Brad Buys Vladito by Brad Johnson November 30, 2018 The central premise of this article – that I am a bellwether on elite prospects – is rather egotistical. You’ve been warned. Over the years, one of my most consistent pieces of advice can be boiled down to the following:”y’all crazy about prospects.” I stand by it. You – as in people who aren’t me – need to calm the *&^% down about your prospects. As an asset class, prospects are big losers in most formats. The median prospect takes a year longer to reach the majors than originally anticipated. Then he struggles for some period of time – enough for his original owner to lose patience and discard him. Then he’s finally good for some other owner who didn’t go through all the growing pains. How many times has Byron Buxton changed hands in your dynasty league? Each time, it’s been for incrementally less, right? Meanwhile, Max Muncy was free. I, and many of my colleagues told you for weeks to pick him up. If you prefer youthful types, Juan Soto was free. All you needed was a sharp eye. Untold others between the ages of Soto and Muncy broke out straight from the waiver wire. Several like Muncy and Luke Voit were even available in 20-team, 45-player roster deep dynasty. Something weird happened yesterday. Despite my credentials as resident prospect naysayer, I traded the shirt off my back* for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. This represents possibly the first time I’ve paid full price for a premium prospect with zero major league experience. *First, a quick aside. Experience has taught me that my rivals DO NOT appreciate it when I make a trade and immediately write about it in a column**. So we won’t be discussing the specifics of the deal. It was a blockbuster. I paid a lot. My rival gave a lot. **A second aside. I get it. When I write about a trade, it often comes off as a critique of the other party. In my eyes, I’ve always won the trade. I accomplished some kind of goal. Just because I won doesn’t mean the other guy lost, but that can be easily overlooked. I’m not here to write about the other guy’s goals. I don’t really know about them. I believe it was George Washington who, in the late 1920s, said something to the effect of “when the shoeshine boy gives you stock advice, it’s time to sell.” I must be a similar sort of bellwether when it comes to buying elite prospects. If I’m in on Vladito, then you no longer have any excuse to sit this one out. Guerrero, by all accounts, is the most can’t-miss superstar since Mike Trout. Consider some age 19 minor league numbers for both players. Trout and Vladito: Age 19 PA HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG Player A 412 11 10.9 18.4 .326 .414 .544 Player B 394 20 9.1 9.4 .381 .449 .630 I stripped out the names so you can thoughtfully ponder the pair for a moment. Obviously, Player A was Trout. The 33 steals would have been a give away. As a pure hitter, Vladito has put Trout-the-Prospect to shame. Other prospects have done this without experiencing much major league success. Notably, age 19 Buxton hit 12 home runs, stolen 55 bases, and slashed something like .335/.424/.520 between two Single-A levels. He’s managed just 4.6 WAR in 1,074 plate appearances. With Buxton, the warning signs could be found in his heinous over-20 percent swinging strike rate. There were contact issues masked by extreme athleticism and weaker minor league pitching. Guerrero posted only a 7.2 percent swinging strike rate upon a late-season promotion to Triple-A. Compared to Buxton’s age 19 campaign, Vladito succeeded against massively better pitching – both because he reached the upper minors and Triple-A pitchers have improved to the point where they loosely approximate slightly below average MLB regulars circa 2013. If there’s a “flaw” in Guerrero’s profile, it’s that he features something of a classic batted ball profile. He can work the ball to both field and doesn’t sell out for fly balls. Instead, he simply barrels the ball, letting the pitch dictate where it goes. His approach, mixed with precocious plate discipline (especially for a Guerrero), should parlay to a high BABIP. With it, expect a high batting average and on base percentage. Unfortunately, he’s probably an adjustment away from the ludicrous home run totals everybody expects. In looking at batted ball comps, Paul Goldschmidt’s 2018 campaign stood out as a close fit. Goldy featured a 25 percent line drive rate with slightly more grounders than fly balls. His 46.2 percent hard contact rate was among the best in the league. It’s not ludicrous to think Vladito could enter the league as a 20-year-old and immediate produce like a rough-edged, less patient Goldschmidt. As such, we’re looking for big counting stats and valuable rate stats. Barring injury, it’s hard to see a downside for Guerrero. Not only was he unchallenged in the upper minors, he actually improved throughout his climb up the ladder. In many ways, his minor league experience looked like a better Juan Soto. You were already excited. Now you have no excuse to not invest.