The Top 10 Prospects Currently by Projected WAR

Recently, in these pages, Marc Hulet released his midseason top-25 prospect list — designed, that particular post, to sort out the best prospects in baseball according to overall future potential. What follows is a different thing than that — designed to identify not baseball’s top prospects, but rather 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 such as that recently released by Hulet.

*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.

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

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 5.8% 12.7% 10 .305 1.7

Based on his defensive history, Pirela is regarded as a second baseman-cum-shortstop — this, despite having played much of the former, almost none of the latter, and a considerable amount of left field in 2014. All things being equal, a defensively average shortstop is about 1.5 wins more valuable over the course of a season than a defensively average left fielder, so it’s likely that Pirela’s current and future utility depends on his capacity to occupy that space towards the more demanding end of the defensive spectrum.

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

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
415 10.9% 20.4% 11 .300 1.8

Kral’s July has been a microcosm of his entire season, really. Over 26 plate appearances this month, he’s recorded a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 5:4. Which, that’s good. What else he’s done is produce a .118 BABIP and overall line of .095/.269/.095. Not as good, that. Steamer appears to weigh the above-average plate-discipline figures much more heavily than dismal batted-ball numbers, however — which fact, in conjunction with Kral’s catcher positional adjustment and historical batting record, conspires to create a more optimistic projection than one might otherwise suppose.

8. Shawn Zarraga, C, Milwaukee (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
415 7.6% 12.4% 5 .309 1.8

Zarraga’s profile is nearly identical to Kral’s insofar as he (a) has been slightly old for his levels, (b) has recorded excellent plate-discipline figures, and (c) benefits from the catcher’s positional adjustment in terms of projected value. One difference is this: while Kral’s slash stats are unsightly, Zarraga has actually helped the case for some kind of future in the majors. To wit: in 235 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A, the 25-year-old possesses a line of .358/.453/.458. The Pacific Coast League has posed a greater challenge for Zarraga; his season as a while, however, has been a success.

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

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 8.2% 28.0% 22 .313 1.8

Despite a Tommy John procedure which will prevent him from recording a single plate appearance this season, Sano still appeared 12th and 9th on Marc Hulet’s and Baseball America’s midseason prospect lists. The projections suggest that, in addition his considerable future value, that Sano also possesses quite a bit in terms of present value, as well. For example: his projected wOBA according to Steamer (.313) is almost precisely the figure which that same projection has produced for current Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe (.314).

6. Andrew Susac, C, San Francisco (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
415 9.6% 22.2% 10 .297 1.8

Given a choice, there are likely other organizations for which a catching prospect would choose to play than San Francisco — which parent club features in Buster Posey the best catcher in the majors according both to Steamer and ZiPS. After a promising 2013 campaign at Double-A Richmond, however, Susac has almost exactly replicated that performance this season with Triple-A Fresno, recording walk and strikeout rates of 13.6% and 20.7%, respectively, and a slash line of .265/.376/.456 in 242 plate appearances.

5. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago NL (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 7.8% 29.3% 25 .320 1.9

It’s difficult for a player to produce much value at the major-league level while striking out 30% of the time without also hitting about a billion homers per year. Fortunately, both scouting reports and also the projections suggest that Bryant is capable of hitting about a billion home runs per year.

4. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/OF, Chicago NL (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 6.4% 24.3% 12 .310 2.0

The newly promoted Alcantara differs from a number of other players on this list insofar as he’s ever exhibited what might be considered elite, or even above-average, plate-discipline numbers. Over nearly 2,000 plate appearances as a minor leaguer, the 22-year-old has produced walk and strikeout rates of just 6.8% and 20.9%, respectively. What he does well, though, is almost every other baseball thing, including (but not limited to): hit for reasonable power, play above-average defense, and steal bases with considerable efficiency.

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

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
150 8.0 3.4 0.99 4.08 2.0

Zimmer appeared on both the May and June editions of this same thing — and now appears here in July — despite having recorded zero appearances all season. According to Pete Grathhoffte of the Kansas City Star, however, the right-handed Zimmer was scheduled to begin throwing on whatever the first Monday was after July 12th. Presumably, he’s done that now. Steamer doesn’t know about all that, really. What it knows is that Zimmer throws hard and has produced excellent professional numbers.

2. Chris Taylor, SS, Seattle (Profile)

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 7.7% 20.5% 6 .306 2.1

The lack of enthusiasm for Taylor is a bit mysterious. He’s only 23 years old, appears to possess shortstop-type defensive skills, and is slashing .329/.400/.500 at Triple-A. Neverthless, he’s absent from Baseball America’s top-50 midseason prospect list (among others). In any case, the computer math which informs Jared Cross’s Steamer projection system regards the Virginia product much more favorably.

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

PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR
550 11.2% 15.5% 8 .321 2.1

Kelly bears some resemblance to the player who appears 10th on this list, Yankees prospect Jose Pirela — insofar, that is, as he’s historically played only within the infield but has been deployed much more frequently as an outfielder in the high minors. He’s recorded walk and strikeout rates of 16.9% and 16.7%, respectively, with Triple-A Tacoma this year, though — and that sort of plate discipline combined with reasonable power and the capacity to play second or third conspires to produce a league-average ballplayer.

***

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.
  • The players who’ve become ineligible for this list since the June edition are as follows: Tommy La Stella and Marcus Stroman and Gregory Polanco.
  • Still eligible for this list is Mookie Betts, although his combined projection (1.708 WAR per 550 PA) leaves him just behind Pirela (1.7416 WAR per 550 PA).


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