The Top 10 Prospects Currently by Projected WAR

What follows is an exercise not very different from that one performed on a slightly larger scale by the author at the very beginning of the season and more modestly about a month ago. As was the case with those posts, this one represents an attempt to identify the rookie-eligible players* who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). What it is not is an attempt to account for any kind of future value — for which reason it’s unlikely to resemble very closely those prospect lists which are typically released by more qualified writers at the beginning and middle of the season.

*In this case, defined as any player who’s recorded fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings — which is to say, there’s been no attempt to identify each player’s time spent on the active roster, on account of that’s a super tedious endeavor.

To assemble the following collection of 10 prospects, what I’ve done first is to calculate prorated rest-of-season WAR figures for all players for whom either the Steamer or ZiPS projection systems have produced such a forecast. 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 approximately a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Owing to how the two systems are structured, the majority of the numbers which follow represent only the relevant prospect’s Steamer projection. Players eligible for the list either (a) enter their age-26 season or lower in 2014 or, alternatively, (b) were signed as international free agents this offseason.

Finally, 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.

1. Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 8.3% 10.7% 6 .335 2.7

La Stella appeared sixth among all prospects by projected WAR at the beginning of the season when the author performed almost this same exact exercise and then fourth on a similar such list in the middle of May. Fewer than 20 games into his major-league career now, he’s already produced nearly a full win. Even without his considerable batted-ball success, La Stella has been excellent. For example: of the 412 batters to have recorded 50-plus PAs, only A.J. Ellis has produced a better differential between his walk and strikeout rates.

2. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto (Profile)

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
150 8.4 2.4 1.22 3.89 2.1

Because he was projected to throw a number of innings in relief when this same exercise was performed last month, Stroman was omitted from consideration — or, at least, was regarded as a reliever, which is very similar to being omitted. For the moment, however, the Blue Jays appear likely to utilize him exclusively as a starter. He’s been entirely proficient in that role through a limited sample. To wit: 18.0 IP, 22.1% K, 2.6% BB, 55.4% GB, 3.06 xFIP.

3. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City (Profile)

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
150 8.0 3.5 1.01 4.05 2.0

Zimmer has recorded zero innings thus far, first missing time whilst recovering from a shoulder injury suffered late last year and now finding himself disabled for likely six-to-eight weeks because of a strained right lat muscle. When he does pitch he’s likely to have have success, is what the projections indicate.

4. Ty Kelly, 2B/3B, Seattle (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 11.0% 15.2% 7 .321 2.0

A number of players on this list feature a profile similar to Tommy La Stella‘s insofar as they (a) control the strike zone well, (b) occupy a place somewhere towards the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum, and (c) have failed to ignite the passion-heart-fires* of scouts. Between 2013 and -14, Kelly has recorded 565 plate appearances at Triple-A Tacoma and produced a positive walk-strikeout differential. Offensively, there’s probably little else for him to demonstrate in the minors, at this point.

*For which awkward phrase there is almost certainly a single German word.

5. Chris Taylor, SS, Seattle (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 7.2% 19.3% 5 .305 2.0

Kelly’s teammate at Tacoma, the 23-year-old Taylor resembles something a little bit more like a traditional prospect — at least so far as age relative to level is concerned. A fifth-round selection out of the University of Virgina in 2012, Taylor has produced above-average offensive results at every level during his ascent through the minor leagues. In 2014, only six qualified hitters aged 25 or under have produced a better offensive line at Triple-A than Taylor, and none of them are likely to match Taylor’s defensive value.

6. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 6.3% 15.9% 12 .313 2.0

Among a list of true facts that are true, one such fact is that ZiPS is currently much more enthusiastic about Polanco than is Steamer. The former projects the outfielder to produce 3.1 wins per every 550 plate appearances; the latter, about 0.9. Indeed, much of the disparity appears to derive from defensive estimates: ZiPS regards Polanco as an above-average center fielder; Steamer, as a league-average right-fielder. To the extent that valuating defense is difficult, projecting those valuations is even more difficult, probably. In any case, both systems call for him to produce league-average offensive numbers, however, a thing which is probably more immediately relevant to our concerns.

7. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 8.2% 28.0% 22 .313 1.9

“Why even bother to include Sano?” is a question more than one commenter has asked in previous versions of this same exercise. It’s a reasonable query. One answer is that, at the most basic level,the point of this type of post is probably to reflect the present-day true talent of rookie-eligible players, of which Sano is one. Another, newer answer is also that Sano might actually record professional at-bats before the end of the season.

8. Shawn Zarraga, C, Milwaukee (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
415 7.8% 12.2% 6 .312 1.8

The 25-year-old Zarraga was absent from Milwaukee’s top-30 organizational prospect list in the most recent edition of Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook. This is a system, one notes, ranked 29th overall in terms of minor-league talent by the editors of that same publication. Not very encouraging, is the idea. He’s produced walk and strikeout rates of 16.3% and 5.6%, however, in 178 plate appearances at Double-A Huntsville — figures which a discerning reader will immediately recognize both as “bananas” and “completely bananas.” He’s also likely to remain at catcher after losing 20-25 pounds this offseason.

9. Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
415 11.1% 21.1% 11 .302 1.8

Kral was absolutely the most obscure player to appear among the top-10 prospects both on the first and then the second iteration of this same exercise. His projected WAR has declined by 0.7 per every 415 plate appearances since that post from early April. That said, he’s still produced entirely respectable plate-discipline marks (16.5% BB, 23.3% K) through 133 plate appearances at Double-A this season, which are a pretty important kind of marks.

10. Jose Pirela, 2B/SS, New York AL (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 6.0% 12.7% 9 .305 1.8

Between Dean Anna, Yangervis Solarte, and Pirela, the Yankees have an impressive collection of largely nondescript, but disciplined and defensively capable, players in their mid- and late-20s. Solarte, of course, is much more descript than before, having now produced a 1.4 WAR as a mostly everyday infielder for the New Yorkers. Anna and Pirela, however, offer roughly the same profile.

***

Three Brief Comments:

  • The assembly of this list was performed, in part, by hand. While the author has attempted to remain vigilant, he is also notoriously incompetent. The reader is invited to raise any relevant concerns in the comments section.
  • Young and celebrated St. Louis prospect Oscar Taveras was not accidentally omitted from the above. His Steamer and ZiPS projections both currently rate him as worth ca. 1.5 WAR per 550 plate appearances.
  • Here’s a rather young pitcher about whom Steamer is particularly optimistic: right-hander Lucas Giolito. The 19-year-old Nationals prospect, currently pitching in the Class-A South Atlantic League, is projected to produced 1.7 WAR already per every 150 innings.


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Oliver
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Oliver
2 years 2 months ago

I ? Robert Kral

TomTerrific
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

LOL. CC has an unhealthy obsession with Mr. Kral for some apparent reason.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver
2 years 2 months ago

* <3

TomTerrific
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

BWAAA!! Finding new ways to advance the Robert Kral cause, eh?

oh and does the name Dellin Betances mean anything to you?

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 2 months ago

Yeah, barring a sudden reappearance of Mr. Betances, Dr. Dellin’s going to pass Pirela’s projection in the next two weeks.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
2 years 2 months ago

Is Tavares’ ommission surprising to you? Or do you think there’s some legit doubts about his future as an elite bat? Is his declining numbers by level just as expected or is it a real worry?

A (19-19): 347pa, 9.2bb%, .440babip, 191wrc+
AA (20-20): 531pa, 7.9bb%, .323babip, 159wrc+
AAA (21-22): 410pa, 6.1bb%, .328babip, 120wrc+
(MLB (22-22): 40pa, 5.0bb%, .200babip, 43wrc+)

P.S. thanks for “correcting” that Stroman “mistake”. Was surprised to see him off the list last time.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
2 years 2 months ago

“*are* his declining numbers…”

Babyspittle
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

I wouldn’t worry about the MLB sample, and the AAA numbers are dragged down by injury.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 2 months ago

I think his “declining” AAA numbers are overstated, because his offensive profile (lots of hard line drives) is not something that the PCL particularly inflates.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 2 months ago

Not to mention that his 2013 numbers came while playing on a bad ankle.

Brazen Reader
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Brazen Reader
2 years 2 months ago

Our Dear Host’s choice of WAR means that imprecise minor-league defensive translations rudely intrude on serious analysis. If Fangraphs’ glossary is worth two streams of spit, the 4 guys sporting wOBAs in the 300s project to be “poor” to “below average” hitters in 2014 (i.e., will not earn material MLB at bats no matter how good the glove).

O-Tav (if I may) projects to hit at an “average” to “above average” pace, which plays in 2014 if injuries on the ML squad so require. The superior STL front office will likely (a) ignore his subpar defense numbers as whackadoo nonsense or (b) move him from CF.

Brazen Reader
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Brazen Reader
2 years 2 months ago

(I should add that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I just floated that turd opinion hoping that someone would correct me and thereby save me from having to figure it out meself.)

williams .482
Member
Member
williams .482
2 years 2 months ago

Two factors here:
1. The run environment has declined somewhat since that piece was written. A .305ish wOBA is still pretty bad, but not disastrous.
2. A “poor” hitter with good defense at a more difficult position can be a valuable player.

leon
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leon
2 years 2 months ago

When Shawn Zarranga inevitably comes to the majors and dominates I propose we refer to him as ‘Zarrangatang’

Vision
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Vision
2 years 2 months ago

Giolito is a righty…not trying to play gotcha, just an FYI.

JSprech
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JSprech
2 years 2 months ago

Even with a 16% walk rate, I don’t think Zarraga is going to see MLB at bats unless Lucroy or Maldonado get injured.

Sean
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Sean
2 years 2 months ago

I could understand evaluating Polanco as a league average centerfielder right now, maybe, given no major league time there yet, but with the range he’s displayed in right already, coupled with the almost universal praise for his defense in the minors (rated best defensive outfielder in the Pirates system in 2012 by Baseball America), it seems strange that Steamer would regard his defense as merely league average.

John DiFool
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John DiFool
2 years 2 months ago

Mookie Betts, anyone? Not sure why someone with just 70 ml PA’s is on this list instead (or perhaps I misunderstand what it is attempting to do)…

Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 2 months ago

Steamer only projects Mookie to 1.5 WAR over 550 PA, so he doesn’t make the top 10.

Rebuilding
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Rebuilding
2 years 2 months ago

Man, how well would Kris Bryant have to hit to make the list? Was he not projected?

Wolf359
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

You’d think someone who’s doing the best Frank Thomas impression since the Big Hurt could crack a top ten mainly populated by third string catchers and utility infielders …

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

The Big Hurt never struck out as much in the MLB as Bryant is in AA right now.

Bryant’s “only” doing a Thome impression.

Harold Reynolds
Guest
Harold Reynolds
2 years 2 months ago

How about Duvall in Fresno, cracked his all of professional baseball leading 22nd hr. last night (I know it’s the PCL), batting very respectable .295 and still gets no love, what does he have to do. Maybe he’s a piece in a deal for Samardzija?

Sinnycal
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Sinnycal
2 years 2 months ago

Especially considering Sano still made the list with less impressive surface stats and worse peripherals at the same level and same position, and, oh yeah, having not played all year.

Raj
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Raj
2 years 2 months ago

no gausman, eh?

Matthew
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Matthew
2 years 2 months ago

Leidenschaftsherzfeuer would be the German word you’re looking for.

Marcus Tullius Cicero
Guest
Marcus Tullius Cicero
2 years 2 months ago

I call bullscheisse. Leidenshaftlichkeit, maybe…

Robert Kral
Guest
Robert Kral
2 years 2 months ago

You should trust the projections.

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