The Top 10 Prospects Currently by Projected WAR

What follows is an exercise not very different than that one performed on a slightly larger scale by the author at the very beginning of the season. As was the case with that post, 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. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York AL (Profile)

150 8.7 1.6 0.99 3.29 3.3

Tanaka has pitched only 49.0 innings thus far, which means he’ll only officially become part of the 2014 rookie class after recording three more outs*. If his performance to date is any indication, he will likely require only probably three batters to do that.

*Which statement ignores any consideration of his time thus far on the active roster, which is probably very close to 45 days at this point.

2. Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis (Profile)

550 5.5% 13.2% 14 .322 2.4

At 22, Taveras is very much among the youngest players at Triple-A — and yet he’s recording slightly above-average offensive numbers. That’s not surprising, probably, given his established performance and the attendant scouting reports. Of note: Steamer’s rest-of-season projection for Taveras remains basically identical so far as the outfielder’s rate stats are concerned.

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

415 11.1% 20.2% 11 .310 2.1

Kral was absolutely the most obscure player to appear among the top-10 prospects by projected WAR when the author attempted an exercise similar to this one a month-plus ago. And even though his slash stats (.211/.343/.333) haven’t been particularly attractive through his first 70 plate appearances at Double-A San Antonio, the catcher has produced entirely reasonable defense-independent figures (like a 17.1% walk and 22.9% strikeout rate, for example) — which metrics become reliable much more quickly than BABIP.

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

550 7.9% 10.4% 4 .321 2.1

While Dan Uggla has had some unarguably excellent offensive seasons and a considerably more substantial career than anyone would have expected, he doesn’t entirely resemble the best version of himself right now — nor has he for a while, probably. Given his limited power, La Stella has a lower ceiling; given his fantastic control of the strike zone, however, his floor appears much higher.

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

150 8.0 3.5 1.01 4.08 2.0

Due to a combination of shoulder soreness and then biceps tendinitis, Zimmer hasn’t recorded any innings thus far in 2014 after producing a 140:36 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 108.1 innings last year between High- and Double-A. He remains in extended spring training for the moment and is expected to return in mid- to late-May.

6. Chris Taylor, SS/2B, Seattle (Profile)

550 7.3% 19.3% 6 .304 2.0

Seattle contains within its organization a striking number of offensively competent, relatively unheralded infield types. Kyle Seager is presently the most successful of these, but Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, and Brad Miller — and apparently Chris Taylor, too — all feature more or less the same skill set. One notes that any of these would have been useful at second base, probably, had the Mariners not signed Robinson Cano over the winter.

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

550 11.3% 14.5% 6 .318 1.9

Nearly all the same comments that apply to Chris Taylor (just above) apply to Kelly, as well, with the caveat that Kelly is both older (25 this year) and not as flexible defensively. Much of Steamer’s enthusiasm for Kelly is derived from the infielder’s plate-discipline figures: in 417 plate appearances at Triple-A now, Kelly has produced walk and strikeout rates of 20.1% and 14.9%, respectively.

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

550 8.2% 28.0% 22 .313 1.9

Like Kyle Zimmer (above), Sano hasn’t made any appearances this season in a minor-league game. Unlike Zimmer, unfortunately, he probably won’t. If there’s good news, it’s that his Tommy John surgery in March went well. Should rehab proceed as expected, Sano will be ready for 2015.

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

550 9.1% 21.3% 10 .303 1.8

Were a catcher with major-league aspirations to choose an organization, San Francisco probably wouldn’t be his first choice, owing to the presence there of the very talented Buster Posey. On his own merits, however, Susac has probably earned a promotion to the majors. After missing about two weeks with concussion-related symptoms, Susac recently returned to Triple-A Fresno lineup, where he’s recorded an offensive line 50% better than league average.

10. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Boston (Profile)

550 9.2% 18.1% 6 .318 1.8

Last year at this time, Cecchini was playing third base in the High-A Carolina League. Following promotions to Double-A and, to begin the 2014 season, to Triple-A, Cecchini’s plate-discipline figures have eroded somewhat, but he continues to demonstrate the same basic skills that have made him a success at lower levels.


Five 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.
  • Three notable rookies who would have appeared here but have passed the relevant playing-time thresholds are these three: Jose Abreu, Xander Bogaerts, and Yordano Ventura.
  • Two notable rookies who would have nearly appeared here, but who’ve also passed the relevant playing time-threshold are these two: Josmil Pinto and Kolten Wong.
  • One player who would have appeared here but is ineligible for the list on account of he’s currently partaking in his age-27 season is this one: Dean Anna.
  • Finally, the reader should note that the case of Marcus Stroman is a difficult one so far as this exercise is concerned. Because he’s currently pitching out of the bullpen, he’s being projected as a reliever. Because pitchers’ rate stats improve while working in a relief capacity, it’s not reasonable merely to prorate Stroman’s projections to 150 innings, as with other starts. Accordingly, he’s been omitted from this list. That doesn’t alter the fact, however, that Marcus Stroman is very good.

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27 Responses to “The Top 10 Prospects Currently by Projected WAR”

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  1. Urban Shocker says:

    Not to be tedious and/or hyper-critical, but what is the point of a 2014 WAR projection for Sano?

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    • No, that’s fair. I debated whether to include him or not. Ultimately, I decided on including him, with the idea that the point of the post is to reflect the present-day true talent of rookie-eligible players. That may or may not be a good idea.

      For what it’s worth, Vince Belnome is ranked 11th by this methodology and would have appeared here had Sano been omitted.

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  2. Euclid says:

    I’m not sure if those numbers are accurate. According to my calculations, Mookie Betts is in possession of all WAR going forward.

    In fact, you might say All your wins are belong to Betts.

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  3. Tyler says:

    A shame about the age cutoff. Solarte has been a cool story.

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  4. everdiso says:

    We get one article projecting disaster for the jays thanks to no starting pitching, and then this one condemning the best-performing SP prospect in milb this year to the bullpen all year anyways.

    Jays can never win!

    Even worse, the omission lets a red sock 3B prospect sporting a .762ops in AAA despite a .379babip, and who’s only once shown mlb-calibre power (in a brief stint in A+ at age 22), andvwho is likely a corner OF defensively, make the top 10 instead!

    That’s just rubbing it in.

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    • Sosa says:

      5 week samples of minor league stats aren’t predictive. If this list was based on production, Mookie Betts would be ahead of your favorite Jay, and you’d still be able to spin an anti-Jays/pro-Boston bias comment. This isn’t about the Jays or prospects you care about, it’s a flawed projection system forecasting immediate returns for prospects, and it’s admittedly flawed throughout.

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      • everdiso says:

        well, it’s more than just 5 weeks. Cecchini is a 23yr old who’s posted only about a .780ops with a sub-.100iso in all his at bats above A+. Yes, that’s an OBP-heavy OPS, but it’s also a BABIP-heavy OPS. And he’s likely not capable of handling 3B (or any other position) defensively longterm, either.

        meanwhile, Stroman is a 23yr old who has dominated milb (10.7k/9, 2.5bb/9, 3.03era, ~2.90fip), and might be the best pitcher in milb so far this year….and the jays will likely need him in the rotation at some point.

        so it’s doubly tough for both my Jays love and my Sox hate.

        but I digress.

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  5. Pirates Hurdles says:

    Curious why Steamer projects Gregory Polanco to get only 78 MLB plate appearances this season? The iso and slg projections are laughably outdated.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      Zips had Polanco at 3.2 WAR even with the lack of power projection, what says Steamer over a full season?

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      • Spit Ball says:

        And its root, root, root for the home team.

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        • szielinski says:

          Rooting for the home team or pointing to an obvious anomaly for which Steamer architects must give an explanation or a fix which removes the anomaly?

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        • J. Cross says:

          Okay, Steamer architect here but I’m not sure how much I can help. Here are 4 preseason projections for Polanco:

          Oliver .333/.418
          ZiPS .309/.392
          Pecota .300/.372
          Steamer .300/.364

          Avg: .310/.387

          So Steamer does give the lowest projection and I agree that as a general matter the projection systems that are closer to the center on any given player are more likely to be “right” and that averaging system gives you a better projection than any system on its own. All system have some players for which they are the high projection and some where they’re lower. We could fix all the projection system (and probably improve them each a bit) by hedging towards other systems so that at any moment we’re all projecting the exact same thing. Is that desirable?

          Although I’d agree that in light of the other systems Steamer’s Polanco projection is more likely to be too low than too high, “obvious anomaly” might be going too far given how close the pecota projection is. I don’t know enough about other systems to explain the differences though.

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        • RetireNutting says:

          I know Oliver factors Winter ball PAs and defense and, am I correct, Steamer doesn’t? Might handicap Steamer for prospect projection in terms of WAR and complete contribution.

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  6. therealestdan says:

    Given the uncertainty around playing time and mjor league status when Profar returns, thoughts/stats on Odor projections this year at a primo position?

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    • Henry Blanco says:

      Odor ratings: .274/.338/.411 with 16 stolen bases and 43 fielding errors.

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    • Son of Samuel's Son says:

      One does not simply odor. One has to hit .250/.250/.438 or .261/.303/.391 or .258/.295/.384!!!!?!!

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  7. walt526 says:

    After Sandoval leaves as a FA after this season, Giants should move Posey to 3B and utilize Sanchez and Susac behind the dish. Slight defensive downgrade, but far less wear-and-tear on Posey and he would still be a huge asset at 3B.

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  8. vonstott says:

    Buxton doesn’t project better than Vince Belnome?

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  9. Satoshi Nakamoto says:

    Why no Gregory Polanco?

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  10. Tim says:

    Jose Abreu also misses the age cutoff, aside from the PA threshold.

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  11. Bobby Ayala says:

    The inclusion of Kral on this list continues to de-legitimize the following:
    1) Steamer
    2) ZiPS
    3) WAR
    4) Fangraphs

    It was cute when he made the preseason list, it was funny the first time he made the Fringe Five, now it’s a reason to reconsider the value of prospect information I get from this site. I understand this particular top-10 list was generated by prorating the preseason list, but at some point we need to stop this hysterical fantasy about a 25-year-old part time AA catcher who can’t hit.

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  12. RetireNutting says:

    RE: Taveras being on here, Polanco not.

    Sure, Oscar’s 9 months younger than Polanco. He also had a lot more success in AA (159 wRC+ to Polanco’s 112). But let’s talk about two factors: 1) defensive value and 2) MiLB run environments.

    1) Oliver loves Polanco’s defense. Absolutely loves it and projects him at 14.8 D value over the next 5 years. Taveras gets 1.4 during that same timespan.

    2) In talking through run environment, let’s just use AA and AAA #s for brevity’s sake. OT’s numbers came in relatively neutral Texas League and hitter-friendly PCL in AA and AAA, respectively. Polanco’s #s came from relatively pitching-friendly Eastern League and International League at AA and AAA, respectively. Taveras has the edge in wRC+ at AA and in sample size (159 to 112) and GP takes the lead at AAA (196 to 123).

    In summation, Taveras *may possibly* be a better hitting prospect than GP but, due to run environment and this year’s numbers, he very well may not be. Even if OT *is* a better hitting prospect than GP, he’d have to be substantially better to overcome his comparative defensive (and I didn’t even mention baserunning) deficiencies. Let’s also mention the nagging injuries he’s had. I think a case could be made that Polanco is the better prospect.

    **I am a Pirates fan

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