Monday, November 30, 2009

TEAM #27 – Houston Astros

Castro should be the Astros’ backstop by season’s end

The Houston Astros are next up in our series of team prospect rankings. Up from dead last in last season’s rankings, the Astros barely edged in front of the Detroit Tigers, in our rankings, predominantly on the strength of their Top 3 vs. the Tigers’ Top 2. The point is, an argument could be made in either direction, and it is still a system lacking high-upside players and consisting of too many ranked Minor League Relief Pitchers. Many of the second tier players are old for their League—a characteristic left over from 2001/2002 when the Astros were without a Hi-A affiliate. Additionally, there are an extraordinary number of position players that are defensively limited to either first base or left field. While the draft produced a solid haul for them last June, it too lacks high upside players outside of Mier. All told, while it may no longer be the weakest system in baseball, the Astros still have a long climb to the top.

Grade A–

1) Jiovanni Mier, SS (2009 Performance Scores – Power 66; First Base Rate 66; Discipline 50; Speed 61)

Mier comes in as the organization’s Top rated prospect, more or less by default. While it would be easier to justify Castro for this spot, we still don’t see Castro as much more than a League average backstop, and that isn’t a high enough ceiling for us to put him at #1. With no apologies to Tim Beckham, Mier was the first prep shortstop, drafted in the first round, since Justin Upton went #1 overall in 2005, that we felt had both a first round bat and first round glove at that position. If you want an idea of how rare it is, not since 1992 and 1993 when Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were selected in back-to-back years, has a first round prep shortstop become a Major League regular at that position (28 selections in between). That’s not to say that Mier is the next Jeter or Arod, because he lacks much more than line drive power, but his offensive performance in the APY was encouraging. In an organization with limited ‘star’ upside, Mier becomes an easy choice for the top spot.

2) Jason Castro, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 52; First Base Rate 66; Discipline 64; Speed 36)

We felt the Astros were making a need pick when they selected him 10th in 2008, as we felt he was likely a late first round talent. In two professional seasons, we have been pleasantly surprised with his performance, and now look upon him as a high-floor average Big League talent. Castro has solid tools across the board, with an above average approach to plate discipline. While we found his AZFL performance somewhat disturbing, we look for him to open 2010 at AAA, with a likely late season call-up and as the favorite for starting backstop duties in Houston in 2011.

3) Jordan Lyles, RHP (2009 – Dominance 72; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 61)

Considered by many as one of the bigger ‘reaches’ in the 2008 draft, Lyles rewarded the Astros with a performance that graded out as the Top Pitching Performance in the SAL in 2009. Lyles is an extremely polished pitcher, for his age (actually younger than Shelby Miller, Matt Hobgood, and Zack Wheeler; and shares a birthday with Tyler Matzek—all first round high school selections from this year’s draft), as he used a low-90s fastball, with a plus change and a developing curve to fan 167 SAL hitters in 145 IP, while only walking 38. Without an overpowering fastball, it will be important that Lyles continues the development of his secondary offerings, as it will become increasingly difficult to keep hitters off balance as he moves up the ladder. The hitter friendly environs at Lancaster will be a difficult challenge—if that is the Astros choice for 2010, or perhaps they will skip him to AA. In either case, we will have a much better idea as to Lyle’s ability to excel in the middle of a Major League rotation, by this time next year.

Grade B

4) Jay Austin, OF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 37; First Base Rate 56; Discipline 63; Speed 64)

Austin compiled nearly League average numbers, as one of the youngest position players in the SAL in 2009. While he possesses little in the way of power, he does make decent contact and has above average plate discipline skills. Speed is his top skill, as he has swiped 37 bases in just over 600 ABs over the last two seasons. While Austin doesn’t have an extremely high ceiling, he does project as a Big League regular or 4th OF type, with a reasonable certainty of reaching that level. In an organization bereft of significant position player talent, that makes him one to keep an eye on. Playing in Lancaster should help his offensive numbers in 2010.

5) Ross Seaton, RHP (2009 – Dominance 28; Stamina 73; HRrate 48; Control 57)

The most enigmatic prospect in the organization, the 6’4”, 210lb, Seaton boasts significant raw ‘stuff’ including a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a plus Slider and at least an average Change. What makes one scratch their head though is, how someone with that stuff can only fan 5.8 batters per 9IP in the SAL? Perhaps more discouraging was that right-handed hitters batted nearly .280 against him. There is still a ton of potential here, as we can see Seaton as a mid-rotation innings eater, but 2010 will be critical for Seaton to improve upon his dominance.

6) Chia-Jen Lo, RP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 29; HRrate 49; Control 32)

Six players in, and we have our first Relief Pitcher. Because of his upside, we prefer Lo to Sam Gervacio, the other Reliever in the Top Ten. The 23yo can dial up his fastball into a mid-90s offering, comfortably sitting in the lo-90s. Lo also has an adequate Change and Curve, but does struggle at times with control on both pitches. The Astros see Lo as their likely future closer, but we would like to see more before anointing him such. Nonetheless, he looked good in Arizona this Fall, is likely ticketed to open up 2010 in AAA, and could see Houston by season’s end.

7) Sam Gervacio, RP (2009 – Dominance 77; Stamina 27; HRrate 48; Control 46)

We are only at #7 on this list, and we are already have seen two Relief Pitchers that likely have an upside as 8th inning guys. As the saying goes, “Houston we have a problem.” The good news, Gervacio is pretty much a sure bet to return to the Houston bullpen to open up 2010, so his ‘certainty’ quotient is rather high. The bad news is, that despite his career ratio of more than 11 Ks per 9IP, he still has trouble getting out strong left-handed hitters, so it isn’t likely that he will ever achieve much success in more than a set-up role.

Grade B –

8) Tanner Bushue, RHP (2009 – Dominance 59; Stamina 65; HRrate 48; Control 63)

Bushue came on in his Senior season, to vault past more highly regarded pitchers and become the Top player, available for the draft in 2009, in Illinois. The Astros thought enough of him to grab him a round or two earlier than most expected him to go. They were not disappointed by his debut, as he dominated GCL hitters in 5 late summer starts. Given his, extremely athletic, 6’4”, 180lb frame, there is every reason to project him to add a couple of ticks to his already low-90s fastball. The question is whether or not he can improve upon, what at the moment are, below average secondary offerings. It is likely that Bushue gets a taste of full-season ball at some point this summer. Unlike many of the Astros’ prospects, there is at least some upside here.

9) Jonathan Gaston, LF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 79; First Base Rate 37; Discipline 26; Speed 75)

I can hear the howls of the Houston faithful already, as Gaston led the Minor Leagues in both Home Runs and Total bases in 2009, yet comes in at only #9 on this list. The problem is that once you adjust for Lancaster, and the fact that he was 22yo, his 2009 Performance score ranked only 25th among hitters in the CAL. When you couple that with a relatively disappointing NYP debut in 2008, a two-year strikeout rate of 27.9%, and defensive limitations that will require him to remain in either LF or at 1B, there isn’t a lot of expectation that Gaston will develop into a bona fide Major League regular. He will be a 23yo in the TXL in 2010, and Gaston will have to really improve his contact rate if we are going to change that opinion.

10) Jose Altuve, 2B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 66; First Base Rate 67; Discipline 79; Speed 80)

Certain to illicit howls from the ‘scouting’ community is our fondness for the diminutive (5’5”, 150lb) secondbasemen. However, here at Diamond Futures when you post the 1st, 3rd and 2nd best age-adjusted performance scores in your respective League for the last three seasons, we will give you your ‘props’. Altuve posses good speed, rarely strikes out, makes good contact and even hits for surprising gap power. If he were 6” taller, we would be speaking of him in terms of the Astros second basemen of the future. Unfortunately, he is not, and in the last 60 years, only three players under 5’6” (Ernie Oravetz, Albie Pearson and Freddie Patek) have accumulated 200 or more Major League At Bats. In other words, the odds are ‘tall’. Nonetheless, the fans in Lexington should have fun watching Altuve in 2010.

11) T.J. Steele, OF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 53; First Base Rate 45; Discipline 59; Speed 52)

Steele suffered through a 2009 season marred by nagging injuries that limited him to 179 ABs. When he did play, he posted virtually League average numbers across the board. Given the fact that he is arguably the best defensive outfielder in the system, those numbers will be playable if he is able to hold them, as he moves up. In a system marked by a lack of ‘toolsy’ players, Steele is one of the ‘toolsiest’. 2010 should present a huge opportunity to move up the rankings, as he will be more age appropriate in AA, and hopefully healthy.

12) Jonathan Meyer, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 39; First Base Rate 49; Discipline 28; Speed 36)

We will admit to being surprised when the Astros selected Meyer after the third round. We felt that he was a ‘projection’ pick that would likely go at least a round or two later, as some saw him as a potential Pitcher, others a corner IF, and still others behind the plate. We don’t see a bat that is capable of playing at either corner infield position, so if he isn’t a pitcher, then look for him to be a strong-armed, defense-first Catcher. 221 APY ABs did little to ease our concerns about the bat. Still this is an organization that is thirsting for tools, and Meyer has a few to work with.

13) Jack Shuck, OF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 28; First Base Rate 74; Discipline 79; Speed 69)

Another player that the scouting community gives the cold-shoulder to, Shuck makes no apologies for what he is…namely a solid defensive OF, with excellent plate discipline, good speed, and a solid ability to make contact. The problem is that there is virtually no power here, so the upside appears to be that of a 4th OF type. Shuck is never going to be a star at the next level, but he has the potential to develop into a solid roster contributor.

14) Telvin Nash, 1B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 56; First Base Rate 31; Discipline 29; Speed 31)

Nash is a one tool guy. Fortunately for him that tool is raw power, and his kind of power will keep teams interested for quite some time. The downside is that he is relatively limited defensively to first base, so he is going to have to hit. His 2009 debut was less than encouraging, as he not only whiffed at a 29.2% rate, he only hit 1 HR in 142 ABs. We aren’t big believers in Nash, but at least he is a player with a decent upside.

15) Koby Clemens, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 78; First Base Rate 53; Discipline 41; Speed 49)

Perhaps no other player typifies the Astros organization better than Clemens. When the Astros selected Clemens in the 8th round of 2005, it was assumed that it had as much to do with his famous father as it did Clemens’ skills. Yet Clemens has posted a five year career with its share of ups and downs, has typical been a bit old for his league, and has maximized a relatively mundane skill set. 2009 was his best year, from a statistics standpoint. Clemens is still young enough that we don’t dismiss him. Nonetheless, there isn’t much of a ceiling here either.

Grade C+ Prospects – 16) Enrique Hernandez, 2B; 17) Brian Bogusevic, LF; 18) Dallas Keuchel, LHP; 19) Matt Nevarez, RP; 20) Chris Johnson, 3B; 21) Collin DeLome, LF; 22) J.D. Martinez, LF; 23) Jonathan Fixler, C; 24) Brad Dydalewicz, LHP; 25) Arcenio Leon, RP; 26) Jonathan Mejia, SS/3B; 27) Rene Garcia, C; 28) Tommy Manzella, IF; 29) Andrew Locke, LF; 30) Evan Englebrook, RP;

Grade C Prospects –

Yorman Bazardo; Chris Blazek; Robert Bono; Luis Bryan; Eric Castro; Leandro Cespedes; Jose Cisnero; Gil de la Vara; Mitch Einerston; Kyle Greenwalt; Chris Hicks; B.J. Hyatt; Brian Kemp; Juri Perez; Sergio Perez; Colton Pitkin; Wladimir Sutil; Polin Trinidad; Jose Vallejo; James Van Ostrand; Henry Villar; Brandon Wikoff.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the players performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ten Lessons Learned in Arizona

With the conclusion of the Arizona Fall League this past weekend, we thought we’d offer up our takeaways from the 2009 season. We’ll dispense with the usual disclaimers about small sample sizes and reading too much into Winter League performance and go straight to the things that became apparent…at least to us.

10) Andrew Cashner still has a chance to be a Major League Starting Pitcher. When the Cubs made him a first round selection in 2008, the conventional wisdom was that he was eventually going to end up at the tail end of their bullpen. When he had horrendous control issues in his 2008, the question became whether or not he would ever get to the Majors at all. Now after a 2009 season where he started every game, posted a 2.60 ERA and limited opposing hitters to a .207 Average Against, Cashner showed ‘easy’ mid-90s velocity and a potential plus slider in Arizona. While he still has bouts of control issues, it now appears that he is only improvement on his developing Change away from becoming a potential front of the rotation star.

9) The rust is off of Aaron Crow. After going a span of over fifteen months with only minimal game action, the questions surrounding Crowe was how long would it take to return to pre-2008 draft form. In Arizona he was comfortably pitching in the low-90s with an average Slider and developing Change, with command better than expected. At 23yo, we expect Crow to move rapidly and he could see Kansas City before season’s end, where we eventually expect him to become a mid-rotation starter.

8) Josh Bell still has work to do. While we have urged caution against reading too much into his second half work in the ESL, there were those predicting a starting 3B job for him in Baltimore before the middle of the 2010 season. After his 91 AB performance, where he posted an impressive .910 OPS, we still have these questions: A) Can he stick at 3B? B) Wouldn’t he be a better prospect if he gave up switch-hitting? C) Is he ever going to be anything more than a fastball/mistake pitch hitter? His glove at 3B has a ceiling of adequate. His OPS from the left side of the plate was nearly double that of the right-side during the 2009 season. While that wasn’t the case in Arizona, it is a trend that has been present for three seasons now and there are noticeable differences in his swing planes. Perhaps most alarming, is his continued flailing at good off-speed stuff. While Bell remains one of the better prospects in the game, he remains far from a finished product.

7) Andrew Miller still has upside. There is no doubt that Miller has not produced at the level that made him the #6 overall pick in 2006. His disappointing performances reached a crescendo this past season, as he found himself back in AAA. While there are times he looks like a future front of the rotation stud, there are times that he looks absolutely lost with his command/control. The Marlins sent him to Arizona to work on his newly reconstructed delivery, that was supposed to provide him with a higher release point, less of a cross-body finish and result in more consistent control. The results were mixed, as, depending on which of the five outings you witnessed, you saw a mid-90s fireballer, with an improved Change, that made hitters look silly or a mid-90s fireballer that can’t get a breaking ball over the plate. Still just 24yo, we expect Miller to find more consistency as he becomes accustomed to the new approach and wouldn’t be surprised to see a breakout 2010.

6) The Braves reached with the Mike Minor selection. When the Braves took Minor at the #7 slot in June’s draft, there were those that thought it was at least a half-round too soon. When Minor destroyed SAL hitters in 4 outings this summer (0.64 ERA and a 17:0 K:BB ratio), the Braves were feeling quite comfortable with their decision. We cautioned at the time against reading too much into a polished college pitcher dominating Lo-A hitters over 14 innings, and Minor demonstrated why in Arizona. Ignoring his Rising Stars catastrophe, AZFL hitters batted .343 Against him. He is a polished lefty who should move quickly through the Atlanta system, but he sits barely above 90mph, and none of his secondary offerings appear to be plus pitches. In our 2009 College performance evaluations, he ranked 27th among draft eligible pitchers. This just isn’t a recipe for high-upside results.

5) Dustin Ackley is going to hit…but for how much power. The possessor of one of the Minor Leagues’ sweetest swings, Ackley made his professional debut in Arizona and looked the part, posting a .321/.411/.423, including a 2 for 5 performance in the championship game—not a bad debut for the 21yo. But the immediate concern that jumps out from the performance is the fact that his 25 hits included only 6 XBH, and only 1 HR. We are big believers in Ackley—especially if he is in CF or at 2B(?), but how impressive does that stick look in LF or 1B?

4) Jose Iglesias is closer to the Major Leagues than we thought. When the Red Sox signed him to a contract for more than $8 million we were scratching our heads. There was little doubt that he could field the SS position at the Major League level, but whether he would be ready to hit there anytime soon was a huge question. While we don’t expect him to ever produce much power, the 19yo should have one of the best gloves in the Minors in 2010 and has a little speed to go with it. We could see him eventually posting .265/.320/.400 type numbers, which should be just enough to produce at the bottom of a Big League lineup…likely as soon as 2011.

3) Starlin Castro is an elite prospect. The Cubs’ Shortstop prospect finished with the 6th best Performance scores in each of the FSL and SOL this past season…rankings that usually go to prospects that fall into the second half of the Top 100. But after the 19yo finished 2nd in the League in Hits and 6th in Average, while flashing plus defensive ability—all as the youngest position player in the League, Castro has stamped himself as perhaps the best SS prospect in the Minors. While still extremely young, it would not surprise us to see him in Chicago by the end of the 2010 season.

2) While we still don’t know about his health, we know Tanner Scheppers can pitch. The Rangers pulled off, arguably, the biggest heist in the 2009 draft, when injury concerns allowed Scheppers to fall all the way to #44. Scheppers made his professional debut in Arizona, and while it was only 11 innings and the traditional stats weren’t pretty, the ‘stuff’ Scheppers displayed makes us believe that only Strasburg and Leake are better pitching prospects that were on display in Arizona. There are still big ‘Ifs’ surrounding his shoulder, but IF healthy…he’s going to be a good one.

1) Stephen Strasburg is as good as advertised. It would be nearly impossible for any player to live up to the hype that follows Strasburg. The Nationals chose Arizona for Strasburg’s pro debut and he didn’t disappoint. Due to the limited sample sizes we don’t publish Performance Evaluations for the AZFL, but that doesn’t mean we don’t calculate them. Not only was Strasburg’s rating the best of any player in Arizona this year, but it has only been eclipsed by Tommy Hanson (2008) over the last 4 seasons. There are those that would know better than I, that have called him the best pitching prospect to ever appear in the AZFL. He registered, on multiple occasions, a triple digit fastball, that sat most of the time in the 95-98 range. His curve is flat-out nasty, and most everyone was blown away by the quality of his change—as he didn’t use it much in college. While Strasburg still needs to work on holding runners on (he didn’t get a lot of experience with this at San Diego St), and he still needs to tighten up his control, he is unequivocally the best pitching prospect in the Minor Leagues.

Monday, November 23, 2009

TEAM #28 – Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are hoping that Turner follows the precociousness of Verlander and Porcello

The Detroit Tigers are next up in our series of team prospect rankings. While the Tigers have two solid prospects at the top of the organization, the cupboard becomes rather bare, rather quickly. One of the ways that one can usually judge organizational strength is to look at the number of Minor League Relief Pitchers that rank high within the organization’s prospect list. In Detroit’s case nearly 20% of the thirty prospects that we grade a ‘C+’ or higher are Relief Pitching prospects. That just isn’t a positive sign. While they have hit at a very high rate among their first round picks (Verlander, Maybin, Miller, Porcello, Perry) over the last five years, and have had tremendous success in rounds 4 and 5, the have figuratively swung and missed in the 2nd and 3rd rounds over that time. Their international scouting hasn’t been tremendously fruitful, and that has left a pretty significant gap between those that have already graduated to the Major Leagues, and what remains. In fact, we have four 2009 draft picks, among their top 14 prospects, second only to the Diamondbacks; predominantly due to the dearth of second tier prospect talent. While the organization has a number of high-upside arms, the number of high-upside bats is limited.

Grade A

1) Jacob Turner, RHP –

We wrote, on the eve of the draft, that “while he may not be in Porcello’s class, we have him higher than we did Jarrod Parker in 2007—when he was selected 9th.” We believe that Turner, while not as polished a package as Tyler Matzek, has the highest upside of any prep pitcher in the draft. At 6’5”, 200+, he already throws an effortless low- to mid-90s fastball, that can go higher. His curve is a plus pitch, and his change has the potential to be one. We love his mechanics, his approach, and his guidance that he has received as a prep. The only negatives are the tendency to overthrow his curve and occasional bouts with control. We expect those things to work themselves out over the next couple of seasons, as he prepares to join Verlander and Porcello at the front of a very talented Tiger rotation.

2) Casey Crosby, LHP (2009 – Dominance 71; Stamina 65; HRrate 49; Control 38)

It took awhile for Tigers to finally get a look at their 2007 5th round player, after he signed late, injured his elbow in Instructional League and pitched only 5 innings at the end of the 2008 season, but they were amply rewarded by the 20yos performance this past season. Crosby was arguably the best pitcher in the MWL in 2009, as he led the League in ERA, and finished 12th in strikeouts. While he did struggle with control at times, he answered any concerns about his health, and looks poised to move rapidly, starting 2010 in Hi-A. Crosby doesn’t possess Turner’s upside, he does have the ability to fire his fastball in the mid-90s and he does have the upside of front part of the rotation starter.

Grade B

3) Andrew Oliver, LHP – We like Oliver, but there is a significant drop between him and the Top two arms in the organization. Following a distraction-filled season at Oklahoma State, where Oliver was often inconsistent, the Tigers selected Oliver in the second round, and signed him to a mid-first round type contract. We had Oliver as a Top 40 talent entering the draft, and felt the Tigers got a solid selection here. Oliver works in the low-90s, with a fastball possessing significant late life. He also uses a slider and a passable change. With work, those three offerings could allow him to remain in the rotation, but it would not surprise us to see him end up as a late-inning type. His AZFL performance was encouraging. While we feel that Oliver could handle the FSL to start 2010, he may be better served by opening up in the MWL where he can work on his command/control, and see about bringing back his once potent curveball. In any case, expect him to move rapidly.

4) Scott Sizemore, 2B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 69; First Base Rate 64; Discipline 57; Speed 74)

At the end of the season, Sizemore seemed poised to become the Tigers everyday secondbaseman to start the 2010 season. Then shortly after the AZFL began, Sizemore fractured his ankle, requiring surgery, that potentially put that in doubt. The Tigers feel he will be ready for the start of Spring Training, but we will take a more cautious approach and wait until we see what lingering effects are present from the injury. During the 2009 season, Sizemore showed the ability to make good contact, with solid middle infield power, plus speed and good plate discipline. We feel that he has above Major League average potential for a secondbaseman, and would have rated him #3 prior to the injury. If he shows no-ill effects, he could be one of the more prominent rookies in the 2010 AL. At the moment we urge caution.

5) Ryan Strieby, 1B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 79; First Base Rate 73; Discipline 29; Speed 45)

From a pure numbers standpoint, over his four year professional career, Strieby, a 4th round pick in 2006, after playing just one year at Kentucky, has been impressive—posting back-to-back .900+ OPS and belting 64 HRs over the last three seasons. But then again, when you are defensively limited to being a marginal firstbaseman or DH, they have to be. Such is the case of Ryan Strieby. There are many that call Strieby one of the Minor League’s most underrated prospects, we don’t consider ourselves to be in that category, as while we recognize his average on-base skills and plus power potential, we also are wary of his struggles with good breaking balls and a strikeout rate that has gone from 15.4% to 20.7% to 22.8% as he has climbed the ladder. In light of his below average speed and shaky defense, this raises concerns that he may end up as only a part-time player at the Big League Level. He has moved slower than one would like to see from top-flite prospects, so 2010 will be pivotal for him, as he will have to demonstrate more plate discipline and prove he can handle a big league curve.

6) Alex Avila, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 70; First Base Rate 57; Discipline 40; Speed 41)

I feel safe in saying that no one from the 2008 draft class has proven to be more of a surprise than Avila, who many saw as a nepotism pick when the Tigers tabbed him in the 5th round. But after 200 ABs in the MWL and a half of season in the ESL, Avila found himself in Detroit, where he performed admirably in a backup role. While we still don’t see an upside of anything more than an average Big League regular here, the ‘floor’ was raised tremendously with his 2009 performance. While his bat may already capable of league average performance, he still needs more time in the Minor Leagues to work on his defense, but he looks fairly certain to have a career of at least a Major League back-up.

Grade B–

7) Wilkin Ramirez, LF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 65; First Base Rate 45; Discipline 21; Speed 79)

The enigmatic Ramirez has had an intriguing 6-year career with the Tigers where he has flashed glimpses of truly special skills, only to never quite put it all together in a package that portends significant success. 2009 was no different, where he hit 17HRs and stole 33 bases as a 23yo in AAA, but whiffed 143 times (30.1%). Ramirez possesses a chiseled-frame that combines plus-power with plus-speed. His defensive skills are solid, but he lacks solid defensive instincts—limiting him to LF. But the greatest negative is that he has shown zero ability to handle good breaking pitches. Ramirez will play 2010 as a 24yo, and if he is ever to become more than a player that tantalizes us with his skill set, the time is now. We aren’t betting that he will ever put it all together, but his upside remains as high as most any offensive player on this list.

8) Daniel Fields, SS

As the son of a former Major Leaguer, with a 6’3”, 200lb frame, the baseball world has been familiar with Fields skill set for some time now. That doesn’t mean that they still weren’t surprised when the Tigers selected Fields in the 6th round in June, and signed him to mid-1st round money. While his power/speed combo with solid defensive skills makes scouts drool at the thought of him in the middle of the diamond, conventional wisdom has him outgrowing SS, and eventually moving to 3B or the OF. He has the bat to succeed there, if that should happen, but it would diminish a bit of the lusture. Because of the significantly above-slot deal, Fields signed too late to get on the field in 2009 and will be making his debut in 2010. The Tiger hope is that he will have shown enough in instructionals to open up in the MWL. While there is a lot of upside here, it is all pure projection at this point.

9) Robbie Weinhardt, RP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 27; HRrate 49; Control 57)

In previous analysis we have talked about our lack of ‘love’ for Minor League Relief Pitchers. When they are appearing in a team’s Top 10, it is usually a rather ominous sign for the organization. For the most part, that holds true with Weinhardt, although we will have to admit to being pleasantly surprised with his performance since the Tigers drafted him in the 10th round in 2008. Through two professional seasons, Weinhardt has held opposing hitters to a .203 Average Against, while posting a 1.64 ERA. In the process he has outpitched the more heralded Cody Satterwhite. Weinhardt uses a low-90s fastball that has tremendous late movement and one that he commands extremely well. While he throws a slider and a change, it is his fastball that is his out-pitch. In an extremely limited sample, his 29 Ks in 18 innings AZFL performance was impressive. While we don’t expect Weinhardt to ever develop into anything more than a middle relief/set-up type, he looks to be one of those high floor types, and could find himself in the Detroit bullpen before the end of the 2010 season.

10) Avisail Garcia, RF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 29; First Base Rate 43; Discipline 48; Speed 44)

Garcia was signed as a 16yo, out of Venezuela, in 2007 and went on to post the 3rd best age-adjusted performance in the VSL in 2008. The Tigers thought enough of him to give him 300 full-season ABs in 2009—as barely an 18yo. While he didn’t produce eye-popping numbers, his age-adjusted performance ranked among the Top 30 in the MWL. In an organization short on high upside position players, Garcia rates as a potential five tool player. His defensive skills are extremely advanced for his age, he has plus speed, solid on-base skills, and although it wasn’t present in his 2009 performance, there is good power potential here as well. Our hope is that the Tigers will give Garcia at least one-half of a season back in the MWL in 2010 before moving him to the FSL. Having success in a full-season league is critical to his long-term development. While much of Garcia’s ranking here is on projection, we would not be surprised to see Garcia more than justify this ranking with his 2010 performance.

11) Cody Satterwhite, RHP (2009 – Dominance 71; Stamina 26; HRrate 48; Control 26)

Drafted eight rounds earlier than Weinhardt, Satterwhite has struggled with command/control issues thus far in his professional career, and hasn’t been able to harness his more heralded ‘stuff’. While Satterwhite possesses a couple of other below average offerings, it is his mid-90s heater that got him drafted in the second round. Satterwhite has the potential to pitch in the back of the bullpen, but at the moment he hasn’t proven dominant enough to overcome 5 walks per 9IP. If he is unable to make significant strides in 2010, he will be downgraded considerably.

12) Dusty Ryan, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 72; First Base Rate 64; Discipline 22; Speed 42)

A 2003 draft and follow, Ryan had posted 4 disappointing season before a breakout 2008. He followed that up with a solid, if unspectacular 2009 in Toledo. Ryan is a big guy, with solid power and adequate on-base skills. His arm strength is among the Minors’ best, but he sometimes ‘lumbers’ defensively. His biggest negative is his lack of plate discipline that has produced a career strikeout rate of 28.7%, as he struggles mightily against good breaking stuff. With already two brief Major League stints under his belt, it is a strong certainty that Ryan will see more time in the Majors in 2010. We don’t believe that he has an upside greater than that of a big league reserve, but he should achieve it.

13) Brennan Boesch, RF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 77; First Base Rate 27; Discipline 37; Speed 76)
After the Tigers selected Boesch in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft, he put together disappointing 2007 and 2008 campaigns in the MWL and FSL respectively. Undaunted, the Tigers challenged him with an ESL assignment in 2009, where Boesch had somewhat of a breakout campaign, belting 28 HRs. Boesch possesses a strong power/speed combo, but has below average contact/plate discipline skills, as he fanned 22.7% of the time last season. He will play the 2010 season as a 25yo, so this is somewhat of a make or break year for him. If he can improve upon his 2009 performance, there is a potential Major League job in his future. If his contact skills erode further, there won’t be much of a future for him anywhere.

Grade C+ Prospects

14) Wade Gaynor, 3B; 15) Casper Wells, CF; 16) Alfredo Figaro, RHP; 17) Gustavo Nunez, SS; 18) Adam Wilk, LHP; 19) Billy Nowlin, 1B?; 20) Cale Iorg, SS; 21) Josue Carreno, RHP; 22) Clemente Mendoza, RHP; 23) Luis Marte,RHP; 24) Zach Simons, RP; 25) Charlie Furbush, LHP; 26) BrooksBrown, RHP; 27) Jon Kibler, RHP; 28) Michael Torrealba, RP; 29) Brett Jacobsen, RP; 30) Brayan Villarreal, RHP.

Grade C Prospects

Duane Below; Luis Castillo; Audy Ciriaco; Andy Dirks; Brent Dlugach; Casey Fien; L.J. Gagnier; Edwin Gomez; Scott Green; Rayni Guichardo; Brandon Hamilton; Matt Hoffman; Jamie Johnson; Ramon Lebron; Melvin Mercedes; John Murrian; Alex Nunez; Lester Olivares; Luke Putkonen; Josh Rainwater; Will Rhymes; Deik Scram; Tyler Stohr; Austin Wood.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the players performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

TEAM #29 – St. Louis Cardinals

Garcia looks to be healthy and ready to make a big contribution in 2010

Next up in our series of team prospect rankings are the St. Louis Cardinals. We wrote at the time of the trade for Matt Holliday, that it was an extreme gamble to deal to deal your top prospect (Brett Wallace), plus two of your other Top 10 prospects(Clay Mortensen and Shane Peterson) unless it was going to get you to the World Series. With the advantage of hindsight, the Cardinals would have likely finished the season just the same, whether or not they added Holliday. One wonders how many Cardinal fans would like to have that deal back now? The difference—post the Holliday trade, the Cardinals have gone from a mid-tier team, in terms of Minor League strength, to one of the League’s bottom teams. The good news if you are a Cardinal fan, is that most of the system’s top prospects are near Major League ready. The bad news…after the first two prospects, the majority of the rest of the system is made up of ‘low-ceiling’ players. Don’t expect the weakness of the system to show up at the Major League level until a couple of seasons from now—but it is coming.

Grade A-

1) Jaime Garcia, LHP (2009 Performance Scores - Dominance 75; Stamina 69; HRrate 44; Control 41)

For us, one of the truly ‘good’ developments of the 2009 season was watching the return from Tommy John surgery of Garcia. Coming into the 2008 season, we had Garcia as a Top 100 prospect, and that was before he really had his coming out party. In a 38 inning 2009 performance, at three different levels, Garcia showed that his velocity had returned to its low 90s, pre-surgery, level and that his curveball is still one of the better ones in the Minor Leagues. 2010 will provide the opportunity to see if the surgery has, once and for all, ended the elbow tenderness that cut short 2007 and 2008. If so, he may also improve his bouts with control that has often plagued him. While Garcia doesn’t have the front of the rotation ceiling of Miller, his 2009 stint convinces us that his floor is extremely high, and he still has enough stuff to be a solid 2/3 type…which is just enough to take the top spot.

Grade B+

2) Shelby Miller, RHP –

Heading into the 2009 draft we had Miller at#13, behind only Tyler Matzek and Jacob Turner among prep pitchers. We were surprised that he made it past the Rangers, and felt the pick was one of the more solid selections of the first round. Little has changed since then to move our opinion. Miller was likely the hardest prep thrower in June’s draft, usually working in the low-90s, with the ability to dial it up a few notches. Both his curve and change are works in process, but have the potential to be plus pitches. His mechanics are fairly sound, and at 6’3”, 200+ lbs there is good reason to believe he could be a ‘horse’ at the front of the rotation at some point. The only real negative is that he can go through stretches where he overthrows and struggles a bit with his control. Nonetheless, there is a ton of upside here.

3) Daryl Jones, LF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 36; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 36; Speed 50)

The Cardinals have been high on Jones since they drafted him in 2005. We became solid believers after his 19yo season in 2006…then he went and posted a .600 OPS in the MWL the following year. When most people had stopped believing, he had a breakout 2008 where he posted a an .889 OPS, between stops in the FSL and TXL, just missing a spot in our Top 100 list. The roller coaster ride continued in 2009, as he was plagued by injuries for most of the season, limping home to a .738 OPS, that was relatively devoid of power. His AFL performance hasn’t done anything to inspire us. There was a time that we felt that Jones was a legitimate everyday starting top of the order threat. It is still a possibility, and a healthy 2010 could put him back on track. However, the smart money right now is on a 4th OF type.

Grade B

4) Eduardo Sanchez, RP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 26; HRrate 48; Control 50)

In case we haven’t mentioned it, we aren’t big on Minor League relief pitchers. There is a reason that Stamina is the second characteristic listed in our Performance profiles. Our research has demonstrated that successful Major League pitchers—even those that see most of their innings from the bullpen, tend to come from Minor League starters. So if you see a relief pitcher rated this highly, then it is either a case of the organization not being very strong, or the player being really good. In Sanchez’s case, both apply. Signed as a 16yo out of Venezuela in 2005, Sanchez has thrived since being converted to a full-time reliever, early in the 2008 season. He pitches almost exclusively off of a mid-90s fastball that purportedly reaches triple digits. When we saw him in Springfield this summer, he was between 94 and 97. This past season Sanchez used the heater to dominate (82Ks in 75 IP) FSL and TXL hitters—despite being only 20yo. Perhaps even most encouraging, is that he has taken his BB/9IP from 4.0 down to 3.3. The biggest downside that we see, is that he is a bit slight at 5’11”, 155lbs, and there is some concern as to how we hold up over the long-term. Word is that Sanchez will get a look in Big League camp this spring. We expect him to start the season in the PCL, but could easily be making significant contributions in St. Louis, before the summer is out.

5) Lance Lynn, RHP (2009 – Dominance 55; Stamina 71; HRrate 49; Control 49)

There is a difference between appreciating a player for what he is rather than knocking him for what he is not, and one often finds themselves in that trap with Lynn. We first became enamored with Lynn after his 2008 junior season at Mississippi, where he posted the 6th best Performance score among draft eligible college pitchers. While Lynn is big (6’5”, 250lbs), he doesn’t possess an overpowering fastball that would make him a top of the rotation starter. What Lynn is though, is a high-floor, mid-rotation innings eater, that commands four pitches rather well. After posting a 2.85 ERA, 1.312 WHIP, with a 124:57 K:BB ratio at three stops in 2009, look for him to open the 2010 season in AAA, with a solid shot at competing for a rotation spot by mid-year.

6) Allen Craig, LF (2009 – Power 75; FBR 57; Discipline 47; Speed 45)

You never know Cardinal fans, Craig could be your opening day LF. The Cardinals have tried to find a corner that they can stick Craig in defensively. The position du jour seems to be LF. With Matt Holliday’s status uncertain, Craig has the inside track for a spot on the St. Louis roster. His bat is the only reason he is even being considered, because the power that has generated 24, 22 and 26 Home Runs over the last three seasons is the real deal. He hits with authority to all fields, and if he ends up being the Cardinal’s default choice—they could certainly do worse. At 25yo, we don’t see much additional upside, but if you take a look at his 2009 MLEs, a .280/.325/.440 type of season would not be an unreasonable expectation.

7) Robert Stock, C (2009 – Power 77; FBR 56; Discipline 65; Speed 30)

Most prospect watchers have been keenly aware of Robert Stock since Baseball America named him their Youth Player of the Year in 2005. Stock entered college early, trying to both get a degree and leave his draft options open to create more leverage. But after a relatively disappointing collegiate career that saw him converted to a relief pitcher and eventually a starter, he entered the 2009 draft with most experts expecting some team to take a flier on him in the 3rd or 4th round—as a pitcher. The Cardinals surprised most of the baseball world by tabbing him in the second round, and announcing him as a Catcher. Hats off to Jeff Luhnow and crew, as it looks like they found a legitimate bat. Before a brief stint in the MWL, Stock destroyed APY pitching to the tune of .322/.386/.550—as a 19yo; finishing with the League’s 3rd best offensive Performance score. We would like to see how he does in a full season league, before really jumping on the bandwagon, but he is one of the few players in the system with a high ceiling.

Grade B -

8) Daniel Descalso, 2B (2009 – Power 47; FBR 61; Discipline 68; Speed 38)

The system takes a huge drop between spots #7 and #8, as Descalso has little more than a utility infielder type of upside. While that could keep him in the Major Leagues for quite some time, there is little about his track record or his projection to forecast any significant success. The good news is that he will be only 23yo when the 2010 season opens, one that should find him returning to AAA. If he puts together another showing like 2009, his ‘certainty’ quotient is rather high.

9) Richard Castillo, RHP (2009 – Dominance36; Stamina 69; HRrate 49; Control 37)

We can hear the groans already. How can you possibly put a 5’11”, soft tossing, right-hander in the Top 10? The answer is that because of the Cardinals' approach to Castillo (full-season as an 18yo; Hi-A as a 19yo), we really can’t read a tremendous amount into his numbers thus far. His age-adjusted performance rankings have graded out to 5th and 8th in his respective Leagues over the last two seasons. We were able to see him in-person, twice, in 2008 and he has a delivery and a feel for pitching that belies his age. Yes, we will have to see more than a 90mph fastball, and see continued improvements in both his curve and change, but in a system that is screaming for higher ceiling prospects, Castillo needs to be noticed.

10) Jon Jay, LF (2009 – Power 40; FBR 53; Discipline 71; Speed 69)

Consider Jay to be Daryl Jones-lite. Possessing no more than a 4th OF type upside, Jay has used good speed and excellent plate discipline to post solid, yet unspectacular, numbers at every stop. He is doing much the same this winter in Venezuela. Jay is another in a long-line of high-floor, low-ceiling types that permeate the Cardinal system. Expect him to get a solid look with the Big League club this Spring.

11) Bryan Anderson, C (2009 – Power 46; FBR 27; Discipline 29; Speed 36)

Anderson’s stock has dropped precipitously since the 2006 season, as he seems to have not really recovered from skipping Hi-A. Over that time he has posted Slugging % of .388, .416, and .408, and OPS of .738, .793 and .717. His AZFL performance this year has been as equally uninspiring. Part of that can be traced to over aggressiveness on the part of Cardinal brass, who, in hindsight, would have been much better served with Anderson spending the 2007 season in the FSL. It must be remembered that Anderson will be playing the 2010 season, as still just a 23yo. But 2010 becomes a pivotal year, as the power that was once predicted for him has not developed, and with Yadier Molina in the organization, it may finally be time to shift him away from catcher, where, while improved, his defense is still somewhat lacking. For the moment, Anderson does not look to have the power numbers required from a corner. If a Big League career is in the offing, it appears that it will either be with another organization, or perhaps in a move to 2B.

12) P.J. Walters, RHP (2009 – Dominance 64; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 52)

Walters was a bit of an enigma in 2009, as he pitched reasonably well as a starter at Memphis, but got knocked around pretty badly upon his call to the Big Leagues. This is not a high upside player, as his fastball is no more than a high 80s offering. His best pitch is a ‘flutterball’/change that appears to dance as it crosses the strikezone, and he has very good control. He will be 25yo at the beginning of 2010, and there isn’t likely much more projection here, but he is already a Major League ready arm, that is likely to make a living at the back-end of the rotation or, perhaps more likely, in middle relief.

13) David Freese, IF (2009 – Power 76; FBR 52; Discipline 30; Speed 36)

Freese is one of those players that is likely to get us in trouble with our ‘performance’ readers, as he carries a .916 lifetime Minor League OPS, in over 1400 ABs, into the 2010 season, yet we don’t project him to be more than a utility IF type, as he will enter 2010 as 27yo with only 31 MLB ABs. Make no mistake, Freese has hit at every level he has played, but he was drafted as a college senior, and has therefore been old for each level along the way. Don’t expect any additional upside to what you already have, and his 2009 MLEs were around a .750 OPS. That may make him a serviceable thirdbaseman…but nothing more.

14) Peter Kozma, 2B (2009 – Power 37; FBR 34; Discipline 38; Speed 44)

We called this pick questionable when the Cardinals made him the 18th overall choice in 2007. He has always been a sound defender with a bat that may not play at the Major League level. Nearly two and one-half years later, little has changed. At 22yo in 2010, Kozma has plenty of time to develop. The problem is that we just can’t figure out where he will improve that is going to make a difference. He is a player with the upside of an 8th place hitting middle infielder. There are no guarantees that he reaches it, and that made the 18th pick a reach.

Grade C+

15) Blake Hawksworth, RHP; 16) Matt Adams, 1B; 17) Roberto de la Cruz, 3B; 18) Adam Ottavino, RHP; 19) Arquimedes Nieto, RHP; 20) Kyle Conley, LF; 21) Grabiel Hernandez, SS; 22) Deimer Bier, RHP; 23) Niko Vasquez, 3B; 24) Scott Bittle, RHP; 25) Adam Reifer, RP; 26) Joe Kelly, RP; 27) Ryan Jackson, SS; 28) Tyler Henley, RF; 29) Fernando Salas, RP; 30) Aaron Luna, OF; 31) Audry Perez, OF; 32) Nicholas Addition, LHP.

Grade C

Arnoldi (Tony) Cruz; Jon Edwards; Jose Garcia; Hector Garcia; Hector Hernandez; Steven Hill; Virgil Hill; D’Marcus Ingram; Luis Mateo; Osvaldo Morales; Casey Mulligan; Ted Obregon; Frederick Parejo; Roberto Perez; Francisco Rivera; Shane Robinson; Ryde Rodriguez; Francisco Samuel; Scott Schneider.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the players performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TEAM #30 – Toronto Blue Jays

Jenkins earns the top spot without throwing a professional pitch

We kick off our series of team prospect rankings with the Toronto Blue Jays. No organization in baseball is going through as much upheaval as is the team north of the border. With back-to-back fourth place finishes, a 17-year playoff drought, some of baseballs’ worst contracts at the big league level (can you say “Vernon Wells”), and a draft record that has the best of the last three drafts being a pitcher that has yet to throw a professional pitch, a catcher with a 25% strikeout rate, a secondbaseman with a ceiling of being below league average and a thirdbaseman with a 3-season OPS of .648, there is no need to explain why the front office is going through a complete overhaul. Yet the real problem is that it will take years before the Jays will be able to overcome the devastation heaped upon it by J.P. Ricciardi and Dick Scott, as the minor league system has only low-ceiling players at the upper levels, and guys with way too many question marks at the lower levels. Choosing a top prospect in this system was the most difficult endeavor we have had in years—not because of competition for it, but because of the dearth of top tier talent available. Not a single player in the system would merit Top 3 consideration in any other organization—not Top 5 in most. There are likely more 2009 draftees in the Top 30 of our Blue Jay list than in any other, not because their 2009 draft was so good—as it wasn’t, but because we can at least hope the players from the 2009 draft reach their potential, as they haven’t had a chance to disappoint with their performance, as of yet. With that note of optimism we present the 2009 Blue Jays’ prospect list.

Grade B+

1) Chad Jenkins, RHP

While somewhat the de facto choice for the top spot, Jenkins does have significant upside and a high-floor. In fact, his 2009 College Performance score was the 3rd best (behind Strasburg and Leake) in the 2009 draft class and we had him rated as the 17th best player available in the draft. Jenkins entered the 2009 College season as Kyle Heckathorn’s sidekick for Kennesaw State, but clearly outpitched him all season long, eventually garnering Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year honors. The Jays selected him with the 20th pick of the draft, and signed him just before the deadline to a $1.4MM deal, the Jays’ only signing among their first four picks. Jenkins has the body of mid-rotation innings eater. His fastball sits in the low90s, and can be dialed up a few notches when called for. Jenkins also possesses good feel for his plus slider and average change. While his control improved during his junior season, Jenkins has had a tendency, in the past, to over throw his fastball and get a bit wild at times. We expect the Jays to start him in the FSL, and he could become one of the workhorses of the rotation by mid-2011.

Grade B

2) Zach Stewart, RHP (2009 Performance Scores - Dominance 53; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 70)

One thing that has been constant for the enigmatic Stewart is change. He pitched for three schools in three years in college, and now has pitched for five clubs in two minor league seasons. Acquired in what had to be Ricciardi’s best move of 2009—the Scott Rolen deal, Stewart put together a breakout season in 2009, posting a 1.89 ERA, a 1.305 WHIP, with a 93:32 K:BB ratio at four different stops. Both in college and thus far in the Minors, Stewart has bounced between both rotation and bullpen. His slider is likely his best pitch, but he doesn’t appear to have the same effectiveness with it in the rotation as he does in the bullpen. The problem is that he also doesn’t seem to have the quality dominant out pitch to succeed in a late inning role. While the Jays are likely to keep him in the rotation at AAA next season, and he does have the upside of a middle to back of the rotation starter, we fear his eventual role in the Majors will be in middle relief. It speaks volumes as to the state of the system, that a low-ceiling/high-floor college right-hander is the #2 prospect.

3) J.P. Arencibia, C (2009 – Power 70; FBR 21; Discipline 33; Speed 31)

Let’s be clear, we aren’t huge Arencibia fans, but it appears a virtual certainty that Arencibia will begin seeing full-time ABs behind the plate in Toronto at some point in 2010. In a system devoid of significant talent, that alone garners him the #3 spot. Arencibia’s power is for real, and his backstop defense is adequate for the position. His problem is his plate approach that has him frequently starting with an 0-1 count, as pitchers have picked up on his propensity to swing at any first pitch near the zone. This has seen his strikeout rate go from 17.8% to 20.4% to 23.2% as he has moved up each level in the Minors. This has been a problem since his days at Tennessee. We promise that he won’t have Major League success unless this changes. We aren’t saying that he can’t be successful, just that he won’t be unless he makes significant changes. Nonetheless, Arencibia has one thing going for him that many prospects never get—opportunity. 2010 will be a critical year to see what he can do with it.

4) Moises Sierra, RF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 50; First Base Rate 61; Discipline67; Speed 67)

Sierra/Chavez, Chavez/Sierra, flip a coin as to who comes in at #4. Chavez has more power, Sierra makes more contact with slightly better speed. In either case, they are two of the higer-upside prospects in the system. We lean toward Sierra, mainly because he is only four months older and has been playing at higher levels and our concerns about Chavez’s plate discipline. Sierra possesses high ceiling offensive skills, he posted above league average numbers as a 20yo in Hi-A, and absolutely first rate defensive skills, as he has one of the Minor League’s best arms. With new management in place for the Jays, look for them to do less pushing, than they have in the past, of their high-ceiling prospects. For that reason expect Sierra to spend the entire 2010 season in AA, and don’t expect to see him in Toronto before the second-half of 2011.

5) Johermyn Chavez, RF (2009 – Power 76; FBR 48; Discipline 37; Speed 52)

The possessor of an Andre Dawson-esque physique, Chavez had the breakout year in 2009 that the Jays had been predicting since the signed him out of Venezuela as a 16yo in 2005. After hitting a total of 13 HRs over his first three seasons, His 21 HRs in 2009 were second in the MWL, and he did that as a 20yo. While Chavez lacks the range to be a CF, his range and arm fit nicely in RF. A classic ‘boom or bust’ prospect, we are rather bullish on Chavez at this point. He will need to refine his ‘free-swing’ approach (25% strikeout rate), if he is to experience success as he move up the ladder. After spending the last two seasons in Lansing, look for Chavez to spend a full-season in the FSL in 2010.

6) Henderson Alvarez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 39; Stamina 74; HRrate 50; Control 75)

Alvarez posted an eye-opening, ‘breakout’, display as a 19yo in the MWL, with a 3.47 ERA, a 1.126 WHIP, and an amazing 92:19 K:BB ratio. He uses an arsenal that has the potential for three plus pitches, highlighted by what many considered the best Change in the MWL. The other positive is that there is significant late-life to most of his offerings. The downside is that despite quality ‘stuff’, opposing batters still batted .251 against him, and he only fanned 6.7 batters per 9IP—not the type of numbers you expect to see from players that will be successful at higher levels. Alvarez should spend the 2010 season in the FSL, where if he is able to improve upon his ability to ‘miss’ bats, he could very well jump to the top of this list next season.

7) John Tolisano, 2B (2009 – Power 68; FBR 43; Discipline 58; Speed 42)

I am not sure how many times a player that appears to have an upside of a Tony Graffanino type player ends up ranked in an organizational Top 10, but that appears to be the case with Tolisano. That’s not a knock on Tolisano, nor Graffanino, as Graffanino put together a very nice 13 year career where he averaged about 250 ABs a season with a .730 OPS. We can envision a scrappy, utility, type player that doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, nor anything terribly wrong. After spending the entire season as a 20yo in the FSL, one would expect (especially under the old regime) to see Tolisano in AA in 2010. We’d like to see what happens offensively, if he gets another 200 ABs at Hi-A first.

8) Kevin Ahrens, 3B (2009 – Power 41; FBR 41; Discipline 56; Speed 34)
The obvious question is how a player with over 1000 Minor League ABs, and a .648 OPS finds his way on to any Top 10 list? The easy answer is to play in the 2009 Blue Jay organization. The more difficult answer is to believe that no player has suffered more at the hands of J.P. Ricciardi and Dick Scott, than has Ahrens. After the Jays made Travis Snider the 14th pick in 2006, they moved him through the system at an unbelievable rate, having the 20yo Snider playing at 4 different levels in 2008—finishing in the Major Leagues. Because of the success of Snider, this became their approach to high school player development—accelerate, accelerate, accelerate! When they made Ahrens the 16th pick in 2007, they had him start the 2008 season in the MWL as an 18yo, and despite no real performance success there, he opened up the 2009 season in the FSL as a 19yo. The negatives on Ahrens are that he is a below average runner, and his bat speed may never be more than average. But the positives remain that he was regarded as the best prep hitter in the State of Texas coming into the 2007 draft—with proven wood bat success, solid defensive skills, and a swing that is void of any real mechanical flaws. Despite being considerably younger than the league, his Park Neutral Performance scores last season, were only just below League average. There is still every reason to believe that Ahrens is a better hitter than he has demonstrated thus far, and for that reason we are willing to give him one more season to right the ship. Fortunately, with the change in management, it looks like it will come in a repeat of the FSL in 2010.

9) Tim Collins, RP (2009 – Dominance 80; Stamina 28; HRrate 49; Control 38)

Sometimes ‘diminutive’ just doesn’t do the case justice. Such it is with the 5’7, 155lb Collins. If we just considered performance, Collins would be considered one of the best left-handed relief prospects in the minors, after posting a 2.91 ERA, a 1.216 WHIP and a 116:35 K:BB rate in 2009. But alas, blowing away FSL hitters just isn’t the same as experiencing success against Major League hitters, and Collins already showed that making ‘Level’ jumps won’t be easy after a late season move to AA. Make no mistake, only 20yo, Collins has had tremendous success in two Minor League seasons, fanning more than 13 batters per 9IP. But Collins fastball isn’t overpowering, he has bouts of control issues, and his curve is his only other pitch. When you add to that the tendency to get his K’s ‘up’, conventional wisdom dictates that he is likely to have problems as he progresses. It will be interesting to see how a return trip to the ESL in 2010 goes. If he continues to experience similar success at that level, we will likely have a different type of write-up next year—but we’re not betting on that happening.

10) Tyler Pastornicky, SS (2009 – Power 27; FBR 67; Discipline 76; Speed 80)

A 5th round pick in 2008, Pastornicky entered 2009 as a solid defensive middle infielder, with blazing speed. Like Ahrens above, he was pushed, playing full-season ball as a 19yo in the MWL, and even making a brief appearance in the FSL—despite no real performance success. The difference between the two is that while Ahrens was supposed to be a cornerstone player, Pastornicky has never been expected to be much more than a utility infield type. Look for Pastornicky and Ahrens to form the left side of the infield in the FSL in 2010.

Grade B -

11) Jake Marisnick, RF
When the Jays landed Marisnick in the 3rd round, we felt it was their best pick of the 2009 draft. We had him as one of the 60 best players available, and certainly expected him to go a full round earlier. Marisnick may have been the best prep athlete, not named Tate, in the draft, as he possesses blazing speed, a powerful arm, an overall outstanding athletic skills. The downside is that his swing will need work, and he actually hit better as a H.S. junior than he did last year. Nontheless, in a system devoid of high-ceiling players, you have to take notice of Marisnick.

12) Brad Mills, LHP (2009 – Dominance 59; Stamina 74; HRrate 48; Control 43)

Drafted by the Jays in the 4th round of 2007, Mills blew thru 3 levels in his first full season, and reached Toronto for a brief time this past season. While his results have been promising, his ‘raw stuff’ is less than inspiring. Mills relies more on deception than power, and it remains to be seen how well his fringe-average fastball that he often leaves ‘up’, a fringy change, and an average curve will play against Big League hitters. While he scores high on the ‘certainty’ factor, he has to be classified as a ‘low-ceiling’, ‘crafty’ lefty who isn’t likely to be much more than back of the rotation fodder.

13) David Cooper, 1B (2009 – Power 34; FBR 67; Discipline 55; Speed 51)

We had Cooper as a late first round pick, prior to the 2008 draft, so we weren’t terribly surprised when the Jays took him at #17. He actually performed better than we expected in his 2008 debut, but fell back into line with his 2009 performance. Cooper is a contact hitting 1Bmen, with line drive power to all fields and good strike zone management skills. Unfortunately his defense is poor—even for 1B, and we don’t expect him to hit for enough power to make a successful go at it in the Big Leagues. With a ceiling as a low-power DH, or platoon first baseman, it isn’t a good combination—despite the rather high ‘certainty’ quotient.

14) Gustavo Pierre, SS (2009 – Power 73; FBR 23; Discipline 42; Speed 58)

After signing for $700,000, the second highest amount ever given to an International signee by the Blue Jays, as a 16yo out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Pierre underwent Tommy John surgery and didn’t make his debut until this summer in the GCL, where he held his own. The Jays like his overall power potential and athleticism. While he likely has the glove and arm to play SS, the conventional wisdom is that he will likely outgrow the position, precipitating a move to the OF—as there are questions about his arm strength for 3B. There is a lot to like in the package, but it is all projection at this point. He won’t turn 18yo until the end of the year, so it is expected that the Jays will keep him in extended Spring Training before sending him to the NYP at mid-year.

15) Eric Thames, LF (2009 – Power 65; FBR 63; Discipline 54; Speed 34)
While we have only a minimal track record to back it up, the feeling here is that if Thames could stay healthy, he’d put up some of the best offensive numbers in the system. His 2008 College Performance score ranked 5th in the NCAA among draft eligible hitters. In his 2009 professional debut, he would have likely led the FSL in OPS had he had enough PAs to qualify. The downside is that he possesses only gap power and limited defensive skills. Perhaps the biggest negative is that he missed the last month of his 2008 college season with a hip-flexor injury and didn’t make his debut until this year where he then missed six weeks in the middle of this season. When healthy he has a nearly flawless swing, good contact skills, and excellent strike zone management skills. Unfortunately, with a lack of true power, he will have trouble sticking with a Big League club as a LF/1B/DH type. It would be of little surprise to us to see Thames post big offensive numbers in the ESL in 2010.

Grade C+ Prospects – 16) Carlos Perez, C; 17) Ryan Schimpf, 2B; 18) Michael McDade, 1B; 19) Sean Ochinko, C; 20) Justin Jackson, MI; 21) Brad Emaus, 2B; 22) Jarrett Hoffpauir, 2B; 23) Brian Dopirak, 1B; 24) Darin Mastroianni, CF; 25) Fabrio Castro, RP; 26) Deivy Estrada, RHP; 27) Daniel Farquhar, RP; 28) Balbino Fuenmayor, 3B/1B; 29) K.C. Hobson, 1B.

Grade C ProspectsJohn Anderson, Dustin Antolin, Robert Bell, Joel Carreno, Eric Eiland, Ryan Goins, Yan Gomes, Reidier Gonzalez, Charles Huggins, Drew Hutchinson, A.J. Jimenez, Andrew Liebel, Trystan Magnuson, Santiago Nesi, Luis Perez, Bobby Ray, Egan Smith, Daniel Webb, Kenny Wilson.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here The Performance scores represent the players performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series

Over the last few weeks, posts have been somewhat sporadic, but that is because we have been busily working on our major off-season project—the Diamond Futures’ Annual Prospect Lists. We have been developing/posting Top Prospect lists for nearly a decade. Over the years, the format has changed somewhat, and the analysis has become somewhat more involved, but the essence of what we try to do has remained the same. The Diamond Futures’ rankings start with a completely analytical rating system, that covers the previous two seasons. From there, the art enters into the process, as we add information that we have gathered over the year from our various scouting reports and industry contacts. We add to this list the information that we have from the 2009 draft class and International signings to eventually produce the rankings that you will see. In all, we evaluate over 5000 players, winnowing that list down to just under 2000 players whom we consider actual prospects. For each of those 2000 players we assign a letter grade. While other sources assign letter grades that provide subjective criteria for the grades, our letter grades have actual objective criteria attached to them. Below are our definitions of each grade you will see:

Grade A: A grade of ‘A’ is given to the top 1% of all Minor League players. Based on our research of historical rankings, a player with a grade of ‘A’ has a 94% chance of one-day playing in the Minor Leagues, and a 60% chance of having a significant Major League career—defined as performing in the top 10% of all Major League players that play at least 2 seasons.
Grade A-: the next 1% of Minor League players earn a grade of ‘A-‘. An ‘A-‘ player has a 87% chance of eventually playing in the Majors, and a 35% chance of having a significant Major League career.
Grade B+: the third 1% of Minor League players earn a grade of ‘B+’. A ‘B+’ player has a 81% chance of eventually playing in the Majors, and a 25% chance of having a significant Major League career.
Grade B: players that fall into the 4th thru 6th percentiles earn a grade of ‘B’. A ‘B’ player has a 78% chance of eventually playing in the Majors, and a 20% chance of having a significant Major League career.
Grade B-: players that fall in the 7th thru 10th percentile earn a grade of ’B-‘. A ‘B-‘ player has a 75% chance of eventually playing in the Majors, and a 15% chance of having a significant Major League career.
Grade C+: the second 10% of all players, earn a grade of ‘C+’. A ‘C+’ player has a 56% chance of playing in the Major Leagues, and a 12% chance of having a significant Major League career.
Grade C: A grade of ‘C’ is given to those players that fall in the 20% - 30% range. These players have a 33% of playing in the Major Leagues, and a slightly less than 10% chance of having a significant Major League career.

Our ranking formulas attempt to look at the probability curve of future Major League performance, based on a players demonstrated on-field performance in the categories that our research has proven to have key predictive value and projectability; defined by physical characteristics, age, and draft/signing information. We have a database of 40 years worth of Minor League data that we have drawn these evaluation methods from. While it is nearly impossible for a single organization to produce first-hand scouting reports on 5000 players, or even 2000 players, in a given year, our data methods have allowed us to identify key players to target for more in-depth analysis. What we end up with is a blend of performance evaluation, projectability forecasting, and first/second hand scouting reports. While our method isn’t going to ‘guarantee’ what type of player James Darnell will become, we are extremely confident in our probability curve of the type of Major League career that a player like James Darnell will produce. It is the quantitative assessment of that probability curve that produces our rankings. In effect, one can say we quantify the ‘ceiling vs. certainty’ argument.
Beginning tomorrow, we will be posting our Prospect Rankings for every Major League team. We will post these rankings at a rate of approximately 3 teams per week, between now and the end of January. We will post these teams in reverse order of overall Minor League strength. Tomorrow Team #30 will go up, and Team #1 will be posted near the end of January. Once all teams have been posted, we will publish our Annual Top 300 Prospects ranking list.
For each team, we will provide a brief commentary of overall organizational strength, grades for every ‘C’ or better player, and profiles for every player that grades out at ‘B’ or better. In the player profiles, we provide the player’s team rank, their 2009 Performance scores in each of the 4 key areas that we measure, our assessment of how we expect the player to perform in the future, and hopefully at least 1 or 2 tidbits that you won’t find anywhere else. All of the other work that we do during the course of the season is nothing more than building blocks to our ranking analysis, so we sincerely hope you get as much out of it as we put into it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Curious Case of Alex Liddi

Admittedly, it takes a bit of ‘ego’ to be in the ‘prospect’ business. Every time you write something, someone who reads it just isn’t going to agree, and often times how they choose to express their ‘disagreement’ ranges from the ‘nasty’ to downright ‘vulgar’. So I don’t find it unusual that some of my ‘brethren’ in this business can often times be slow to admit it when they are wrong. You see it is that strength in conviction that goes hand-in-hand with that big ego. Which brings me to Alex Liddi.

I will be the first to admit that I didn’t see his 2009 breakout coming. I promise you that we had Alex Liddi higher than anyone did, entering the season, but we had him rated as the #398 prospect in baseball. He was only #18 in the Mariners’ system. Good ol’ Baseball America didn’t have Liddi in their Top 31 for the Mariners. John Sickles didn’t have him in the Mariners’ Top 33. Kevin Goldstein only listed 15 Mariners…and of course no Liddi. Derrick McKamey in his Minor League Analyst had at least 23 Mariner players rated ahead of him. You get my point—as an industry we blew it on Liddi. Which is why, this off-season, you are finding the experts spending a lot of time either explaining why they missed, or worse yet, trying to convince you why they really weren’t wrong and why Liddi really isn’t that good.

Regular readers of this space, already know that we embraced Liddi in early May, and have already devoted many words to what we think of him. While our overall rankings are still being finalized, Liddi will be one of the top 3 prospects in the Mariners’ system, and is likely going to be among the Top 50 prospects overall. We understand how special, in a historical context, Liddi’s 2009 season was, and while we understand there are still a few things in his swing that will need to be corrected, we believe he has the glove, arm, and footwork to stay at 3B, and a projectable frame that should allow him to eventually hit 25-30 homeruns at the big league level--with a few minor adjustments. So I am not going to fill up space defending why we didn’t have him rated higher coming into the year, nor am I going to foolishly try to convince you that he really isn’t that good. Instead, I am going to provide you the counter arguments to much of what you will hear and read about Liddi this off-season.

The Liddi detractors focus their arguments on two things: 1) He played his home games at Maverick Stadium – High Desert…one of the most hitting friendly environs in all of the minor leagues, and 2) that he posted a .422 BABIP which was .091 points higher than the league average and nearly .100 points higher than what he did in 2008. The theory goes that because his OPS was nearly .300 points higher at home than it was on the road, and that his BABIP will be unsustainable in future seasons, that you witnessed a solid season, but nothing spectacular. Let’s take them in order…

I wish I had a quarter for every time this year that I have heard a reference to Liddi’s play this season and the stadium he plays his game in. I could spend full-time writing about prospects and wouldn’t have to actually ‘earn’ a living. Maverick Stadium in Adelanto, CA was erected in 1991, and has hosted a California League, High Desert, team in every season since. Roughly 550 position players have donned a Maverick uniform during that time. Here are the all-time Maverick Season OPS leaders:

1) Travis Lee, 22yo, 1997 - 1.163
2) Lance Burkhardt, 26yo, 2001 – 1.112
3) Jack Cust, 20yo, 1999 – 1.100
4) Jim Rushford, 27yo, 2001 – 1.075
5) Brad Creese, 20yo, 2000 - 1.061
6) Billy Butler, 19yo, 2005 – 1.054
7) Mike Berry, 25yo, 1996 – 1.039
8) Darryl Clark, 23yo, 2003 – 1.029
9) Mike Stoner, 24yo, 1997 – 1.020
10) Alex Liddi, 20yo, 2009 – 1.001

Most of the players on this list were old for the league and considered a significant defensive liability. When age and defense are factored in, only the seasons’ of Cust and Butler, can reasonably be considered equal to, or better than Liddi’s, and they all played similar schedules.

But, that still isn’t good enough, I want to know what kind of season Liddi had if it weren’t for the effects of High Desert. At Diamond Futures, we always park normalize our data. We calculate Park Factors for every League each season and apply them to the season totals to effectively normalize our data. But admittedly, that is an estimate of the results, so I wanted to go one better for this illustration. So instead of using park factors applied to season totals, I went and took every player in the California League this year and applied park factors on a game by game basis, so that each player appeared as if they played every single game at a League Average site. Here are the Top 20 OPS in the League this year:

1) Grant Desme – 1.029
2) Koby Clemens – 1.022
3) Logan Forsythe – 1.003
4) Thomas Neal – 0.965
5) Scott Van Slyke – 0.955
6) Alex Liddi – 0.951
7) Jonathan Gaston – 0.948
8) Buster Posey – 0.941
9) James Darnell – 0.937
10) Matt Weston – 0.922
11) Trayvon Robinson – 0.904
12) Jason Castro – 0.903
13) Matt Sweeney – 0.899
14) Steve Kleen – 0.896
15) Matt Clark – 0.889
16) Joe Dunigan – 0.869
17) Yusuf Carter – 0.868
18) Tyson Gillies – 0.865
19) James McOwen – 0.859
20) Roger Kieschnick -0.853

Important to note, only Liddi and Tyson Gillies were 20yos on this list. Neal, Robinson and Sweeney were 21yo, and while Liddi ranked 6th, of the five that were ahead of him, Thomas Neal was the next youngest—a full year older than Liddi.

The next thing we hear is that Liddi only posted an Isolated Power of .190 on the road. Followers of that logic would like you to believe—despite no empirical evidence to support it, that only what a player does on the ‘road’ counts. Again, using the park neutral data, here are the Top 15 Players (minimum of 200 ABs) in the California League this year in Isolated Power:

1) Grant Desme - .341
2) Jonathan Gaston - .316
3) Koby Clemens - .277
4) James Darnell - .264
5) Carlos Peguero - .264
6) Matt Weston - .263
7) Scott Van Slyke - .263
8) Michael Bianucci - .256
9) Joe Dunigan - .249
10) Mauro Gomez - .242
11) Matt Clark - .234
12) Brandon Barnes - .232
13) Alex Liddi -.226
14) Roger Kieschnick -.223
15) Thomas Neal - .222

On this list, Liddi is the only 20yo, Neal is the only 21yo, and the next youngest player ahead of Liddi is Carlos Peguero, who is a full 18 months older than Liddi.

Incidentally, here are Liddi’s completely park neutral 2009 stats:
AB – 493
H – 163
2B – 45
3B – 5
HR – 19
BB – 53
SO -121
AVG - .330
OBA - .395
SLG - .556

So let’s go to the BABIP argument. BABIP has become the trendy concept over the last few years. The theory goes something along the lines that since we have demonstrated evidence that pitchers have little control over what happens to a batted ball once contact is made, then it would be reasonable to assume that hitters, likewise, have little control once they make contact. The problem with that logic is that hitters like Matt Kemp, that continually put up higher than league average numbers, effectively provide evidence to diminish the randomness of BABIP. While it may be true that BABIP should be regressed, to some degree, to the mean, Hitters DO, in fact, have considerable more control over where a ball is hit than do pitchers. To illustrate my point, while the California League Average for BABIP was .331 in 2009, the Top 20, park neutral, hitters for average, posted a cumulative BABIP of .370—in other words, better hitters get more hits and the outcome of a batted ball in play is not a random event. Additionally, Liddi ranked behind Koby Clemens and Trayvon Robinson in BABIP, yet not only do we not hear this argument used against them, we instead hear about what a breakout season Robinson had.

“Ahhh!”, You say, “what about the fact that Liddi’s BABIP in 2009 was more than .100 points higher than his 2008 BABIP—a more than 33% gain.” I say “Grasshopper, his park neutral OPS jumped 41%--it would be foolish not to expect his BABIP to make significant gains”. The reality is that the Alex Liddi of 2009 is a significantly better hitter in all aspects of the game than he was in 2008. That is the very definition of 'breakout'. Even his Krate decreased from 24% in 2008, to a much more livable 22% in 2009.

The most compelling part of Liddi’s 2009 season, for me, though, was the resultant League MVP award as a 20yo. Over the last 25 years, only five previous players had won the award as a 20yo: Reid Brignac, Brandon Wood, Josh Barfield, Rocco Baldelli and Roberto Alomar.

When we evaluate a prospect, we essentially are looking at two things: Where is the player currently on the developmental curve and what is his projectability. Where Liddi is, is he just posted one of the two best age-adjusted seasons in the California League. At 6'4 and 175lbs, with decent footwork, a workable swing, and being a 20yo playing against much older competition, his projectability is tremendous and this establishes him as one of the elite prospects in the game.