Prospect Watch: Revisiting Predictions

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 installment of the Prospect Watch, I check in on the progress of three players whom I discussed last year.

*** 
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh, Pirates (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 20  Top-15: 3   Top-100: 43
Line: 41.2 IP, 22 H, 11 R, 48/26 K/BB, 2.16 ERA, 3.17 FIP

Summary
Glasnow continues to put up big numbers, though his rawness remains significant.

Notes
I wrote this on Pirates righthander Tyler Glasnow after seeing him last June. If I had to characterize my take on the righthanded beanpole in that piece in one word, I would probably say “balanced;” I acknowledged his numerous strengths while also expressing considerable concern about rawness in some elements of his game. That did little to pinpoint a future role for Glasnow, as the reality is that there are a variety of possible outcomes for a raw teenager. What it does do, however, is shine a bright light on Glasnow’s flaws–his changeup and his mechanical consistency–for monitoring, as his future depends on the amount of improvement and adjustment he can make in these areas.

Reports indicate that Glasnow has picked up his velocity this year. While I saw him work at only 90-94 mph (touching 96) last year, he’s reportedly reached triple digits this season and is sitting more comfortably in the mid-90s. Given the extension and plane in his delivery, that makes the pitch project as a nightmare for opposing batters. Combined with his potentially-plus curveball, Glasnow absolutely overmatches righthanders–they’re hitting .111/.244/.194 off him this year with a 38.3% strikeout rate.

We can kind of set that skill off to the side and know that Glasnow can at least be a flamethrowing reliever who overmatches same-side batters. He’ll have a major league role just on the fastball and curve alone. But how about the rest?

Well, the rest doesn’t seem to be improving. Glasnow’s walk rate was already bad last year at 13.5%; now he’s up to 15.4%. In the last 25 years, only three MLB pitchers have ever made it through a qualifying number of innings with a walk rate of 14% or higher; one was Randy Johnson and the other two never qualified again. Clearly, Glasnow will need to reduce the number of free passes he’s issuing as he progresses, and to do this, more mechanical consistency is sorely needed. Given that Glasnow is just 20 and has very long levers to coordinate, it’s silly to disregard his chances of remaining a starting pitcher based on these numbers, but conversely, his lack of progress in this area certainly can’t be taken as encouraging.

Secondly, Glasnow’s lack of a good changeup is catching up with him more this season. In 2013, he limited South Atlantic League lefthanders to a .137/.245/.225 line with a 39.4% strikeout rate and 10.1% walk rate. This year, those numbers have moved to .209/.341/.284 with an 18.1% strikeout rate and a 15.7% walk rate. He’s still keeping opposing southpaws from doing much damage, but the strikeouts have been cut in more than half, the walks are way up, and the triple-slash is significantly worse (though a .264 BABIP and no homers allowed keep the average and slugging low).

So, I’m basically where I was last year with Glasnow–his positive attributes make me really want to get behind him as a potential dominant starter, but his issues give me considerable pause about forcefully projecting him in that role. Given that a year has passed and there don’t seem to be any adjustments, I guess I’m hedging more on him than I did last year, though he’s still young and has plenty of time to figure out how to make improvements.

***

Chris Beck, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 23   Top-15: 5   Top-100: N/A
Line: 74.2 IP, 73 H, 33 R, 35/21 K/BB, 3.50 ERA, 4.41 FIP

Summary
After a tantalizing finish to 2013, Beck’s taken a step backward.

Notes
Last year, Chris Beck struck out just 11.4% of batters he faced in High-A, but he whiffed 20% in a 28-inning late-season Double-A stint. Given the stuff I had seen from him earlier in the season, I was inclined to believe the latter number was the better reflection of Beck’s talent, and I expressed that here. I never thought Beck had huge upside–I just thought he’d be a groundball guy at the back of a rotation who could throw strikes and strike out maybe 5.5-6.5 guys per nine innings, akin to a righthanded Paul Maholm. That’s not a sexy result, but it’s actually quite an excellent return for a second-round selection.

While his superficial 3.50 ERA seems like he’s continuing to solidify his prospect status, in reality Beck has taken a significant step away from my hopeful projection this year. For one, the 20% strikeout rate in Double-A last year didn’t hold in increased exposure to that level, as Beck’s K-rate is back to a poor 11.2% this year. Last year’s lack of strikeouts was a small enough blip to be an aberration; now, Beck’s looking at a 13.7% K-rate over almost 300 professional innings (which itself is inflated by a 20.5% rate in Rookie ball two years ago). It’s looking more and more like he’s going to have significant issues striking out even 14% or so at the big league level.

That might be okay if Beck was still getting tons of grounders, but his groundball rate has fallen from 56.3% in High-A last year to just 45.8% this year. Pitch F/X of his arsenal from this spring didn’t reflect my observation of plus sink from last year–he seems to be mostly relying on a four-seam fastball with a relatively straight trajectory, and that’s leading to a less impressive batted ball profile.

Beck retains an easy delivery that allows him to throw strikes (6.7% BB), but without the sink to induce buckets of grounders or the offspeed stuff to miss a reasonable amount of bats, he’s looking more and more like a Triple-A starter than a major league one in the long run. His career is still fairly young, and the line between Triple-A mainstay and MLB innings-eater is a fairly fine one, so if Beck can come up with a money pitch to give him statistical dominance in an area, perhaps he can get back on track. For now, though, the indicators are pointing in the wrong direction.

***

Taylor Dugas, OF, New York Yankees (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 24   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 179 PA, .301/.415/.438, 1 HR, 21 BB, 25 K

Summary
He keeps grinding away and getting on base. Will anyone notice?

Notes
Now here’s one I can be happy about. In Chris St. John’s Consensus Top 58 Yankees Prospects, Taylor Dugas wasn’t mentioned. Nobody in either the national prospect circle or the Yankees one seemed to notice his existence except me. Because nobody talks about him, I’m not sure what the big knocks on Dugas are. Perhaps it’s power, perhaps it’s age, perhaps it’s size; it’s likely a combination.

At what point do you notice the guy, though? Dugas was picked in the eighth round in 2012 and hit .306/.465/.373 in the NYPL. An eye-catching line, that, but you’d be forgiven for moving past it given that he was a 22-year-old collegian and didn’t hit for power. A .250/.384/.306 line in Low-A in the first half last year, still excusable–low batting average, still no power, 23 years old. Then .321/.426/.373 in the second half–still old for the level at 23, still no power, but can you really ignore that?

Obviously, people did, but Dugas has come out in 2014 and continued to prove the doubters wrong. On a team that includes highly-touted players like Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez, Peter O’Brien, Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, and Ben Gamel, Dugas ranks second (behind Refsnyder) with a .393 wOBA. His characteristic sterling K/BB ratio has actually taken a bit of a beating, as he’s striking out more than he’s walking for the first time in his career. However, in a development that makes me look smart for saying “he has just enough strength and swing loft that .100 ISO marks and 5-8 homer seasons aren’t out of the question,” Dugas has more than doubled his previous career high in Isolated Power with a .137 mark. He’s only hit one homer, but he has fourteen extra-base hits in 45 games this year after amassing just sixteen in 113 contests in 2013. 

I’m not sure the Yankees take Dugas seriously, as he’s still just eighth on the Trenton team in plate appearances even though he’s been healthy the whole year; further, he has yet to appear in center field this year (partially due to Williams’ presence there, but you’d think Dugas would come in at least once). But at some point, doesn’t someone have to take the guy seriously if he keeps doing this? Doesn’t Dugas strike you as the sort of player Billy Beane snags for peanuts at some point? It’ll be fascinating to see what happens with Dugas, because at some point, either his numbers have to collapse or the respect has to come. Which will it be?




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Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.


9 Responses to “Prospect Watch: Revisiting Predictions”

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  1. Frank says:

    Glasnow came off the DL and went 2 innings with 7 walks and 0 k’s…so that hurt his small sample of numbers quite a bit. Not saying he isn’t very raw, but that’s a little disclaimer.

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  2. CabreraDeath says:

    This is what I don’t understand: How in the world would the author not mention the extended time on the DL as it relates to Glasnow, or the marked improvement he has made in last few starts – which typically would correspond w/ his health improving?

    It’s like the author simply went off the numbers, disregarded injury, disregarded improvement from earlier starts, and, perhaps most importantly, disregarded that Glasnow has been fastball-dominant this year – again, as a result of him attempting to get back to health/ironing out delivery. All of those are relevant; all of those were ignored or, at the least, inexplicably not mentioned.

    Context is important.

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    • Simon says:

      Most people look better if you find a reason to exclude their worst performances. And an improvement based on a few starts is pretty meaningless. I’m pretty sure I could find spells last season that Glasnow’s control looked pretty good, and, on the other hand, I could find others where it looked awful.

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      • CabreraDeath says:

        You’re right – but I’m not doing that here. He was down for over a month; he then came back. I think it’s fair/reasonable to let him have a few starts before we start making proclamations that his control/change hasn’t improved, particularly – as I stated also – he isnt throwing his change up all that much thus far. In any event, it’s fair to conclude he needs to work on his control and change; it’s not fair to conclude that he hasn’t made any progress on both, if for no other reason than such a statement is unknowable at this time based on factors I’ve stated.

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      • Pirates Hurdles says:

        This isn’t really cherry picking, he was hurt and behind regular starters. His first few starts were wild then he has improved. It obviously has to continue to be “real” but I’d say its worth mentioning.

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        • Pirates Hurdles says:

          16 walks in 30.2 IP since May 1st. It still isn’t very good, but not as terrible as he started. Only 18 hits against in the same span is still just sick.

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  3. Big Jgke says:

    Hey Marc, I love these updates, any thoughts on Aaron Sanchez? He seems to be in a similar situation as Glasnow, but with less youth on his side.

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