Archive for Minor Leagues

In the AFL, Cubans Continue to Confound

Most of the Arizona Fall League attendees have been seen enough that the scouting community has a well developed opinion on each player before they arrive in the desert. Even that year’s draftees (such as Nick Howard and Trea Turner this year), while new on the pro scene, were heavily-scouted, top-of-their-class players who many have seen at least a time or two and have some sort of background with. This year saw three reasonably high-profile Cuban prospects get Fall League reps in Raisel Iglesias, Rusney Castillo and Daniel Carbonell who had scarcely been seen on domestic soil by scouts.

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Q&A: Kevin Ziomek, Detroit Tigers Pitching Prospect (and the Next Drew Smyly?)

Kevin Ziomek carved up Midwest League hitters in his first full professional season. In 123 innings at West Michigan, the 22-year-old left-hander logged a 2.27 ERA and an 11.1 K/9. His top-flight numbers notwithstanding, he created surprisingly little buzz.

The Detroit Tigers took Ziomek in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Vanderbilt University, which helps explain the paucity of plaudits. When a high-round pick from a high-profile college program excels in Low-A, the reaction is typically “That’s what he was expected to do. Let’s see what he does at the next level.”

Despite his dominance, Ziomek’s chance to pass that next test won’t come until next season. (Tigers farm director Reid Nichols gave a non-specific answer when I asked why Ziomek wasn’t promoted.) One possible reason was an opportunity to spent the entire summer working under the tutelage of Whitecaps pitching coach Mike Henneman.

Ziomek, whom Baseball America ranks as Detroit’s second-best pitching prospect, discussed his under-the-radar 2014 performance at the end of the season.

——

Ziomek on his high strikeout rate: “Making pitches early in the count can put you in position to strike people out. What (the Tigers) want is for us to try to get people out early in the count. Then, if we get to that two-strike count, we can try to get that strikeout. Every pitcher – I don’t care who you are – likes to get strikeouts.

“Guys coming out of the college game have a tendency to throw a lot of pitches that are unnecessary. Keeping my pitch count down is something I improved on over the course of the year. I threw first-pitch strikes and got ahead, and as a result my strikeout numbers went up. In a way, I got more strikeouts because I wasn’t trying to strike people out.” Read the rest of this entry »


On the Considerable Charm of the Minor-League Free Agent

Yesterday in these pages, the author — standing on the shoulders of the giant that is the Steamer projection system — attempted to identify the player most likely to serve as 2015′s edition of Yangervis Solarte. Surely, that post has already made household names of Buck Britton and Jose Martinez and Deibinson Romero.

For some people, identifying the next Yangervis Solarte is probably a less compelling endeavor than finding 2015′s edition of Mike Trout (which is to say, the best player in all of baseball), for example, or even 2015′s edition of Michael Brantley (which is to say, a player who unexpectedly produced among the league’s highest WAR figures).

The problem in each of those cases, however, is that 2015′s edition of Mike Trout is most likely just Mike Trout. And, while Michael Brantley was a more ordinary player before the 2014 season, he also wasn’t a freely available one.

No, the pleasure of contemplating Yangervis Solarte is that he began the 2014 season as little more than a $500 thousand investment by the Yankees and transformed into approximately a $10 million profit.

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The Top Minor-League Free Agents by the Projections

Last offseason, the Yankees signed infielder Yangervis Solarte — who’d left the Rangers by way of minor-league free agency — to a decidedly more robust minor-league deal than is the standard in the industry. The result for New York was ultimately a positive one: not only did Solarte record the highest major-league WAR figure in 2014 of any player who’d departed his club the previous offseason by way of minor-league free agency, but the Yankees were able to parlay him (along with right-handed prospect Rafael De Paula) into a trade for Chase Headley.

As noted by Kiley McDaniel earlier this month, the Solarte signing wasn’t an anomalous one for the Yankees: they’d completed similar deals with reliever Jim Miller and catcher Bobby Wilson, as well. And while neither of those players did much of anything at the major-league level, the strategy was ultimately a very profitable one for New York based on Solarte’s production alone — profitable enough, as McDaniel notes, to fund 10 seasons of such an experiment.

“Who might be the next Solarte?” one wonders. It’s a question I began answering last week, only to drift accidentally into an extended meditation on Mark Minicozzi and the hazards inherent to formulating defensive projections for career minor leaguers. What follows, however, represents a more concise response.

Below are the top-five WAR projections assessed by Steamer to the 500-plus players to have been granted minor-league free agency earlier this month. Note that, pursuant to that extended meditation on Mark Minicozzi from last week, the author has made changes to defensive projections in such cases where logic dictated. So, for example, with regard to Luke Montz — whose published Steamer projection includes the catcher’s positional adjustment, but whose most recent defensive record includes just as many starts at first base — I’ve manually edited his overall projections to reflect his likely future defensive usage. The same is the case for Minicozzi himself, who has played much more first base and left field of late than second or third base.

Organizations listed are those to which the player most recently belonged. Hitter projections are prorated to 550 plate appearances — i.e. the amount over which an exactly average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Note, finally, that Dean Anna would have appeared among the top-five here were he not now a member of the Cardinals’ major-league roster.

5. Jared Goedert, 3B, Toronto (Profile)

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
550 .237 .298 .382 89 -6.7 2.0 1.5

Originally a ninth-round selection by Cleveland out of K-State in 2006, Goedert has recorded more than 3800 plate appearances as a minor leaguer, roughly half of them at Triple-A alone. So far as major-league plate appearances are concerned, however, he’s recorded a number a lot closer — and one might say precisely equivalent — to zero. It’s not shocking, probably, that he’s never found a role. He’s a below-average hitter and — it would appear from his profile — just a fringe-average third baseman. That said, there are players who aren’t demonstrably better — Danny Valencia is one name chosen nearly at random — and yet have received hundreds of plate appearances.

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Yoan Moncada Is Affecting All of International Baseball

Yoan Moncada was declared a free agent by MLB on Saturday morning. I wrote in depth about his situation from almost every angle last Thursday and also wrote about when news broke that he had left Cuba last month. I sent out a number of tweets on Saturday explaining Moncada’s current situation. He still needs to be cleared by OFAC (a U.S. government agency) before teams can offer him a deal or sign him and the timetable for that happening is unclear.

Often, OFAC clearance happens before MLB clears a player, so that indicates it could happen quickly (weeks), but Moncada’s situation is pretty unusual, which most guess will slow the process down (months).  The reason that OFAC clearance timetables vary so much relative to MLB’s clearances is that OFAC clearance is a product of the government (which can be backlogged at times, have political interests to protect, etc.) working with the paperwork that the agent submits.  Moncada should be free to sign within a few months, well ahead of the June/July timeframe when the 2014 international signing period turns over to the 2015 period and a number of factors change.

I said I covered this from almost every angle last week, because there are three things I didn’t mention in my first two articles about Moncada that have recently come to my attention.  The first is all the unsubstantiated chatter and rumors about how Moncada leaving Cuba played out.  I didn’t go into detail on this because I’m still working to get some things confirmed to help fill in these blanks, but the rumors are picking up.  I still have international scouts asking me for any information I have on this topic, specifically the stuff I haven’t written, because teams are getting heavy into their due diligence.  I don’t have anything else to report right now, but I can guarantee you that between now and when Moncada finishes his first pro season, this story will eventually become less confusing, as we learned with Yasiel Puig’s defection.

The second thing I didn’t note was pointed out Friday by Ben Badler.  As I’ve also noted in a recent article on the topic, while teams can’t technically negotiate with players before the July 2nd signing period opens, it’s now commonplace with MLB’s three-year-old rules for teams to have deals done with players 9-12 months before they’re eligible to sign.  This happened before the rule changes, but rarely; more often, early deals for high profile players were done about 3-6 months in advance.  This is a response to soft caps on spending being in place (which most team treat as hard caps); if you can only spend so much money, the best way to find bargains is to offer security to players via a verbal deal even earlier in the process.

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The Top-Five Reds Prospects by Projected WAR

This morning, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Cincinnati Reds. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Cincinnati’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Reds system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Reds system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

5. Kyle Waldrop, OF (Profile)

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
550 .244 .282 .369 80 -0.3

Waldrop began the 2014 season by repeating at High-A Bakersfield and reacted precisely the way a club would want him to — which is to say, by exhibiting greater control of the plate and also producing better contact (or, at least a markedly higher BABIP, which is the best statistical proxy). He retained those improvements following a mid-June promotion to Double-A Pensacola, as well — which, that’s encouraging for a 22-year-old. Given his positional limitations, his future major-league value would appear to depend on the degree to which he’s able to convert his above-average raw power to games. Steamer, for its part, projects him to hit only 13 home runs per 600 plate appearances.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Cincinnati Reds

Evaluating the Prospects: RangersRockiesDiamondbacksTwinsAstrosRed SoxCubsWhite Sox & Reds

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

If you asked me before I started making calls on the Reds what I expected from their system, I would’ve said average to a bit below.  I was surprised to find they have at least average depth and a surprising amount of high end talent; they have an above-average eight 50+ FV players and three more that could’ve been in that group.  While there isn’t a slam-dunk, top-20 overall prospect in the bunch, this is an impressive group, buoyed by aggressive international signings and an instinct to look for talent in unusual places in the draft.

One of those tendencies is going after athletic relievers with three pitches and making them into starters.  This approach failed nominally with Aroldis Chapman, but he’s obviously worked out pretty well.  Iglesias, Lorenzen and Howard were all signed in the last 12 months with little to no starting experience and all have the chance to turn into mid-rotation starters.  A fringe benefit of having two athletic, legitimate hitting prospects that are top pitching prospects in an NL organization is that they should be above average hitters (among pitchers) if they become big league starters.

After trades to acquire Mat Latos, Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton and Shin-Soo Choo depleted the system, Reds execs feel like the cupboard is full once again, with much of the top minor league talent in the upper levels.  Due to this and a big group of experienced 20-something big league contributors (Devin Mesoraco, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, Todd Frazier, Mike Leake, Chapman, Latos), the MLB growth assets list is shorter than most and includes an interesting case in Negron.

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The Top-Five White Sox Prospects by Projected WAR

Yesterday afternoon, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Chicago White Sox. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Chicago’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the White Sox system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the White Sox system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

5. Trayce Thompson, OF (Profile)

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
550 .215 .285 .378 84 1.1

As he had in 2013, Thompson spent all of 2014 in the Double-A Southern League. In roughly the same number of plate appearances as 2013, he recorded roughly the same walk and strikeout rates, roughly the same number of home runs, and roughly the same slash line. Despite the similarity between those two seasons — and seeming lack of development — Thompson’s projection for 2015 is about half a win greater than it was for 2014. Reason No. 1: Steamer puts more emphasis on recent performance, and an adequate season in the high minors is more valuable than a slightly better one in the lower levels. And No. 2: Thompson is still ascending towards his peak, so the any age curve adjustment is bound to help him.

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On Mark Minicozzi, or Complementing Projections with Reason

Last offseason, the Yankees signed infielder Yangervis Solarte — who’d left the Rangers by way of minor-league free agency — to a decidedly more robust minor-league deal than is the standard in the industry. The result for New York was ultimately a positive one: not only did Solarte record the highest major-league WAR figure in 2014 of any player who’d departed his club the previous offseason by way of minor-league free agency, but the Yankees were able to parlay him (along with right-handed prospect Rafael De Paula) into a trade for Chase Headley.

As noted by Kiley McDaniel earlier this month, the Solarte signing wasn’t an anomalous one for the Yankees: they’d completed similar deals with reliever Jim Miller and catcher Bobby Wilson, as well. And while neither of those players did much of anything at the major-league level, the strategy was ultimately a very profitable one for New York based on Solarte’s production alone — profitable enough, as McDaniel notes, to fund 10 seasons of such an experiment.

“Who might be the next Solarte?” one wonders. On Tuesday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals signed one possible candidate, infielder Dean Anna, to a major-league contract despite the fact that Anna enters his age-28 season with just 25 major-league plate appearances ever. The projections offer some logic to St. Louis’s decision: despite that limited major-league track record, Anna’s projected to produce an 89 wRC+ and slightly above-average second-base defense — a combination of skills which, when taken together, produce a nearly league-average major leauger. That’s a considerable value for a league-minimum contract.

This post was originally going to be called something like The Top-Five Minor-League Free Agents by the Projections — written with a view, that is, towards identifying those minor-league free agents most likely to receive that Solarte-type money and produce the Solarte-type production. In fact, it’s quite possible I’ll publish a post along those lines next week. But what becomes clear as one inspects the issue more closely is that, while the computer math of a projection system like Steamer is capable of translating without too much difficultly a player’s minor-league batting numbers to a major-league environment, producing a defensive projection for that same player is more difficult. And those defensive projections, if taken without any sort of healthy skepticism, can alter one’s understanding of a player’s value.

In particular, this is true of those players who’ve lingered long enough in the minors to have reached free agency. For, while an 18-year-old shortstop prospect is likely to remain a shortstop into his age-19 season, those players who began their careers a decade ago have very possibly become a different sort of player.

Consider the case of Mark Minicozzi, for example. Selected by San Francisco in the 17th round of the 2005 draft out of East Carolina University, Minicozzi made every one of his minor-league starts in the Giants system between 2005 and -07 at either second, third, or shortstop. Following a elbow injury, however, he was released by the organization and spent the entirety of the next three seasons in the independent Atlantic, Can-AM, and Northern Leagues — after which he was re-signed by the Giants in 2012.

Now, he enters his age-32 season with a decidedly different physique and set of skills than that 23-year-old version of himself originally drafted by San Francisco. And while he’s made starts at both second and third base as recently as 2013, he made the majority of his defensive appearances in 2014 at first base and left field.

With that thought in mind, let’s consider his Steamer projection for 2015, prorated to 600 plate appearances:

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
600 .246 .316 .351 95 -4.0 2.2 1.8

Minicozzi’s projected batting line is nearly major-league average — and this oughtn’t be too shocking. Over a span of three seasons since his return to the Giants organization, Minicozzi has produced a batting line about 30% better than average relative to the various leagues in which he’s played. This year with Fresno — his first at the Triple-A level, incidentally — the 31-year-old Minicozzi produced reasonable walk and strikeout rates (13.2% and 22.4%, respectively) while also hitting 12 home runs and exhibiting above-average batted-ball skill (.371 BABIP) in 370 plate appearances. That he would profile as a slightly below-average major-league batter is entirely reasonable.

The question of Minicozzi’s defensive value is a more difficult one to answer, however. For while, as noted, Minicozzi played mostly first base and left field in 2014, he did make those starts at second and third base in 2013, and has, at points in his career, played exclusively those more difficult infield positions. It’s possible that his starts at less demanding positions are reflective of a loss of agility and athleticism — not an unreasonable proposition given Minicozzi’s age. (Defensive skills peaks quite early in player’s career.) That said, it’s also possible that the organization has moved Minicozzi to those less demanding positions to allow younger, more promising players their due repetitions at the position (second or third, for example) they’re likely to play in the majors.

The way Steamer handles Minicozzi, specifically, is to offer no projection of fielding runs saved (which is typical for Steamer of minor-league players) and to assess the positional adjustment of a second or third baseman (+2.5 runs per season). That explains the +2.2 figure in the defensive column (Def) of Minicozzi’s projection above.

From what we know of Minicozzi, projecting him to be a major-league-average second or third baseman — or a decidedly above-average left fielder, for example — seems ambitious. In the specific case of Minicozzi, it almost certainly is. Producing 4000-plus projections, however — such as are available by means of Steamer for position players alone — necessarily requires the employment of some assumptions — chief among them, what position the player in question is likely to play adequately. And while those assumptions might work well for the majority of players, it’s also true that in specific instances — such as the case of players like Minicozzi — that one will be required to apply some reasonable alterations.

For Minicozzi, as we’ve noted, a probably reasonable assumption is that he’s more well-suited to left field now. Applying the generic positional adjustment for a left fielder (-7.5 runs per season) to Minicozzi’s projected 2015 line (again, prorated to 600 plate appearances) yields this result:

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
600 .246 .316 .351 95 -4.0 -6.6 0.9

Is that ultimately more accurate? I don’t know — although, it’s probably true that, in the case of an older minor leaguer, assuming that he’s closer to a replacement-level player than league-average one is probably smart. Ultimately, though, this post isn’t about Mark Minicozzi and his 2015 season. It’s about projections — and specifically it’s about how one needn’t entirely abandon a projection merely because one aspect of it (like the defensive part) appears not to fully depict the reality of the player’s situation. The projections are wildly useful as a starting point to a discussion about a player’s ability. In those cases where more major-league data is available, those starting points are decidedly accurate. In those instances where no major-league data is available, however, the projections still have their uses — so long as they’re complemented by reason on the part of the one considering them.


Evaluating the Prospects: Chicago White Sox

Evaluating the Prospects: RangersRockiesDiamondbacksTwinsAstrosRed SoxCubsWhite Sox & Reds

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

The White Sox system is better than in recent years, definitely helped by the addition of 2014 #3 overall pick LHP Carlos Rodon, only the White Sox second top 10 overall pick since 1990.  The White Sox mixed drafting history has ticked up recently, with their top two picks in their last two drafts (Rodon, Adams, Anderson, Danish) all showing up on this list with 50+ FVs (no small feat), joined by a power arm acquired from the Red Sox in one of the few White Sox dump trades in recent years.

Chicago’s system isn’t exceptionally deep, but recent solid drafts and an increased presence in Latin America have helped the system, along with an increased focus on young players.  Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana didn’t qualify for the MLB growth assets list, but that’s two stars and two above average everyday players, all in their control years that were acquired for below market prices.  Combine that with an improved farm, the upper tier of which is mostly at the upper levels, and that gives White Sox fans some hope that, with another step forward from the big league team, success could be sustained for awhile.

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Stock Report: November Prospect Updates

I’ve said it before but could stand to say it again: prospect rankings don’t have a long shelf life.  Usually, players ranked in the offseason don’t change much over that offseason, or at least we don’t have a chance to see any changes since they normally aren’t playing organized ball.  Every now and then a player with limited information (like a Cuban defector that signed late in the season) will go to a winter league and we’ll learn more, but most times, players look mostly the same in the fall/winter leagues, or more often a tired version of themselves.

This means that updating prospect rankings before we have a nice sample of regular season games to judge by (say, late April), seems pretty foolish.  The two mitigating factors in the case of my rankings is that I started ranking players before instructional league and the Arizona Fall League started and I also did draft rankings, which are constantly in flux.

I was on the road 17 of the last 18 days, seeing July 2nd prospects (recap here), draft prospects and minor league prospects.  I’ll take this chance to provide some updates to my draft rankings from September and below that, some players that looked to have improved at the AFL, particularly those from clubs whose prospects I’ve already ranked.

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The Productive Minor-League Free Agents of 2014

Last year around this time, the author published a study in consideration of those players who’d entered — at the end of the 2011, 2012, and/or 2013 seasons — who’d entered minor-league free agency and what sort of production those same players recorded at the major-league level the following season.

In most cases, the unsurprising result was “zero” production. A minor leaguer is granted free agency when he (a) has played for more than six years in the affiliated minor leagues and yet (b) remains absent from his (or any other) club’s 40-man roster. Of those players who meet both criteria, it’s generally the case that there’s something less than overwhelming demand for their talents.

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Eight Lessons from My Long Weekend as an Impostor Scout

Between last Friday and this most recent Wednesday, the author visited the greater Phoenix area with a view towards watching Arizona Fall League games and, with the help of lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel — as well as other FanGraphs contributor Eric Longenhagen — to better understand how to perform evaluations of baseball prospects. Between the tutelage of those two and a small collection of strangers who mistakenly talked to me of their own volition, I’ve left Phoenix with a deeper (if still mostly imperfect) understanding of prospect analysis and its various challenges.

What follows is a collection of eight lessons from that visit, of varying degrees of merit and arranged in senseless order.

*****

1. Batting practice is an ideal opportunity for grading raw power.
By the end of their respective batting-practice rounds, most players are swinging at maximum effort or close to it — and, in many cases, harder than they might otherwise swing during games. This serves as an opportune moment to get a sense of the raw power each player possesses. For certain players — particularly those for whom power is an integral component of their overall offensive value — raw power might be roughly equivalent to game power. For those who possess more of a contact-oriented approach, that raw power is unlikely to appear in game play.

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Evaluating the AFL All Stars: An Audio/Visual Experiment

At the Winter Meetings a couple years ago in Nashville, I happened to be sitting next to Kiley McDaniel — now himself the lead prospect analyst for this site — while he was looking over some video he’d recently taken of then-amateur prospect Lance McCullers, a right-hander now in the Houston system.

As a person who is both an idiot and also curious, I began asking McDaniel a number of simple-minded questions about McCullers and for what, specifically, McDaniel was looking as he went frame-by-frame through McCullers’ windup. I learned a considerable amount during that five- or ten-minute exchange — and ultimately asked questions that would have never previously occurred to me.

This past Saturday, I sat next to McDaniel again — in this case, behind home plate at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, AZ, for the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game. Once again, I asked a number of idiot’s questions and, once again, McDaniel answered them (mostly) patiently.

What follows is an attempt to reproduce certain moments of that exchange. For five different pitcher-batter encounters during the AFL All-Star Game I’ve reproduced animated GIFs of relevant pitches. I’ve also included several minutes of audio of McDaniel commenting on particular aspects of the footage in question. For each of the encounters, the reader can push play for the corresponding commentary.

*****

1. Nick Howard, CIN (Profile) vs. Eddie Rosario, MIN (Profile)

Rosario Howard 3

Rosario Howard 3 Slow

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Strikeout Rate for AFL Pitchers as Indicator of Future Success

The Arizona Fall League is a remarkable spectacle for those with even a passing interest in prospects, insofar as it provides an opportunity to see many of the best ones of those (i.e. the best prospects). This year’s edition of the AFL, for example, has featured Byron Buxton, Addison Russell, and Francisco Lindor — ranked first, fifth, and sixth, respectively, among Baseball America’s midseason top-50 list. Except for the Futures Game, there’s rarely an occasion upon which one is able to witness such a substantial collection of minor-league talent.

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The Top-Five Cubs Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Chicago Cubs. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Chicago’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Cubs system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Cubs system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

5. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF (Profile)

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
415 .219 .278 .353 74 0.8

Calculating a projection for Schwarber presents some difficulties insofar as (a) he’s clearly more valuable at catcher than left field, presuming he’s an average defender at both, but also (b) he’s probably not an average defensive catcher. Not currently, at least. As McDaniel notes, however, the Cubs are committed for the time being to developing Schwarber behind the plate. His offensive profile, complemented by the benefit of a catcher’s positional adjustment, would conspire to create an impressive major leaguer.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Chicago Cubs

Evaluating the Prospects: RangersRockiesDiamondbacksTwinsAstrosRed SoxCubs & White Sox

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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Derek Hill: First Round Pick, Still Underrated

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what that writer would’ve seen in many of the other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and I’m in the midst of a series going into more depth explaining these grades.   -Kiley

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The Top-Five Red Sox Prospects by Projected WAR

Yesterday, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Boston Red Sox. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Boston’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Red Sox’ system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Sox’ system by projected WAR. To assemble this collection of players, what I’ve done first is to utilize the Steamer 600 projections made available at the site. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

Note also that no Steamer projection has been produced for Rusney Castillo, although work both by McDaniel and also Dave Cameron suggests that something in the 2-3 WAR range probably constitutes a reasonable expectation. (Credit to reader Alex for asking.)

5. Henry Owens, LHP (Profile)

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
150 8.2 4.5 1.0 4.41 1.1

Owens and other left-hander Brian Johnson are projected to produce almost precisely the same WAR figures per 150 innings in 2015, the former expected to record more strikeouts; the latter, to better prevent walks. That both pitchers are projected more optimistically than the higher-ranked Eduardo Rodriguez (5.05 FIP, 0.0 WAR per 150 IP) isn’t particularly surprising: as noted by McDaniel, the current optimism regarding Rodriguez is based largely on his body of work after having been acquired by Boston this summer — not a large enough sample, that, to compensate for his more pedestrian numbers from previous years.

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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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