With the Red Sox recently adding Yoan Moncada to the fold last week (details and audio interview), the biggest international domino has fallen and now there’s more certainty for teams and agents going forward about what teams can spend on July 2nd. In an early draft of this article, I was going to point out that MLB still hadn’t told teams what their international bonus pools were, in an effort to discourage teams from agreeing to verbal deals since they wouldn’t know the exact figure of what they could spend. MLB sent out those figures this week, and they fell in line with what teams expected: last year’s slots with a 5-7% bump.
I reported back in December that up to 12 teams were rumored to be considering or had already put enough agreements in place to exceed their bonus pool. I conceded that nowhere near that many would do it and that looks to be true, with closer to five teams looking likely to go over, but many more looking to spend their full pool and maybe trade for a little more, along with rumors of teams considering going over in 2016. Part of the reason for the uncertainty about which teams are going over is the uncertainty surround young Cuban players.
That’s not how you’d expect an article about a team that’s clearly trying to contend in 2015 would start, and you’ll understand why it does a little later on. There’s only ever been one article focusing on Estrada on the front page of FanGraphs, and that came back in 2012. This isn’t going to be another. I promise. This is maybe going to be about the fun mark the Blue Jays could potentially set if Estrada never makes a start for them this season, and what that might mean for the playoff dreams. Read the rest of this entry »
Signed early in free agency after the 2012 season, Izturis hasn’t really done what the Blue Jays had hoped he would in a Toronto uniform. He was, by WAR, the worst position player in the game in 2013, and then he missed all but 11 games in 2014. Ankle and knee injuries were culprits, though the ankle injury in 2013 may not explain the near-career low walk rate and career-low pitches per plate appearance. Either way, Izturis hasn’t gotten good results for awhile.
Yesterday, we gave you a little bit of a tease, giving you a glimpse into the making of FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List. This morning, however, we present the list in its entirety, including scouting grades and reports for every prospect rated as a 50 Future Value player currently in the minor leagues. As discussed in the linked introduction, some notable international players were not included on the list, but their respective statuses were discussed in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read any of the prior prospect pieces here on the site, I’d highly encourage you to read the introduction, which explains all of the terms and grades used below.
Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards our YouTube channel, which currently holds over 600 prospect videos, including all of the names near the top of this list. Players’ individual videos are linked in the profiles below as well.
And lastly, before we get to the list, one final reminder that a player’s placement in a specific order is less important than his placement within a Future Value tier. Numerical rankings can give a false impression of separation between players who are actually quite similar, and you shouldn’t get too worked up over the precise placement of players within each tier. The ranking provides some additional information, but players in each grouping should be seen as more or less equivalent prospects.
Some weeks ago, I was tooling around on the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards, and one thing led to another, and I noticed that Marcus Stroman had developed a sinker that looked and worked an awful lot like Roy Halladay‘s sinker. It was a pitch that just came to Stroman during the course of the 2014 season, and he debuted it early in the second half, and this is the FanGraphs post that resulted. Blue Jays fans derived a modest thrill from seeing Stroman compared to one of the best franchise pitchers ever.
For each of the six pitches, I calculated the best comps, out of right-handed starting pitchers during the PITCHf/x era, spanning 2008 – 2014. The results are absurd. Marcus Stroman has got some weapons. Consider him excessively armed and absolutely terrifying.
After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Toronto Blue Jays. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.
It’s likely promising for the 2015 edition of the Blue Jays — a club that finished second in the AL East last season by Base Runs — it’s likely promising that five of the ten best WAR projections per ZiPS this year belong to players who’ve been acquired over the offseason. Ezequiel Carrera (548 PA, 1.1 WAR), Josh Donaldson (634 PA, 5.1 WAR), Russell Martin (453 PA, 3.6 WAR), Michael Saunders (442 PA, 2.1 WAR), and Devon Travis (505 PA, 0.9 WAR) all profile at least as competent bench players or, in the case of Donaldson, potential MVP candidates*.
*At least, that is, in a world without Mike Trout.
Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, for their part, remain the club’s best hitters and also curiously similar in terms of approach. Both are projected to produce something better than a .240 ISO. Neither, meanwhile, is forecast to produce a strikeout rate more than three percentage greater than his walk rate. And, finally, neither is expected to record anything greater than a .270 BABIP.
While college baseball is slated to begin in earnest this week, the Junior College circuit already has, which means 2015 draft season has arrived. Near or at the top of everyone’s JUCO agenda is College of Southern Nevada righty, Phil Bickford. The 6’4” sophomore righty is already famous after spurning the Toronto Blue Jays’ multi-million dollar advances when he opted not to sign with the club after they made him the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Bickford attended Cal State Fullerton last year, then went to the Cape Cod League over the summer where his stock skyrocketed thanks to an uptick in stuff as Kiley McDaniel pointed out in his rankings. Bickford defected to the Junior College ranks at the College of Southern Nevada to take advantage of this ascent, as it meant he would be draft eligible in 2015. Bickford pitched at South Mountain Community College in Tempe on Saturday.
Phil Bickford, RHP, College of Southern Nevada
Delivery/Command/Feel to Pitch
Bickford’s body tapers down from his broad shoulders to his narrow but muscular lower half. His long arms always seem to be a bit bent at the elbows. He is a tightly wound, muscular kid, not the sinewy, smooth, projectable type of arm that is most associated with draft eligible high schoolers. Bickford uses his lower half fairly well during the delivery, driving hard off of the mound in a way that is more power than grace. His unwinds up through the hips and generates a good amount of torque before uncorking his pitches. The arm action is short as Bickford loads his arm with a bent elbow, similar to what you might see from quarterback, before unfurling out to about a 3/4 angle at release.
There is effort to the delivery but not so much that I would label it as violent. Despite that effort, Bickford repeated his delivery fairly well, especially early on in the outing, other than a few instances in which he varied his arm angle to alter the depth of his slider. Whether that was done consciously or not I don’t know, but it always made the pitch less effective. Bickford’s fastball command was a pleasant surprise as he worked in, out, up and down at will for the first few innings.
The stuff was down a bit from Cape League ball which makes this a good time to remind everyone that it’s not even Valentine’s Day yet and there’s four months between now and the draft for players to grow and change. Bickford’s fastball sat 90-92 and touched 94 mph for his first few innings before throttling down to 88-90 as he finished up. The four seamers lacked movement, but the two seamers had appetizing sink and run to them. Both were vicious when Bickford was spotting them on the corners at the knees, which occurred half a dozen times or so in this outing. Projecting the fastball here is tricky, as Bickford has had some pretty vast fluctuation in velocity over the past few years. It’s hard to know where it’ll be when the cement dries.
At 6’4”, 210, there’s some room for him to thicken up and get stronger but not so much that it’s going to make a world of difference. The best case scenario in my summation is for Bickford to shake off what could simply be early season rust, get back to being the mid-90s chucking howitzer scouts saw on the Cape and add enough strength to maintain that sort of velocity throughout a season as he matures. Of course as he does that, he’ll have to also maintain enough flexibility and athleticism, two things he already appears a tad short on. His physical development and the way his stuff is impacted by it will be an interesting thing to follow over the next few years.
Bickford’s slider flashed plus twice and sat between 78-81 mph with a good bit of horizontal movement but not much depth. It was a consistently average pitch until he began to fatigue in the fifth inning. His slider utilization was about what you’d expect from a 19 year-old (Bickford doesn’t turn 20 until July 10th) with pretty uniform location in the zone. He’ll have to learn to use it in various ways, first and foremost to run it away from righties in the dirt as he matures. He did try to throw one backdoor slider to South Mountain’s only lefty in the lineup but missed off the plate away. Bickford’s changeup was miles behind today, but it’s still early in every sense of the word.
Based on what I saw Saturday (hedging a bit based on past performance) my projected long term outcome for Bickford is that of a hard sinker, slider, cutter (purely an educated guess based on the way Bickford’s hand naturally interacts with the baseball) mid-rotation starter. He looked good enough for me to put a mid-to-late first round grade on him which, in what looks like a bit of a down draft, could slot him in the 12-15 range. If the velo ticks up as the spring chugs along then we could be having a different discussion. Beauty is very much going to be in the eye of the beholder come June.
CSN RHP/DH Kayden Porter sat upper 80s with the fastball and had a loopy, below average curveball. He’s just a redshirt sophomore, so there’s time for the breaking ball to tighten up. At 6’7”, 275 lbs there’s not much projecting to do on the fastball. He might be someone’s late round flier if they want to take a chance on something developing on the mound or in the batter’s box as Porter has some pop.
CSN sophomore lefty Anthony Martine touched 91 and flashed a fringe average breaking ball but, while his arm was loose, he had trouble repeating any aspect of his delivery.
Have I mentioned lately how helpful the chats can be when it comes to finding things to write about? You guys don’t know how valuable you are. Dozens upon dozens of questions, if not hundreds upon hundreds, and out of those questions, longer posts can occasionally germinate. This is one of them! Because I’ve noticed a recurring kind of question about Drew Hutchison, and how much he might be capable of in 2015.
Comment From BJ Birdie
Drew Hutchison had a 26% k rate and 7% walk rate in second half of 2014 after changing his slider (slower, more vertical movement), what do you think his chances of a major break out are in 2015?
Dave Cameron: I think the research has shown that trying to use second half performance to predict future breakouts is a fool’s errand.
Dave’s right, of course. The smart thing to do is to always bet against a breakout, as foretold by an encouraging second half. But that’s also boring, and one figures encouraging second halves can sometimes mean something for the season to come. We’re all just here to analyze, right? So, let’s do some analysis. What on earth was the deal with Drew Hutchison’s slider?
Like it or not, this is the time of the year that we write about players like Casey Janssen. There aren’t a whole lot of alternatives. Janssen himself just signed on with the Nationals, to some degree replacing Tyler Clippard at the cost of $5 million guaranteed with a second-year mutual option. The Nationals aren’t expecting Janssen to be as good as Clippard. The Nationals shouldn’t expect Janssen to be as good as Clippard. There’s a reason why Janssen came relatively inexpensively. The year he’s coming off — it was a decidedly unusual year.
There’s a ready-made excuse: Janssen took a quick trip during the All-Star break, and he returned from said trip with food poisoning that cost him a told amount of weight and an untold amount of energy. We’ve all probably experienced food poisoning at some point, and though we’ve experienced varying degrees of severity, it makes sense that it takes a while to get back to feeling 100%. And Janssen didn’t have to get back to feeling 100% as a normal person; he had to get back to feeling good enough to succeed as a pitcher in the major leagues. Janssen’s first half was better than his second half. We don’t know how much the illness damaged Janssen’s statistics.
But the food poisoning might explain only part of the picture. He was fine early on, and he was fine toward the end. Physically, I mean. Yet the numbers are strange, given Janssen’s record. It’s easy to focus on the strikeouts. It’s not just the strikeouts.
You’ve heard it all before. Regress to the mean. Don’t make too much of a small sample. Don’t believe in the predictive power of second-half statistics, if they look particularly different from the first-half statistics. You know all the ways you are and aren’t supposed to interpret a player’s numbers. But you also know the key to exceptions, which many try to exploit: when a player makes a legitimate change, his prior numbers become less useful. A change, I mean, to his approach, or his mechanics. The White Sox don’t care too much about Zach Duke‘s history, because he recently changed his delivery. The Tigers don’t care too much about J.D. Martinez‘s history, because he recently changed his swing. Marcus Stroman was never bad, but he, too, made a change. It’s real easy to spot on the following image, from Brooks Baseball:
That’s Stroman’s big-league 2014, broken down by month. There’s no arguing the major trend: over time, Stroman threw more two-seamers, or sinkers, and far fewer four-seamers. It’s a dramatic shift, and it’s a dramatic shift in the middle of a year. Stroman became something he hadn’t been before.
Often times there is a fine line between framing a piece of information as analysis and framing it as a “fun fact.” If I were to point out, for example, that Clayton Kershaw’s ages 24-26 seasons rank 12th all time in WAR and that names like Cy Young, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, and Roy Halladay are in the same range, you could construe that as analysis. I am putting a player’s performance in historical context and implying that he’s on his way to a plaque in Cooperstown.
I could even point out that Tim Lincecum appears slightly below Kershaw on the list to warn the reader that this information about Kershaw is not a guarantee about his future. All of that is useful analytical information.
If, on the other hand, I pointed out that control-pitchers Adam Wainwright and Rick Porcello were in the top 12 in intentional walks in 2014, I’m just calling attention to something that is interesting rather than particularly useful. If we’re being precise, there’s probably no such thing as meaningless data, but there’s a big gap between something like comparing Kershaw’s same age seasons to others in history and calling out a tidbit of information that we might find noteworthy.
There are many different ways to describe the quality of a pitch. We have movement numbers on this site. There are ground-ball rates. There are whiff rates. There are metrics that use a combination of ground-ball and whiff rates. And metrics that use balls in play. There’s a whole spectrum from process to results, and you can focus on any one part of that spectrum if you like.
But there’s something that’s so appealing about the whiff. It’s a result, but it’s an undeniable one. There is no human being trying to decide if the ball went straight or if it went up in the air or if the ball went down. It’s just: did the batter swing and miss? So, as a result, it seems unassailable.
Of course, there are some decisions you still have to make if you want to judge pitches by whiff rates. How many of the pitch does the pitcher have to have thrown to be considered? Gonzalez Germen had a higher whiff rate on his changeup (30.7%) this year than Cole Hamels (23.7%). Cole Hamels threw seven times as many changeups (708 to 101).
So, in judging this year’s best pitches, let’s declare a top pitch among starters and a top pitch among relievers. That’s only fair, considering the difference in number of pitches thrown between the two. It’s way harder to get people to keep missing a pitch they’ve seen seven times as often. And, in order to avoid avoiding R.A. Dickey the R. A. Dickey Knuckler award, we’ll leave knucklers off the list, and include knuckle curves in among the curves.
So much has been happening lately that you may have temporarily forgotten about last summer, when the Yankees obliterated the international amateur spending record (and recently added another prospect). If the early rumors and innuendo are any indication, the rest of baseball isn’t going to let the Yankees have the last word.
I already mentioned the Cubs as one of multiple teams expected to spend well past their bonus pool starting on July 2nd, 2015. I had heard rumors of other clubs planning to get in the act when I wrote that, but the group keeps growing with each call I make, so I decided to survey the industry and see where we stand. After surveying about a dozen international sources, here are the dozen clubs that scouts either are sure, pretty sure or at least very suspicious will be spending past their bonus pool, ranked in order of likelihood:
The Winter Meetings revelry has passed. We’re still waiting on a few big trades to finally ‘consummate,’ but the list of free agents is less attractive by day. Before you turn down a chance at glory with the guys left waiting for a team, it’s probably a good idea to look at how badly you need them. This is not dating advice, but it sort of feels like it.
To that end, I’ve taking our depth charts and calculated a quick stat for ‘neediness.’ By averaging team WAR over 13 roster spots — the portion of the 25-man roster usually used for offense — and then looking at the difference between that average WAR and each position WAR, I’ve found a way to show where the biggest remaining lineup holes are.
It’s actually a very tough place to shop, even if there are a few names that seem attractive this year. Only about one in twelve non-tenders manages to put up a win of value the year after they were let loose. Generally, teams know best which players to keep, and which to jettison.
You’re not going to get 12 non-tenders in your camp in any given year, but there is a way to improve your odds. It’s simple, really: pick up a player that was actually above replacement the year before. If you do that, you double your chance of picking up a productive major leaguer. So let’s look at this year’s market through that lens first.
There’s a current story, that Ken Rosenthal has reported and written about. Bryce Harper and the Nationals are butting heads, trying to figure out the specifics of Harper’s arbitration eligibility. At stake are several millions of dollars, now and down the road, and it seems like a situation that could cause there to be bitterness between the player and the team. But, probably, the business side will be separated from the baseball side, and they’ll go on to get along fine. People thought there might be an issue with Mike Trout, too, when the Angels renewed his contract that one time near the league minimum. It seemed like the wrong thing to do to a superstar, and then later on Trout signed maybe the most team-friendly contract extension ever. Sometimes there are feelings, and often those feelings pass.
And then, sometimes, they don’t. At the end of the year, Mariners officials made some pointed remarks about Michael Saunders‘ preparedness and durability. They were unusually specific, and they hadn’t bothered to talk to Saunders first, and so Saunders’ side shot back. There was a rift, and while there was a chance things could be patched over, it seemed likely that the Mariners would send Saunders away so he could try to thrive somewhere else. Jerry Crasnick had reported that Saunders was being shopped at the GM meetings, and, at last, Saunders has been traded, from a team that didn’t value him to a team that could badly use him.
As you by now are well aware, Josh Donaldson was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend in a blockbuster deal that sent Brett Lawrie back to Oakland. The Blue Jays gave up Lawrie and a few prospects to immediately get better, because Josh Donaldson is a guy that immediately makes any team better. Over the last two years, only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen have a higher WAR than Donaldson, and Donaldson’s been three wins better than the next-best third baseman. Donaldson can hit, he runs pretty well for a third baseman, and he’s good with the glove. Add those up and you’ve got a hell of a player.
But there’s something to that last point — that he’s good with the glove — that’s been on my mind for awhile. It’s something I was going to write about when the Gold Glove winners were announced, but then Donaldson didn’t win, so I saved it for another day. Now that Donaldson is back in the news, today is that day. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ll try to complete the FanGraphs analysis of the Josh Donaldson deal, with Dave covering the A’s perspective of the deal and Drew Fairservice covering it from the Jays perspective while I’ll jump in with the prospect end of things. Those two prior pieces do a good job analyzing the various angles of this deal, with the main question being what the next few moves are for Oakland, since they seem far from done shuffling their roster.
Dave’s piece made the points that the gap between Donaldson and Brett Lawrie may be smaller than 2013-2014 would lead you to believe, so if one of the prospects end up as a star or a piece that can be used in another deal, it could swing the balance of the deal toward Oakland. There’s an expectation that Lawrie won’t match Donaldson’s production, hence the three minor leaguers included. While Lawrie will be the player watched most closely in 2015 from this deal, one exec I talked to last night said Franklin Barreto is the key to the deal, so let’s start with him.
After the 2011 season, it seemed improbable that the Blue Jays would ever trade Brett Lawrie. He was the native son who exploded onto the scene, bounding his way into the hearts of baseball fans from Victoria to Corner Brook. Always a great hitter in the minor leagues, Lawrie hit .293/.373/.580 with 9 home runs in a 40-game big league tease that set completely unrealistic expectations .
Three injury-ravaged and underwhelming seasons later, Lawrie and three prospects are gone and Josh Donaldson is the new starting third baseman in Toronto as the Blue Jays try to accomplish one goal: reach the playoffs for the first time in a generation. No passport or sentiment will stand in their way as they try to end a long streak without playoff baseball.
Adding Donaldson is a significant upgrade for the Jays, as any team would expect when they pick up one of the premier players in baseball. Conservatively, switching out Donaldson for Lawrie is about a two win upgrade on talent alone. Lawrie’s spotty injury history and inability to translate his minor league offense at the big league level suggest it might be an even bigger gulf.
With two top-ten MVP finishes and 53 total home runs in the last two years, the Jays get a star – a star moving from an offensive sinkhole to a very friendly space for right-handed power hitters. Donaldson is an older player, heading into arbitration for the first time (he’s a Super Two) as well as his age-29 season. Unlike the A’s side of the deal, the four years of control that come with Toronto’s new third baseman is purely secondary to his ability to help them win in 2015.
The Jays wanted an upgrade and, according to Alex Anthopoulos, it was the inclusion of Lawrie in the talks that brought this deal to life. They sell low on Lawrie, who always hit before struggling (mightily at times) at the big league level. He’s as talented a player as there is, one Oakland hopes they can reshape into a more well-rounded big leaguer.
His talent is undeniable, Lawrie is perhaps the defensive equal of Donaldson at third base, and like Oakland’s Fielding Bible Award winner, Lawrie is a former catcher. Perhaps Oakland can get the countless moving parts of his swing in order and awaken the one tool that brought him to the big leagues at 21.
Toronto also gives up a very promising international free agent in Franklin Barreto, a shortstop at 18 with his stock on the rise, fast-rising pitcher in Kendall Graveman, and slightly stalled prospect in Sean Nolin. In terms of bulk control years, the Jays give up a lot. But that future surplus value finishes a distant second to the chance the Jays are building the best team in their division.
Some might look at the Jays rotation and wonder if they have the talent to win a championship. To that I say: look around. The state of the game swung so heavily in favor of pitchers, adding Donaldson’s bat to the likes of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista — to say nothing of Russell Martin — suggests the Jays believe the road to the postseason is paved with extra base hits.
Like the Red Sox, the Jays seem focused on piling more offense on top of their already-deep pool of sluggers. In Donaldson the Blue Jays add another home run threat who actually strikes out at a below-league average rate. As the league heads in one direction, it appears Toronto is headed in another.
It is easy to search for additional meaning in this trade and the Blue Jays interest in Josh Donaldson. Simply put, they targeted a great player they thought could help their team win a division title and more. They added a player who saved more than 30 runs with his glove since 2012 while putting up a 125 wRC+. His 14 WAR over the last two years trails only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen. Rather than hope their third baseman realized his potential, Toronto acquired one of the best in the game.
It also signals Toronto is serious about overhauling their clubhouse culture, though there is no better cure for a divided clubhouse than a whole pile of wins. Any team that boasts Reyes-Martin-Bautista-Encarnacion-Donaldson at the top of their batting order figures to give pitchers fits, though another left-handed bat in that mix (Reyes switch hits, the rest are all righties) must be a priority.
There is still work to do in Toronto, as huge questions loom in left field as well as second base. Their presumed starting center fielder is 43 big league plate appearances into his career (barely 200 PA above A-ball for Dalton Pompey, another Canadian.) They might not be done yet, but adding an elite ballplayer for the second time in two weeks is a nice way to head into the Winter Meetings.
Deals like this are how teams climb from the 80-85 win treadmill to the 90-win tier of World Series favorites. As they did with Russell Martin, the Blue Jays looked at a decent (and affordable) spot on their roster and thought they could improve it. They gave up a chunk of their identity and whole lot of prospect capital to do it, but it looks like these aren’t your older brother’s Toronto Blue Jays – though I’ve said that before.
The Boston Red Sox, as you might have heard, currently have an outfield glut. There is ten pounds of outfield meat in their five pound bag. Something has to give, and that something is likely Yoenis Cespedes.
When the Sox acquired Cespedes from Oakland in the Jon Lester trade, it felt more like a rental than a long-term investment in the player. Cespedes’ unique contract allows him to become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season, so Boston put themselves in an enviable position. They received an established big leaguer in exchange for their walk-year ace and got an up-close and personal look at a potential big free agent bat.
Whether or not a look under Cespedes’ hood informed their decision to sign both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, that’s the route they went down. Now Cespedes is trade bait, the precious “right-handed power” commodity in a marketplace clambering for those skills. He’s headed into his age-29 season, he’s owed $10.5 million this year, and there’s going to be a line around the block to bid for his services. Where might he land?