The 2017 All-KATOH Team

Baseball America recently published their top-100 list of prospects, as have Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law and MLB Pipeline. Eric Longenhagen will be putting out his top-100 this spring, too. I submitted my contribution on Tuesday, when I put out KATOH’s top-100 prospects. All of these lists attempt to accomplish the very same goal: identifying and ranking 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 rea- live human beings who’ve watched them play. Andrew Benintendi, J.P. Crawford, Michael Kopech, and Austin Meadows all fall within this group. However, there are other KATOH favorites who’ve received very little attention from prospect rankers. 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 the non-numerical attributes that can predict big-league success.

I performed this exact same exercise last year, as well, and I’m proud to say there were some successes. This time last year, Edwin Diaz was a KATOH guy who was unanimously omitted from top-100 lists due to his high-effort delivery and lack of a viable third pitch. Now, he’s coming off of one of the best reliever seasons we’ve ever seen. Zach Davies also appeared on this list last year as a soft-tossing righty. He promptly posted a 2.8 WAR season as a 23-year-old. He was especially effective in last year’s second half, posting a 3.40 FIP after July 1st.

Of course, I also touted Ramon Flores, Clayton Blackburn and Zach Lee in this space last year. One year later, those guys are flirting with non-prospect-dom. But let’s try to remain optimistic and not think about them right now. There will be hits, and there will be misses.

Bear in mind that this exercise excludes the KATOH darlings who still wound up on top-100 lists. For example, KATOH loves Jake Bauers, Manny Margot and Thomas Szapucki way more than most. Even though KATOH’s assessment of these prospects is more optimistic than most, they’re ineligible for this list because at least one well-respected outlet ranked those same prospects among the top-100 rookie-eligible players on the planet. The players below are the ones who are a bit further off the radar.

*****
C – Garrett Stubbs, Houston (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Stubbs hit a slick .309/.397/.472 between High-A and Double-A last year while walking nearly as much as he struck out. For a catcher, that’s amazing, especially considering he opened the year as a 22-year-old. He also swiped 15 bases, which suggests he’ll provide additional value with his legs. Though he’s mastered Double-A, he’s still just 23, which is relatively young for a college bat.

Why scouts don’t (per Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook):

He projects as a near-average hitter with well below-average power… Stubbs’ size is the biggest impediment to him becoming a big league regular. No regular backstop today weighs as little as Stubbs, but he could still be a solid contributor even if limited to a part-time role behind the plate.

*****

1B – Dan Vogelbach, Seattle (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Vogelbach clobbered Triple-A pitching to the tune of .287/.410/.495 last year, which was one of the better offensive seasons in all of the minor leagues. Unlike many hitters who clobber homers off of minor-league pitching, Vogelbach didn’t strike out a ton, whiffing in a manageable 18% of plate appearances last year. Hitters who who’ve mastered the highest level of the minors at age 23 are a rare breed.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

He’s not a good athlete and has issues with range, footwork, flexibility and throwing accuracy. He’ll make the occasional, spectacular-looking, effort-based play but hasn’t shown enough technical refinement in his five pro seasons to convince scouts he can play a position.

*****

2B – Luis Arraez, Minnesota (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Arraez hit .347/.386/.444 as a 19-year-old in full-season ball. I could probably end my blurb right there, since almost no one hits .347 anymore. But it’s also worth noting that he plays a premium-ish position in second base and grades out exceptionally well there by Clay Davenport’s numbers. KATOH loves contact and youth, and Arraez tips the scales in both of those categories.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

His approach to hitting is entirely devoid of power and he projects for just 30 power at peak — barring a mechanical adjustment that allows him to get the bat head out earlier. The body is maxed out, so there’s no more power coming from natural growth and scouts have some concern about what kind of range Arraez will have at peak if he keeps filling out.

*****

3B – Edwin Rios, Los Angeles NL (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Rios coasted through three levels last year, making stops at Low-A, High-A and Double-A. He hit a powerful .301/.341/.567 at age-22 and paired it with a not-terribly-alarming 24% strikeout rate. Not only was he one of the best hitters in the minors last year, it he’s also a third baseman who’s still relatively new to pro ball.

Why scouts don’t (per Wilson Karaman):

It’s a tough profile, as he won’t add much with the glove, he’ll actively subtract on the bases, and the overzealous present approach will need to tone down as he advances. Anything less than near-full power utility, and there probably isn’t enough here to force everyday at-bats.

*****

SS – Gavin Cecchini, New York NL (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Cecchini hit .325/.390/.448 in Triple-A last year, after hitting .317/.377/.442 in Double-A in 2015. All of this came from a shortstop who was substantially younger than his competition. Cecchini is a contact machine, which KATOH loves, and he’s also demonstrated touches of power and speed in the upper levels of the minors.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

But Cecchini can’t play shortstop. He lacks the athleticism for the position, has fringey arm strength, alarming arm accuracy issues and there’s no guarantee that a move to second base (where he’s seen an increase in reps) will remedy any of that. His hit/power combination is unlikely to profile every day at second even if he does end up fitting there defensively…. If things don’t work at second base, the entire profile falls apart. He’s either a low-end everyday player or nothing at all.

*****

OF1 – Dylan Cozens, Philadelphia (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Cozens had one of the best seasons in affiliated baseball last year. He mashed 40 homers and stole 21 bases as a 22-year-old at Double-A. Yes, that came in Reading’s bandbox of a park, but StatCorner’s park factors indicate that park is much friendlier to right-handed hitters (such as Darin Ruf) than it is to lefties, like Cozens. In addition to Cozens’ success on the bases, Clay Davenport’s metrics had him as a +13 defender in right field last year, so he’s not a Chris Carter-esque, one-dimensional player. In addition to his on-field performance, KATOH is also encouraged by his 6-foot-6 frame. All of these pluses outweigh Cozens’ ugly strikeout numbers in KATOH’s eyes.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

Hitters Cozens’ size have holes in the swing, almost invariably. This, combined with a tendency to drift heavily onto his front foot and lose all balance against good offspeed stuff, are what I think are the two primary issues with his bat-to-ball abilities. There are statistical red flags, as well. Cozens’ strikeout rate was a well-fed 32% in 2016 and, even if you believe his approach has evolved and the 10% walk rate he posted was the result of substantive change (as some scouts to whom I spoke believe) and is here to stay, that batted-ball/on-base profile is going to be problematic, especially when big-league teams put that shift on.

*****

OF2 – Brandon Nimmo, New York (NL) (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Nimmo hit .352/.423/.541 in Triple-A last year. Yes, he played in Las Vegas and the PCL, but still. Even a hint of offensive dominance is encouraging coming from a 23-year-old center fielder at the highest level of the minors. Even if last year’s power spike isn’t real, Nimmo remains a center fielder with passable defense who can get on base.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

Nimmo’s diverse array of fringe to average tools has most scouts projecting him either as a platoon bat or luxurious fourth outfielder… Scouts prefer Nimmo in left if pressed into everyday duty, as he lacks prototypical right-field arm strength. A minimalistic approach to hitting mitigates what might otherwise be swing-and-miss issues caused by Nimmo’s long levers, but it also makes it hard for him to make consistent airborne contact and tap into his average raw power. It’s more of an average hit, fringe-game-power profile.

*****

OF3 – Zack Granite, Minnesota (Profile)

Why KATOH Loves Him:

Granite’s a speed demon. He stole an eye-popping 56 bases last year, tying him with Greg Allen for the most in the minors. His speed also plays in the outfield, where he was a +12 defender in center by Clay Davenport’s numbers. Players who provide that much value with their legs don’t necessarily need to hit much, yet Granite managed a respectable .295/.347/.382 in Double-A last year. Even if the power never comes, his high-contact approach (he recorded a 7% strikeout rate last year) should allow him to be a non-terrible hitter in the show.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

Granite’s swing is extremely linear and his approach includes mostly bunting, slashing and sprinting his way on base… This approach probably won’t work as well at the major-league level with better defenses but Granite’s BABIP this season was a modest .312 and he still found his way on base consistently.

*****

SP1 – Adalberto Mejia, Minnesota, (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Though he spent half of the year as a 22-year-old, Mejia had little trouble putting away high-minors hitters. His 18-point K-BB% in Double- and Triple-A was among the best in the upper levels. Mejia’s all but mastered the minors at age 23. And as an MLB-ready product, he’s a low-risk bet to provide at least some value.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

The body is completely devoid of projection and, except for maybe another half grade on the changeup because of reps, the stuff has essentially reached maturity. Mejia profiles as a near slam-dunk No. 4 or 5 starter

*****

SP2 – Matthew Gage, San Francisco (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Gage spent his age-22 season at the Double-A level, where he spun a 2.81 FIP. Gage doesn’t strike many guys out, but he walked just 6% of opposing batters and allowed a mere two homers across 136 innings. He’s a 6-foot-4 lefty who’s succeeded against all competition he’s faced.

Why scouts don’t (per Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook):

His stuff is less notable for its firmness than its ability to spot his pitches and mess with hitters’ heads. Gage mixes an 88-92 mph fastball, a high 80s cutter, a low 80s slider and changeup and a mid-70s curveball. None is plus… Gage looks to be a fifth starter at best.

*****

SP3 – Brock Stewart, Los Angeles (NL) (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Stewart ripped through the minors last year, posting a 1.79 ERA and 2.28 FIP across three levels. He pitched exclusively as a starter, struck out 28% of batters faced and walked just 4%. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better performer than Stewart: His K-BB% was tops among qualified pitchers who pitched above Rookie-level ball.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

His slider acts more like a cutter in the 85-87 mph range, working in underneath the hands of left-handed pitchers effectively but often lacking the length to miss bats away from righties. He could have reverse splits for the duration of his career. Stewart projects as a solid No. 4 or 5 starter and could comfortably be a major-league average No. 4 if he finds a more consistent way to deal with right-handed hitters.

*****

SP4 – Ronald Herrera, New York (AL) (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Herrera pitched excellently in Double-A last year, despite not turning 21 until May. He was not only one of the best performers at his level, but also one of the youngest. He had some success in 2015 as well, so it isn’t as though last year’s performance came completely out of nowhere.

Why scouts don’t (per Jeffrey Paternostro):

Before I saw Herrera for Trenton this year, I got this message from a colleague “He’s every short Double-A starter you’ve ever seen.” It’s not a bad description, but Herrera’s got a bit more pitchability and a bit less stuff than that familiar trope. The fastball sits in the low-90s, although he has to ramp up the effort to keep it there later in starts, and he can lose his command of it armside… The frame/stamina suggests that he’s a reliever in the end.

*****

SP5 – Joan Gregorio, San Francisco (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Gregorio struck out a remarkable 27% of batters faced between Double-A and Triple-A last year, while walking a reasonable 9%. All this while working exclusively as a starter. This, along with his 6-foot-7 frame, leads KATOH to believe he has a bright future ahead of him. KATOH’s a sucker for tall strikeout pitchers.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

Despite a full-time return to starting in 2016, several of Gregorio’s traits indicate a future in the bullpen. His command has improved since 2014 but is still below average, he’s had back and oblique problems in the past and lacks a third pitch. Gregorio hasn’t developed much feel for his changeup in seven pro seasons and turns 25 in January.

*****

RP – Jonathan Holder, New York (AL) (Profile)

Why KATOH loves him:

Holder’s numbers from last year were stupid. Just plain stupid. He struck out 42% of opposing hitters and walked just 3%. The end result was a 1.65 ERA and 1.30 FIP. Like most scouts, KATOH isn’t generally a fan of relief prospects, as they rarely amount to much. But Holder’s an exception: even in the realm of relievers, numbers like that almost never exist. Given his utter domination of high-minors hitters, how could he not succeed in the show?

Why scouts don’t (per Jarrett Seidler):

Reliever… Holder’s motion has significant effort to it, though the Yankees have cleaned up his mechanics a lot, so even as a three-pitch guy, he’s probably not a great candidate for a conversion back to starting… There’s a real shot for a dominant major-league reliever or even a future closer outcome here.

*****

Some tables for your viewing pleasure:

The 2017 All-KATOH Team
Position Prospect Team KATOH WAR Forecast
C Garrett Stubbs Astros 10.0
1B Dan Vogelbach Mariners 7.0
2B Luis Arraez Twins 9.4
3B Edwin Rios Dodgers 7.0
SS Gavin Cecchini Mets 6.7
OF1 Dylan Cozens Phillies 13.8
OF2 Brandon Nimmo Mets 7.4
OF3 Zack Granite Twins 7.2
SP1 Adalberto Mejia Twins 4.4
SP2 Matthew Gage Giants 4.4
SP3 Brock Stewart Dodgers 4.3
SP4 Ronald Herrera Yankees 3.7
SP5 Joan Gregorio Giants 3.6
RP Jonathan Holder Yankees 5.7

 

The 2017 All-KATOH Second Team
Position Prospect Team KATOH WAR Forecast
C Reese McGuire Blue Jays 5.4
1B Rhys Hoskins Phillies 5.7
2B Luis Urias Padres 5.9
3B Rio Ruiz Braves 5.3
SS Max Moroff Pirates 6.4
OF1 Ramon Laureano* Astros 6.7
OF2 Ben Gamel Mariners 6.3
OF3 Andrew Toles Dodgers 6.2
SP1 Sal Romano Reds 3.5
SP2 Chad Green Yankees 3.5
SP3 Kevin Gadea Rays 3.2
SP4 Jacob Faria Rays 3.2
SP5 Chance Adams Yankees 3.1
SP6 Huascar Ynoa Twins 3.1
RP Joe Jimenez Tigers 3.4
*Eric Longenhagen informed me there’s a small chance Laureano makes his top-100, so feel free to call his fringeyness into question if you wish.

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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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