Archive for Prospect Watch

Pirates’ Prospect Austin Meadows, Then and Now

The Pirates are currently only four games out of the last Wild Card spot, and their star center fielder is currently under contract for two more years after this one. Regardless, that hasn’t stopped people from wondering if Pittsburgh should trade Andrew McCutchen, even if the lack of an obvious trade partner makes a deal unlikely. Usually part of the argument is that the team has a near-ready replacement in Austin Meadows.

The 21-year-old center fielder just laid waste to Double-A and is now learning the ropes at the highest level in the minor leagues. His power has finally blossomed, and he looks like the five-tool prospect that’s made him a top prospect ever since he entered affiliated baseball as a top-10 pick in the 2013 draft.

It wasn’t always super easy for the player, though. I caught up with Meadows in the Arizona Fall League last October, when he was coming off an up-and-down season that saw him slug at a below-average rate both in High-A and in the Fall League. We talked about what he needed to work on. Then I asked lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen how well Meadows has addressed those issues, so as to get the best sense of Meadows over the course of the last year.

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MLB Farm Systems Ranked by Surplus WAR

You smell that? It’s baseball’s prospect-list season. The fresh top-100 lists — populated by new names as well as old ones — seem to be popping up each day. With the individual rankings coming out, some organization rankings are becoming available, as well. I have always regarded the organizational rankings as subjective — and, as a result, not 100% useful. Utilizing the methodology I introduced in my article on prospect evaluation from this year’s Hardball Times Annual, however, it’s possible to calculate a total value for every team’s farm system and remove the biases of subjectivity. In what follows, I’ve used that same process to rank all 30 of baseball’s farm systems by the surplus WAR they should generate.

I provide a detailed explanation of my methodology in the Annual article. To summarize it briefly, however, what I’ve done is to identify WAR equivalencies for the scouting grades produced by Baseball America in their annual Prospect Handbook. The grade-to-WAR conversion appears as follows.

Prospect Grade to WAR Conversion
Prospect Grade Total WAR Surplus WAR
80 25.0 18.5
75 18.0 13.0
70 11.0 9.0
65 8.5 6.0
60 4.7 3.0
55 2.5 1.5
50 1.1 0.5
45 0.4 0.0

To create the overall totals for this post, I used each team’s top-30 rankings per the most recent edition of Baseball America’ Prospect Handbook. Also accounting for those trades which have occurred since the BA rankings were locked down, I counted the number of 50 or higher-graded prospects (i.e. the sort which provide surplus value) in each system. The results follows.
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Missouri State Righty Jon Harris Shows First Round Ability

While it is generally regarded as a basketball conference, the Missouri Valley Conference has had a penchant for producing quality professional baseball prospects.  Wichita State is the most well-renowned program both in terms of collegiate success and high-end talent (Casey Gillaspie, Conor Gillaspie, Mike Pelfrey and Braden Looper, among others), but Missouri State University has had it’s fair share of pro prospects, particularly pitchers (Ross Detwiler, Shaun Marcum, Brad Ziegler, Scott Carroll, Mike Kickham, Pierce Johnson and Nick Petree).

Junior righty Jon Harris is the present iteration of the highly-regarded MSU hurlers, and while he will not be selected as early as Detwiler (6th overall in 2007), the right hander should be off of the board in the top 40 picks.

Harris was drafted out of a St. Louis area high school in the 33rd round of the 2012 draft, and has put up solid numbers since setting foot on campus.  After pitching for the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League this past summer, Harris has received some more buzz, so it was little surprise to see 20+ evaluators, including a handful of scouting directors on hand to see Harris pitch against Jacksonville University two weekends ago.

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Strong Spring Moves Donnie Dewees Into Top Few Rounds

University of North Florida OF Donnie Dewees was a largely unknown quantity coming out of high school in Crystal River, Florida.  Three years after going undrafted, Dewees has put himself in position to be selected within the first 100 picks, and given the crooked numbers he has put up thus far, he has a chance go significantly higher.

Background

For the (many) uninitiated, let me give some background on Dewees. The left-handed hitting outfielder quickly worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman during the 2013 season, finished with a .347/.429/.535 line in 248 plate appearances, and garnered numerous conference and national awards.  He continued to hit in summer ball, posting a .321/.393/.526 triple-slash with 12 HR in the competitive Northwoods League.

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Joey Gallo’s Strikeouts Shouldn’t Alarm You

Joey Gallo is one of baseball’s most promising prospects, but he’s also one of its most polarizing. On the plus side, he’s got major power. He sported an isolated power of .344 between High-A and Double-A last year, which was the highest mark of any minor leaguer with at least 300 plate appearances. But he’s also hindered by chronic contact problems. He strikes out more than almost any prospect we’ve seen before — or at least anyone who’s gone on to be a successful big-leaguer. According to Minor League Central, Gallo’s 64% Zone-Contact% was the lowest of any minor-league hitter with data available from last year.

Despite his high strikeout totals, Gallo’s received no shortage of praise within prospect circles. Kiley McDaniel ranked him 16th overall in his top 200 ranking, and just about every other prospect analyst agrees that Gallo’s among baseball’s top 15 or 20 prospects. KATOH’s all in on Gallo, as well. It pegs him for 11 WAR through age-28 — the seventh-highest projection among players with at least 200 plate appearances or batters faced.

Gallo’s ridiculous power numbers drive his rosy forecast, but it also helps that he does a little more than just crank homers. He posted a healthy 16% BB% last year, and walked more often than his league at both minor league stops. His projection also gets a boost from his strong BABIP, which shows he hits the ball hard, even when it doesn’t clear the fence. Both of these characteristics have enabled him maintain respectable on-base numbers — in lieu of his strikeouts — and could mean good things for his future as a major-leaguer.

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Eddie Butler’s Concerning Strikeout Numbers

Eddie Butler of the Colorado Rockies is one of baseball’s most highly-regarded pitching prospects. In addition to wielding lights-out stuff, the 24-year-old righty has pitched admirably in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Butler put up a respectable 3.58 ERA in Double-A Tulsa last year, which earned him a three start cameo with the big club.  If he’s not big league ready right now, he’s very close. Given this combination of stuff and performance, it’s no surprise that Kiley McDaniel is a big fan of Butler’s. He ranked him 42nd overall in his top 200 list and gives him a FV of 55 — equivalent to a #3 or #4 starter or a closer.

Despite his redeeming qualities, KATOH hates Butler. It hates him lot. It pegs him for a putrid 0.7 WAR through age-28, which puts him very, very far outside of KATOH’s top 200 list. His KATOH projection was far worse than most similarly-ranked prospects on Kiley’s list.

KATOH’s down on Butler for a couple of reasons. For one, he was a little old for his level last year. If you’re a 23-year-old in Double-A, KATOH’s not going to like you unless you’re dominant, and Butler was much closer to mediocre than dominant. Read the rest of this entry »


Don’t Worry about Robert Stephenson’s Terrible 2014

Robert Stephenson has tremendous stuff. The former first round pick wields a fastball that can touch triple digits at times, and compliments it with a plus curveball and a usable changeup. His outstanding arsenal of pitches has earned him universal praise in the prospect world. Kiley McDaniel deemed him the top prospect in the Reds organization, as did Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. John Sickels and Keith Law ranked him #2 in the organization behind Jesse Winker.

Everyone agrees that Stephenson’s one of the most promising pitching prospects in the game. But for all his virtues, Stephenson wasn’t very good last year. His 4.72 ERA and 4.58 FIP were not only worse than the Southern League average, but were much worse — Both marks ranked in the bottom three among qualified Southern League pitchers. That’s not the pitching line of a top prospect, or even a fringy one. A 4.58 FIP is the stuff of a non-descript minor leaguer. Given this performance, its not hard to see why KATOH spat out a meager 2.2 WAR projection for Stephenson through age-28.

Things weren’t all bad for Stephenson, though. On the bright side, he did manage to strike out an impressive 23% of opposing batters, but that good work was washed away by his 12% walk rate and 3% HR% (1.2 HR/9). Clearly, Stephenson’s performance lagged far behind his stuff last year. Kiley McDaniel offered up the following explanation for this disconnect in his write-up on Stephenson. Read the rest of this entry »


Making Sense of Ozhaino Albies’ Awesome Pro Debut

Lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel turned some heads when he ranked Ozhaino Albies — a 5-foot-9, 17-year-old shortstop — as the top prospect in the Atlanta Braves minor league system. Albies was on the prospect radar prior to Kiley’s ranking, but slotted much lower on most organizational prospect lists this winter. Keith Law, John Sickels, Baseball Americaand Baseball Prospectus ranked him 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th respectively. Here’s what Kiley had to say about Albies and his ranking.

Some scouts are already throwing 60’s on Albies hit tool after a huge pro debut, where he hit .364/.446/.444 in 239 plate appearances over two Rookie ball levels with 22 stolen bases and more walks than strikeouts. He continued his assault by impressing the more heavily-scouted instructional league and every scout that has seen him told me they can’t argue with this ranking.

Power isn’t a big part of game and likely will never be, but he does everything else so well at such a young age, that no one seems to care. He has excellent feel for the stike zone and the bat head, plenty of bat speed, knowledge of when to use his gap power and when to keep the ball on the ground, along with easy plus speed and plus everything on the defensive side, enough to comfortably project to stay at the position.  There has to be universal praise for me to go this high on a guy this young and this small that I’ve never seen before, but I think I’ll have him first on this list next year, so I feel fine getting ahead of the crowd now.

Kiley’s definitely the high guy on Albies right now, but KATOH — my prospect projection system — might be even higher. Setting the minimum to 200 plate appearances, the KATOH leaderboard for hitters based on the 2014 season reads thusly. Read the rest of this entry »


Attempting to Forecast Yoan Moncada Statistically

The general consensus on Yoan Moncada is that he’s among the best prospects out there. The newest Red Sox prospect’s bat speed and power both grade out as plus, and scouts believe he has the physical tools to be an asset on defense as well. Our very own Kiley McDaniel weighed in on Moncada several times this past winter, and said he’d rank him in the 5 – 12 range on his top 200 list.

My wheelhouse is forecasting prospects’ future production using minor league stats. Admittedly, this might not be of much use for a player like Moncada, who has nary a minor league plate appearance to his name. But rather than throwing my hands in the air and deferring entirely to the scouting reports, I decided to use the scarce data available to glean at least some insight into how good Moncada might be as a big leaguer.

With the exception of a few established veterans like Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes, most recent Cuban imports didn’t jump right to the majors. The majority spent time in the minors first — just as Moncada’s expected to do in 2015, and probably 2016. In the last decade, I found 19 hitters from Cuba who logged at least 100 plate appearances in Double-A in their first year stateside. Using this admittedly small sample of players, I looked to see how the inputs to KATOH — BB%, K%, ISO, BABIP, and SBA% — translated from the CNS to Double-A. Unsurprisingly, I found positive correlations across the board. Applying these translations to Moncada’s Cuban stats, we would expect the following performance from Moncada in Double-A next year:

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Dalton Pompey: Center Fielder of the Present?

Following the departures of free agents Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus, the Toronto Blue Jays were down two-thirds of last year’s opening day outfield. They filled one of these holes when they traded for Michael Saunders, but have opted to go the internal route in filling the other, turning to the inexperienced duo of Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar to handle center field duties.

Pompey easily has the brighter future of the two. Kiley McDaniel ranked the 22-year-old 80th in our top 200 list, giving him a Future Value of 50, which equates to an average everyday player. Pillar, on the other hand, hasn’t done much of anything in parts of two seasons with the Blue Jays, and at 26, he’s unlikely to get much better than he currently is. Non-roster veterans Chris Dickerson, Ezequiel Carrera and Caleb Gindl are also theoretically in the center field mix, but are likely in camp to provide depth more than anything. Given his competition, the starting center field job is Pompey’s to lose this spring.

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Updating Prospect Valuations

Over the last five years, a lot of good work has been done on valuing prospects. Victor Wang — now employed by the Indians — got the ball rolling in 2008, and his work was followed up by research from by Scott McKinney in 2011 and Kevin Creagh in 2012. Each piece was well done and is worth reading even now, especially if you’re interested in the various rates at which prospect tiers tend to go bust.

But we’re almost into 2015 now, and baseball revenues are exploding, making the valuations from even a few years ago look a little bit outdated. Just in the last year, we’ve seen three Cuban free agents — Jose Abreu, Rusney Castillo, and Yasmany Tomas — sign for around $70 million each, suggesting that teams are willing to pay significant prices for young talent with upside, even when there’s not an established Major League (or even minor league) track record from which to evaluate. We’re going to get an even better look at the market value of a premium prospect when Yoan Moncada is declared a free agent, and the bidding for his services is expected to reach $80 million once the taxes are accounted for, and that won’t even cover any of his future salaries; that’s just the cost of acquiring his rights.

So, helpfully, Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli decided to update their study this week, adding in new data and using updated calculations for the price of a win based on recent inflation. Let’s look at what they found.

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Standout Prospects from the AFL Title Game

The Arizona Fall League championship game (domestic professional baseball’s de facto funeral for the year) featured superlative performances from a number of prospects that may have piqued your curiosity. Here’s a look at how, after nearly two months of evaluating these players, I feel things will play out moving forward.

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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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19-Year-Old Jorge Mateo Is The Yankees’ Shortstop Of The Future

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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Conversion Arms Flash Big Velocity In AZL

Perhaps my favorite players to stumble upon betwixt my scouting escapades are the “Conversion Guys”, players who are undergoing a positional change because shortcomings in their skill set force them to find a new path to the Majors if they hope to achieve that dream at all. Most often this occurs when a position player with superlative arm strength struggles to hit so mightily that his employer abandons all hope in his ability ever to learn how and moves him to the mound.

These conversions happen at various stages of development and have any number of useful results. Jacob deGrom moved off of shortstop between his sophomore and junior year of college and is a budding rotational mainstay. Kenley Jansen spent four years catching as a pro before moving to the mound in 2009 and exploding to the majors as a reliever. Tony Pena Jr. moved to the mound at 28 and became a minor league depth arm who ate innings at upper levels for a few years and made Veteran Minor Leaguer Money for a little while longer than he would have if he would’ve been a stubborn, punchless shortstop.

Plenty of these developmental journeys begin in the Rookie-level Arizona League (AZL), where I was lucky enough to observe a handful of them this summer.

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Justus Sheffield Finds Himself After A Tough Spring

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short 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 he would’ve seen in many 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 very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades.   –Kiley

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Prospect Watch: Youth Up The Middle

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this piece, I look at three 18-and-under up-the-middle prospects.

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Carlos Tocci, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 18  Top-15: 6   Top-100: N/A
Line: 456 PA, .248/.299/.340, 2 HR, 21 BB, 83 K

Summary
This athletic, projectable glider has made moderate inroads at the plate and has plenty of time and projection to allow for additional progress.

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Prospect Watch: The Rangers’ Big Promotions

Yesterday, it was announced that the Texas Rangers promoted two of their top prospects, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nomar Mazara, to Double-A Frisco. Both players arrive in the upper minors with plenty of hype and plenty of youth–Alfaro turned 21 in June, while Mazara is just three months and change past his nineteenth birthday.

From a superficial, looking-at-the-numbers perspective, one might say that both promotions are premature, or at least aggressive. Mazara is just 19 and is being skipped over High-A after hitting a good, but hardly Troutian .264/.358/.470 in Low-A Hickory. Alfaro was at least playing at High-A Myrtle Beach, but he was just hitting .261/.318/.440 and allowed 18 passed balls in 75 games caught.

Of course, current production is far from the full picture of supremely talented players competing against others that are often older. Having seen both play extensively in both 2013 and the 2014 seasons, here I’ll offer some thoughts on Texas’ bold move in promoting this duo, as well as their futures beyond Frisco.

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Prospect Watch: The Burlington Royals, From Impact to Curiosity

For players in 28 of MLB’s 30 organizations, the lowest level of U.S.-based affiliated professional baseball is the complex leagues, the Arizona League and the Gulf Coast League. These leagues feature the rawest of the raw when it comes to professional baseball players, largely including players fresh out of high school or Latin America, with some low-rung college players mixed in.

Two organizations, however, do not have complex league teams. The Rockies haven’t had one since 2000, instead maintaining a Rookie-Advanced team in the Pioneer league and a short-season-A team in the Northwest League. From 2003 to 2013, the White Sox were the other team, but this year, the Pale Hose picked up an Arizona League team and their division rivals in Kansas City became the second club with a complex league vacuum.

The Royals thus lost an entire team’s worth of roster spots in their system in the offseason, and that created something of a backlog in their organization. All the high school draftees and Latin American kids who would normally (or at least often) be assigned to their old AZL team now jumped straight up to the club’s Rookie-Advanced affiliate in Burlington. The squad opened the year with a whopping 38 players on its roster as a result, including four 17-year-olds and six players picked in the top six rounds of the 2014 draft. As you’d expect, the raw Burlington squad resides in last place in the Appalachian League East Division, but also as you’d expect, they are largely considered the most talented team in the circuit. I sat in on seven of their contests this year, and in this piece, I’m going to touch on several intriguing players on this oversized roster.

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Prospect Watch: Deadline Acquisitions

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

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James Ramsey, OF, Cleveland Indians (Profile)
Level: Triple-A Age: 24.7   Top-15: 7th   Top-100: N/A
Line: (Double-A, Cardinals) 11.0% BB%, 23.5% SO%, ..300/.389/.527 (161 wRC+)

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