you pick up from a single batting practice, and I was joined by 50-75 scouts furiously taking notes as each kid had his turn. Here are 10 talking points from three different perspectives about the event.

What I Learned From Watching Batting Practice On the First Base Side at Wrigley

1. Rookie Davis is a beast of a man, his 220 pound listed weight (on a 6-foot-5 frame) is laughable. One of 17 pitchers to have his turn on the mound, the ECU commit stood out more in batting practice. Because of his strength, he doesn’t need to square up the baseball to hit home runs in Major League stadiums. His bat speed didn’t match some of the other raw athletes, but no one hit the ball farther.

2.In a similar vein, Jerrick Suiter entered the event with some helium for his mound prowess, having impressed many of the same scouts the week before at the Area Code Games. On Saturday, his appearance was a train wreck: he threw twice as many pitches as anyone else. His delivery and command were inconsistent if not plain bad. But while not viewed much as a hitter, his batting practice was one of the most impressive. He’s got an easy right-handed swing, showed a willingness to hit to right field, and has some untapped power. I wouldn’t close the door on an offensive career yet.

3. The name Dante Bichette Jr. jumped off the roster page at me, and Bichette bears a striking resemblance to his father. At the plate, he had a weird day. He hit a few balls out of Wrigley, albeit by design: he swung as hard as anyone all day, and almost fell over more than once. His swing lacks balance, and he has a strange leg lift that he uses as a timing mechanism. Bichette pulls everything (his knock to right field in the game was more accident than “a good piece of hitting”), so pitchers would be smart to feed him a diet of balls away.

4. I don’t love Home Run Derbies in events like this; it promotes a bad approach to young hitters. But for Mason Robbins, who I was told hit just three home runs in his junior season of high school, it did show the proof of some power. I liked Robbins’ batting practice much, but wrote that it looked like a gap power profile and nothing more. Then, he hit four home runs before making five outs at the Derby — ultimately falling short of the “prize” — and shut me up. Robbins is the type of guy that will flash all five tools, but each is closer to “50″ on the scouting scale than anything else.

What I Learned From Reading Some Friends That Stayed For the Actual Game

5. Keith Law ranked Bubba Starling as the best prospect in the high school class last week, and found his belief reinforced on Saturday. This, despite the fact that football (Starling is a Nebraska-bound quarterback) has kept his game raw: “Starling is still just throwing rather than really pitching … [but] it’s hard to forecast future velocity below the 92-95 range,”Keith wrote. His offensive abilities are similar: he has real power, but his swing is inconsistent and has some swing-and-miss. Committing to baseball will make him a lot of money.

6. The game’s offensive MVP was Wyoming product Brandon Nimmo. It was a good day to impress, as his state doesn’t have high school baseball, and his summer legion team won’t play much (if at all) before next year’s draft. He made sure, though, that scouts won’t forget him, with a good BP and an impressive triple to the opposite field. “I liked his approach, and he uses the whole field…” a scout told Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com.

7. The pitching MVP was local product Nick Burdi, a right-handed pitcher from Downers Grove, a suburb 30 miles southwest of Wrigley. I’ll cut to Baseball America’s Conor Glassey on why his outing was award worthy: “Burdi struck out all three batters he faced, using a 91-94 mph fastball, 79-83 changeup and an 85 slider. “ KLaw got more of a reliever vibe from Burdi, who throws from a very low arm slot. I side with Keith there.

8. Frankie Piliere was decisive in giving Top Pitcher honors to Lance McCullers Jr. , another son with a big league pedigree. “He was far and away the best arm on display in Chicago, sitting 95-97 mph with his fastball,” Piliere wrote. The hard-thrower had a reputation as a hitter, too, but there’s no question his future is on the mound. His swing was funky for me; his velocity came easy. Of course, he doesn’t have to make the decision until June 2012 — he’s only a rising junior.

What I Learned From My DVR: Tele-Scouting.

9. Between the TV replay and a stop watch, I can tell you that Shon Carson posted a sub-4.2 second home-to-first time. Carson is a really good running back that shows a lot of promise in baseball: while just 5-foot-9, the ball jumped off his bat more than anyone else there. I also graded his arm at plus, so it might make sense fiscally for Carson to choose baseball.

10. I’m a sucker for a good change-up, but events like this are about the last place you’re bound to find one. That’s why Idaho native Clayton Porter was such a welcome break from the rest. The 6-foot-4 lefty had this series of pitches to begin his inning: fastball called strike over outside corner, 1-to-7 curveball that just missed low and inside, 88 mph fastball a little up and away fouled off, plus 81 mph change-up off the plate low and outside for a swinging strike three. Projectable with a feel for offspeed stuff? Sign me up.

(Tomorrow, when the dust clears: a review of the 2010 draft, seen through the prism of who actually signed. Today at 4 p.m. ET: Prospect Chat.)


The Evolution of Groundball Rates

On Wednesday, Dave Cameron ended his piece entitled “Halladay and Verlander” with this note, seemingly fired at those of us in the prospect business:

It might not be as sexy, but getting groundball outs and limiting walks is a far more efficient way of pitching than trying to blow every hitter away. Strikeout rate is nice, but don’t let it be the only tool you use to evaluate a young pitcher – not only are Ks not the only way to succeed, they aren’t even the best way.

This is a belief system that isn’t new to me, as it was essentially the premise for my offseason Staring Down the Sinkerballers series. But, that piece was limited to discussing one type of player: the two-seamer/slider pitcher that often flies under the radar. The fact is, we need to do a better job understanding how all pitchers will see their batted balls translate from minor league baseball to the Bigs. This is a case study of just that.

I created a list of pitchers that debuted in 2009, have had 150 innings over the span of two years, and at least 150 batters faced in each season. If I did my search at the B-Ref Play Index right, and I whittle it down to players with minor league experience, there are 18 pitchers left. It’s a diverse list, with lefties and righties, groundballers and flyballers, good pitchers and bad. It’s also a group that had their entire minor league career in the MinorLeagueSplits era. Now, I’ll tell you this: there are flaws with the mLS data. We all know that. But, like anything else, until we have something better, I’m going with that. I’ll probably follow this post up at a later time using GB/FB ratios — which I have official data for — but that seems just as flawed.

So, I looked at all 18 players, and I compiled a list at the levels where they faced 150 batters (this number I keep using is important: it’s when groundball rate stabilizes for a pitcher, at least at the big league level). Let’s start, both as an introduction to my sample group and as an entryway into the data, with the career minor league (mLGB) and Major League groundball rates of each player. I have ranked them in the order of those that dropped most from the minors to Majors:

Name                MLGB      mLGB      Diff
Brett Cecil         43.2      59.7      -16.5
Brian Matusz        34.7      48.1      -13.4
Rick Porcello       51.6      63.7      -12.1
Vin Mazzaro         41.9      52.8      -10.9
David Hernandez     28.5      37.9      -9.4
Trevor Cahill       51.2      58.6      -7.4
Jason Berken        41.3      48.6      -7.3
David Huff          37.2      44.3      -7.1
Craig Stammen       48.4      54.1      -5.7
Wade Davis          40.5      45.7      -5.2
Kris Medlen         42.2      47.2      -5.0
Mat Latos           43.1      47.7      -4.6
Brad Bergesen       49.0      52.6      -3.6
Brett Anderson      52.4      55.5      -3.1
Brian Duensing      48.5      50.3      -1.8
Doug Fister         47.8      47.9      -0.1
Tommy Hanson        40.2      39.1      +1.1
Ricky Romero        54.0      48.6      +5.4

It’s interesting, of course, that a different Blue Jays lefty is on both the top and bottom of this list. But also interesting that half the players dropped their groundball rate between 3 and 7.5 percent between the minor and Major leagues. Those who attended FanGraphs Live heard the problems I have with using MLEs to project minor leaguers. While it would be easy to do this study with everyone in the MinorLeagueSplits era, create an average drop that we apply for everyone, I just don’t find it all that informative. If you want to assume a player drops about 5-5.5 percent when he reaches the Majors, you’ll probably be about right as often as you’re about wrong.

But, let’s take it a step further. I next brought the 18 into four quadrants, ranked by their MLB GB%. Here are the five least groundball-ing pitchers, and their groundball rates at each level they registered 150 batters faced at (Note: The ~ symbol appears when they did so at that level in multiple seasons. I’m eyeballing there. Again, there are error bars around this data that are unavoidable).

Name       Low-A   HighA   DoubA   TripA   MLB
Hernandez  36.8    37.6    36.7    38.8    28.5
Matusz      N/A    49.5    45.8     N/A    34.7
Huff        N/A    42.0    49.5    ~44.0   37.2
Hanson     41.6    38.6    40.7    36.5    40.2
Davis      49.5    47.5    ~46.5   ~39.6   40.5

I find this far more explanatory. If we broke this group into guys with similar stuff profiles, you’d certainly group Hanson and Davis together as hard-throwing right-handers, with similar velocities on their fastballs, sliders and curveballs. Hanson was always the flyball pitcher he’s proven to be, but Davis took some trending down before showing his true colors in Triple-A. Hernandez is close to that caliber, but his stuff was never viewed in the same light. Like Hanson, he was always a flyball pitcher, but has taken it to a new level in the Major Leagues. He’s ditched his slider, and has problematic command, which I think might be to blame for the sub-30 GB%.

I’d also group Matusz and Huff together — college lefties with good command that start their arsenal with a 90 mph fastball and an 82 mph changeup. Neither had dependable Double-A numbers in the slightest, and with their stuff, shouldn’t have been trusted as 45% guys. I could see looking at all similarly-profiled lefties and searching for something similar. But for now, we look at our next quadrant, the flyball-leaning pitchers:

Name       Low-A   HighA   DoubA   TripA   MLB
Berken      N/A    52.0    47.6     N/A    41.3
Mazzaro    56.4    53.9    52.7    ~49.2   41.9
Medlen      N/A     N/A    43.4     N/A    42.2
Latos       N/A     N/A    41.3     N/A    43.1
Cecil       N/A     N/A    59.2    59.8    43.2

Wait, there’s another college lefty with good command, a fastball around 90, and a changeup at 82, also posting some misleading Double-A numbers! Brett Cecil, come on down! Cecil throws a sinker more often than Matusz and (especially) Huff, and it really worked in the minors. Whether it’s an issue of command, or just not enough sink, it hasn’t in the bigs. Latos probably fits in with Tommy Hanson, never really hiding that he’d be a flyball guy. Medlen is just outside of that category, smaller than those pitchers, with less velocity, and a change-up as his go-to pitch. In a small sample, he was getting a ton of groundballs in the low minors, but in Double-A, showed the tendencies he’s settled into with Atlanta.

Finally, I think we have to compare Jason Berken and Vin Mazzaro, similarly sized fastball-slider guys. Mazzaro throws more sinkers, and thus, has always had higher groundball rates. But ultimately, I think this is a sign of the quality of Major League hitters: neither pitcher has stuff that’s considered particularly world-beating. Next, we have four guys that have induced better-than-average groundball rates:

Name       Low-A   HighA   DoubA   TripA   MLB
Fister      N/A     N/A    ~48.0   44.1    47.8
Stammen    55.9    ~53.5    N/A    ~54.0   48.4
Duensing    N/A    48.8    ~48.8   ~50.2   48.5
Bergesen   ~48.5   54.7    53.1     N/A    49.0

Having introduced Mazzaro and Berken, smallish sinkerballers, gives us a nice frame of reference with Brad Bergesen and Craig Stammen. Both of them are of a similar ilk, though maybe Stammen’s cutter separates him a bit, and maybe explains his greater success than Mazzaro in maintaining an above-average GB%. Bergesen is explained, I think, simply by having a better sinker. But the fact is, with all four, we do see a noticeable drop from even Double-A to the Majors. Fister is a bit of a weird duck, and hard to explain — you have to think his size, more than anything else, leads to a good groundball rate. But that’s sort of always been the case, I guess. Part of you wants to compare Duensing to the other college lefties above, but he throws a little harder, has spent most of his Major League time in relief, and his go-to offspeed pitch is a slider. And he hasn’t wavered much in terms of groundball rates.

Finally, here are the guys getting a ton of groundballs:

Name       Low-A   HighA   DoubA   TripA   MLB
Cahill     56.4    61.4    61.8     N/A    51.2
Porcello    N/A    64.1     N/A     N/A    51.6
Anderson   57.9    ~54.8    N/A     N/A    52.4
Romero      N/A    41.9    ~48.7   55.9    54.0

Ricky Romero is obviously the guy that stands out, but I hesitate to make many assumptions from his numbers. It’s pretty clear that he didn’t become interested in inducing grounders until 2008. This probably sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true: go back and read Baseball America’s scouting report of Romero from the 2005 draft — the movement on his fastball isn’t lauded at all. Fast forward three years, and they are praising the “good life” on his fastball, and referencing a new “vulcan change, which behaves like a splitter.” He’s just a different guy.

I would not hesitate to compare Cahill and Porcello, two lauded high school pitchers that are big, throw sinkers 50% of the time, and were 60% groundball guys in the minors. They are ridiculously similar, and I think tell us a lot about their type of pitcher. Finally, we have Cahill’s teammate Brett Anderson, who might be too unique to comp. His combination of movement, velocity and offspeed stuff is pretty unmatched among Major League lefties. It should be no surprise that the truly unique can sustain +50% ratios at the highest level.

That’s where we’ll leave things today. But there are some interesting groups that I think we can extrapolate and further investigate: the fastball-change lefty, the prospect-y hard-throwing righty, the smallish sinkerballer, among others. If we can understand players in the context of their own stuff, then we might be getting to a place where we can evaluate young pitchers using the tool that Mr. Cameron hopes.


Mike Minor’s Up and Down Debut

Mike Minor is a perfect example for why draft day armchair analysis doesn’t work. In 2009, the Vanderbilt lefty went seventh overall to the Braves, amid fairly consistent criticism from pundits. His fastball, at the time, graded out below average for some scouts, and his breaking ball was inconsistent at best. Everyone agreed that Minor had a good (great?) change-up, but while the comparisons people made to Jeremy Sowers would have once been a compliment, Minor seemed more like a late first round pick than someone that should be drafted ahead of Aaron Crow, Alex White, or Kyle Gibson.

Then, suddenly, Minor wasn’t the same pitcher anymore. Or, maybe he was exactly who Braves scouts thought he could be. This kid that wasn’t “dominant” in college — striking out just one batter per inning, and holding an ERA around 4 — was leading the minor leagues in strikeouts. Once a command specialist, who had a 1.89 BB/9 as an SEC freshman, Minor was now wild, with a walk rate of 3.5. Explanations were hard to come by. I assumed it was a mastering of his curveball, a pitch that college coach Tim Corbin told me on draft day last year was quickly becoming a weapon for him. It wasn’t until even later in the season that we found out his velocity had taken a step forward. In the Futures Game, he touched 95 mph. And by that point, Minor was dominating Triple-A.

Yesterday, the Braves called up Minor to open their series against the Houston Astros. I’m a geek for Major League debuts, and seeing as though Mike Minor was opposite Bud Norris — a former breakout prospect of mine, and current xFIP underachiever — it was must watch television for me. Ultimately, and probably unsurprisingly, it was a pretty sloppy game. The Astros won 10-4 after a seventh inning Braves bullpen implosion. Minor certainly gave the team a chance to win: six innings, one walk, five strikeouts. He did find that even Major Leaguers aren’t immune to ball-in-play variance, as two bloop hits and one Alex Gonzalez error were responsible for three of his four runs allowed. Given the overall success of the outing, his FIP (2.44) tells a better story for the start than his ERA (4.50). But that’s hardly a surprise.

Minor was a good study in the difference between control and command: he wasn’t wild, but he wasn’t hitting Brian McCann‘s glove behind the plate, either. In Minor’s problem inning, the fourth, his first run came on a bloop double by Carlos Lee. McCann set up further in and up than where the pitch ended up, and while Minor probably didn’t deserve the run, 92 mph belt-high and middle-in won’t get it done at the highest level. Two batters later, his worst pitch of the night came to Brett Wallace, and by his reaction, Minor knew it. Wallace stung the down-the-middle offering, but with topspin, preventing the first home run of both their careers.

Even with the addition of velocity — Minor was 92-94 mph early on, touching 95, before pitching at 89-91 in the 5th and 6th innings — it’s hard to see it becoming a dominant Major League offering. According to Texas Leaguers (I should note that I have some problems with their pitch classifications after one start — what they list as two-seam fastballs were actually changeups), Minor’s whiff rate on his fastball last night was just 3.4%. In multiple at-bats, the southpaw struggled to put batters away with his fastball, giving up a huge percentage of foul balls. Perhaps if he can maintain consistent 92-95 mph, that will change, but we’ll first need to see it to believe it. This was an Astros lineup, after all, that featured Angel Sanchez and Jeff Keppinger hitting second and third, respectively.

But there are positives to take away from this start; namely, that Minor showed a fantastic change-up. The whiff rate of that offering was somewhere north of 25%, and, while he elevated a few, had pretty solid command of the pitch low and away to right-handed hitters. It’s a weapon, and dare I say, it has the opportunity to be one of baseball’s best. He’s a better pitcher than Jason Vargas or Wade LeBlanc, and a different pitcher than Ricky Romero or Jaime Garcia, but the strength of those change-ups is what I’m trying to convey.

In conclusion, while we have to adjust Minor’s long-term projection as a result of the first four months of his minor league season, I don’t want the numbers to have expectations too high. Minor is still more of a #3 starter than anything else, and there’s work to be done on his game. His breaking ball needs work, even though there are signs of a plus pitch there. His fastball is a bit of a tweener: not consistent-enough velocity to blow people away, not good-enough command to hit all his spots. He is close to being pretty damn good, but there is still work to be done. And with the Braves in the height of a playoff race, I’m not sure now is the time to be learning.


Slow the Lyles Express Down

Houston Astros top pitching prospect Jordan Lyles was promoted to Triple-A following his last start, his 21st appearance above A-ball. While with Corpus Christi in the Texas League, Lyles posted a 3.12 ERA, 3.31 FIP, and succeeded despite a defense that led to a .328 BABIP. He left the Texas League fifth in innings pitched and second in strikeouts, despite being the league’s third youngest player.

Lyles, who jumped straight from the South Atlantic League (Low-A) to the Texas League (Double-A), will now become the youngest player in the Pacific Coast League. He will turn 20 following the season, in October. Recently, Houston manager Brad Mills told the Houston Chronicle that Lyles could have one promotion left this season: a Major League debut.

“That’s not out of the question,” Mills said. “You see guys make those steps all the time, get a couple of starts at Triple-A and then move up to the next level.

“If he is as good as advertised, that wouldn’t be surprising at all.”

If he does follow that path laid out by Mills, Lyles is in line to become the eighth player in the last 20 years to pitch in the Majors at age 19. Here are the previous seven: Madison Bumgarner, Felix Hernandez, Edwin Jackson, Rick Ankiel, Matt Riley, Todd Van Poppel and Rich Garces. It’s not the most inspiring list, but it should be mentioned that the 80′s had some better success stories with Jose Rijo, Dwight Gooden, and Fernando Valenzuela. To be in that territory is certainly the sign of an elite prospect.

But when I mentioned this on Twitter, Jack Moore had a good (albeit snarky!) point: “He should slow down a little bit so he can still be under team control when Houston can put another contender on the field.” Hyperbole, perhaps, but the underlying point is that Houston is risking having Lyles enter free agency a year earlier with this aggressive path, and you have to believe that they will be more successful in 2017 than 2011.

First, I should say one thing: I totally agreed with the Astros decision to have Lyles bypass High-A and the California League. Their affiliate in the league, Lancaster, is no place for baseball to be played: the stadium there is seeing 12.8 runs per game, which you might remember in contrast to the Florida State League, where the highest this season was 9.93. Plus, Lyles posseses an arsenal geared for success in the higher levels, which I praised after the Futures Game a couple weeks ago. Armed with one of the minor league’s best change-ups, and good command of his fastball, Lyles had no problem making the jump, even holding lefties to a .259/.309/.374 line this season.

But jumping from Low-A to Double-A in one season is a precedented move that the California League has forced teams to exercise often. Moving that same player to Triple-A, and possibly to the Major Leagues at age 19, is less precedented, and as a result, open to more questioning. While Lyles is a workhorse, he’s also just 18 innings from bypassing last year’s innings pitched total (144.2). The more appropriate decision might be to give him five starts, where his inning total will be around 160, and then to call it a season.

Before this season, I wrote a piece criticizing the Braves for opening the season with Jason Heyward on the 25-man roster. If other teams are exploiting the service time rules to retain their players for the most time (see: Santana, Carlos; Strasburg, Stephen), I thought the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze for Atlanta. Many of you argued the ethics of such a move. In hindsight, given Atlanta’s spot atop the NL East, aided no doubt by Heyward’s 2.6 WAR, I was probably wrong about my example, if not my point.

Regardless of his performance in Triple-A this month, Lyles should return to Round Rock to start next season. He should make 11 starts there to open the 2011 season, and if he’s then ready, should finally make his big league debut next June. I don’t think anyone would argue they held him back, and the team wouldn’t lose a service year to their own fascinations. It’s the most prudent, responsible move for an organization that owes their fan base a well-managed rebuild.

Lyles is one of the minor leagues best pitching prospects, and has been developed flawlessly by the Astros. Here’s to hoping he’s still around for Astros fans in 2017.


Adjusting Mental Minor Adjustments

One constant refrain in minor league statistical analysis is that Context is Everything. Statistics mean very little in a vacuum, but instead, we need to know factors like their age relative to level, their league’s run environment, their park’s run environment. These are all factors that can wreak havoc on our attempt to judge a basic AVG/OBP/SLG batting line. We’ll be playing around to make things context-neutral all winter, but today, I wanted to magnify an environment that is universally known to favor pitching: the Florida State League.

Scouts and statisticians alike know the difficulty hitters face in the FSL, and both are long ahead of me in making adjustments. If you want to see the specific proof, I always point to a great offseason article at the Hardball Times by Justin Inaz. In terms of runs and BaseRuns alike, the FSL is the hardest league in professional baseball for hitters. As a result, I think most of us (I know that I’ve been) are guilty of seeing a batting line out of Florida, and saying, “Well, he’s played in the FSL, so I should boost up those numbers relative to other High-A players.”

However, it’s important to remember that if we continue on the path towards context-neutral, our adjustments need to be taken a step further: park adjustments. While we know how the league plays in the context of the Carolina and (especially) California Leagues, I haven’t seen a ton detailing how the specific stadiums play within the context of the league itself. In that vein, I calculated the runs per game and home runs per game at each FSL stadium (by both the home and road team) from both this season, and over the 2008-2010 period.

Name           R/G     HR/G     3R/G     3HR/G     
FSL Avg       8.45     1.01     8.34      1.10
Brevard       8.02     0.67     7.84      0.88
Clearwater    8.59     1.31     8.30      1.34
Daytona       9.07     1.30     8.99      1.21
Dunedin       8.81     1.47     8.89      1.45
Fort Myers    8.64     0.76     8.13      0.90
Jupiter       7.79     0.63     7.72      0.84
Lakeland      8.07     0.93     8.87      1.34
Palm Beach    7.68     0.75     7.78      0.79
St. Lucie     9.93     1.07     9.35      1.27
Tampa         7.56     0.81     7.77      0.78

Note: Not included above are Bradenton and Charlotte, because those affiliates haven’t existed for 3 years. Bradenton has played (relatively) hitter-friendly this year, at 9.79 runs and 1.30 home runs per game. Charlotte is somewhere between neutral and pitcher-friendly, at 7.38 runs and 1.13 homers per contest.

You see quite a bit of diversity in those numbers. This season, for every home run hit in Jupiter, there have been 2.3 hit in Dunedin. The league has three stadiums that seem to be extreme pitcher’s parks (Jupiter, Palm Beach, Tampa), and two others that favor pitchers (Brevard, Fort Myers) by a decent amount. By contrast, hitters from Clearwater, St. Lucie, Dunedin and Daytona probably receive more credit from our sub-conscious FSL adjustments than they deserve.

Some thoughts on how these findings should alter our thoughts on specific prospects numbers this season.

  • Corban Joseph was recently promoted to Double-A, and you can bet he’s happy to be away from Tampa. Joseph’s final FSL numbers (.302/.378/.436) look good without any context, but only improve on closer inspection. In just two more games on the road, Joseph hit seven more doubles, three more triples, and two home runs more than his home production. His ISO was .076 higher on the road, so I think it’s safe to say there’s more juice in the bat than his overall numbers might suggest.
  • On the opposite side, I’m still not sold on the “breakout” of Andrew Brackman. The reports on stuff are very good, and his command has certainly improved. So I don’t deny there has been improvement. But Brackman allowed no home runs and a 2.36 ERA in 27 innings in Tampa, and outside of there, in 33 innings, gave up five home runs and a 7.29 ERA. On the encouraging side, it doesn’t appear that the breakouts of Dellin Betances or Adam Warren seem Tampa-induced. The jury is still out on Graham Stoneburner.
  • The Brewers have something really interesting in former Cal State Fullerton star Erik Komatsu. He’s another guy that even looks positive superficially (.325/.407/.442 thru 101 games), but even better with park adjustments. Komatsu has just nine extra-base hits in 203 at-bats in Brevard County, versus 23 extra-base hits in 182 road at-bats. With good baserunning, corner defense, and patience, a boost in his power projection really makes him an interesting prospect. Though at 22 years old, it’s important to mention that by the ARL context, his numbers would take a hit.
  • There aren’t great examples screaming out of the league’s two least-friendly stadiums for hitters, Jupiter and Palm Beach. However, I will say that I’m not totally ready to close the book on Jake Smolinski or Tommy Pham. Smolinski is further down the Bust Path, but I’ll give him one more season to prove me wrong. His contact skills are pretty good, and I do think there’s power somewhere in that bat. Pham’s tools have always teased, but now he’s taken his patience to the next level (14.6 BB%), and showed power on the road before his promotion. He’s backing his way into legitimate prospect status.
  • The ever-confusing Trevor May, an inconsistent pitcher like I’ve never seen before, maybe should have been given more time before his demotion back to Low-A. May has dominated back in Low-A, and I think he could do the same here. The problem was just that his bad command really hurt more in Clearwater, where his HR/FB ratio was badly inflated – he gave up seven home runs in 35.2 innings. On the road, where the walks were an equal problem but the home runs weren’t (0 in 34.1 IP), he was great, with a 2.62 ERA.

    Plenty of more examples, but needless to say, there’s a lot here. This winter, we’ll spend all sorts of time neutralizing as best we can, and really get an idea of how these players actually performed relative to each other.


  • New Prospects for Nats, Jays, O’s

    Jumping right into the rest of yesterday’s moves…

    The Nationals acquire Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa.

    A couple of interesting points to bring up here. First, I think it’s clear that a blocked prospect is worth less on an open market. As Jack pointed out yesterday, the Twins were left trading Ramos (and another player) just to add a half-win to an already successful bullpen this season, as well as Capps’ potential 2011 contributions. The other 29 teams certainly know that Wilson Ramos didn’t have a future in Minnesota, and his trade value was effected by it. He’ll be an important anecdote for the next blocked prospect on the trade block.

    Ramos is a guy that has never caught more than 80 games in a single season, with a long injury history that has hampered his development some. Patience wasn’t a skill he was able to acquire over just 375 games in five years, and it certainly stands in the way of his offensive potential. Defensively, the skills are already there, and they are excellent. Don’t be surprised if Ramos becomes one of the top defensive signal callers in the National League very soon. His offensive game will be very tied to his strikeout rate — I don’t think he’ll be a positive with the bat, but he’s just trying to fight off being a negative. Still, a league-average bat (+0) and +3 defense in two-thirds of a season is about two and a half wins. Ramos should be able to get there, and is a two-win guy even is his wOBA doesn’t pass .320.

    However, he also heads to a team that has signed a Hall of Fame catcher to a two-year contract. The Nationals need to be clear with Pudge Rodriguez that when they deem Ramos ready, Pudge becomes a $3 million back-up. And, hopefully, a mentor to a player whose defensive abilities could only be helped by a select few. Where this leaves Jesus Flores is a question I don’t have an answer to.

    Interestingly enough, the Nationals made this trade with another catching prospect of their own. One of the reasons some believed Bryce Harper was instantly perceived as an outfielder by the Nationals is because of their faith in Derek Norris. While I don’t think that’s true, Norris is a really nice prospect. In just a couple years, his catching skills have improved remarkably: just four passed balls and a 55% caught stealing rate this year. Combine that with 234 career walks in 1253 plate appearances, and an inkling of power that has hid this year, and he profiles better than Ramos in the long run. However, this does allow the Nationals to develop Norris at a very conservative pace, perhaps sending him back to Potomac next year for a half-season or so. These things tend to figure themselves out.

    The Nationals also bring in left-handed reliever Joe Testa in the deal, but he’s nothing more than a throw-in. He’s death on left-handed hitters, holding them to a .179 batting average with just 18 walks and five extra-base hits over about 185 plate appearances in the last year and a half. He’s a good bet to reach the Major Leagues as a LOOGY.

    The Blue Jays acquire Anthony Gose.

    So, if reports are to be believed, this is the guy the Blue Jays wanted since the Roy Halladay trade. The Phillies wouldn’t budge, and sent Michael Taylor instead, who Toronto immediately flipped for Brett Wallace. When Gose was pushed into the Roy Oswalt trade, Toronto saw their chance. I don’t think these series of moves bode particularly well for Taylor or Wallace; in Taylor’s case, clearly the Phillies and Blue Jays value Gose over him, and in Wallace’s case, it’s never good when a guy plays for four organizations before reaching the Major Leagues. Jason Bay is the only success story with that resume I can think of.

    As for Gose, he’s certainly a guy that looks the part. Gose has a good center fielder body, and absolutely blazing speed, with now 115 steals in 245 career games. He does make an insane amount of outs on the bases, too, though. His defense in center field — while it didn’t get good reviews from TotalZone last year — has been praised by scouts. His first-step instincts might need some work, but his range and his cannon arm are certainly Major League caliber.

    But, like you probably guessed, the question is the bat. An optimist would point to the minor steps forward taken in both the walk and power columns this year, though the pessimist would be quick to point out that neither is to an acceptable level. I wouldn’t write off the patience of a 19-year-old, but I don’t think you’ll find many that think this 60% groundball rate hitter will have much power to speak of at higher levels. And, of course, he’s now striking out more than ever, profiling to whiff 150 times per season. It’s hard to think he’ll ever get out of the negative range with the bat.

    There is a path to success for Gose, but the sheer amount of refinement that will take makes it extremely unlikely. You have to think this kind of a guy becomes a fifth outfielder in the Majors at least, but his ceiling is about where Brett Wallace‘s meager median outcomes lie.

    The Orioles acquire Wynn Pelzer.

    There is no downside to this move by the Orioles, who open up a spot for a red-hot Josh Bell by trading Miguel Tejada. The pickings were going to be slim, but Pelzer at least offers a live arm with a lot of potential. Pelzer was a ninth-round pick in 2007, but got above-slot money despite an enigmatic career at South Carolina. The Padres returned Pelzer to the rotation, a role he could never hold onto with the Gamecocks.

    Entering the 2010 season, the decision couldn’t have appeared better. Pelzer was commanding the zone better than he’d ever before, and in 2009, even the Cal League’s tough environment couldn’t hold him back. Pelzer allowed just six home runs in 150 innings, posting a groundout-to-flyout ratio of 2.00. While he was pretty limited to two pitches, the movement on his 94 mph fastball was enough to handle A-ball hitters. The belief is usually that we don’t know a prospect’s true colors until he reaches Double-A, however, and it’s been a rocky season for Pelzer.

    Through 18 starts, Pelzer had a 4.52 ERA, 1.13 GO/AO, was getting crushed by left-handed hitters (.846 OPS allowed), and a 4.72 BB/9. After July 13, the Padres moved Pelzer to the bullpen, whether because of his lack of success, a chance to limit his innings, or a chance to showcase his raw stuff for the trade deadline. In four relief outings since, Pelzer hasn’t allowed a run in 6.2 innings, and has been a groundball machine. Still, with 10 walks allowed, control is a problem like it hasn’t been since college.

    With such a drastic platoon split that’s been apparent since his professional career began, it’s hard to imagine Pelzer having a ton of success as a starting pitcher. But in the bullpen, where his fastball can go above 95 mph with movement, and where his slider is death on right-handed hitters, Pelzer could be very good. If the Orioles end up with an elite reliever for a half-season of Miguel Tejada that they really didn’t need, it will certainly be a victory for them.


    The Roy Oswalt Trade: Houston’s New Prospects

    The Astros picked two hitters in the first round of the 2010 draft: a toolsy up-the-middle player with boom-or-bust written all over him (Delino DeShields Jr.), and a college slugger with defensive versatility, if not defensive talent (Mike Kvasnicka). In 2009, the team’s first pick was a toolsy shortstop from California (Jiovanni Mier). In 2008, the first year that scouting director Bobby Heck helmed the draft room, the team took a “safe” college hitter in the first round (Jason Castro), before going for a raw, toolsy high school outfielder in the second round (Jay Austin).

    Pardon if this is repetitive, but by trading Roy Oswalt to the Phillies today, the Astros acquired a Dominican shortstop with some raw, exciting tools (Jonathan Villar), and a former first-round slugger whose been relegated to first base (Brett Wallace). Clearly, Houston believes in a certain kind of diversification of their prospect portfolio. This is a good thing. The bad thing is that they don’t seem particularly adept at talent evaluation. Let’s ignore the fact that Kvasnicka is struggling out of the gate, or that Jiovanni Mier has a .610 OPS in his full-season debut, or that Jason Castro‘s offensive potential seems lower than ever.

    The Astros have simply not added a single position player to their system with star potential in Bobby Heck’s tenure. Not a single player mentioned above is ever going to profile as someone that could contribute 5 WAR in the Major Leagues. Trading Oswalt was one of the team’s few opportunities to find its next star, and they didn’t do it. This is a team mining for role players when they don’t have the budget to find their foundation pieces through free agency. It’s terribly misguided management.

    Villar is a fun prospect, a switch-hitting athlete with the rare combination of speed and arm that should allow him to stick at shortstop. But he doesn’t profile to hit for power, strikes out very often, and will need to learn a lot to develop some patience. Stars don’t ever have to overcome that many obstacles. Brett Wallace is a smooth swinger that most people believe can hit .300 at the Major League level. But he’s not even a good defender at first base, his walk rate isn’t improving, and in 869 plate appearances in Triple-A, his ISO is just .185.

    The Astros didn’t need to acquire three players for the Roy Oswalt trade to be a success. They needed to acquire one star, and it’s hard to imagine a future where Villar, Wallace or even J.A. Happ reach that level.

    Certainly, the best chance at someone doing so is Villar. It isn’t a stretch to believe the toolsy shortstop could develop patience down the road, as he entered this season with 47 walks in 410 career plate appearances. This season, in his first test at full-season baseball, the ratio has slipped to 6.2%. But there is potential there. Scouts also like Villar’s defensive actions, even despite his 42 errors in 99 games. Errors are a part of minor league baseball, but with his speed and arm, sticking at shortstop should be easy. He also should become a very good baserunner, capable of adding 5 runs per season with his legs.

    The problems in Villar’s game are all offensive. His career strikeout rate stands at a robust 27.4%, so for example, this season he’s needed to maintain a .369 BABIP just to post a .272 batting average. Even with his speed, this won’t be easy to maintain at higher levels. Secondly, Villar really doesn’t have a swing that profiles to hit a lot of power. Minor League Splits has his groundball rate at 60.7% this season, so he’ll need a change in both swing and approach to hit for power. It’s just not going to happen. Even if Villar has 600 plate appearances at shortstop, and even if he develops into a +7.5 shortstop and +5 baserunner, I don’t think we’ll ever see him at the +10 wRAA mark he would need to reach 5 WAR.

    Wallace is pretty much just the opposite. His game is so dependent on offense, that even getting to 2-3 WAR consistently will be an issue. After Lance Berkman moves out of Houston, Wallace is the future at first base. He’s not good there, and is surely somewhere worse than 2.5 runs below average. To even reach 3 WAR, he’d have to produce 25 runs with the bat to be worth three wins. And given the fact that he’s never walked 50 times or hit 25 home runs in any season, getting to a .370 wOBA seems impossible.

    Houston didn’t do well today. With their best chance to finally acquire a player they could build their future around, they acquired two players with role player ceilings.

    Tomorrow, we’ll tackle the Wallace-for-Gose swap, as well as Wynn Pelzer, the Baltimore Orioles acquisition for Miguel Tejada.


    The Jorge Cantu Trade: Florida’s Perspective

    The Florida Marlins woke up this morning with a less than 5% chance to make the playoffs. Jorge Cantu is two months from free agency, and at the last check, will not be ranked highly enough by Elias to award free agent compensation. If there was value to be had for Cantu, any at all, the Marlins had no choice but to get it. With all that said, it’s hard not to like the two prospects the Marlins acquired from the Rangers today, Evan Reed and Omar Poveda.

    Poveda is the more familiar name in prospect circles, despite a six-year career with only one stop (second tour of Midwest League, 2007) yielding an ERA below 4.00. He has not pitched in 2010 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The thinking is that an injured arm altered Poveda’s performance in 2009, where his K/9 essentially was halved.

    The Venezuelan right-hander never had a particularly good fastball, so there has to be some concern that he’ll return to the mound without a heater to speak of. If so, it’s unlikely to project that he’d be able to carve out a big league career. But, he was a guy that had a feel for a change-up and curveball, and will likely come out of the gate pitching backwards. It’s not a sexy career path, and it’s an unlikely one to work, but again, it’s a near-free shot in the dark for Florida.

    The better chance at providing actual value to the Marlins is Evan Reed. A third-round pick in the 2007 draft, the Rangers drafted the Cal Poly closer with the intention of making him a starting pitcher. Doing so for the 2008 season was a bit of a disaster — between the California League and pacing himself, Reed lost his abilities to strike people out and keep the ball in the park. It clearly was misguided, and the Rangers acted swiftly last year, moving him back to the closer role. Reed responded with a 12.0 K/9 and 0.2 HR/9. He was over his head in the Arizona Fall League, however, allowing three home runs in limited work.

    Up to Double-A this season, the results have been excellent. Reed comes after people with his 92-94 mph fastball, and is now commanding it at the best rate of his career. He’s groundball heavy on his best days, and never seems to allow home runs. It’s highly likely that Reed contributes at the Major League level in the seventh and eighth innings. He will be ready to join the Major League team sometime between the middle of next season and Opening Day 2012.

    Evan Reed will produce more WAR with the Marlins than Jorge Cantu will with the Rangers. And anything that either Reed or Poveda ever provides will be gravy, considering the Marlins tenuous spot in the NL East standings.


    Wednesday’s Traded Prospects

    If we are to assume the Roy Oswalt rumors to be true, yesterday brought us three trades, all of which have already been written up here at FanGraphs: Jhonny Peralta to the Tigers, Scott Podsednik to the Dodgers, and now, Oswalt possibly to the Phillies. When trades with significant prospects are dealt, I write up the players as soon as they happen. That I waited until this morning to begin my analysis on Giovanni Soto, Lucas May, Elisaul Pimentel and Vance Worley tells you a lot about where those players grade out. We’ll finish the Oswalt trade analysis when all pieces of the trade have been disclosed, but for now, we’ll start with what we have this morning:

    The Astros reportedly acquire Vance Worley.

    It’s been a big couple weeks for Vance Worley. On July 9, the 22-year-old threw his first career complete game shutout in Double-A, striking out 7 and inducing 14 groundball outs against Harrisburg. His next outing came nine days later, and Worley responded with eight more shutout innings, his fourth scoreless outing in seven starts. Repeating the level after a lackluster 2009, the Phillies rewarded Worley with a promotion to fill a hole in their Major League bullpen.

    Worley’s unceremonious debut came last Saturday in the ninth inning of a 10-2 win over the Rockies, inducing Ian Stewart to hit a flyball to center before striking out Chris Iannetta and Brad Hawpe. Worley threw 17 fastballs, averaging at 92.9 mph, though Texas Leaguers shows that he did cut and sink his fastball at different times. Worley also mixed in two solid sliders and one show-me curveball. The next day, Worley was sent to Triple-A, where he made his debut on Tuesday. Pitching against the Durham Bulls, Worley threw six more shutout innings, striking out seven with a 10-1 GO/AO ratio. If Jon Heyman is to be believed, Worley’s career with the Phillies will end there, with 24 scoreless innings spread over three levels.

    So, what are the Astros getting in the former third-round pick? In college at Long Beach State, Worley was an underachiever, finishing his career with a 3.98 ERA, and worse, a 5.66 K/9. To quote Baseball America’s draft scouting report that year: “Command is the primary concern with Worley, not in terms of walks but in quality of pitches and efficiency.” But scouts still liked the potential, an innings-eater body with a fastball at 91-94 mph. It transferred to some big results in his debut summer, as Worley dominated the South Atlantic League over 11 starts.

    The Phillies were more aggressive with Worley the next season, skipping High-A and sending him to the Double-A Eastern League. He struggled there, posting a 5.34 ERA (versus a 4.39 FIP), with a highish BABIP (.305) and a very low LOB% (59.5%). There was certainly more buzz about Worley perhaps being a better fit in the bullpen, especially with the addition and development of a slider to his arsenal. But before relegating Worley to that fate, the Phillies gave him another try at Double-A this year, and by most accounts, it has gone well. Worley isn’t going to strike a lot of people out, but he pounds the strike out, and has the potential to post above-average groundball and home run rates. However, he’s been inconsistent in that regard.

    Worley is a close-to-the-Majors pitcher that should either be a back-end rotation guy, or someone who I still believe could thrive in relief. The Astros will have a big decision on their hands during Spring Training next year, but either way, they have a solid pitcher who has never been better than he has in the last three weeks.

    The Royals acquire Lucas May and Elisaul Pimentel.

    Certainly the more interesting prospect here is Pimentel, a recently-turned 22-year-old Dominican pitcher that has had success this season in the Midwest League: 3.49 ERA, 7.1 H/9, 9.7 K/9. This is Pimentel’s third-year stateside — after success in the Gulf Coast League in 2008, he struggled a bit last year in the Pioneer League, mostly due to a .361 BABIP allowed. At that level, at that altitude, you have to blame Pimentel’s environment, and not the pitcher himself.

    That has stabilized this year, and from May 22 to June 20, Pimentel was the best pitcher in the Midwest League: 1 earned run in 35 innings. He’s struggled a bit since then, with five of his six homers allowed this season coming in the last month. He’s been stingy with the longball previously in his career, however. Pimentel is a ways away from the Majors, and his stuff isn’t great (Baseball America has him 88-92 mph with the fastball), but anytime you can acquire someone that has shown the ability to strike people out, command the strike zone, and keep the ball in the stadium — in exchance for Scott Podsednik — you have to do it.

    May is less interesting, though as a catcher close to the Majors, perhaps he shouldn’t be. May was drafted all the way back in 2003 as a high school shortstop. I believe, and look for readers to correct me, that May will be a minor league free agent this season unless he is added to the Royals 40-man roster. Like the Dodgers often do, May was converted to a catcher between the 2006-and-2007 seasons. His athleticism and arm strength are both plus, but it hasn’t translated to solid catching skills.

    As a hitter, it’s hard to separate May from the environments he’s benefitted from, both when he showed power at Inland Empire in 2007, and his .347/.392/.603 batting line this season in Las Vegas. We know he doesn’t bode well in either the walk or strikeout columns. He’s going to hit lefties some, and probably could make for a decent back-up catcher. Again, given what the Royals gave up, this has to be considered a win.

    The Indians acquire Giovanni Soto.

    I know I wasn’t the only Cubs fan that did a double-take when this trade hit the “wire” yesterday — Hendry has us believing anything, these days. Instead, when the dust settled, it was merely former 21st round draft pick Giovanni, a lefty from Puerto Rico that has had a lot of success in his 29-appearance professional career. Soto is a beanpole at 6-foot-3 but just 155 pounds, so the Indians hope is that there’s some projection to be salvaged. We already know he is a lefty that gets groundballs (1.96 GO/AO), so it’s not a terrible starter kit. And, as I wrote this offseason, the Indians do a good job when picking prospects to acquire.


    Viva Valencia

    Twins rookie third baseman Danny Valencia will pass the 100 plate appearance threshold in his two-month big league career today, and will do so having grabbed hold of a position that has haunted the organization since Corey Koskie (though Nick Punto deserves credit for his great glove in 2006). Valencia is an unlikely Major Leaguer — 19th round draft picks always are — but has worked really hard in the Twins system, and was ranked third by Marc Hulet and sixth by Baseball America among Twins prospects this offseason. Still, I didn’t think anyone would have guessed Valencia would arrive on the scene in such style, batting .400/.449/.511 through 29 games. In his last four, he’s been the hottest hitter in baseball: 14-for-19 with four doubles and his first big league home run, off Zack Greinke no less.

    The man is certainly tempting Dave’s post from yesterday about accepting randomness. Yes, however unlikely, even a 25-year-old with a lifetime .298/.353/.469 minor league batting line (and just .289/.322/.421 in 484 Triple-A PA’s) can be baseball’s MVP over a four-day stretch. I checked his minor league game logs, and he was never even this good for four days in the minors. The closest he came was back in 2006, during his pro debut in the Appalachian League. From July 27 to July 30 that year (interesting, and coincidental, how similar the dates are), Valencia went 11-for-15 with three doubles and two home runs.

    While you don’t need me to tell you that Valencia will cool off, the question is whether he can be a viable option at third base for the Twins going forward. He’s amassed just 1.4 WAR in 98 plate appearances, not just because of his .427 wOBA, but also because he’s generated 1.5 UZR in 214 innings, computing out to +13.7 over 150 games. John Manuel’s scouting report last year said “[Valencia is] just not consistent defensively,” with praise for his arm strength and first-step, but minuses for his concentration and footwork. His minor league TotalZone numbers, like they often are, were a mixed bag: +18 in 2008 between High-A and Double-A, -10 in 2009 between Double- and Triple-A.

    The defense is going to have to be good, because once Valencia’s BABIP comes off its insane .449 mark, his offensive weaknesses will become apparent. The University of Miami product is below average in both the power and patience categories. The latter has been highly inconsistent during his minor league career, averaging out at just 7.8 BB%, though it comes with wild variance. Valencia spent each year 2007-2009 splitting half the season between two levels, and had these BB% splits each year: 2007 (10.3 then 6.4), 2008 (10.8 then 6.3), 2009 (12.3 then 2.8). This year, so far, a promotion has actually brought improvement, going from 6.9% in 200 AAA plate appearances to 8.8% in his 100 in the bigs. Going forward, I think anything from 6.5 to 11% in his walk rate wouldn’t surprise me, which over the course of a full season is the difference between 39 and 66 walks.

    His power numbers should be a little easier to predict. Valencia has always been praised for gap power, and scouts have never confused his power with harboring some projection. In 2008, he hit 37 doubles, 5 triples and 15 home runs. In 2009, he hit 38 doubles, 4 triples and 14 home runs. While his home run rate (HR/FB) in 2010, including his Triple-A appearances, is something like 1.1%, I imagine that will stabilize some. Valencia has consistently hit doubles in 5.5 to 8.5% of his plate appearances, with the number going higher when his HR/FB goes lower. Whether you think he’ll hit seven home runs or 15, his likely extra-base hit total for a full season should consistently be 40-50.

    Valencia is a good contact hitter, and sometimes, that can lead to a 14-for-19 stretch. While discounting him for this hot streak is easy, I do think Valencia can become a pretty solid player. Something like a .350 wOBA and +2.5 defense is about 3 WAR, and given their recent performance at the position, Valencia is a nice extra piece for a competitive Twins ball club.