Archive for Minor Leagues

A Collegiate Summer Team Outdrew Most of the Minors

If 2001 romantic comedy Summer Catch provided any kind of service to humanity, it was to alert aspiring young ballplayers to the complicated but ultimately beneficial influence of Jessica Biel’s intoxicating charm on one’s talents. Many of our greatest minds have contemplated whether Freddie Prinze Jr.’s character Ryan Dunne would have, left to his own devices, received a contract offer from Phillies scout Hugh Alexander. It’s impossible to know, of course. Yet one suspects that the presence of Biel’s Tenley Parrish in Dunne’s life — whatever challenges it posed along the way — ultimately rendered him not only a better ballplayer but a better man.

Beyond this philosophical grist, Summer Catch offered another sort of gift to the public — specifically, by introducing a new demographic to the existence of the Cape Cod League. The country’s premier collegiate wood-bat summer circuit, the Cape League is one of those rare entities whose virtues are actually difficult for the soft-focus lens of a Hollywood film to embellish. The games feature some of the top amateur talent in the country, are played in a network of small parks along the New England coastline, and cost absolutely nothing to attend. It is, in some ways, the ideal way to experience the game.

And while the Cape’s version is, by a number of measures, the best of these wood-bat summer leagues, it certainly isn’t the only one. A map of collegiate summer teams compiled by Jeff Sackmann earlier this decade reveals their ubiquity:

Most of these teams follow a model similar to the one employed by the clubs on the Cape, offering families an opportunity to watch a fairly high level of baseball for something close to free. They draw 1,000 or 2,000 fans per game — in many cases, fewer than that — and are relatively modest in terms of presentation and ballpark experience.

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Tigers Prospect Brock Deatherage on Coming Alive After the Game Beat Him Up

This past weekend’s Sunday Notes column included a section on Brock Deatherage, a self-described “country boy from North Carolina” who aspires to be a farmer after his playing days are over. As promised within those paragraphs, we’ll now hear much more from the 22-year-old Detroit Tigers outfield prospect. More specifically, we’ll learn the reasons behind his poor junior season at North Carolina State and how that experience made him a better player today.

Deatherage is thriving in his first taste of professional baseball. In 231 plate appearances between the GCL, West Michigan, and (most recently) Lakeland, the left-handed-hitting speed burner is slashing .329/.383/.512 with six home runs and 16 stolen bases. He’s doing so after being selected by Detroit in the 10th round of this year’s June draft, one year after choosing to return to school rather than sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Deatherage discussed his tumultuous penultimate collegiate campaign, and how he subsequently turned things around, prior to a recent game.

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Brock Deatherage: “I had a pretty tough junior year. I started the season really well — I was hitting .400-plus — but then I kind of ran into a little wall. I was having some good at-bats, a lot of hard contact, but balls weren’t falling. From there, the mental side of the game kind of took over. I obviously knew it was my draft year, and I was projected to go pretty high, so I started to press at the plate. A lot of those little mental things started piling on, piling on.

“Then I started to make physical adjustments. I tried everything. I widened out. I shortened up. I stood up taller. I leg-kicked. I started open and strided in. I started with my hands a little bit lower, a little higher. I was trying everything to get out of that funk, but you can’t go in there and hit one way and then show up the next day and hit another way. Basically, I was trying to figure out what worked for me rather than sticking with what got me there and just working through it. I kept making all of these changes and adjustments, and it obviously didn’t work.

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Orioles Pitching Prospect Zac Lowther Has Vexing Funk

Zac Lowther has been deceptively good. In 20 starts this season between Low-A Delmarva and High-A Frederick, the 22-year-old southpaw boasts a 2.11 ERA and has punched out 134 while allowing just 76 hits in 106.2 innings. He came into the campaign No. 10 on our Orioles top-prospect list — no other publication had him ranked higher — and his propensity to miss barrels is due in large part to his delivery. Eric Longenhagen described the 6-foot-2, 235-pound hurler as “a low-slot lefty with vexing funk.”

Lowther has heard similar things from opposing hitters.

“I don’t have overwhelming velocity, but guys tell me the ball kind of jumps out of my hand,” related Lowther, whom the Orioles drafted 74th overall last summer out of Xavier University. They’ll say, ‘I don’t know what you do,’ and I’ll be like, ‘I just throw the ball as well as I can.’ It’s not something I actively think about. It’s more of them telling me I’m deceptive, as opposed to me figuring it out.”

Which doesn’t mean that he hasn’t figured out. Pitchers almost always understand what makes them effective, so Lowther knows as well as anyone why he induces a lot of uncomfortable swings.

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Good Scouting Was Behind the Hand/Mejia Trade

The Indians traded blocked top prospect Francisco Mejia to the Padres for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber today. It’s worth noting that the Dodgers, Indians, and Padres have all swung important deals within the past 24 hours and all have one thing in common: each has created depth by turning low-risk investments into real trade assets, via multiple avenues.

The Dodgers filled out the Machado deal with four prospects who weren’t touted until the last year or so. The Padres got Brad Hand on a waiver claim, while Cimber was completely off the radar until this year. The Indians, for their part, could afford to trade Mejia with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez representing superior options behind the plate. These aren’t the only instances of these clubs turning nothing into something, but a couple instances ended up driving these big deals.

The Orioles have announced they will create better infrastructure to do this sort of thing more often going forward. There’s also been buzz in scouting circles today that at least one of the clubs that attempted to land Machado believes their package ultimately fell short because of substandard scouting and/or development.

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A Conversation with New Oriole Zach Pop

Zach Pop isn’t the biggest name going from the Dodgers to the Orioles in the Manny Machado trade. But he does have the most electric arm, as well as an impressive track record against A-ball competition. In 35 professional games, the 21-year-old Brampton, Ontario native has allowed just 27 hits — only one of them a home run — in 48.1 innings. His ERA is a minuscule 0.93.

A seventh-round pick last year out of the University of Kentucky, Pop profiles, at least stylistically, as a right-handed version of Zach Britton. His signature pitch is a sinker that not only dips and dives but also sits in the mid-90s and ticks even higher. The worm-killer certainly proved to be an anathema to Midwest and California League hitters this season. Pitching for the Great Lakes Loons and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Pop boasted a 64% ground-ball rate and a .168 batting-average-against before being promoted to Double-A earlier this week (and subsequently swapped to the Dodgers, who are reportedly assigning him to the Bowie BaySox).

Pop talked about his aggressive approach on the mound and his decision to not sign with his then-favorite team out of high school, prior to the trade from Los Angeles to Baltimore.

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Pop on how he gets outs: “For me, it’s being able to throw that two-seam sinker — whatever you want to call it — to both sides of the plate, and mixing in the slider. I’ll go in with the four-seam, as well, to give a little bit of a different look, but everything starts off with the two-seamer sinker. That’s my strength. I like to stay down in the zone.

“I’m hunting outs any way I can get them. My goal is to induce weak contact, and if they want to swing at the first or second pitch and make an out before I can get a strikeout opportunity, than so be it. I haven’t really struck out that many guys this year with the Quakes, only around one per inning, maybe a little less. For the most part, I’m just trying to be efficient. I’m trying to break a barrel or just keep the ball on the ground.”

On his sinker and his delivery: “I do [have good velocity]. Yesterday, I hit 99 with my two-seamer. It used to be the case that I’d throw harder with my four-seam, but now it’s kind of equaled out. The only thing that’s really different is the movement. I get some pretty crazy numbers on my sinker. I think I have something like 20 inches of horizontal, and five inches of vertical, movement.

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Broadcasters’ View: Who Have Been the Top Players in the Midwest League?

Who have been the best players in the Midwest League so far this season? I recently posed that question to some of the circuit’s broadcasters, with an important qualifier: I requested that they base their selections on what they’ve seen with their own eyes and not on reputations. I also asked for snapshot observations on each player named, which the respondents graciously took the time to provide.

As noted in last season’s year-end survey, the Midwest League comprised two divisions, with an unbalanced schedule. Couple that with the fact that this is a midseason look, and the respondents will have seen some players more than others (or not at all). For that reason, notable prospects may not appear on a particular list.

Six broadcasters participated, three from the Eastern Division and three from the Western Division. Their respective lists were put together within the past month.

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Nathan Baliva, Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals)

1. Royce Lewis: Smooth in the field when we saw him in April. Hit the ball hard and to all fields. Consistent and you can see why he went 1-1.

2. Hunter Greene: So raw but so much fun to watch. His first 20-some pitches, and 45 of the first 46, were fastballs against us, so he wasn’t working on offspeed stuff that game — but when the fastballs were all 97-101, it was fun to watch the radar gun. He threw strikes — no walks, two hits, five Ks in four innings against us — and seems to have figured things out after a rough start. Will be fun to watch how he grows.

3. Alex Kirilloff: At least we aren’t the only team he crushes. What he has done coming off injury is awesome and very impressive after missing a full season of development at his age.

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Phillies Prospect Darick Hall on Learning to Launch

Darick Hall was leading the Florida State League with 11 home runs when he was promoted to Double-A Reading on the first of June. That should come as no surprise. One year ago, the 22-year-old first baseman led the South Atlantic League with 27 bombs in first full professional season. In 2016, he went deep 20 times at Dallas Baptist University prior to being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 14th round.

Hall, who was slashing .277/.367/.538 at the time of his promotion, began thriving after he adopted a high-launch-angle swing in his final collegiate season. And he’s certainly not turning back. While the 6-foot-4, 240-pound left-handed hitter is off to a slow start in the Eastern League — a .497 OPS and a pair of home runs in 12 games — he profiles as one of the best young power hitters in the Phillies system.

Hall talked about his game, including his power stroke and improved plate discipline, shortly before moving up to Double-A.

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Hall on becoming a more complete hitter: “Any time you’re labelled a power hitter, your power tool is kind of what shines. But you always want to be a complete hitter. You don’t want to sacrifice at-bats just to hit home runs. Your goal is to hit the ball square as many times as you can, and you definitely want to walk. Power hitters sometimes have a high strikeout rate, a low walk rate, and a low average. That’s not something you aspire to. You obviously want the home runs, but you also want to get on base.

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Mariners First-Rounder Evan White on Being Atypical

Evan White doesn’t fit a traditional mold. As a matter of fact, the 22-year-old University of Kentucky product was, in the opinion of Eric Longenhagen, “perhaps the 2017 draft’s most unique player.” As Longenhagen explained when putting together our Mariners prospect list, White not only bats right and throws left, he’s a first baseman whose athleticism and offensive skill set are arguably more akin to that of center fielder.

Last June’s 17th overall pick doesn’t project to hit for much power, but the Mariners were certainly enamored of what he accomplished as a collegian. In his three seasons as a Wildcat, White slashed .356/.414/.527 while playing exemplary defense. In the opinion of many scouts, he possesses Gold Glove potential — assuming he remains at his current position.

A native of Columbus, Ohio who grew up rooting for the Cincinnati Reds — Joey Votto remains a favorite — White is currently slashing .284/.356/.407, with three home runs, for the Modesto Nuts in the High-A California League. He discussed his game, including the ways it differs from the norm, in mid-May.

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White on throwing left and batting right: “I have an older cousin, and when I was a little kid, my grandpa cut down a golf club for him. It was a right-handed golf club and I started picking it up and swinging it. Ever since then — from around maybe four or five years old — I’ve swung right-handed. I’ve always thrown left-handed.

“My dad kind of messed around with me being a switch-hitter when I was growing up. He tried to get me to do it, but I never liked it. To be honest, I kind of like the thought of being unique. You don’t see many guys throwing left and hitting right. It’s something that’s always appealed to me.”

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Padres Prospect Cal Quantrill on His Repertoire

Cal Quantrill’s potential is considerable. Drafted eighth overall by the Padres in 2016 despite having undergone Tommy John surgery while at Stanford — he missed all of his junior year and much of his sophomore season — the 23-year-old right-hander possesses a combination of plus stuff and pitchability. Baseball America and MLB.com rank him as the fourth-best prospect in the San Diego system, while our own list — expect that soon — will have him a bit lower.

Quantrill, who is lauded as having one of the best changeups in the minors, has made seven starts for Double-A San Antonio this season and has a 3.52 ERA, a 3.29 FIP, and is striking out 8.2 batters per nine innings. He discussed his multi-pitch mix, and his take-no-prisoners approach, during spring training.

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Cal Quantrill: “I’m a fastball pitcher. Am I a power pitcher? I guess that would depend on how you want to define it. To me, a power pitcher is someone who attacks hitters, regardless of how fast their fastball is. They don’t fool around — they don’t play around with the edges of the strike zone — they go right after them. Getting ahead in the count is something I take great pride in. I try to make hitters get themselves out, and I want that to happen quickly so that I can go deep into games.

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A Conversation with Atlanta Braves Prospect Mike Soroka

When Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel released FanGraphs’ 2018 Top 100 Prospects list in February, Mike Soroka was described as “polished.” That’s especially meaningful given that the right-hander in the Atlanta Braves organization won’t turn 21 until August. And it’s far from his only attribute. Augmenting the aforementioned plaudit was an equally praiseworthy note that “everything he does is above average to plus.”

Add in the fact that Soroka dominated Double-A last year as a teenager — he had a 2.75 ERA in 26 starts at Mississippi — and it’s understandable why he ranks No. 34 overall on our list. Among pitchers (including two-way stalwarts Shohei Ohtani and Brendan McKay), he comes in at No. 14.

Drafted 28th overall by Atlanta in 2015 out of a Calgary, Alberta, Canada high school, Soroka is continuing his fast-track ways in the early stages of the 2018 campaign. In four outings with the Gwinnett Stripers, the 20-year-old has allowed just five runs in 22.2 innings against Triple-A competition. On Monday, he held Pawtucket scoreless through seven efficient frames.

Soroka discussed his have-fun attitude and the optimization of his repertoire this past weekend.

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Soroka on switching his focus from hockey to baseball: “I was a hockey player growing up. That was my main focus. When I was 12, I went to the Cal Ripken World Series, which is about the same age as the Little League World Series with a few differences. I represented Canada there. That’s when baseball got a little more serious, although it was still only in the summer months. A year or two later, I found that I just liked baseball better. I never went to a baseball practice, or to a game, that I didn’t want to be at.

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Top 22 Prospects: Toronto Blue Jays

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Toronto Blue Jays. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

All the numbered prospects here also appear on THE BOARD, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. Click here to visit THE BOARD.

Blue Jays Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 18 AA 1B 2019 65
2 Bo Bichette 19 AA 2B 2019 60
3 Anthony Alford 22 MLB CF 2018 55
4 Danny Jansen 22 AAA C 2018 50
5 Nate Pearson 21 A- RHP 2020 50
6 Ryan Borucki 23 AAA LHP 2018 45
7 T.J. Zeuch 22 A+ RHP 2019 45
8 Logan Warmoth 22 A+ SS 2020 45
9 Eric Pardinho 17 R RHP 2021 40
10 Reese McGuire 22 AAA C 2018 40
11 Sean Reid-Foley 22 AA RHP 2019 40
12 Thomas Pannone 23 AA LHP 2019 40
13 Lourdes Gurriel 24 MLB UTIL 2018 40
14 Rowdy Tellez 23 AAA 1B 2019 40
15 Richard Urena 22 MLB SS 2019 40
16 Yennsy Diaz 21 A RHP 2020 40
17 Samad Taylor 19 A 2B 2022 40
18 Riley Adams 21 A+ C 2021 40
19 Justin Maese 21 A RHP 2020 40
20 Hagen Danner 19 R C 2023 40
21 Zach Jackson 23 AA RHP 2019 40
22 Jon Harris 24 AA RHP 2018 40

65 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 6’1 Weight 200 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/65 65/70 40/70 40/30 40/50 60/60

Guerrero was identified as an elite talent years before the Jays signed him at age 16, exhibiting an advanced feel for hitting and raw power like his father. Unlike the elder Guerrero, Vlad Jr. has generally developed earlier — already looking too big for third base as a teenager and polishing his tools at a very young stage. Whether Vlad Jr. settles as a fringey third baseman or a first basemen/designated hitter is up for debate, but his easy plus hit and power tools (with ceiling for more) are not and will make his ascent to the big leagues a quick one.

60 FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Lakewood HS (FL)
Age 19 Height 6’0 Weight 200 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 65/70 40/60 45/45 45/50 55/55

Bichette was a well-known prospect in high school due to his bloodlines (father Dante and older brother Dante Jr., who was a first-round pick by the Yankees in 2011), his big tools (plus raw power), and his loud, max-effort swing. Many teams didn’t take him seriously as a top-two-round prospect, partly souring after his brother busted with a similar swing, but Bo has rare bat and body control along with good enough pitch selection to make his approach work, something his older brother did not.

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A Possible Legal Argument Against Service-Time Manipulation

Ronald Acuna is a very, very good prospect. As a 19-year-old last season, he played his way to Triple-A and recorded one of the top adjusted batting lines across the entire level. According to ZiPS, he currently projects as the fourth-best position player on the Atlanta Braves. By Steamer, he’s sixth best. Both systems regard him as the organization’s second-best outfielder.

For all this, however, Ronald Acuna will probably not appear on the Braves’ Opening Day roster.

If he doesn’t, it’s possible that Atlanta will provide a legitimate baseball reason. Given the scarcity of 20-year-olds in the majors, choosing not to roster one typically doesn’t require an elaborate explanation. There were no 20-year-old qualifiers last year, for example, or the year before that or the year before that.

But Acuna is also pretty special and, as noted, already one of the best players on his own team. If Atlanta chooses to break camp without him, it’s likely due to another reason — namely, to manipulate his service time.

Because 172 days represents one big-league season of service time, a team can leave a player in the minors until he’s capable of accruing only 170 days, thus buying the club an extra year of control. If they leave Acuna at Triple-A, the Braves will hardly be the first club to do so. The Cubs did it with Kris Bryant, the Yankees appear likely to do it with Gleyber Torres. None of this is new.

What I’d like to consider here, though, is a legal argument that might compel clubs to include these players on their Opening Day rosters.

A couple of years ago, Patrick Kessock wrote an excellent article for the Boston College Law Review in which he argued that service-time manipulation was probably a violation of the CBA. The basis of his argument was that, by keeping a player in the minor leagues for the purpose of gaining an extra year of control, the team was violating what is called the “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” So: what is this covenant? And, more importantly, is Kessock right?

The “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” is a legal doctrine governing contracts. In a case called United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., the United States Supreme Court held that a collective bargaining agreement is “more than a contract.” But we also know from a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals case called United Steelworkers of America, etc. v. New Park Mining Co (yes, the Steelworkers have a lot of lawsuits) that “the covenant of good faith and fair dealings which must inhere in every collective bargaining contract if it is to serve its institutional purposes.”  That’s just a fancy way of saying that the covenant of good faith and fair dealing is a part of CBAs, too.

So having established that this doctrine applies, what does it mean? You’ll remember from a previous post that we talked about Restatements, books which explain the majority rules in certain areas of the law. If we look in Section 205 of the Restatement (Second) of Contracts, we find this: “Every contract imposes upon each party a duty of good faith and fair dealing in its performance and its enforcement.” And each Restatement has what are called “comments,” which are really explanations and examples of what the rule means. The comments to Section 205 are pretty long, so I won’t reproduce them here, but they do provide a pretty useful definition, as follows:

“Good faith performance or enforcement of a contract emphasizes faithfulness to an agreed common purpose and consistency with the justified expectations of the other party; it excludes a variety of types of conduct characterized as involving “bad faith” because they violate community standards of decency, fairness or reasonableness.”

It’s the “justified expectations” language on which Kessock hangs his hat. Teams, after all, are supposed to compete for championships. Kessock argues that, therefore, “[t]he MLBPA can assert that its reasonable expectation is that MLB clubs will assign players to the major league roster once club executives believe that players have reached full minor league development and can help the
team compete for a championship.”  But that might not be not so clear-cut. After all, it’s also a justifiable expectation that teams are also supposed to try to win multiple championships. Therefore, gaining that extra year of control over a good player is reasonably geared more towards that goal.

But I still think Kessock is on to something here, and there might be another way to argue this using the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Remember that minor-league players aren’t members of the MLBPA until they get called up. And that means that, by keeping a player in the minor leagues, a team is deliberately postponing a player from becoming a member of the union for the club’s own benefit. And that (arguably) could be regarded as bad faith.

It seems to me that a viable argument can be made that it is unfair to postpone a player’s entry into the union solely for a team’s pecuniary gain. Article II of the CBA states that “[t]he Clubs recognize the [MLBPA] as the sole and exclusive collective bargaining agent for all Major League Players, and individuals who may become Major League Players during the term of this Agreement, with regard to all terms and conditions of employment” (emphasis mine). I think the MLBPA could argue, based on Article II, that its justified expectations are that MLB won’t attempt to circumvent players’ pecuniary gain by keeping them out of the union, because future major leaguers were an anticipated part of the CBA.

Now, there is an obvious counterargument: since future major leaguers were an anticipated part of the CBA, they should have reasonably expected MLB teams to do something which the CBA doesn’t expressly prohibit.  And even if a player could make the argument work from a legal perspective, there are a whole host of practical problems to solve. After all, I’ve never seen a prospect without any flaws at all (especially pitchers), so proving a prospect is being kept in the minor leagues solely for service time reasons is a tall order. Even Ronald Acuna struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances in A-ball last year, providing a plausible path for the Braves to argue he needed more seasoning in the minors. Also, we’re talking here about the player filing a grievance, not a lawsuit. Grievances take a long time to resolve: Kris Bryant, who filed one in 2015 for service-time manipulation by the Cubs, was still waiting for a resolution two years later.

But, with all that said, I do think that Kessock is right: there’s at least a plausible argument to be made that service-time manipulation violates the spirit of the CBA, if not its letter. And the spirit of the CBA is what the covenant of good faith and fair dealing is designed to protect.


The 2018 All-KATOH Team

Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel published their top-100 list on Monday. Other outlets have released similar lists, as well, recently — outlets including Baseball AmericaBaseball Prospectus, Keith Law, and MLB Pipeline. I submitted my own contribution yesterday with KATOH’s top-100 prospects. All of these lists attempt to accomplish the very same goal: both to identify and rank the best prospects. But KATOH goes about it in a very different way than the others. While most others rely heavily on scouting, KATOH focuses on statistical performance.

On the whole, there’s a good deal of agreement between KATOH and the more traditional rankings. Many of KATOH’s favorite prospects have also received praise from real-live human beings who’ve watched them play. Ronald Acuna, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Brent Honeywell, Michael Kopech, and Kyle Tucker all fall within this group. In general, there is a lot of agreement. However, there are other KATOH favorites who’ve received little public consideration from prospect analysts. The purpose of this article is to give these prospects a little bit of attention.

For each position, I’ve identified the player, among those excluded from all top-100 lists, who’s best acquitted by KATOH. These players have performed in the minors in a way that usually portends big-league success. Yet, for one reason or another, each has been overlooked by prospect evaluators.

Of course, the fact that these players missed every top-100 list suggests that their physical tools are probably underwhelming. That’s very important information! Often times, the outlook for players like this is much worse than their minor-league stats would lead you to believe. There’s a reason people in the industry always say “don’t scout the stat line.” Although KATOH scouts the stat line in an intuitive fashion, it still overlooks important inputs that can predict big-league success.

Still, the stat-line darlngs sometimes pan out. I performed this  exact same exercise last year, as well, and I’m proud to say there were some big successes. Rhys HoskinsJake Faria, Ben Gamel, Chad Green, and Brandon Nimmo have each blossomed into productive big leaguers just one year out. Zach Davies and Edwin Diaz also appeared in this space two years ago. Of course, others haven’t worked out so well. Clayton Blackburn, Dylan Cozens, Ramon Flores, and Garrett Stubbs: none of them were particularly useful major leaguers in 2017. There will be hits, and there will be misses, especially when you’re dealing with non-elite prospects.

*****

C – Jake Rogers, Detroit (Profile)

Why KATOH Loves Him
Rogers hit a respectable .261/.350/.467 across two levels of A-ball last year, pairing an 11% walk rate with encouraging power. Most impressive of all, however, is that he did so as a catcher — a position where good hitters are few and far between. Rogers isn’t just any catcher, either: Clay Davenport’s defensive numbers graded him out as elite. Elite defensive catchers who can also hit a little are exceptionally valuable.

Why Scouts Don’t (J.J Cooper)

He has a big leg kick to start his swing, and takes a ferocious cut with a pull-heavy approach. When his swing works, he has the power to deposit pitches in the left-field bleachers. When it doesn’t, he rolls over ground outs or hits a number of harmless pop outs. Evaluators generally see Rogers as a below-average hitter with a lot of swings and misses and average bat speed.

My Thoughts
Usually, KATOH’s catcher crushes are good hitters who are questionable behind the plate. Rogers is the exact opposite, as his offense is the questionable piece. Eric Longenhagen called him “best defensive catching prospect I’ve seen, a polished receiver and cat-like ball-blocker with a plus arm” over the summer. Even if Rogers’ A-ball numbers ultimately don’t translate, he could still be a solid regular given how little catchers hit. For example, Martin Maldonado defended his way to 1.1 WAR last year in spite of a 73 wRC+.

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KATOH Projects Pittsburgh’s Return for Andrew McCutchen

The Giants have acquired outfielder Andrew McCutchen in exchange for Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds. Below are the KATOH projections for Pittsburgh’s newest prospects.

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KATOH Projects Pittsburgh’s Return for Gerrit Cole

The Astros have acquired right-hander Gerrit Cole (for real this time) from the Pirates in exchange for Michael Feliz, Joe Musgrove, and prospects Jason Martin and Colin Moran. Below are the KATOH projections for the latter two of those players.

Note that WAR figures account for each player’s first six major-league seasons. KATOH denotes the stats-only version of the projection system, while KATOH+ denotes the methodology that includes a player’s prospect rankings.

*****

Colin Moran, 3B (Profile)
KATOH: 3.0 WAR
KATOH+: 2.8 WAR

The Marlins made Moran the sixth-overall pick back in 2013, but his stock has cratered since. His bat never developed the way scouts thought it would, culminating in a paltry .259/.329/.368 line in 2016. He showed signs of life last year, however, hitting .308/.373/.543 in his second crack at Triple-A. For the first time as a professional, he hit for power — largely by upping his fly-ball rate by 10 percentage points — while simultaneously cutting eight points off of his strikeout rate.

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The Status of the Scouts vs. Stats Debate

“Scouts vs. stats” is an expression that boils a complex, gray issue into clear black-and-white sides,in a way that’s familiar to those who follow political media. In the reality of front-office decision-making, however, this “debate” has been settled for years and the obvious answer was always “both.”

In fact, the issue has moved past simply using both. Until recently, if one suggested that a club should move further toward one side at the expense of the other, anyone could shoot back with a counter example of recent success from the other end of the spectrum. That’s a bit harder do now: two years removed from the Royals’ latest World Series appearance and three years out from the 2010-2014 Giants run, there isn’t a current standard bearer for the traditional point of view, even if that’s just cyclical and I’m using a somewhat subjective label.

The final four clubs standing in each of 2016 and 2017 — the Astros, Blue Jays, Cubs, Dodgers, Indians, and Yankees — would all rank among the top 10 of any industry poll of the league’s most progressive clubs. If you want to argue that their success is the result of variance, a blip, or mere coincidence, this development isn’t just the product of randomness. There’s an actual explanation. In these last two seasons, we’ve seen a fundamental change in the style of play (a greater emphasis on the air ball, quick hooks on starters, more aggressive bullpen usage, etc.) — particularly in the postseason. A progressive club, by definition, will adapt more quickly to such changes.

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KATOH Projects the Scott Alexander Return

The Dodgers, Royals, and White Sox swung a three-team, six-player trade yesterday involving relievers Scott Alexander, Luis Avilan, and Joakim Soria plus three prospects: Trevor Oaks, Erick Mejia and Jake Peter.

Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel have provided scouting reports for the prospects changing hands. Below are the KATOH projections for those same players. WAR figures account for each player’s first six major-league seasons. KATOH denotes the stats-only version of the projection system, while KATOH+ denotes the methodology that includes a player’s prospect rankings.

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Trevor Oaks, RHP, Kansas City (Profile)

KATOH: 3.4
KATOH+: 2.6

Oaks caught KATOH’s eye last year when he put up a 2.74 ERA with decent peripherals across 24 starts in the Dodgers system. An oblique injury effectively ended his 2017 season in July, but not before he recorded a 3.49 FIP and 21% strikeout rate in 84 Triple-A innings. Oaks turns 25 in March but has succeeded as a starter at the highest level of the minors.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Evan Longoria Trade

The Giants have acquired Evan Longoria from the Rays in exchange for major leaguer Denard Span, plus prospects Christian Arroyo, Matt Krook, and Stephen Woods.

Below are the KATOH projections for the prospects received by Tampa Bay. WAR figures account for each player’s first six major-league seasons. KATOH denotes the stats-only version of the projection system, while KATOH+ denotes the methodology that includes a player’s prospect rankings. In total, my KATOH system projects these prospects for a combined 2.4 WAR (2.2 by KATOH+) over their first six years in the majors.

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Christian Arroyo, IF (Profile)
KATOH: 1.5 WAR
KATOH+: 1.8 WAR

Arroyo missed a large chunk of 2017 due to multiple hand injuries and hit just .192/.244/.304 in 34 games with the Giants. Even without accounting for his small-sample big-league struggles, though, Arroyo’s track record doesn’t portend particularly great things. He hit a punchless .274/.316/.373 at Double-A in 2016 and his small-sample success at Triple-A last year was largely aided by his .427 BABIP. Arroyo’s youth and contact skills make him interesting, but he has very little power or speed and has already more or less moved off of shortstop.

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Projecting the 2017 Rule 5 Picks

This year’s Rule 5 draft came and went yesterday, with 18 players selected in the major-league phase of the draft. All the players selected will need to spend the entire 2018 season on their new team’s active roster (or disabled list). Otherwise, they have to be offered back to their original team.

Since most of these players do not have any sort of prospect pedigree anyway, I utilized the stats-only version of KATOH. WAR figures represent projections for the first six years of a player’s major-league career. For a scouting companion to this post, read Eric Longenhagen’s analysis from earlier this afternoon.

Players listed in order of draft selection.

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1. Detroit Tigers
Victor Reyes, OF, 1.9 WAR (from D-backs)

Reyes has long been a KATOH darling. Look no further than his player page to see the articles in which he has been tagged.

KATOH has always believed in Reyes’s blend of youth, contact, and speed — a skill set he carried into Double-A last year. Reyes showed everything except for power as 22-year-old in Double-A last year. Given his 6-foot-3 frame, I wouldn’t be surprised if more power eventually shows up.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Giancarlo Stanton Trade

The Yankees have acquired reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins in exchange for Starlin Castro plus prospects Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. A possible $30 million in cash would also be included in the event Stanton chooses not to opt out of his mega-contract following the 2020 season.

Below are the KATOH projections for the prospects received by Miami. WAR figures account for each player’s first six major-league seasons. KATOH denotes the stats-only version of the projection system, while KATOH+ denotes the methodology that includes a player’s prospect rankings. In total, my KATOH system projects these prospects for a combined 5.9 WAR (5.2 by KATOH+) over their first six years in the majors.

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Jorge Guzman, RHP (Profile)
KATOH: 3.3 WAR
KATOH+: 3.2 WAR

Acquired from the Astros last winter in the Brian McCann trade, Guzman dominated the New York-Penn League in 2017. He struck out a league-leading 33% of opposing batters this past season and walked just 7%. The end result was a 2.30 ERA across 13 starts. At 21 years old, Guzman wasn’t particularly young for short-season ball — especially for an international signee — but his performance was off the charts. As a result, KATOH has him as a top-150 prospect. Guzman is obviously several levels away from the majors, but there is a lot to like.

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