Projecting Sheldon Neuse, Part of the Return for Doolittle and Madson

The Nationals finally addressed their struggling bullpen yesterday by acquiring relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland Athletics. In return, Oakland received veteran reliever Blake Treinen and prospects Sheldon Neuse and Jesus Luzardo. Luzardo was a third rounder out of high school last year who has just 14 professional innings to his name. As such, I don’t have a KATOH projection for him, but Eric Longenhagen gave him a 40 FV in the offseason in his offseason writeup of the Nationals system.

Neuse was Washington’s 2016 second-round draft choice out of the University of Oklahoma. He was an excellent hitter in his last season of college, slashing .369/.465/.646 with 12 steals over 55 games. He has carried his hot hitting over to pro ball, slashing .291/.349/.469 at the Low-A level this year while playing shortstop.

A shortstop who can hit like Neuse sounds awfully enticing, but his other characteristics take off a lot of that luster. For one, it’s important to contextualize his numbers with his age relative to his level. Neuse turns 23 in December, making him a little old for Low-A. Top college draftees are typically further up the minor-league ladder by the time they’re 22 going on 23. Furthermore, Neuse has struck out a bit much this year — 21% — which suggests he may have serious contact issues once he reaches the upper levels. And while he’s played shortstop, Clay Davenport’s numbers suggest he hasn’t been particularly good there, recording -5 runs at short over 41 games. Throw in that he’s just 6-foot-even, and you have an awful lot of negatives that wash away his solid offensive numbers.

As a result, KATOH isn’t particularly high on Neuse. It projects him for 1.0 WAR over his first six seasons by stats-only KATOH and 0.5 WAR by KATOH+, which incorporates his prospect ranking. It sees him as a very fringey prospect who will most likely fizzle out in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

To put some faces to Neuse’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps. I calculated a Mahalanobis distance between Neuse’s Triple-A performance and every season since 1991. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Sheldon Neuse Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 John Nelson 0.3 0.0
2 Jim Deschaine 0.7 0.0
3 Jesus Merchan 0.5 0.0
4 Evert-Jean ‘t Hoen 0.3 0.0
5 Mark Grudzielanek 0.7 9.2
6 Ryan Klosterman 0.3 0.0
7 Andrew Beattie 0.2 0.0
8 Robbie Hudson 0.3 0.0
9 Pablo Martinez 0.6 0.0
10 Matt Kata 0.8 0.2

Eric Longenhagen slapped a 40 FV on Neuse over the winter and ranked him No. 16 in Washington’s system. Eric rated his raw power as above average and his throwing arm as plus, making him a noteworthy prospect. However, he also raised some of the same concerns that mute Neuse’s KATOH projection: strikeouts and an inability to play shortstop.

Neuse has done nothing but hit the last two years and has done so while playing a premium position. That automatically makes him interesting, as big leaguers who do that tend to be incredibly valuable; however, given his age, defense and swing-and-miss, it doesn’t seem particularly likely that he’ll be able to replicate his recent performance at the highest levels. He’ll wind up moving to third base sooner or later, and it’s doubtful he’ll make enough contact to be much of an offensive force.

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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jdbolick
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Neuse is already a third baseman. He shifted to shortstop for Hagerstown during this season because of Kieboom’s injury but will go back to third once he returns.