Author Archive

Evaluating the Prospects: Chicago Cubs

Evaluating the Prospects: RangersRockiesDiamondbacksTwinsAstrosRed Sox & Cubs

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The Cubs have the deepest system I’ve written up so far and the most impact talent, with much of it at the upper levels.  There’s a case to be made that this is the best system in baseball and  it has to be in the top five, but I’ll hold off on an official determination until I’ve formally evaluated all of the candidates. The rebuilding of the organization and system is evident in looking at the types of players I rank below; a number of prospects from the 2013 July 2nd spending spree, aggressive over-slot bonuses on high upside draft prospects, solid low minors prospects acquired in trades along with hitting on nearly all the high profile, big money signings in recent years.

There’s still some position fits to work out before the fanboys will see their ideal lineups of the future in living color (see Russell and Schwarber reports for new information on that front), but the Cubs are being proactive to try to solve this, with multiple position players converting to a position of long-term need (catcher) during instructs this fall (more notes below).  There’s a reason this system seems a lot like the last team I evaluated, the Red Sox, because both are among the best systems in the game and were put together with the same kinds of principles and resources along with some of the same top executives.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Boston Red Sox

Evaluating The Prospects: RangersRockiesDiamondbacksTwinsAstrosRed Sox & Cubs

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The Red Sox have the deepest list yet in this series, to go with plenty of top-end talent as well.  Be sure to read the Eduardo Rodriguez report to see more about the decision the Red Sox had to make on the trade deadline, which I and other clubs found pretty interesting.  It’s a testament to amateur scouting and development to have so many top picks (8-14 on the list are all Red Sox 1st rounders) and high international bonuses all show up on the list, without many busts. You can fault Boston for relying too much on young players in 2014, but indications are they are about to spend a bunch of money this offseason and they have among the best groups of young talent in the game.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Houston Astros

Evaluating The Prospects: Texas RangersColorado RockiesArizona DiamondbacksMinnesota Twins & Houston Astros

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The Astros have an above average system as far as depth and high end talent, though that’s expected given their draft position and international bonus pools the last few years and where they are in their rebuild plan.  The system would obviously look better with LHP Brady Aiken included (I’d rank him 2nd or 3rd, for those wondering), but the top 11 prospects I’ve ranked should all be in Double-A or higher next year.  Help is on the way and there’s two more top-10 picks (here’s an early list of candidates) that will be on thdmis list next year to replace some of the graduating talent.

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 6

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Over my first two months at FanGraphs, I was surprised that the thing I got the most questions about was bat speed. Part of that may be that I’ve spent a lot of words talking about how mysterious the hit tool is, while bat speed seems like an input of the hit tool that’s objective. The common question is basically that, if this one part of the mystery can be perfectly quantified, then why aren’t scouts trying to demystify the process by quantifying it?

The problem is that bat speed can’t be perfectly quantified and there are maybe a dozen inputs to the hit tool. I split power into raw (deepest shot in batting practice) and game (homers per full MLB season at maturity) because of the obvious split between tools and game performance. A player could be “measured” to have plus bat speed but have no ability to make contact with that swing, like a pitcher that can hit 95 mph but has to pitch 90-92 mph to command it enough to stay in the game.

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Cuban Super-Prospect Moncada Could Shatter Bonus Record

I wrote last week about the most recent high-profile Cuban defector (now a free agent) LF Yasmany Tomas after writing last month about the most-recently-signed high-profile Cuban in Red Sox CF Rusney Castillo. I also wrote earlier this week about the next huge prospect in the July 2nd market, so it only follows that I would tell you about the next potential big name amongst the Cubans.

The most recent news on this front is about 2B Hector Olivera, with news of his defection breaking this week. He’s not a shoo-in to be a huge money guy as he’s already 29 and there’s some concern/uncertainty about a potential blood flow condition in his left arm.

Olivera has a live bat and may still be able to play up the middle in the big leagues, but he hasn’t been scouted in years since he hasn’t played in any international tournaments in that period, the only way MLB teams can see Cuban players in person. If he can clear these medical hurdles, Olivera was seen as one of the best players on the island a few years back and, while he may be past his physical prime, could still draw a multi-year deal at some point in the next year.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Minnesota Twins

Evaluating The Prospects: Texas RangersColorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks & Minnesota Twins

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The Twins have both top-end talent and lots of depth in their system, which will likely rank their system among the best in the league when I get around to that later this off-season. It’s interesting to note that the Twins, known as a team that preferred to draft starters average fastballs and pitchability in the past, drafted almost all relievers with their early picks in 2014.

They drafted 8 pitchers in their first 10 picks last June with scouts projecting all of them to be relievers, though the Twins will develop some as starters for now.  Minnesota now has, by my count, 10 pitchers in the system that have recently hit 98 mph or higher, which is close to the most in baseball, if not the most. Twins execs say it was more situational that they drafted the pitchability type arms in the past, but that there has been a concerted effort to move more toward acquiring power arms, even if they project as relievers.

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Scouting Yasmany Tomas

Yasmany Tomas, LF

Hit: 40/45+, Game Power: 50/60, Raw Power: 65/65, Speed: 45/45+, Field: 45/50, Arm: 45/45+

Upside: .275/.350/.480 with 25-30 homers, fringy defense & baserunning value in left field

Note: The “upside” line is basically a 75 percentile projection as explained here, while the tool grades are a 50 percentile projection. See the scale here to convert the hit/power tool grades into production.

Tomas is the latest Cuban defector to hit the market: he should be declared a free agent shortly and is holding private workouts in the Dominican this week after a big open workout for over 100 scouts from all 30 clubs on Sunday at the Giants Dominican complex. The above video is from last summer when the Cuban national team faced college Team USA in Durham, North Carolina. The Cuban team had a lot of trouble making contact against a loaded USA pitching staff (five pitchers from the staff went in the first round last June) and Tomas in particular struggled, going 3-for-19 with 3 singles, 1 walk and 8 punch outs over the 5 game set. Tomas was in bad shape and looked lost at the plate at times when I saw him, but he has shown big league ability in other international tournaments and as a professional in Cuba.

The carrying tool here is raw power, which draws anywhere from 60 to 70 grades on the 20-80 scale from scouts, but the question mark is how much he will hit.  Tomas has a short bat path for a power hitter and quick hands that move through the zone quickly.  The tools are here for at least an average hitter, but Tomas’ plate discipline has been questioned and he can sometimes sell out for pull power in games (here’s video of a particularly long homer in the WBC).  Some scouts think it’s more of a 40-45 bat (.240 to .250 average) that may keep Tomas from getting to all of his raw power in games, while others see a soon-to-be-24-year-old with the tools to hit and think the hot streak of Cuban hitters in the big leagues will continue with him.

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool Mailbag

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

I wrote a four-part series on the hit tool as an entirely-too-long breakdown of the things I look for when I scout a hitter, but I knew there would be things I forgot to mention.  The one thing I forgot to bring up is something I mentioned in the also-entirely-too-long draft rankings; the different process I use to grade the current hit tool for amateur players.  Quoting from those draft rankings:

The present hit grades for Rodgers and for all amateur players going forward is a peer grade…rather than just putting blanket 20s on everyone’s present hit tool. A peer grade means how the player performs currently in games relative to his peers: players the same age and general draft status or skill level. Some teams started using this system to avoid over-projecting a raw hitter; some use the rule that you can’t project over 10 points above the peer grade for the future grade.  This helps you avoid saying players that can’t really hit now will become standout big league hitters. Obviously, some will, but it’s not very common and it’s probably smart to not bet millions on the rare one that will.

I said I would explain more about this, but I think I said basically everything here.  All but maybe one or two hitters in each draft class will have present 20 hit grades, but the context and amount of evidence will vary greatly.  The peer hitting grade helps tie this all together because, for a player with a short track record, scouts will find themselves projecting only on hitting tools when there isn’t much performance to grade. Using this system, it helps remind you to consider performance, but still weighing it appropriately given the sample size, competition level, etc.  I’m sure I’ll talk more about this with more specific examples as the draft approaches and grading conundrums present themselves.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Arizona Diamondbacks

Evaluating The Prospects: Texas RangersColorado RockiesArizona Diamondbacks & Minnesota Twins

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The Diamondbacks have a solid system fronted by three right-handed starting pitchers that could all be factors in Arizona by the end of 2015.  The system has added depth with recent trades and solid drafts, but most of the top talent is in the upper levels, so Arizona will need to continue restocking the farm to have a continuous pipeline.

Here’s the primer for the series and a disclaimer about how we don’t really know anything.  See the links above for the two previous installments in this series and another series about how I evaluate, including four part on the ever-complicated hit tool, with more installments in that series coming soon.

Most of what you need to know for this list is at the above links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report.  The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (in general, a notch better than the projected tools) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.

Below, I’ve included a quick ranking of the growth assets that Arizona has in the majors that aren’t eligible for the list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite and my first stab at an emoji scouting report. The next team up in the series, working from the bottom of the standings on up, is the Minnesota Twins.

Big League Growth Assets
1. A.J. Pollock, CF, Age 26
2. Chase Anderson, RHP, Age 26
3. Patrick Corbin, LHP, Age 25
4. Chris Owings, SS, Age 23
5. Didi Gregorius, SS, Age 24
6. Randall Delgado, RHP, Age 24

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2015 MLB Draft Rankings, Way-Too-Early Edition

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

EDIT, Sept 28Since this article was published, Bickford chose a school (Southern Nevada JC, the same school as Bryce Harper) which I note in his blurb and one of the principles in the Aiken/Nix mess, lefty Mac Marshall, transferred to a junior college after a few weeks at LSU.

Marshall is joining high school teammate Isiah Gilliam (mentioned in the extra names below the rankings) at Florida panhandle juco powerhouse Chipola JC after both opted not to sign with the Astros and Cubs, respectively, after leaving another powerhouse program, Atlanta-area Parkview High School.  Marshall would slot 46th on this list, but I didn’t change the rankings, just put a blurb for Marshall in the spot where he would be on the list if I re-ranked it.

Some housekeeping notes to clarify and expound on the rankings:

- Brady Aiken still hasn’t signed and nothing concrete has been announced to that end, so he’s in the 2015 class until further notice. Like Aiken, Phil Bickford’s school is unknown at the moment, but both are expected to go to junior colleges out west.

- This draft class is shallow at the top. The top 3 players are a tier and then the players right behind them would usually be around 10th in most classes. There’s still plenty of time for new players to emerge or known players to get better, but at this point things are a little light.

- The Astros are once again a big story, as they have the 2nd overall pick (compensation for not signing Aiken) and as of today the 7th pick as well. That’s still fluid with picks 5-9 separated by 2 games with under 20 to go.

- One of the reasons you’ll keep hearing about the Astros and Aiken is because Aiken’s advisor, Casey Close’s Excel Sports Management, represents 7 of my top 15 prospects. (I won’t connect specific players to advisors as that only serves to help the NCAA take leverage/college eligibility from kids.) Neither side has said they won’t sign or won’t draft a player from the other side, but the tension from the Aiken/Nix saga certainly doesn’t make this an easy situation to figure.

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 4

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Here’s the scouting data (not the text report) from what I wrote on the Rangers list, their top prospect, Joey Gallo.

Hit: 30/45, Game Power: 60/70, Raw Power: 80/80, Speed: 40/40, Field: 45/50, Throw: 70/70
Upside: .260/.350/.500 (30-35 HR), fringy 3B or solid RF
FV/Risk: 60, High (4 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2014: AA, 2015: AAA/MLB, 2016: MLB

For this, we’ll focus on the hit grade and upside and risk sections. I’ve re-posted a table from the introduction to this series, showing the scale most clubs use to project the hit tool.
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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 3

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

In high school, stats mean nothing. In college, we can look at general indicators, and when taken in context (i.e. he’s the only good hitter on his team and he gets pitched around a lot, he told our scout this frustrates him, etc.) can have some predictive value. For high school showcases with wood bats against good pitching, we can take some away and from the couple good college summer leagues we can take the most (in the amateur context). But, in general, amateur hitting stats mean nothing unless you have some scouting context and hopefully two of 1) strong competition 2) a big sample and 3) a wood bat.

At the professional level, stats are much more insightful. I wouldn’t take much from short-season leagues (which are basically the same level of competition as the best amateur leagues, like the SEC or the Cape Cod League) but in full-season ball we can start to notice things.

I scouted a player a few years ago for a club and though he would be a 45 bat from BP and my recollections from the games, then noticed when I went over my game notes that I wrote a lot of positive comments, thinking I might go as high as a 55. Then I checked his stats: he went 12-for-15 in the games I saw, but hit.250 that season with poor peripherals (I saw him at the end of the season).

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 2

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

As I was learning to evaluate, I was overwhelmed by this challenge of grading the hit tool. I wasn’t advanced enough to notice when hitters seemed uncomfortable as fast as I wanted to notice it and I hadn’t been on the beat long enough to have multiple years of history with players to know how to put what I was seeing in context of their whole careers. The easier part, however, was noticing the raw hitting tools. By the time an evaluator gets good at noticing and grading these, the other stuff tends to follow.

I break hitting into three components, but you could easily break it down further into many more. I saw three basic groupings and put every observation into one, then graded each group on the 20-80 scale, then use those to get to a hit tool grade in a more objective way. Scouts all have different ways that they do it and I’ve tinkered with different methods, but this one works for me and also gives me a guide for what to ask scouts about with hitters I haven’t seen recently.

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 1

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

It’s the mysterious hit tool because everyone seems to agree it’s the most important tool in an evaluation, for a hitter or a position player, and it’s also the hardest to project, with the most components of any other tool.

If a scout could project pitcher health and the hit tool perfectly, he would be shockingly close to perfect in his evaluations. Since no one is solving pitcher health any time soon, I’m going to focus on the hit tool: we actually have all the information we need in most cases, it’s just hard to weight the factors correctly. Click here for the introduction to this series explaining how to scout.

Collecting The Information

When scouting major and minor league players, scouts normally are assigned a team and given 5 or 6 games to watch every player on that team. It works out that you should see all the pitchers in this span but also, once you scout a hitter for 4 or 5 games (with an off-day mixed in) you get the amount of information you need.

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Scouting Explained: The 20-80 Scouting Scale

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

When I started here just last month, I promised I would write a comprehensive series of articles explaining every part of the 20-80 scouting scale. This is the beginning of that series.

Background

The invention of the scale is credited to Branch Rickey and whether he intended it or not, it mirrors various scientific scales. 50 is major league average, then each 10 point increment represents a standard deviation better or worse than average. In a normal distribution, three standard deviations in either direction should include 99.7% of your sample, so that’s why the scale is 20 to 80 rather than 0 and 100. That said, the distribution of tools isn’t a normal curve for every tool, but is somewhere close to that for most.

The Basics

You’ve probably heard people call athletic hitters a “five-tool prospect.” While that is an overused and misunderstood term, they are referring to the 20-80 scouting scale. The five tools for position players are 1) Hitting 2) Power 3) Running 4) Fielding and 5) Throwing. The general use of the “five-tool” term is when all five are at least average (which is more rare than you’d think) and I generally only use it when all five are above average. It’s a shockingly small list of players over the history of baseball that have five plus tools, but if you ask around, scouts will tell you Bo Knows.

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Kiley McDaniel FanGraphs Chat – 9/3/14

12:00
Kiley McDaniel: So this is my first FG chat and I have nothing snappy to say at the beginning. Everyone lower your expectations accordingly.
12:01
Comment From Bret
Hey Kiley – do the Jays have anything in Kendall Graveman?
12:03
Kiley McDaniel: Eh, kinda. I saw him about a month ago for Dunedin and he was 88-92, touch 93 with plus life, above average changeup with no usable breaking ball, but some feel and an okay cutter. A swing guy/spot start type for now but was never supposed to be this good.
12:04
Comment From Ringtone Composer
Welcom, Kiley! What’s your specialty?
12:04
Kiley McDaniel: Off color jokes that I never publish on the internet, rap references and really dry scouting reports!
12:04
Comment From The Oriole Bird
who was your favorite player you ever scouted?

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Called Up: Pederson, Franco, Pompey, Norris & Finnegan

Check out some recent versions of this series with Dilson Herrera, Jorge Soler and Rusney Castillo (though he’s still in the minors). I made the cutoff for a write-up a 50 Future Value, meaning a projected peak role of 8th/9th inning reliever, #4 starter or low-end everyday player. Take a look at recent prospect lists for the Rangers or Rockies to get a better idea of the distinction between 45 and 50 FV. The last of the 50 FV prospects is generally around the 150th best prospect in the game.


Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Hit: 45/55, Game Power: 45/55, Raw Power: 60/60, Run: 55/50, Field: 50/50+, Throw: 50/50+

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Evaluating the Prospects: Colorado Rockies

Evaluating The Prospects: Texas RangersColorado RockiesArizona Diamondbacks & Minnesota Twins

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The Rockies have a solid system with some depth and some high-end talent spread across different levels.  There’s been some chatter there may be a regime change in Denver and while altitude creates some unique problems for executives, the farm is in a good position to produce some talent in the coming years. Here’s the primer for this series and here’s a disclaimer about how none of us really know anything, perfect to read before I attempt to tell you everything about the Rockies farm system.  Here’s the Rangers list, the first in the series.

Most of what you need to know is at those links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report.  The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (in general, a notch better than the projected tools) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.

Below I’ve included a quick ranking of the growth assets Colorado has in the majors that aren’t eligible for the list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. The next team up in the series, working from the bottom of the standings on up, is the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Texas Rangers

Evaluating The Prospects: Texas RangersColorado RockiesArizona Diamondbacks & Minnesota Twins

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Scouts kept saying two things about the Rangers system: this is a deep group with prospects at every level and the Soria trade was a total steal. I know you guys would like to know where I’d guess Texas falls in terms of system strength and if Gallo is as good as some other elite power prospect, but I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve done my due diligence on each team. Here’s the primer for this series and here’s a disclaimer about how none of us really know anything, perfect to read before I attempt to tell you everything about the Rangers farm system.

Most of what you need to know is at those two links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report.  The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (in general, a notch better than the projected tools) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.

Below I’ve included a quick ranking of the growth assets Texas has in the majors that aren’t eligible for the list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. The next team up in the series, working from the bottom of the standings on up, is the Colorado Rockies.

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Organizational Prospect Lists Primer

Evaluating The Prospects: Texas RangersColorado RockiesArizona Diamondbacks & Minnesota Twins

The Scouting Explained Series: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5

My goal with the presentation style of these org prospect lists is to give you all the information you want and some things I think you’d want if you knew to ask for it. When the Rangers list goes up first tomorrow, there will also be select pieces of information from each report that will go at the top of the player pages, which we’ll explain in more detail tomorrow. I know when I’m researching players, I always want to have one site that has all the information I need in one place and this is a big step in making FanGraphs that destination for minor league players.

Basic Information

I’m going to do these org prospect lists for FanGraphs similar to how I did them for Scout so check out that link if you’re curious about the format and don’t like reading words.

I’ll embed a video for the prospects projected as 50 Future Value (#4 starter, closer or low-end everyday player) or better. Along with that video, I’ll give full biographical information, tool grades, a couple paragraphs of a scouting report and a summary to put their skills into context. For those 50+ FV hitters, I’ll project their upside in the form of a triple slash line with a risk grade and year-by-year projected path to the majors. It’s more difficult to project a stat line for pitchers, but I’ll project a rotation or bullpen role (i.e. #3 starter or setup guy, etc.).

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