When it comes to analyzing minor league players, it is certainly important to consider both the statistics they compile and the connection between that performance and the visual/mechanical elements of their process behind the numbers. However, if there’s one group of prospects who can be effectively analyzed (in a shorthanded fashion) from a purely statistical standpoint, it’s probably first base prospects. In general, they’re below-average defenders–none of the 25 qualified first basemen in 2013 posted a positive FanGraphs Defense value, after all–and as a result, they are held to extremely high offensive standards. Evaluating a first base prospect, then, often comes down to a simple method: If he hits, he’s interesting, and if he doesn’t, he’s not.
Applying this crude method to White Sox first base prospect Rangel Ravelo probably would lead many toward the second conclusion. Ravelo’s not entirely off the radar–he hit .312/.393/.455 with High-A Winston-Salem this year as a 21-year-old, enough to slot him into the final slot on Baseball America’s top 30 White Sox prospects. But he’s a first baseman who is a career .298/.359/.402 hitter–that’s a meager .104 Isolated Power and just seven home runs in 1179 plate appearances since being drafted in sixth round in 2010 out of a Florida high school.
The logical conclusion to draw, then, is that Ravelo, while perhaps a talented hitter, is never going to have the power required to make an impact given what’s likely to be little defensive ability. Then again, maybe the visual/mechanical aspect still retains importance for first basemen, because it paints a very different picture of Ravelo than his production does.
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The 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook left outfielder Taylor Dugas off the Yankees’ Top 30 prospect list, and the New York system isn’t particularly well regarded, coming in 18th in BAs system rankings and 23rd in Baseball Prospectus’. It’s not hard to understand why he was omitted: Dugas turned 24 earlier this offseason and has yet to play in the upper minors. Across 172 games in three different levels in the low minors, he has a career .351 slugging percentage. The 5’8″, 170-pound lefty swinger certainly isn’t built to grow into a lot more power than that, either.
But those who consider Dugas an afterthought rather than a prospect are missing the boat.
The Marlins haven’t made the playoffs in a decade or had a winning season since 2009; morever, their record has declined every season since they last broke even, culminating in a 100-loss season last year in spite of the presence of feared slugger Giancarlo Stanton and a solid pitching staff led by phenom Jose Fernandez. The spell of losing understandably puts pressure on Miami’s farm system to produce, and one member of their organization upon whom a considerable amount rests is 2013 first-rounder Colin Moran. A highly-touted college third baseman out of UNC, Moran was selected sixth overall in the past draft and was polished enough to immediately flirt with the .300 mark in full-season ball; he also was deemed polished enough for the Arizona Fall League after just 42 games of professional experience. In this piece, I’ll look at how Moran projects and if he can eventually help a Marlins team that hit just .231/.293/.335 this past season.
One of my strongest beliefs as a prospect/minor league writer is that there is far too much absolutism in most discussions of prospects in the online community. Part of the reason for this is simply a matter of demand–as you read about a minor league player (or, really, any player) at a place like FanGraphs or RotoGraphs, you’re likely interested in some sort of bottom line about how good the player is and might be. As such, there is a lot of pressure on the arbiters of the players to come up with a concrete answer–to make an actual prediction of their futures. In reality, though, prospecting is all about shades of gray, particularly in the low minors, which are my main focus. Just about every player in full-season ball has something going for them, but likewise, almost every player below Double-A has several aspects which need refinement before he has a chance at big league success. Predicting the eradication of those problems and the amount to which the strengths are realized is largely an exercise in probability, not one of guessing “good,” “bad,” or “okay” and clinging to it…to say nothing of the factors of injuries, regression, and the like. Any glance at a top prospect list from five years ago, regardless of the authors or their credibility, should drive this point home soundly–many of the top players go on to struggle, whereas several off the list entirely go on to have excellent careers.
For all of my relativistic outlook, though, occasionally I run into a player who’s just so impressive that my mind can’t help but jump directly to concrete thoughts of stardom. Of the couple hundred pitchers I saw in person last year, nobody evoked those thoughts more strongly than Cardinals pitching prospect Alex Reyes.
Few Low-A teams have ever had quite the array of young position-player talent as the 2013 Hickory Crawdads–six of their nine everyday players ranked in Baseball America’s Rangers top 25 prospects coming into the season, and a seventh, Ryan Rua, came out of nowhere to lead the minors in home runs for much of the season…until he was promoted to Double-A and passed by fellow Crawdad Joey Gallo.
While Gallo’s race to the minor league home run championship in his first full season was probably the biggest story of the many intriguing Hickory developments, the heralded slugger wasn’t the highest-drafted member of Hickory’s vaunted group of teenagers, being picked ten selections behind teammate Lewis Brinson in the 2012 draft (39th to 29th). In the fight for attention on such a stacked roster, Brinson’s 2013 campaign got somewhat overshadowed by Gallo’s incredible power output, Jorge Alfaro’s ascension up catching prospect leaderboards, Nick Williams‘ big numbers, C.J. Edwards becoming a force on the mound (and subsequently the key to the Matt Garza deal), Rua’s out-of-nowhere emergence, and other stories. He still won plenty of praise for his tools, hit 21 homers, and posted a solid triple-slash line, but also raised eyebrows by striking out 191 times, one short of Harold Riggins‘ minor league lead.
Having seen Brinson in 17 games this past season, I’m going to use this post to dissect his current skillset and 2013 performance, hopefully lending some clarity to a rather extreme set of numbers.
Everybody loves a sleeper–a player who seems primed to break out but who few pay attention to. Predicting a prospect breakout a) is fun and b) gives an evaluator some credibility, and in fantasy baseball, grabbing a player on the cheap and watching him soar to usefulness is a great way to find success.
While the White Sox minor league system has not been considered anywhere near an elite group in the past several years, they have managed to accumulate a number of sleeper successes. Until 2013, this allowed the major league team to stay competitive, supplementing a veteran core with solid performances from unheralded sources. While the team struggled in 2013, the trend continued, with Marcus Semien, Erik Johnson, and Daniel Webb all upping their stock considerably throughout the 2013 season and reaching the majors despite opening the year with no upper-minors experience.
In a system with little other places to look for positive thoughts other than the next wave of potential sleepers, one player who many analysts point to as a sleeper to watch is righthanded pitcher Chris Bassitt. Our own Marc Hulet ranked the lanky hurler as the organization’s eleventh-best prospect. But how good might Bassitt become?
The last two weeks, I have discussed two precocious prospects–Mets shortstop Amed Rosario and Rays righthander German Marquez–who were born in 1995. The idea of professional baseball players born in the middle of the 1990s probably still takes some getting used to for many casual observers, but indeed, we may be less than three years from seeing the first pro baseball player born in the 2000s.
Players like Rosario and Marquez hold a lot of intrigue, but they also are buried in short-season leagues, far from the majors, and thus also below the general prospect mainstream. This week, however, I’m going to examine a player born in 1995 who already has broken through into the mainstream consciousness: Royals shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi.
Last week, I talked about the youngest regular position player in the Appalachian League: Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, who was named the circuit’s top prospect by Baseball America after the season. Sticking with the youth theme in the Appy, this week I’m going to focus on the league’s youngest regular starting pitcher, 18-year-old Rays righthander German Marquez. Marquez did not appear on BA’s top 20 postseason Appy prospects, but with solid performance (3.50 FIP), a nice arsenal, and plenty of time and room to develop further, I’d argue he deserves to be placed squarely among the circuit’s most intriguing players, and is definitely a player to watch.
Analyzing prospects in short-season leagues can often be a confusing and fruitless endeavor. All three of pro baseball’s three large development hurdles–the jump to full-season ball, the jump to the upper minors, and the jump to the majors–remain in front of such players, and projecting how raw 17-21-year-olds are going to handle those difficult transitions years down the line cannot be done with much certainty. Still, there are plenty of relevant prospects in the short-season circuits, and today I’m going to discuss the first of a few that I personally viewed in the Rookie-Advanced Appalachian League in 2013: Mets shortstop prospect Amed Rosario.
Rosario had the distinction of being named the top prospect in the Appy by Baseball America, which immediately pegs him as someone to watch. So does his birth date: November 20, 1995. He was the youngest position player to open the year at the Rookie-Advanced level, which says a lot about how advanced he is for his age, even if the numbers he posted (.241/.279/.358 with a 43/11 K/BB, 3 HR, 2 SB, and a .941 fielding percentage in 58 games) veer closer to “problematic” than “exciting.”
But a player’s ranking on prospect lists and his raw numbers (particularly at such a low level at such a young age) do little to shed light on what sort of player he may become. For that, we have to turn to visual evidence.
James Paxton, Enny Romero, Danny Duffy, Derek Holland, David Price, Chris Sale, Brad Hand, Martin Perez, Francisco Liriano, Jon Lester, Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Matt Moore, Ross Detwiler, Patrick Corbin, Kris Johnson, Hector Santiago, Tony Cingrani, and Cole Hamels. A distinguished group of twenty, is it not?
The above list constitutes all lefthanded MLB starting pitchers who averaged 91.5 mph or more on their fastballs in 2013. As you can see, it consists largely of two groups: good, established MLB starters and unproven but exciting young guys who only got a few starts in the majors during the past season. Almost none of these guys have neither exciting presents nor exciting futures, and thus, anyone who projects to join this relatively selective club merits a closer look. One such pitcher is Pirates southpaw prospect Joely Rodriguez.