Sunday, May 31, 2009

Coming Attractions

Here is a look at what you can expect at Diamond Futures over the next two weeks:
Tuesday, June 2, 2009 - Mailbag
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - Hots and Nots
Thursday, June 4, 2009 - Our take on the Super Regionals
Friday, June 5, 2009 - The 2009 Division I Performace Evaluations
Saturday, June 6, 2009 - Amatuer Draft Top 50
Monday, June 8, 2009 - Mock Draft - Our take on the First Two Rounds
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 - What to Expect at the College World Series
Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - Hots and Nots
Friday, June 12, 2009 - Amateur Draft Recap
Sunday June 14, 2009 - Do It Yourself - What Makes a Prospect a Prospect

Friday, May 29, 2009

Breaking Down the Field of 64

The Texas Longhorns enter Regional play as the #1 overall seed

Tournament selection committees get a lot of heat, and so when they do something right they deserve to get some praise. This year, the committee that picked the 64-team field got it right. As we told you last week, 6 of the 8 National Seeds were fairly well determined. While we could argue about the order, those were the 6 top seeds in the tournament and Oklahoma and Florida clearly earned the other two spots. As to the 8 Regional hosts, from my perspective there was only one miss, which we will get to in a moment. Personally, I would have chosen either Louisville or East Carolina—not both of regional hosts, but who’s quibbling. As to the Field itself, I missed only 1 team—Southern Mississippi, but the committee can certainly justify its selection.

So who is going to do the complaining? Well if any one (or two) team(s) has a complaint, you are going to find it in the Irvine, CA Regional. We had Virginia rated 16th, ahead of Louisville and East Carolina, going into last weekend. All that the Cavaliers did was win 4 straight games and the ACC Tournament Championship. This should have easily made them a Regional host. Instead…the Cavaliers get to rack up their frequent flier miles and head to Irvine and play in the Tournament’s toughest Regional. If that wasn’t bad enough, for all of their trouble they get to open up against San Diego State phenom Stephen Strasuburg. The rest of the complaining should be coming from the host Ant-Eaters themselves. They not only handily won the Big West Conference, but could easily make a case for being one of the top 3 teams in the tournament. Instead of getting one of the 29th – 32nd ranked teams as their #2, they end up getting the Cavaliers as their #2, the toughest #2 seed in the Tournament, and then they get San Diego State, probably the top #3 seed, in their Regional. I still like Irvine to advance from this Region, but they shouldn’t have had to work so hard.

Here’s a look at the other 15 1st round Regions…

Austin, TX – The Longhorns should advance easily out of this Region as Texas State is one of the weaker #2s. Boston College is the only team here capable of giving the Longhorns a game.

Fort Worth, TX - The top three teams here; TCU, Texas A&M and Oregon State, are the most evenly matched of any Region. That should make for a long series and make pitching depth the difference. I’ll take the Beavers over the Horned-Frogs in a squeaker.

Atlanta, GA – This appears to be a two team Region with the Georgia Tech-Elon winner your likely champ. I’ll go with the host Yellow Jackets.

Gainsville, FL – With the geographic rivalries here, this may be the most fun Region to watch. During the regular season the host Gators had victories over both Jacksonville and Bethune-Cookman, but were swept in a three game series by the Hurricanes. On the other hand Bethune-Cookman took two of three from the Hurricanes. And then of course Jacksonville took both of its games against Bethune-Cookman. Nothing that happens here will surprise me, but the Gators have more victories against top 50 opponents than any other team in the country. That’s should have made them tournament ready and I’ll go with the Gators.

Tempe, AZ – The biggest gap between the best team (Arizona State) and the next best team (Cal Poly) in any Region. What did Oral Roberts do to get a #2 seed? Give me the Sun Devils in a rout here.

Clemson, SC – In Clemson we find my vote for the weakest of all Regions, but that just may make it more interesting. Whoever wins the Alabama- Oklahoma State opener becomes the favorite here, but any of the four teams could advance. I’ll take the Crimson Tide.

Greenville, NC – Should be another fun Region with any of the top three teams possibly advancing. Sam Dyson had led a Gamecock resurgence—until last weekend, and might have been my choice, but I just think the host Pirates are more balanced.

Chapel Hill, NC – This Region is home to the ‘worst’ best team, as I just can’t explain which Tar Heel team will show up on any given day. The Tar Heels are easily the most talented, but I have been warning of their pitching inconsistencies all season and an upset here would hardly be a surprise. In the end I think the talent will prevail…but don’t put money on it.

Fullerton, CA - Collectively teams #2 thru #4 here are as strong as in any Region except the previously discussed Irvine Region. That will make the Titans have to work hard to get out of here, but expect them to prevail.

Louisville, KY – Less than 300 miles separate the four teams in this Region, and, top to bottom, no Region is more evenly matched then this one. Once again that should mean a long drawn out Region, and those typically get decided by arms. If that’s the case, look for Sonny Gray and Mike Minor to edge out Eric Arnett and Matt Bashore.

Tallahassee, FL – Florida State isn’t likely to have to face either Wimmers of Ohio State or Holder of Georgia and that should make all the difference here. Look for the Seminoles to move on.

Norman, OK – The host Sooners will have their hands full, but before a couple of close defeats last weekend, they were playing as well as they have all year. Look for Oklahoma to advance.
Oxford, MS – Another two team affair here between the host Rebels and Missouri. If I am the Tigers I hold Kyle Gibson out for this match-up and take my chances in the other games. Look for the Rebels to sneak out of here—barely.

Houston, TX - Again a two team affair. This time it’s the host Rice Owls and the Wildcats of Kansas State. I expect this won’t be as easy as some may suspect, but make the Owls the favorites.

Baton Rouge, LA – Minnesota has quietly put together a solid season and they could surprise a lot of people. I’d like Baylor more if Kendall Volz wasn’t so lost right now. In the end, it should come down to quality and no team in the nation has played better against quality opponents than the Tigers who have a 20-7 record against Top 50 opponents.

Next week, we will take a detailed look at the Super Regionals.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hots and Nots - May 27, 2009

Vitters has slugged 8 HRs over the last two weeks

Apparently being the bridesmaid is the place to be on the Hots and Nots list, as last week’s runners-up stole the show this week. On the hitter’s side of things, Josh Vitters continued his torrid pace and now heads this week’s list. On the pitching side of things, the Indians’ Jeanmar Gomez went from #2 to throwing the Minor League’s first perfect game in two years. We’ll see how things play out with this week’s list.

Hot Hitters –

1) Josh Vitters, 3B, CHN – Calling Vitters ‘Hot’ just doesn’t seem to be enough for last week’s runner up. As we put this list together a week ago he had just ended a 4-game streak where he had 3 Hits and a HR in every game. He popped 4 more HRs this past week, and is now batting .398/.412/.774 for the month of May…Those are aluminum bat type numbers. All is not perfect with Vitters though, as he still only has but 4 BB on the year, but even though just 19yo, it is beginning to look like the Midwest League (MWL) won’t hold him much longer.

2) Fernando Martinez, OF, NYM – One of my personal favorites, Martinez has been unfairly criticized over the last two seasons for not posting the superstar type numbers that might be expected from a player that gets that much ink. Instead as the youngest player in AAA (make that now the second youngest player, behind Rick Porcello, in the Major Leagues) he has gotten off to a nearly .900 OPS start. Martinez has posted a .325/.386/.775 line over the last two weeks, which, in the short run, has earned him a call-up to replace the injured Ryan Church. He is likely to return to AAA when Church is healthy, but make no mistake, this is a future all-star.

3) Matt Wieters, C, BAL – Speaking of call-ups and future all-stars, the most anticipated call-up of the season is about to occur as Wieters is poised to make his Major League debut on Friday. He is expected to immediately become the Orioles everyday Catcher and instantly becomes the favorite for AL rookie of the year. .353/.400/.706 over the last two weeks.

4) Jason Heyward, OF, ATL – Heyward had a two week period of time at the end of April where he was slumping badly, with a .143 AVG and a .412 OPS. Since the middle of the month he has been on fire. Heyward has posted a .362/.434/.745 over the last two weeks and has a .935 OPS on the season as only a 19yo in the Carolina (CAR) League.

5) Pedro Baez, 3B, LAD – The Dodgers have been waiting for a breakout season from Baez since he signed out of the Dominican in early 2007. While the MWL proved more than he could handle last season, his late summer Pioneer (PIO) League showing convinced the Dodgers to move him up to the California (CAL) league this year. Baez has responded well, posting an .840 OPS to open the year. He still needs to learn more plate discipline if he is going to experience success further up the ladder, but that hasn’t stopped him from posting a .367/.424/.800 over the last two weeks.

6) Brandon Snyder, OF, BAL – While Snyder may have proven that he doesn’t possess the defensive skills to be a Catcher or an everyday OF, he’s also proven he can hit. The 22yo, former 1st round pick, is making the Eastern (ESL) League look easy, as he now has a 1.044 OPS on the year after going .357/.438/.738 over the last two weeks.

7) Jaff Decker, OF, SDP – Still named ‘Jaff’, still bad-bodied OF, and still keeps raking. A .355/.474/.710 over the last two weeks puts him at a 1.076 OPS for the year and the first player ever with four straight ‘Hot’ appearances.

8) Juan Francisco, 3B, CIN – If there is one thing that is a given in minor league baseball it is that Juan Francisco will make an appearance, at least once each season, on both the ‘Hot’ and the ‘Not’ list. The free-swinging Francisco has been making contact lately, going .348/.375/.630 over his last 50 PAs.

9) Matt Sulentic, OF, OAK – Great things were expected for Sulentic after the, then 18yo, 3rd round pick turned heads after posting an .880 OPS in the predominantly college-player filled Northwest (NWL) League in his 2006 debut. But 2007 didn’t turn out as planned. Sulentic turned things around a little in the California (CAL) League last year, and he is posting a solid season thus far in the Texas (TXL) League. .341/.438/.535 over his last 50 PAs.

10) Peter Bourjos, CF, LAA – Bourjos has demonstrated classic lead-off hitter skills since he made his Pioneer League debut in 2006. His CF defense is first rate and the only question has been would he be able to develop the patience to hit at the top of a major league order. While the jury is still out, Bourjos, at 22yo, is posting a solid TXL season and looks to be about a year away from contributing in the Major Leagues. .400/.411/.600 over the last two weeks.

Hot Pitchers –

1) Vin Mazzaro, RHP, OAK – While Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill found themselves in the Athletics’ rotation this Spring, Mazzaro found himself back in Sacramento. He hasn’t let that get him down, as he has not allowed an earned run, and has allowed only two hits and one walk while fanning 11 over his last two starts. While he may not have the long-term upside of the aforementioned Anderson and Cahill, Mazzaro looks ready for his shot right now.

2) Mat Latos, RHP, SDP – There has never been any question about Latos’ arm—his pure ‘stuff’ compares favorably with any pitcher in the Minor Leagues, it’s his attitude and work ethic that have raised the biggest concerns. Nonetheless, Latos absolutely destroyed MWL hitters in 4 outings before earning a promotion to AA. The challenge there will be significant and should be quite telling about what the future may look like. In any case he’s one of the hottest pitchers going right now, as he’s posted a 1.02 ERA, 0.566 WHIP with a 19:3 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

3) Tyler Chatwood, RHP, LAA – There are a couple of things to understand about Chatwood. First of all, despite being under-sized, he is an excellent all-around athlete that probably could have been drafted as an OF. Second, he is only a 19yo and has both a fastball and a curve that already rate as plus pitches. In a somewhat surprising development he has used both of these to dominate MWL hitters in the early going, with opposing hitters batting only .171 against him. Over the past two weeks he’s put up a 0.75 ERA, and a 0.667 WHIP. The downside is he is walking 5 batters per 9IP and will have to fine tune his control if he is going to have success at higher levels.

4) David Hernandez, RHP, BAL – One of the most surprising stats I have come across in a while is this…only 4 pitchers have over 500 Minor League strikeouts since 2006: 4) Will Inman - 503, 3) Matt Maloney – 542, 2) Gio Gonzalez -546 and 1) David Hernandez – 548. That’s right, no one has fanned more Minor League hitters than David Hernandez, yet he hardly gets any ink. After racking up big K numbers once again this year, Hernandez has earned a trip to Baltimore to make his first start on Thursday. A 0.00 ERA, 0.711 WHIP with a 20:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

5) Tommy Hanson, RHP, ATL – Hanson has been the Minor’s best pitcher to date, with a 1.48 ERA and a 0.852 WHIP as a 22yo in the International (IL) League. While biding his time until he gets the call to Atlanta, Hanson posted a 0.64 ERA, 0.714 WHIP and a 16:3 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

6) Ben Hornbeck, LHP, OAK – This week’s ‘Who’s He?’ award winner, Hornbeck was the Athletics’ 32nd round pick out of Kansas State in last June’s draft. He is viewed as the consummate ‘Crafty Lefty’. Translated, he doesn’t have an out pitch but uses an array of pitches to take advantage of less experienced hitters. That was the story in the MWL, which quickly earned him a promotion to Stockton. Hornbeck has allowed no earned runs with a 0.545 WHIP and a 15:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

7) Brad Lincoln, RHP, PIT – Another Pirate 1st round pitching prospect that has seen his career derailed by injuries, the 24yo Lincoln is trying to get it back on track in the Eastern (ESL) League this year. A 0.56 ERA, 0.625 WHIP with a 11:3 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks leaves Lincoln with a 2.05 ERA on the season.

8) Jeanmar Gomez, RHP, CLE - The book on Gomez entering the season was that he doesn’t have the raw ‘stuff’ to be a successful big league starter. All that I know is that as a 21yo, he has enough stuff to throw a ‘perfect’ game in the ESL. The guy without enough ‘stuff’ just keeps on rolling, posting a 1.57 ERA, 0.609 WHIP with a 20:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

9) Wily Peralta, RHP, MIL – As a 16yo, the Brewers gave Peralta one of the highest bonuses awarded to a Latin American player in 2005. After making his debut in 2006, Peralta lost the entire 2007 season to Tommy John surgery. Last year he got back in time to throw about 30 Pioneer League innings in which he turned a number of heads. Right now he still gets by primarily on a mid-90s fastball, causing many to see him as a future RP. Only 20yo, I’d give him some time to develop a couple of more offerings and see if he can stay in the rotation. In either case, he is dominating MWL hitters. A 1.23 ERA, 0.750 WHIP with a 23:3 K:BB ratio over his last three starts.

10) Jordan Lyles, RHP, HOU – I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the Astros pick of Lyles was the most surprising pick in the first round of last June’s draft. At the moment it appears that Houston may get the last laugh. Just 18yo, Lyles has posted a 1.50 ERA, a 0.917 WHIP and a 17:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

The Nots –

1) Brett Sinkbeil, RHP, FLA – Sinkbeil seems to be a fixture on this list as he is having an awful season. Over his last three starts he has a 12.15 ERA, a 2.850 WHIP, and a 1:7 BB:K ratio.

2) Jefry Marte, 3B, NYM – Although I am not sure why I should, I still believe in Marte. He’s not making it easy though, going .093/.152/.093 over the last two weeks. He’s now gone 54 ABs without an extra base hit.

3) Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, MIL – Jeffress on the hand, I have never believed in. Despite now only pitching in Hi-A, the last two weeks have yielded a 14.00 ERA, 2.778 WHIP with a 10:15 K:BB ratio.

4) Bret Clevlen, OF, DET – Never really projected to be much more than a 4th OF type, Clevlen has been unable to make anything out a couple of auditions with the Tigers. After his start this season, he may never get another chance. A .054/.103/.081 over the last two weeks.

5) Jermaine Curtis, 3B, STL – The Cardinals 5th round choice last June posted a solid debut in the New York-Penn (NYP) League after signing. Full season ball is apparently another story. A .116/.136/.163 over the last two weeks, leaves him with a .536 OPS on the year.

6) Jack McGeary, LHP, WSN – McGeary is another player finding the transition from the NYP to full season ball rather difficult. Over the last two weeks he has a 10.80 ERA, a 2.40 WHIP and a 5:6 K:BB ratio.

7) Nico Vasquez, SS, STL – No one ever expected Vasquez to hit a ton, but a .538 OPS for the year isn’t what they had in mind either. The 20yo Vasquez has a .170/.200/.226 over the last two weeks.

8) Brett Cecil, LHP, TOR – The Jays gave Cecil 4 starts in Toronto to prove that he wasn’t ready for the Major Leagues just yet. The funny thing is that those were the good starts. Back in AAA, Cecil has posted a 9.28 ERA, a 2.156 WHIP with a 5:6 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

9) Matt Dominguez, 3B, FLA – After being considered at one time the best prep hitter from California in the 2007 draft (remember Vitters and Moustakas?), Dominguez hasn’t translated that to production professionally. He’s still just 19yo and playing in the Florida State (FSL) League, but a .103/.103/.103 over the last two weeks leaves his OPS at .564 on the season.

10) Manny Pina, C, TEX – Pina becomes the second player (after Jason Knapp) to appear on both the ‘Hot’ and ‘Not’ lists this season. He was scorching early on, so his recent .111/.111/.194 still puts his OPS at .866 on the season, but remember, Pina had only a .628 OPS for his career when the season started.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do-It-Yourself - Aligning Performance and Potential

Diamond Future’s Do-It-Yourself column is a periodic look at the methods and philosophy that we employ to uncover and evaluate baseball prospects. Over the course of time we will detail both our methods and mindset, which will hopefully give you a different perspective and an opportunity to utilize some of these techniques to improve your own evaluations. Out inaugural article focuses on an overview of our process but it also takes a look at the long-standing conflict that exists between ‘scouts’ and ‘statheads’ and hopefully provides you with an understanding of where we fall on this issue.

For over a decade now there has been this on-going feud within the baseball community between the scouting organizations and the analytical community that was spawned by the work of people like Bill James, Pete Palmer and John Thorn. It came to somewhat of a boiling point in 2003 with the publication of Michael Lewis’ look at Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s in Moneyball. Then when the Theo Epstein led Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, the three decade old sabermetric community felt they had struck a major blow. At Diamond Futures we don’t see the conflict as an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ battle—that’s a petty fight that doesn’t bring us any closer to our mission: to develop the most accurate methods of determining the likelihood and level of future success of young ballplayers—both at the professional and amateur level.

It’s important that we clearly understand this mission. Our goal isn’t to sign future Major League ballplayers; it isn’t to find, establish or maintain a career with a Major League organization; and it isn’t to sign players as clients or to provide these clients with ammunition to better negotiate contracts. If it had been any of these things I am sure it would have had us tact differently along the way. No, we have but one objective—determining how to find the best way to calculate the probability that Player X will perform at various levels of success at some predetermined point in the future.

My background is in designing/developing financial modeling systems. The baseball challenge that we have described is virtually identical to those that I built a career around. It is essentially the same problem as, given a company that is currently performing at a defined point on its life-cycle, what is the probability that it will achieve a defined level of performance over a certain period of time. In both cases we have to determine/measure the current state, we have to determine the factors that may impact performance, we have to be able to assign probabilities to the potential outcomes, and we have to be able to sum the individual outcomes to determine the future value. Let’s take a look at each of these steps.

The first step is to measure the current state. At Diamond Futures we contend that as long as we can measure the current state, given enough data and an accurate method of normalizing it, we can develop definable, measurable, end-state probabilities. So realistically what does that mean? It means that if a given player has a significant sample size of data in a format that can be accurately normalized, we can determine the value of that players current performance relative to both his control population, but also to the universe of all professional ball players and value it in such a manner that is based solely on the key factors that have been demonstrated as predictors of future success. This also means that we can apply these techniques to not only Major League players and full-season Minor League players, but we can achieve similarly accurate results with players that have only performed in short-season Minor Leagues, Foreign Leagues, and even NCAA Division I. Stated in other terms, we understand the ‘real’ current value of Player X’s performance even though his only experience was in his 166AB Dominican Summer League stint last season.

One key point here, the statistical community has determined many methods of measuring baseball success: Win Shares, Runs Created and Linear Weights to name a few. We accept these measures as valid determinants of Major League performance. What these measures are not, however, are valid determinants of future performance. In the next couple of installments of ‘Do-It-Yourself’, we will detail the metrics we use.

The second step in our process is to identify the factors that may impact a given player’s ability to move from his current state to a specific future state. For many decades now, this has been the chief responsibility of the scout. While scouts do provide current state assessments in their reports, they can’t really match cold hard statistical analysis in this area. Think of it this way…if we had to measure the distance between two points, what is going to give us more accurate results: 1) The naked ‘eye-balling’ of the distance by a professional surveyor or 2) or an ordinary person armed with a tape measure? The scouting assessment of current performance relies on a lot of ‘eye-balling’…trained and experienced ‘eye-balling’, but ‘eye-balling’ none the less. But don’t mistake this for dismissing the value of scouting. Scouts provide significant value, shall I say currently irreplaceable value, in identifying things that are less easily measured. Things like: how much late life is on a pitcher’s fastball, does the pitcher throw on a downward plane, how much projection is his frame going to allow and how repeatable is his arm-slot/delivery. The scouts use their experience to gather this information, to assess the value of this information, and finally to assimilate all of the information into a prediction of what it all means to a player’s future performance. There is currently no way to gather this information without the scout.

Let’s digress for a moment and revisit the issue of scouts vs. statisticians. It would be fool-hardy for any scout to ignore the fact that systemizing data points that they gather and analyzing them for correlating factors to performance would not improve the effectiveness of scouting. If a major league team could completely standardize their scouting metrics and reporting, have a large enough staff to evaluate a significant population of players each year and collect this data for a long enough period of time to provide a base of data that could be analyzed for correlations, they could developing a modeling system that would provide quantum leaps over where the industry is today. By the same token, the statistician would be fool-hardy to ignore the fact that, as we sit here today in 2009, scouts provide irreplaceable inputs to the process. That doesn’t mean that sometime in the future that we won’t have available to us some sort of tool similar to ‘Google Earth’ that will allow some computer programmer to zoom into any game going on anywhere in the country and use tools that accurately measure the speed of the pitch, the plane of the pitch, the amount of movement at the end of the pitch and to quantify the repeatability of a pitcher’s arm-slot/delivery. Only at that point will the relevance of the scout truly be able to be questioned. In the mean-time, the astute organization is finding ways to meld both scouting and statistics—not divisively make a stand in one camp or the other.

So where does that leave us at Diamond Futures? While the scouting community is become increasingly standardized as each year passes, scouts still have different perspectives and different levels of experience. Two scouts evaluating the same player often times still come to very different conclusions. Additionally, many scouts/organizations hold their information very closely, so it isn’t readably available, yet alone in electronic format that can be easily analyzed. Finally, even if we could get past the first two issues, we don’t have a deep enough historical database of these reports to analyze and isolate positively correlating factors. So, for now, the best that we can do is try to find available, measurable, data points that might be used as ‘substitutes’ for the factors that scouting reports may have been able to provide. We have been able to identify some available ‘substitutes’ that do provide positively correlating results: for instance we can use height, weight, and body mass distribution data to ‘substitute’ for the frame projection and we can use signing bonus and draft position information to ‘substitute’ for the general scouting value of a player. Essentially we recognize that the inputs that could be provided by scouts do identify factors that may impact future performance and we have gone about finding measurable, substitute, data that can be used in its place.

The third step in the process is to assign probabilities to the desired levels of future performance. At Diamond Futures, we accomplish this forward looking technique by essentially looking backward—comparing the player with similar players from the past. We have a database of every minor and major league player’s performance for the last 40+ years and nearly 15 years of foreign league data and more than a decade’s worth of college results. What this allows us to do is search through over 12,000 individual players, and identify the approximately 1% - 2% of players that were most similar to the player in question and determine what happened to those player as time went on. We then determine the percentage of those players that performed at each level of performance we are trying to measure.

Finally, knowing the desired levels of future performance that we are attempting to measure, and the probabilities of reaching them, we can truly go about building a tree of potential outcomes and coming up with a single measure of value. By approaching valuation from this perspective, we can dispense with the whole argument of ‘ceiling’ vs. ‘certainty’, as we have a single measurement that considers both. As an example, we have players A and B. Player A has a 10% chance of performing at a level of Value 8.0, a 60% chance of performing at a Value of 5.0 and a 30% chance of performing at a Value of 3.0. Player B on the other hand has a 30% chance of performing of performing at a level of Value 8.0, a 30% chance of performing at a Level of Value of 5.0 and a 40% chance of performing at a Level of 3.0. Using our methods, Player A is a .10*8.0 + .60*5.0 + .30*3.0 = 4.7 Value player. Player B on the other hand is a .30*8.0 + .30*5.0 + .40*3.0 = 5.1 Value player. Now we do complicate things by also utilizing Marginal Replacement Level Values and the like, but essentially this is the process that we perform for every player.

The way that we will present this information on the site is that we will start out by providing our Performance Evaluations for each league as they draw to a close. The first of these will be the NCAA Division I Performance Evaluations that will come out next weekend. These are our current state evaluations that we discussed in Step 1. Then as we complete the rest of the process, we will provide our team rankings over the winter and our overall rankings and write-ups that will come out in March. Over the coming weeks we will take more in-depth looks at our techniques used at the various stages of the process. Next week we will begin this with a closer look at the factors that are used in developing our Performance Evaluations.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Amateur Draft Top 50 - May 22, 2009

Jacob Turner is the epitome of the projectable prep pitcher

With the draft less than three weeks away, this will be the last ‘Top 50’ that is done in this format. Next Friday we will rank the Top 50 players, by how we would choose them if we were making all of the picks. Then on June 5th, we will post our mock draft of the first two rounds. There hasn’t been a lot that has changed over the last week, as there isn’t a single player on this week’s list that hasn’t been in consideration for the list the previous two weeks, just a little shuffling within the ranks. On the downside, Baylor’s Kendal Volz is dropping like a rock. Volz was at one time a candidate to go in the top 10 picks. Now he is fighting to go on day one.

College Right-Handed Pitchers –

1) Stephen Strasburg, San Diego St – The city of Washington D.C. breathed a sigh of relief this week when word came out that Strasburg’s departure after 7 2/3 shutout innings was nothing more than minor back spasms. He is now 13-0 with a 1.24ERA and a 180:19 K:BB ratio in 102 IP.
2) Kyle Gibson, Missouri – Each of the next four guys on this list all have their backers--It’s really just a matter of taste. Gibson is the workman-like one of the group that just always seems to get the job done.
3) Tanner Scheppers, Independent – Scheppers likely has the best ‘stuff’ of the four, but still is an injury concern.
4) Aaron Crowe, Independent – Crowe has the fastball and is the most proven. He’s pitching well in the Northern League.
5) Alex White, North Carolina – White is the preference for those who favor upside. He has three pitches that could all be plus pitches.
6) Mike Leake , Arizona State – Doesn’t have the upside of the previous five, but all that Leake does is keep on winning. A complete game shutout with 12Ks and no walks in his last outing.
7) Kyle Heckathorn, Kennesaw State – Heckathorn will go in the first round off of his raw ‘stuff’ more than his performance this year.
8) Chad Jenkins, Kennesaw State – Has outpitched Heckathorn this year, but doesn’t have the same projectability.
9) Sam Dyson, South Carolina – Dyson has been on fire lately. There are concerns that he profiles as a RP or else he would be higher on this list.

High School Right-Handed Pitchers –

1) Jacob Turner, Westminster Academy, St. Louis – Turner turned 18yo last week and celebrated by fanning 32 batters over two games. He is the most projectable prep pitcher in the draft.
2) Shelby Miller, Brownswood H.S. TX – In front of a ton of scouts Monday, Miller tossed a gem, a 7 inning shutout, while allowing 4 hits, walking 1 and fanning 14.
3) Zack Wheeler, East Paulding High School, Dallas, GA – Wheeler is the most polished high school arm available…It will be an upset if he gets past the Braves at #7.
4) Matt Hobgood, Norco H.S., CA – Hobgood has a 19-0 record over the last two seasons and has given up only 3ERs in 55IP on the year.
5) Brody Colvin, RHP, St. Thomas More, LA – Colvin is 6’4” and throws a low-90s fastball. His secondary offerings are a work in progress, but this is a highly projectable right-hander.
6) Madison Younginer, Maudlin HS, SC - A big-time fastball and three pitches with plus potential make Younginer highly sought after.

College Left-Handed Pitchers –

1) Rex Brothers, Lipscomb – Only Strasburg has fanned more batters than Brothers this year.
2) Mike Minor, Vanderbilt – After being just so-so for most of the season Minor has been heating up lately. Minor had his best outing of the season Wednesday night in front of a ton of scouts.
3) Andrew Oliver, Oklahoma State – Overcame early distractions to pitch well recently. I am higher on him than most.
4) James Paxton, Kentucky – I find more to not like than I do to like, but Paxton has the best raw stuff of any college LHP…he just can’t get anyone out.

High School Left-Handed Pitchers –

1) Tyler Matzek, Capistrano Valley-Mission Viejo H.S. – The most complete package of any prep pitcher, Matzek finished the regular season with a 1.23 ERA and 84 Ks in 64IP.
2) Matt Purke, Klein, TX – My predicition is that Purke is this year’s version of Tim Melville whose rumored bonus demands allowed him to fall to the fourth round. As a LHP, he won’t get quite that far, but could slide out of round one if the rumors are true.
3) Tyler Skaggs, Santa Monica H.S., CA – Looks to be in the second tier of prep pitchers along with James, Hobgood, Colvin and Youginer.
4) Chad James, Yukon H.S., OK – As a LHP with 4 potentially plus pitches, including a low 90s fastball, James could sneak into the first round.

College Catchers –

1) Tony Sanchez, Boston College – Could be an overdraft this year, similar to Castro last season, due to the lack of college catchers.

High School Catchers –

1) Wil Myers, Wesley Academy, NC – May not stay behind the plate, but I really like his bat no matter where he plays. He is the equivalent to a basketball gym rat—only on the baseball diamond.
2) Max Stassi, Yuba City, CA – A rarity among prep players is a Catcher that is likely to remain there and a bat that should be at least adequate.
3) Luke Bailey, Troup H.S. LaGrange, GA – Was the top prep receiver and a possible top 10 pick in a very strong class before undergoing Tommy John surgery at the end of April. Now it will be interesting to see who is willing to take a gamble.
4) Tommy Joseph, Horizon HS, AZ – Joseph has big-time power and has 15HR in 77 ABs on the year.
5) J.R. Murphy, Pendleton School, Bradenton, FL – A solid bat, but has positional questions.

College Outfielders –

1) Dustin Ackley, North Carolina – Continues to solidify his position as the #2 player available with a strong May performance.
2) Tim Wheeler, Sacramento State – A true CF, Wheeler has a 1.259 OPS and 18HRs on the season.
3) A.J. Pollock, Notre Dame – Best all around outfielder in draft, Pollock continues his torrid May pace. .365/.444/.604 with great plate discipline for the season.
4) Jared Mitchell, LSU – Hitting .341/.479/.587 with 30 SBs on the season. What scouts really drool over though, is what he is likely to become.
5) Brett Jackson, California – Striking out once every 4 PAs is perhaps more of a negative than his power is a plus.
6) Jason Kipnis, Arizona State – Scouts see him as little more than a good college player…I believe in the results he has produced.
7) Angelo Songco, Loyola-Marymount – Songco has cooled a bit over the last couple of weeks and is in danger of a draft day slide.

High School Outfielders –

1) Donovan Tate, Cartersville H.S., GA – Son of former college FB standout Lars Tate. Phenomenal athlete. Could go Top 5, possibly #3, if signability concerns are taken care of.
2) Michael Trout, Millsville H.S., NJ – In a draft short on offensive talent, Trout has 5-tool potential and has vaulted up draft boards this Spring.
3) Everett Williams, McCallum H.S. Austin, TX – A pure CF who will have to overcome size concerns, but will be drafted on his tools.
4) Jake Marisnick, Poly H.S. Riverside, CA – May be the most athletic prepster in the draft and has some production to go with it.
5) Brian Goodwin, Rocky Mount, NC, HS – This looks a typical Phillies pick to me…great athlete whose best tools are speed and defense but is a gamble with the bat.

College Corner Infielders –

1) Rich Poythress, Georgia – Poythress has been ice cold as of late—especially against top tier pitching, but is still likely to go in the first round because the crop of available hitters is so weak.
2) Ben Paulsen, Clemson – Not real toolsy, but the bat is extremely solid. .374/.435/.676 in the ACC.

High School Corner Infielders –
1) Bobby Borchering, Bishop Verot H.S. Ft. Myers, FL – Hitting a HR every 7 ABs this season and doing it from both sides of the plate. Would rate even higher if the consensus was that he’ll stay at 3B.
2) Matt Davidson, Yucaipa, H.S. CA – The best prep power hitter has closed the season strong. .566/.693/1.184 with a 24:6 BB:K ratio.

College Middle Infielders –

1) Grant Green, USC – Grant is expected to go anywhere from #3 to #16. Much has been made of his ‘poor’ Junior season. The reality is that a great Sophomore season, followed by arguably the best offensive performance on the Cape last summer, created unrealistic expectations and comparisons to players like Longoria and Tulowitzki. He posted a 1.082 OPS in 2008. On March 21st the Trojans began their conference schedule against UCLA. In 36 games from that point on, the Trojans have faced one of the 10 toughest schedules in the nation. Green has posted a .402/.452/.620 (a 1.072 OPS) with better strikezone control than he showed in 2008. If I am drafting, he is one of the first three players off the board. If he falls out of the top 10 picks he will be the steal of the draft.

High School Middle Infielders –

1) Jiovanni Mier, Bonita H.S. LaVerne, CA – Best combination of offense/defense among middle infielders. I really like Mier and expect teams to let him slide more than they should on Draft Day.
2) Deven Marrero, American Heritage HS, Plantation, FL – The younger brother of Chris (Nationals) and Christian (White Sox) and from the same high school that produced Eric Hosmer and won a mythical national championship in 2008, Marrero is a hard-nosed player that will perform higher than his draft position.
3) Mychal Given, Plant HS, Tampa, FL – There is significant controversy as to whether to draft him for his arm or his bat, but the consensus seems to be that it will be the bat. The type of player that may develop better when no longer focusing on both.
4) Nick Franklin, Lake Brantley HS, FL – Franklin’s parents built him a batting cage at home when he was 3yo. He’s used it to slug his way to a .538 AVG and a school record 10HRs this season. Could be the second prep middle infielder selected.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hots and Nots - May 20, 2009

Gerardo Parra has made his impact felt for the Diamondbacks

At this time of year, hot performances often lead to Major League call-ups, and that is the case this week, as no less than 5 players are now either in the majors or on their way very shortly. That group is led by Gerardo Parra, who apparently has worked his way into a starting job with a smoking ‘Hot’ debut. Here’s a look at the ‘Hottest’ and ‘Nottest’ prospects over the last two weeks.

Hot Hitters –
1) Gerardo Parra, OF, ARZ – Anyone who paid attention to the Winter League performance of Parra won’t be surprised, as we, at Diamond Futures, named Parra our #1 Winter Wonder back in January when Parra, as the 5th youngest player in the Venezuelan Winter League, came into his own, batting .329/.404/.504. Parra has never really been a free-swinger, but the difference this year is his patience at the plate, drawing 22 walks in 108 ABs before his callup. He is off to a .412/.474/.824 start with the Diamondbacks and has gone .355/.444/.645 over the last two weeks. At just 22yo, Parra is just scratching the surface of his potential.

2) Josh Vitters, 3B, CHN – If this was a one week performance list, there would be no question who would be #1, as Vitters has posted 5 straight 3-hit games and has homered in his last 4. Vitters went into the 2007 draft ranked by us as the top prep hitter (over Heyward and Moustakas), but suffered through some nagging injuries and got off to an unexpectedly slow start to his professional career. Now healthy, Midwest League (MWL) pitchers are getting the abuse. Vitters will still have to be more patient at the plate (3 BB in 132 ABs), but the 19yo has posted a .998 OPS to start the season. .422/.435/.733 over his last 45 ABs.

3) Brandon Snyder, 1B, BAL – The problem with drafting high school catchers, is rarely do they stay there. You then have to not only worry about whether their bat will play at another position, but there also is usually a transition period. Snyder is another example of just that case, after being drafted by the Orioles in the first round of the 2005 draft. Snyder seems to have things on track now as he has gone.475/.500/.925 over the last two weeks and now has a 1.060 OPS on the season.

4) Jaff Decker, OF, SDP – While it’s possible that we keep putting Decker on the list just because we like to say ‘Jaff’, it’s more probable that it has something to do with his performance. Decker is one of those bad-bodied players that scouts hate. Apparently so do MWL pitchers as Decker has a 1.062 OPS on the season. This is the third straight week that Decker has made the list, and he did it this week with a .368/.489/.711 in 49 PAs.

5) Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT – Over the last decade, the Pirates have selected at an average of the 8th position in the first round of each June’s draft. Excluding Pedro Alvarez last year, they have exactly Paul Maholm and McCutchen to show for it. McCutchen has carried the pressure bad drafts past and hasn’t always handled it well. While performing adequately, he hasn’t really posted numbers that matched the expectations—until now. After lighting up International League pitching to the tune of .400/.489/.625 over the last two weeks, McCutchen’s OPS now stands at .838 on the season. More importantly, he is walking more than striking out. Look for McCutchen to force McLouth to a corner sometime in the next month.

6) Josh Bell, 2B/3B, LAD – The Dodgers have had high hopes for Bell ever since he posted .911 OPS in the Pioneer League in 2006. But questionable work habits and a string of nagging injuries have held him back. Bell seems to have things turned around this year, as he has posted an .880 OPS to open the Southern League (SOL) season. .382/.462/.647 over the last two weeks.

7) Alexia Amarista, 2B, LAA – Amarista is a player we have been high on ever since he posted the second best age-adjusted offensive season in the DSL in 2007. At just 5’8” and 150lbs, the scouts are never going to be excited by him, but he has great strike zone management skills and should develop adequate pop for his position. Amarista has gone .378/.500/.514 over the last two weeks and the 20yo now has a .935 OPS on the season. He’ll never be a superstar, but he has more upside than Alberto Callaspo who is a similar player putting together a solid season with the Royals.

8) J.P. Arencibia, C, TOR – The Jays are looking for Arencibia, their 2007 first round pick, to assume the full-time catching duties before the season is out. Once he does, you can expect a sound defensive backstop that is likely to hit 20 HRs, but will also fan 80-100 times—he just can’t help himself from starting the count 0-1. His free swinging approach is working as of late as he has gone .333/.407/.833 with 6 HRs in his last 55 PAs.

9) Lonnie Chisenhall, SS, CLE – As we told you earlier in the season, Chisenhall is better than the experts told you before Cleveland took him at the end of the first round last June. When he entered South Carolina, he was considered the best hitter in a program that included Justin Smoak, Reese Havens and James Darnell. Unfortunately he got himself in trouble with some non-baseball related issues and went under the radar screen. The scouts will tell you that he can’t stay at SS and can’t hit enough to play 3B. I’ll tell you that he won’t stay at SS, would hit above league average at 3B, but is likely to end up as one of the better offensive 2B in the league in a very short period of time. Chisenhall has posted .381/.447/.619 over his last 50 PAs and now has a .921OPS on the season, as a 20yo in Hi-A.

10) Roger Kieschnick, OF, SFG – The Giants were able to get Kieschnick in the 3rd round in June because he posted a disappointing junior season at Texas Tech. Kieschnick is one of the best pure power hitters in the Giants system, and has beaten up California League pitching this year to the tune of a .904 OPS. He will have to develop better strike zone judgment as he moves up the ladder, but he has gone .500/.500/.844 over the last two weeks.

Hot Pitchers –
1) Kris Medlen, RHP, ATL – Tommy Hanson gets the pub, but it will be Medlen who makes his big league debut first--on Thursday night. Medlen spent his first two seasons with the Braves as a reliever, but had a break-out season in 2008 after moving into the rotation. This year he has been even better going 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA for Gwinnett. Over his last three starts he has posted a 0.64 ERA, 0.643 WHIP, with a 16:4 K:BB ratio.

2) Jeanmar Gomez, RHP, CLE – While we have been talking about him for over a month now, somehow Gomez has still flown under the radar as he has gotten off to one of the Minor’s best starts. Between two stops, the 21yo, Gomez has posted a 1.64 ERA with a .727 WHIP. A promotion to the Eastern League (ESL) hasn’t slowed him down, as he has a 0.00 ERA, 0.467 WHIP and a 13:0 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

3) Casey Crosby, LHP, DET – Tiger fans had to wait nearly two years to see what they had in Crosby after he blew out his elbow in Instructional League and cost himself all but 5 IP of the 2008 season. Making his full-season debut as 20yo in the MWL, Crosby has not disappointed. This is a tremendously athletic kid who not only has a mid-90s fastball, but has three other pitches that he is not afraid to throw at any point in the count. His upside is through the roof, and so far this season he is off to a 2.43 ERA, 1.14 WHIP start. My guess is that the Tigers focus him on three solid pitches, and that he improves his command (currently walking nearly 5 batters per 9IP), while he spends the entire season in the MWL, but he looks like a good one. 0.75 ERA, 0.667 WHIP with a 15:4 K:BB ratio over his last three starts.

4) Matt Harrison, LHP, TEX – Though technically not a prospect, Harrison is on this list because of the turnaround he has put together since making the ‘Not’ list earlier this year. Through the season’s first 4 starts Harrison had a 7.893 ERA and a 2.077 WHIP. We told you not to worry, that the track record for pitchers that had more than a 100IP before their 24th birthday was very good. Over the last two weeks, Harrison has a 1.00 ERA, a 0.556 WHIP and a 12:1 K:BB ratio, including two straight complete games.

5) Ross Detwiler, LHP, WSN – Sometimes we get them right and sometimes…not so much. We were hard on Detwiler last season, as his 4.86 ERA and 1.589 WHIP for a 22yo in Hi-A was a big disappointment. The Nationals kept the faith and have been rewarded, as Detwiler made a solid big league debut this week and has posted a 1.80 ERA, 0.800 WHIP, with a 22:1 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

6) Daniel Duffy, LHP, KCR – The 20yo Duffy is one of those guys that isn’t a scout favorite, as he has dominated the minor’s lower levels with tremendous polish more than raw stuff. So there are significant questions surrounding his upside that will only be answered by proving himself each step of the way. So far Hi-A hasn’t proved any more of a challenge for Duffy, as he has posted a 0.79 ERA, a 0.706 WHIP with a 12:1 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

7) Trevor Reckling, LHP, LAA – After posting a 3.37 ERA with a 1.263 ERA as one of the youngest pitchers in the MWL in 2008, Reckling served notice that, despite a rather pedestrian 8th round pedigree, he was a legitimate pitching prospect. Three starts is all that it took this season, to cause the Angels to promote the 19yo (he turns 20 on the 22nd of May) to AA. Now the youngest full-time starter in the Texas League (TXL), Reckling has posted a 1.59 ERA, a 0.765 WHIP with a 13:3 K:BB ratio over his last three starts. While he doesn’t have the raw stuff for the front of a big league rotation, Reckling looks like a solid bet for a mid-rotation slot.

8) Edgar Osuna, LHP, ATL – Apparently this week’s list is dominated by lefties, as Osuna makes #7. This is a big year for Osuna, as, up to this point, he has dominated the lower levels of the minors more on guile than raw stuff. He doesn’t miss as many bats as I would like to see in a pitching prospect, but none the less he has posted a 1.38 ERA, 0.385 WHIP with a 12:1 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

9) Zeke Spruill, RHP, ATL – Spruill was a ‘projectability’ pick by the Braves in the second round of last June’s draft. A mere 19 years old, he is starting to fulfill some of that projection as he is 6-0 with a 1.91 ERA on the season. A 1.13 ERA, 0.750 WHIP with a 12:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

10) Arquimedes Nieto, RHP, STL – The “Who’s He Award” winner for the week, Nieto was signed by the Cardinals as a 17yo out of Panama in 2007. Though just 19yo at the time, Arquimedes pitched for Panama in this Spring’s World Baseball Classic. He had a solid US debut, going 6-1 with a 2.95 ERA in the New York-Penn in 2008, and brought his extremely polished repertoire to the MWL this year. The big question surrounding Nieto, is will he find an out pitch? The Cardinals hope that, at 175lbs on his 6’0” frame, he fills out a little and gains another couple of MPH on his fastball. Nieto has posted a 0.90 ERA, 0.400 WHIP with a 9:0 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

The Nots –
1) Brandon Morrow, RHP, SEA – Not really a prospect, but at 24yo his performance is worth noting. Part of this is on Morrow and part is on the typically confused Mariner organization. Let’s get this on the record, Morrow has a huge upside and hopefully gets things straightened out quick. That being said, he has been nothing short of awful this year. I have huge questions surrounding what the Mariners are doing with their first round picks, as Morrow, Aumont and Fields all look to be being groomed for the same job, but the constant questions surrounding whether or not Morrow is a starter or a closer is taking its toll. In his last 4 appearances, Morrow has posted a 36.00 ERA, 6.00 WHIP and a 2:3 K:BB ratio.

2) Brent Lillibridge, UT, CHA – Another ‘not really a prospect’, I think it’s time to put a fork in Lillibridge, who has been a fringy prospect since his breakout season in 2006. Unfortunately, he thinks he should be the next Ryan Howard instead of trying to be more in the mold of a Brian Roberts that he is better suited for. Two teams have now tried to work with him and have given up, and with this week’s demotion on top of a .150/.150/.150 line over the last two weeks, Lillibridge just might be out of chances.

3) Wendell Fairley, OF, SFG – Is it too early to declare 20 year-old, former first round, picks a ‘bust’? My vote is not in Fairley’s case. The Giants took him in the first round of 2007, a pick that appeared odd at the time, and he didn’t make his debut until the following summer, in the Arizona League (AZL), where he posted a .725 OPS with only 2 HRs in nearly 200 ABs. This year he has gotten off to a .217/.308/.293 start with 1 HR in over 100 PAs. More troublesome is his strikeout rate which is greater than once every 3 ABs. He’s gone .125/.160/.167 over the last two weeks.

4) Anthony Ortega, LAA – Calling up Ortega when they did, seemed to be a strange move by the Angels. Now a demotion and trip to the DL makes the move even more questionable. For my money, he just doesn’t have starter stuff. A 15.63 ERA, 2.684 WHIP and a 3:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

5) Jeremy Jeffress, MIL – Jeffres is a repeater from last week’s list and all of what we said then still applies. Four seasons into his professional career, Jeffress is still more thrower than pitcher. He is walking nearly 11 batters per 9IP. That’s earned him a demotion to Hi-A. He’s posted a 13.00 ERA, a 2.889 WHIP with a 8:16 K:BB ratio over his last three starts. If I am a Brewer fan, I am not counting on ever seeing him in Milwaukee.

6) Nick Schmidt, LHP, SDP – The Padres first round pick in 2007, Schmidt missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery. Working his way back has proved difficult thus far. A 9.82 ERA, 3.00 WHIP with a 6:6 K:BB ratio over his last three starts leaves his ERA at 6.64 on the year. At 23yo, and struggling in Lo-A, things aren’t looking good.

7) Brett Sinkbeil, RHP, FLA – It’s turning out to be two abysmal seasons in a row for the Marlins’ 2006 1st round pick. Since Sinkbeil began facing full-season hitters, they have lit him up with a batting average against greater than .300. A 9.64 ERA, 2.643 WHIP with a 8:11 K:BB ratio leaves Sinkbeil with a 10.29 ERA on the year.

8) Francisco Pena, C, NYM – It’s hard to imagine that entering the 2007 season, there were those that believed Pena was a better prospect than Jesus Montero. Two years later it isn’t even close. Pena has gone .120/.154/.120 over the last two weeks and now has a .561 OPS on the year. At just 19yo, and in the Florida State League, Pena has plenty of time to get things on track, but right now it just isn’t working.

9) Jefry Marte, 3B, NYM – Marte is another Met prospect that appears to be being pushed too fast. A .093/.133/.186 over his last 45 PAs leaves Marte with a .536 OPS on the year and a yearning for the NYP season to open.

10) Juan Ramirez, RHP, SEA – Ramirez is still a pitching prospect with a tremendous upside, but the 20yo is finding out what so many others have before him—the California League is a tough place to pitch. Ramirez has a 7.90 ERA, 2.049 WHIP and a 12:5 K:BB ratio over his last three starts. He was pitching better before he started calling himself as J.C.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Mailbag - May 19, 2008

The Mailbag is a weekly feature of Diamond Futures where we try to answer your questions…rather than ours. If you would like to submit a question, you may do so in one of two ways: 1) Post a comment at the end of the weekly ‘Mailbag’ article or 2) Email the question to

We have two questions this week. The first is from BradR who asks:

“Do you see Manny Pina or Derek Norris being the better long-term player?”
Great question as this speaks to the purpose of the ‘Hots & Nots’ list we post each week. Pina has made the list twice this year and headed the list once. Perhaps no player in Minor League baseball has been ‘hotter’ than Pina this season. When we make up the list each week we are predominantly looking for three things: 1) Players whose raw numbers over the last two weeks make you take notice, 2) Players who have legitimate prospect status (in other words, a 24yo knocking the cover off the ball in Ft. Wayne doesn’t really mean much) and 3) Things that will make interesting story lines.

Coming into the season, as a 21yo in AA, Pina was a legitimate catching prospect, but was considered more of the prototypical backup/defensive replacement. Although always young for his league, in four previous seasons Pina had not posted an OPS higher than .677 and that was in 2008 between the California League (CAL) and the Texas League (TXL)—two notorious hitter’s havens. Keep in mind Pina was signed out of Venezuela as a 17yo and the Rangers believed in him enough that even as a 165lb 18yo, he made his professional debut the following season in the Arizona League (AZL). It wasn’t as if he wasn’t a legitimate prospect coming into the year, as his age adjusted CAL season in 2008 ranked him as the league’s 39th best offensive prospect. We had him as the Ranger’s 40th best prospect overall, but remember the Rangers have the deepest system in all of baseball. But given all of that, his performance to open the season has been extremely surprising. He has gone from a 5’11, 165lb, 18yo to a 5’11, 185lb, 21yo and a catcher’s offensive skill set is often the last thing to develop, but he had hit only 4 HRs in his first 714 professional ABs and has 5 HRs in 100 ABs already this year. While he has cooled a bit lately, he is still posting a 1.020 OPS so far on the season.

Derek Norris’ performance, on the other hand, is anything but surprising. He was a 4th round pick in 2007, was one of the youngest players in the New York-Penn (NYP) League last season—yet posted a .907 OPS, and as a converted 3Bmen has a cannon-like arm that led the NYP in throwing out runners. Coming into the season, we had him ranked as a Top 100 prospect.

As to the question of which will be the better long-term prospect, I think they both have strong chances of playing in the Majors at some point. Pina is currently behind Saltalamacchia, Teagarden and Ramirez in the Rangers organization and so is going to need some players moved, while Norris is unquestionably the best Catching prospect in the National’s system. I believe more in Norris’ bat and think that he will learn to block the ball better and call a better game as he advances. When you combine that with his tremendous arm-strength, I think his defense ends up MLB average. I believe more in Pina’s defense and he is, after all, two level’s closer to the Major Leagues. If I redid the Top 100 list right now Norris would be on it and Pina would still likely not. However, if Pina is able to demonstrate this season that he can hit, say he ends the year with an OPS higher than .850, Pina will be regarded as one of the Minor’s top catching prospects and would likely be my choice. But the jury is still out.

Our other question this week comes from JoshB:

“What is your background and do you see all of the players that you write about?”
I have been meaning to answer this question in a post, so now is as good as time as any. We will use this topic as this week’s Diamond Futures Retrospective which you will find in the article below.

That’s all from the mailbag this week, so if you’d like to see one of your questions answered, just drop us a comment at the end of this post.

Diamond Futures Retrospective - How it All Began

The 'Retrospective' will be a regular posting where we will attempt to archive work that has previosuly been done, poke fun at things we have said in the past, and try to help the reader understand where we have been so that they can get a better understanding of where we are going. This week we will take a look at how we got involved in analyzing prospects.

I have been ‘following’ Minor League baseball for over 30 years now, since my next door neighbor growing up was drafted by the Expos, put together a solid Minor league career, but never made it out of AAA. About 12 years ago, I took a position that required me to travel 3-4 days per week throughout the country. I was sitting in my hotel room one Spring evening, getting ready for my fantasy draft, when I came across an article written by Tony Blengino (now serving as special assistant to the General Manager with the Mariners after a successful stint as assistant director of Minor League scouting with the Brewers, but at that time he was working with Ron Shandler—doing most of his Minor League evaluations and writing Future Stars). The article was about using Standard Deviations to League Averages to evaluate AAA/AA Minor League Players and uncover positive outliers to predict positive future performance.

Now remember in 1997, the Internet was in its relative infancy and Minor League Data in electronic format was virtually non-existent. However, I was able to poke around on the 'net' and get my hands on AAA data from the previous season in a very crude text format and was able to convert it into an Excel Spreadsheet and began to play around with it. I worked late into the night (early into the morning) and was amazed at how, by using the methods Blengino described, I was able to quickly distill a league’s worth of data into easily comparative numbers. Now understand at the time I was the Vice President of Field Operations for an IT Consulting Company and my background was in IT and Finance with a specialty skill set in developing data modeling systems for a wide variety of real-life, mostly financial, systems. This was a natural union between, both, my interest (at the time I was getting to see about 60 or so Minor League games each year while I traveled around the country for work) and my skill set.

The biggest problem was how to ‘measure’ the effectiveness of the concepts, as there was very little test data available in electronic format. So I dug out my copy of the 1992 Minor League Digest and began inputting, by hand over the next several months, all of the 1991 Eastern League data. I then assigned numerical ratings, as to the 1997 perceived value, of those players that I had data on from 1991. From that, I was able to draw some initial correlations as to what statistics appeared to be relevant in predicting future performance and how relevant were they. Beginning in 1998, I started applying those concepts and began developing my first ‘prospect’ lists. I began reading, lots of reading, anything I could get my hands on about scouting and baseball statistical analysis, that took me in various other directions. In 2001, I did a significant study on the effects of aging on professional players and I figured out a way to use those results, along with Major League Equivalencies, to develop what I called ‘Peak Peformance Values’…essentially what was the expected future ‘ceiling’ of young Minor League players. As electronic data became more readily available, I was able to do more detailed analysis, revise the correlating effects of various statistics to more accurate levels, and finally to go back to my original data sets, that were now further removed from the players’ minor league performance, and get better results.

Around this time I began writing for a site ( as their senior writer. This got me a bit of notoriety, a few regular appearances on a couple of sports talk radio shows, and a rather time consuming hobby. Like so often happens, ‘real life’ got in the way of my ‘hobby’ and in late 2003, I put away my hobby for a couple of years. When I finally got back to it, I had a different job and I only traveled to two cities with any regularity so my actual first hand observations of the players dropped from 60+ games per year to a mere dozen or so, primarily in the Midwest League. The positive though was that now historical minor league data was more readily available and I was able to amass forty years or so worth of data that changed the dynamic of what I was doing. The other major change was that I moved from a mindset that Player X will eventually perform at Y Level to one now where Player X has the probability Y to perform at Z Level. In other words, I realized that I can’t predict with any certainty what level of performance Jaff Decker will play at in five years, but I can tell you extremely accurately how many players, of say 10 players like Jaff Decker, will perform at what various levels. This was a tremendous breakthrough, akin to going to the horse races and knowing that, while I may not know the exact winners in each race, if I systematically distribute $2000 worth of bets over 10 races that I will walk home with approximately $2,240 plus or minus $60.

Of course this 'brand' of prospect analysis draws contempt from the diehard scouting community. Trust me, this is their fight not ours, and in another article soon I will explain Diamond Future's thoughts on the subject, but suffice it to say I find first-hand observation extremely useful, BUT, even watching 60+ games per year as I used to do, I was only able to see, firsthand, about 100 or so prospects play each year. Sure I developed contacts that I trusted what they were seeing, but without a significant staff/budget you just can’t see all of the players you would need to see--noone can. If I had that staff scouring the country, trained the same way, looking for the same things, compiling the same formatted reports, I could do tremendous things with that kind of dataset of information. Reality doesn’t allow for that, so what I have done instead is find things that allow me to approximate the information that that team of scouts would provide me--things like how much money was the player offered to originally sign or what round a player was drafted, projectability based on what age a player was signed, how tall are they, and how is their body-mass distributed, etc. I can take these inputs and ‘systemize’ them in a way that produces measurable results. Maybe more importantly, I found that when I actually did see players, there was a tendency to personalize certain players, both good and bad, in a way that I am sure didn’t add to my accuracy. This way I don’t have to guard against this personalization nearly so much. Maybe I don’t have a radar gun reading on each pitcher, or truly know that his fastball is straight as an arrow with no late life--both which would be helpful if I could consistently get that kind of information, but I do have other information that tells me other things that I need to know, that I know not only that it actually works, but how well. I still have a few contacts, both inside the game and out, that I can ask certain questions of or alert me to things, but the overwhelming majority of what I do is based on the numbers, and things that I can accurately measure. Hopefully, over time, you will come to appreciate the value of what this provides.

Monday, May 18, 2009

NCAA Top 30 - May 18, 2009

Mike Leake is the difference between the top two teams

It’s Conference Tournament Week, and the time things start to get really exciting in College Baseball. While most of the bids from the major conferences are already determined, there are some second tier conferences that should provide some excitement this weekend as we watch to see which upset, or two, starts knocking out some bubble teams. Then you have six of the likely National Seeds already determined, but schools like Georgia Tech, Clemson, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Florida will be looking to be impressive enough to nail down one of the final two spots. Additionally Arkansas, Florida State, Miami, Rice, Texas A&M, and Virginia look to be the six teams battling for the final three Regional Host spots. As we enter the last week before the tournament, here’s how we at Diamond Futures see things shaping up:

1) Arizona State (41-11, Previous #2) – It would be easy to pick Irvine for the top spot, but after the Sun Devils swept Oregon over the weekend, outscoring them 27-2 in doing so, I just think the automatic ‘W’ being posted by Mike Leake every time out right now gives them the ever so slight edge.

2) UC – Irvine (40-12, Previous #1) – Swept UC-Davis over the weekend, and Tuesday’s 9-2 loss to San Diego is their only defeat in their last 11 games.

3) Cal State-Fullerton (38-14, Previous #3) – Took 2 of three in a really fun series against a quality UCLA team over the weekend. Undoubtedly one of the nation’s best teams but a marginal RPI may keep them from a National Seed.

4) Texas (38-12, Previous #4) – Weather and an insignificant opponent made last week inconsequential. Will head into the Big 12 Tourney as the #1 seed.

5) LSU (41-15, Previous #5) – The Tigers went 3–1 last week and finished the regular season on a 14-3 run.

6) North Carolina (41-14, Previous #8) – The Tar Heels went 3-1 last week, but if they can’t get more consistency from Alex White, and their starting rotation, they may find themselves as an early upset victim.

7) Mississippi (40-15, Previous #12) – We told you last week that the Arkansas series would tell us more about the Rebels. The sweep of the Razorbacks puts them in National Seed contention.

8) Oklahoma (40-16, Previous #13) – The Sooners, made one of the week’s biggest jumps after their impressive sweep of the Aggies over the weekend.

9) Florida (38-18, Previous #9) – The Gators went 3-1 last week and now open up the SEC Tourney against Arkansas.

10) Texas Christian (35-14, Previous #14) – The Horned Frogs went 4-0 last week and enter the Conference tourney having won 8 of their last 9.

11) Rice (35-15, Previous #6) – Lost 2 of 3 to Alabama-Birmingham this weekend as their pitching was torched for 28 runs in 3 games.

12) Georgia Tech (34-15, Previous #7) – We were worried last week about the Duke series…now you know why. The Yellow Jackets lost 3 of 4 last week.

13) Florida State (40-14, Previous #11) – Four games against the woeful 14-35 Grambling Tigers did nothing to help them prepare for tournament time.

14) Clemson (39-17, Previous #16) – Won all 4 games last week, but is an easy final two week schedule going to come back to haunt them?

15) Kansas State (39-15, Previous #15) - Lost 2 of 3 to Kansas over the weekend…now face them again in the Conference Tourney opener.

16) Virginia (39-12, Previous #10) - Losing 2 of 3 at Virginia Tech over the weekend drops the Cavaliers from the #4 seed to the #6 seed in this weekend’s tourney.

17) Cal-Poly (35-17, Previous #20) – The 3rd Best team, in the very tough Big West Conference.

18) East Carolina (41-15, Previous #22) – The Pirates have won 6 straight and are now the top seed in the Conference USA tourney.

19) South Carolina (37-19, Previous NR) – The Gamecocks are one of the hottest teams in the country right now behind a resurgent Sam Dyson. 5-0 last week and they have now won 7 in a row.

20) Alabama (37-17, Previous #18) – Losing two out of three against Auburn wasn’t how the Tide hoped to close out the regular season.

21) Miami, FL (35-18, Previous #23) – After playing near .500 ball for over a month, the Hurricanes destroyed Wake Forest this weekend, outscoring them 46-13 in a 3-game sweep.

22) Texas A&M (34-21, Previous #17) - The Aggies were swept this weekend at Oklahoma.

23) Arkansas (32-20, Previous #19) – The Razorbacks have lost their last nine SEC conference games and are spiraling rapidly.

24) Georgia (35-20, Previous #21) – The Bull Dogs went 1-3 last week, including a 3-game sweep at the hands of South Carolina. Georgia has now lost 11 of their last 13 and are fading fast. Firstbasemen Rich Poythress hit 20 HRs in the BullDogs first 42 games, but only 1 in the last 13 while going .245/.286/.302.

25) Missouri (32-23, Previous #27) - The Tigers went 2-0 in a light week and enter this weekend’s conference tourney as the #3 seed.

26) Elon (37-14, Previous #25) – The Phoenix enter the Southern Conference Tournament having won 13 of their last 14.

27) Louisville (40-14, Previous #29) – The Cardinals closed out the regular season with 4 straight wins and now have won 11 of their last 12.

28) Minnesota (35-15, Previous # 24) – The Gophers took 2 of 3 at Penn State last week, but lost out on the conference championship.

29) Ohio State (39-15, Previous #30) – A sweep of Iowa gives the Buckeyes the conference title and the #1 seed in this weekend’s tournament.

30) San Diego State (37-19, Previous NR) – The Aztecs are apparently more than just Strasburg as they won 3 of 4 last week and have closed the season by winning 7 of their final 8.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Amateur Draft Top 50 - May 15, 2009

Tyler Matzek may be the first left-hander selected

The draft is less than four weeks away and things are beginning to take shape. A couple of easily drawn conclusions are that it is a draft that should, like last year, favor the college players over the high school players in the early rounds and one of the weakest drafts in recent memory with regards to hitting talent. Outside of Dustin Ackley, I am not sure there is a hitter that is comparable to the top 7 or 8 from last year’s draft. Here is a position by position look at the top players available at this moment.

College Right-Handed Pitchers –

1) Stephen Strasburg, San Diego St – The 9 inning no hitter last weekend, while fanning 17, did nothing but add to the lore that is Strasburg.
2) Kyle Gibson, Missouri – As the Tigers Friday night pitcher last year, Crowe had a 1.166 WHIP and a 117:33 K:BB ratio in 98 1/3 IP. Through Thursday, Gibson has a 1.080 WHIP and a 115:15 K:BB ratio. At 6’6” I think Gibson is just as polished, his three pitches are solid and he has far more projection left.
3) Tanner Scheppers, Independent – His second outing wasn’t as eye-opening as the first but he does appear to be healthy.
4) Aaron Crowe, Independent – Word is that he may be considered as high as #4…I’d still say it’s only 50/50 he goes higher than he did last year.
5) Alex White, North Carolina – Frankly I am concerned with performances like last weekend against NC State. He should be more dominant against a lineup like that. Rebounded nicely though against Boston College.
6) Mike Leake , Arizona State – No pitcher outside of Strasburg has been more consistent. Over his last 8 starts, Leake has a 1.61 ERA, 0.821 WHIP and a 71:12 K:BB Ratio.
7) Kyle Heckathorn, Kennesaw St – He hasn’t dominated slightly weaker competition like we would hope, but he is big with great raw stuff.
8) Chad Jenkins, Kennesaw St – Although he has outpitched him this year, Jenkins is still in Heckathorn’s shadow. Wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go before Heckathorn though.
9) Sam Dyson, South Carolina – A projectable, draft-eligible Sophmore, made his best start of the year in front of tons of scouts on Thursday as he went 9IP, allowing 4 Hits, 2 ERs and walking 1, while fanning 13, including Poythress twice against Georgia.
10) Kendal Volz, Baylor – It’s been a disappointing season for the big right-hander, but still should be selected high off of previous performance.

High School Right-Handed Pitchers –

1) Jacob Turner, Westminster Academy, St. Louis – Hitting 99mph in a recent start has made Turner the fastest rising pitcher in the draft. He doesn’t turn 18yo until next week and could be the first prep taken.
2) Shelby Miller, Brownswood H.S. TX – The strongest prep arm in this year’s draft.
3) Zack Wheeler, East Paulding High School, Dallas – The most polished high school arm available…the Braves are said to be all over him.
4) Matt Hobgood, Norco HS, CA – 6’4”, 245lbs with a low 90’s fastball has scouts drooling.
5) Brody Colvin, RHP, St. Thomas More, LA – A highly projectable right hander that is moving up the boards rapidly.
6) Madison Younginer, Maudlin HS, SC - Might be rated higher if he wasn’t be used so sparingly right now.

College Left-Handed Pitchers –

1) Rex Brothers, Lipscomb – Only Strasburg has fanned more batters than Brothers this year.
2) Andrew Oliver, Oklahoma State – Overcame early distractions to pitch well recently. I am higher on him than most.
3) Mike Minor, Vanderbilt – Was beginning to fade before throwing a gem against Georgia last weekend.
4) James Paxton, Kentucky – I’ll admit it, this is all about projection as the 6’-4” lefty gets it up there as high as 97mph, but he has been getting scorched for weeks now. Someone will grab him in the first 20 picks, but it will be a risky move.

High School Left-Handed Pitchers –

1) Tyler Matzek, Capistrano Valley-Mission Viejo HS – Finished the regular season with a 1.23 ERA and 84 Ks in 64IP. Matzek has been solid all season.
2) Matt Purke, Klein, TX – There are those that still prefer Purke and his low 90’s fastball, but he hasn’t demonstrated the same consistency as Matzek this year.
3) Tyler Skaggs, Santa Monica HS, CA – Non-arm injuries have slowed him down this year, but he still has his backers.
4) Chad James, Yukon HS, OK – Has come on strong late in the season and is rising up draft boards quickly.

College Catchers –

1) Tony Sanchez, Boston College – Could be an overdraft this year, similar to Castro last season, due to the lack of college catchers.

High School Catchers –

1) Wil Myers, Wesley Academy, NC – Rumors are that teams are considering him in the top 15 picks, but few expect him to stay behind the plate.
2) Max Stassi, Yuba City, CA – Disciplined hitter that lacks true power but he has a great make-up and excellent catch and throw skills.
3) Luke Bailey, Troup HS LaGrange, GA – Was the top prep receiver and a possible top 10 pick in a very strong class before undergoing Tommy John surgery at the end of April. Now it will be interesting to see who is willing to take a gamble.
4) Tommy Joseph, Horizon HS, AZ – Has 15HR in 77 ABs on the year.
5) J.R. Murphy, Pendleton School, Bradenton, FL – A solid bat, but has positional questions.

College Outfielders –

1) Dustin Ackley, North Carolina – Played 2 games in CF over the weekend and seemed to handle it fine. If he is a CF he is the second player off the board.
2) Tim Wheeler, Sacramento State – One of my favorite players in the draft. .393/.494/.780 with 18 HRs and 15SBs on the season and is a true CF.
3) A.J. Pollock, Notre Dame – Best all around outfielder in draft, Pollock has been on fire in May. .359/.444/.563 with great plate discipline on the season.
4) Brett Jackson, California – Striking out once every 4 PAs is perhaps more of a negative than his power is a plus.
5) Jared Mitchell, LSU – Speedy, athletic, player who has yet to transfer skills into production.
6) Jason Kipnis, Arizona State – Scouts see him as little more than a good college player…I believe in the results he has produced.
7) Angelo Songco, Loyola-Marymount – .383/.502/.719 with 15 HRs may make him the best all-around hitter on the West Coast.

High School Outfielders –

1) Donovan Tate, Cartersville HS, GA – Son of former college FB standout Lars. Phenomenal athlete. Could go Top 5, possibly #3, if signability concerns are taken care of.
2) Michael Trout, Millsville HS, OK – A fast rising, true 5-tool talent, that will get drafted in the Top 20 picks.
3) Everett Williams, McCallum HS Austin, TX – A pure CF who will have to overcome size concerns, but will be drafted on his tools.
4) Jake Marisnick, Poly HS Riverside, CA – May be the most athletic prepster in the draft and has some production to go with it.

College Corner Infielders –

1) Rich Poythress, Georgia – Arguably the most productive offensive season in college. Not a lot of options with the glove. Concerns because he has been dominated by top pitchers recently.
2) Ben Paulsen, Clemson – Not real toolsy, but the bat is extremely solid. .374/.435/.676 in the ACC.

High School Corner Infielders –

1) Bobby Borchering, Bishop Verot HS, Ft. Myers, FL – Hitting a HR every 7 ABs this season and has a better chance of sticking at 3B than Davidson.
2) Matt Davidson, Yucaipa, HS, CA – The best prep power hitter has been on fire as of late.

College Middle Infielders –

1) Grant Green, USC – Grant could go anywhere from #3 to #16. Much has been made of his ‘poor’ Junior season. Here is the reality…he had a really good Sophomore season and an exceptional Summer showing that created tremendous expectations. Yes, after a slow start, his numbers are down somewhat on the year—a 1.013 OPS vs. a 1.082 OPS in 2008, but since March 10th he has posted a 1.097 OPS. Much has been made about his power not being there, but at his current pace we are talking a total of 14 Total Bases over 205 ABs and his steals and plate discipline are both up from 2008. This is essentially the same offensive season as 2008 that made the 'experts' compare him to Longoria and Tulowitzki. Yes there are questions as to whether he sticks at SS long-term, but my perspective is that even worse case scenario he slides over to 2B, the downside is Rickie Weeks like potential. If he falls out of the top 10 picks he will be the steal of the draft.
2) Robbie Shields, Florida Southern – More offense than defense, but he’s better than Reese Havens who was the 22nd selection last June.

High School Middle Infielders –

1) Jiovanni Mier, Bonita HS LaVerne, CA – Best combination of offense/defense among middle infielders. I really like Mier and expect teams to let him slide more than they should on Draft Day.
2) Deven Marrero, American Heritage HS, Plantation, FL – The younger brother of Chris (Nationals) and Christian (White Sox) and from the same high school that produced Eric Hosmer and won a mythical national championship in 2008, Marrero is a hard-nosed player that will perform higher than his draft position.
3) Mychal Given, Plant HS, Tampa, FL – There is significant controversy as to whether to draft him for his arm or his bat, but the consensus seems to be that it will be the bat. The type of player that may develop better when no longer focusing on both.

The following is a list of what I like to call ‘need’ players. These are players that some team will reach for, possibly in the first round, because the draft class is weak in this area. I personally don’t believe they are top 50 players at this time, but they are likely to be selected in that area:

1) Drew Storen, RHP, Stanford – Looks to be the most successful college closer this year in a draft class that is very lean on them.
2) David Renfroe, SS/RHP, South Panola HS, Batesville, MS – This is a pick that has the Red Sox written all over it, ala Casey Kelly.
3) Eric Arnett, RHP, Indiana – I don’t get the rising interest in Arnett. Sure his 11-1 record on the year is fantastic, but his peripherals are suspect.
4) Alex Wilson, RHP, Texas A& M – This class is desperate for college closer talent.
5) Kentrail Davis, OF, Tennessee – Started the year as a possible Top 10 pick, but performance has not matched the hype.

Coming Attractions

As we start to get into a regular pattern of postings, I thought I’d give you a brief look ahead to what’s coming over the next couple of weeks.

Monday – May 18, 2009… NCAA Top 30

Tuesday – May 19, 2009… Reader Mailbag

Wednesday – May 20, 2009… Hots and Nots

Friday – May 22, 2009… Amateur Draft Top 50 Update

Sunday – May 24, 2009… Do-It-Yourself: Aligning Potential & Performance

Monday – May 25, 2009… Reader Mailbag

Tuesday – May 26, 2009… Breaking Down the Field of 64

Wednesday – May 27, 2009… Hots and Nots

Thursday – May 28, 2009… Amateur Draft Top 50 Update

Saturday – May 30, 2009… Division I Performance Ratings