Prospects in Proper Context, Pt. 1: High-A Florida State League

As you may have seen, David Appelman added yet another interesting feature to this site earlier this week: wOBA for minor league hitters. As you probably know by now, wOBA is a linear weight formula that gives a specific run value to each offensive event, and is scaled to look like on-base percentage. If you know what a good OBP looks like, you know what a good wOBA looks like. With wOBA now available for minor leaguers, we can get a better idea of who had the most impressive offensive campaigns in each league.

Of course, we have to consider context. It would be a fruitless endeavor to simply list the top wOBA performers from each league without considering a number of important factors. Was the player at an age-appropriate level? What is the offensive environment of his home ballpark like? How about the league- does it favor hitting or pitching? For instance, erstwhile Cubs prospect Brian Dopirak (now Blue Jays property) paced the High-A Florida State League in wOBA. However, he did so as a 24 year-old first baseman in one of the few hitter-friendly venues in the FSL. Is that an impressive performance, or simply an older player taking advantage of pitchers several years his junior? With minor league numbers, context is everything.

Using our new minor league wOBA tool and considering the questions listed above, I am going to attempt to single out the very best minor league performers at the High-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels, ranking the top 5 batting prospects in each league. To weed out the true prospects from the fool’s gold, I’m going to consider not only wOBA, but age as well as park and league offensive levels. We want to know not just who performed the best, but whose performance portends to future success at the major league level. Let’s kick things off with the High-A Florida State league.

(note: 2008 league offensive levels are found courtesy of First Inning. Keep in mind that the league offensive levels are only from one season’s worth of data. Park factors are from 2006-2008 data compiled from Minor League Splits, posted on the Baseball Think Factory site. A park factor of 1.00 is exactly neutral. Anything above 1.00 favors hitters, while anything below 1.00 favors pitchers).

Florida State League

2008 league offensive levels: Singles (1.01), Doubles (0.89), Triples (1.00), Home Runs (0.96)

1. Logan Morrison, Marlins: .406 wOBA
Age: 21 (20 during ’08 season)
Position: 1B
2006-2008 Park Factor (Jupiter): Runs (0.96), Hits (0.98), Doubles (0.98), HR (0.83)

Playing the 2008 season at the age of 20 (he turned 21 in late August), Morrison put up some highly impressive numbers. Showing a steady eye at the plate (10.5 BB%) and a moderate K rate (16.4%), Morrison posted an OBP in excess of .400. A product of the now defunct draft-and follow system in 2005, the lefty didn’t appear to put a huge charge into the ball at first glance (.162 ISO), but Jupiter has done quite a number on home runs over the past three seasons.

2. Wilson Ramos,Twins: .356 wOBA
Age: 21 (20 during ’08 season)
Position: C
2006-2008 Park Factor (Fort Myers): R (0.96), H (0.98), 2B (0.95), HR (0.91)

Ramos’ wOBA might not be as high as some of the other players you’ll see on the list, but he earns additional credit for two reasons. One, like Morrison, Ramos played basically the entire ’08 season as a 20 year-old. Two, he plays a premium position, and plays it well by most accounts. According to Baseball America, Ramos threw out 43 percent of would-be base stealers in the FSL. The Venezuelan’s .288/.346/.434 line and adequate control of the strike zone (7.6 BB%, 22.8 K%) might not stand out at first glance, but he seems very likely to stick behind the dish while providing above-average offensive relative to his position. That Mauer guy precludes Ramos getting a shot in Minnesota, but don’t be surprised to hear Ramos’ name come up in trade talks.

3. Todd Frazier, Reds: .368 wOBA
Age: 22
Position: Infielder (likely 3B or LF down the line)
2006-2008 Park Factor (Sarasota): R (1.00), H (1.00), 2B (1.06), HR (0.93)

This Rutgers product is a man without a position- at 6-3, 215 pounds and “lacking first step quickness” according to BA, Frazier has next to no shot to remain at shortstop. While his glovework is somewhat lacking, Frazier turned in a solid .281/.357/.451 line at Sarasota. Perhaps the 2007 supplemental 1st-round pick will shift incumbent third baseman Edwin Encarnacion to the outfield- Encarnacion’s career UZR/150 at the hot corner is a gruesome -11.5.

4. Juan Francisco, Reds: .353 wOBA
Age: 21
Position: 3B (with a shift to 1B possible)
2006-2008 Park Factor (Sarasota): R (1.00), H (1.00), 2B (1.06), HR (0.93)

The lefty-swinging Francisco has a ton of power in his ample 6-2 frame, as evidenced by his lofty .219 ISO. However, the Dominican Republic native has yet to get a grasp on the strike zone, to say the least: Francisco walked just 3.6% of the time, while striking out in 23.8% of his at-bats. Francisco’s youth and pop make him intriguing, but he’s going to have to do serious work in improving his plate discipline to be ready for the big leagues.

T-5. Taylor Green, Brewers: .376 wOBA
Age: 22 (21 during ’08 season)
Position: 3B
2006-2008 Park Factor (Brevard County): R (0.98), H (1.00), 2B (0.96), HR (0.98)

Green could have been Indians property as the player-to-be-named in the CC Sabathia trade, but the tribe selected outfielder Michael Brantley instead. Might Cleveland regret that selection? A lefty-swinging draft-and-follow pick from the 2005 draft, Green has fine strike zone discipline (12.7 BB%) and puts the bat on the ball often (14.1 K%), but questions remain about his ability to stick at third base and his power production. Brantley also shows tremendous control of the zone, as well as the drawbacks of limited leather and little pop. If everything breaks right for Green, perhaps he’s the next Bill Mueller.

T-5. Bradley Emaus, Blue Jays: .387 wOBA
Age: 22
Position: 2B/3B
2006-2008 Park Factor (Dundein): R (1.04), H (1.03), 2B (1.06), HR (1.10)

An 11th-round selection out of Tulane in the 2007 draft, Emaus displayed an interesting blend of power (.161 ISO), patience (11.3 BB%) and contact ability (11.8 K%) at Dundein. After failing to crack BA’s top 30 Blue Jays prospects before the 2008 season, Emaus improved his standing enough to rank 10th in the organization this offseason. His stocky build (5-11, 200) and lack of a definite position (he shifted from the hot corner to the keystone in ’08) bring to mind a Ty Wigginton-type player.

Check back in tomorrow to see the best that the Carolina League has to offer.

We hoped you liked reading Prospects in Proper Context, Pt. 1: High-A Florida State League by David Golebiewski!

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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