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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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.