Thursday, December 30, 2010

TEAM #27 – Florida Marlins

Dominguez is primed to assume the Marlins 3B job sometime this season

With Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison taking their game to the next level, the Marlins’ prospect list is a bit thin this year. Matt Dominguez was the #3 prospect from last year’s list (TEAM #14 – Florida Marlins) and more or less by default assumes the organization’s top ranking heading into 2011. Left-handed pitching is a surprising strength of the Marlins, while a tremendous dearth of right-handed starting pitching prospects forms a glaring weakness. Most of the Marlins’ troubles can be traced back to relatively disappointing drafts in 2008 and 2009 where respective top picks Kyle Skipworth and Chad James haven’t lived up to expectations. When this is coupled with the fact that the Marlins have been one of the least aggressive players in the international market, the result is an organization that lacks both strength at the top and depth throughout.

The question, though, is whether the arrow is pointed up or down, as the Marlins slipped to under .500 for the first time in three seasons in 2010. With key departures of Dan Uggla and Cameron Maybin being replaced by Omar Infante and likely Scott Cousins it is difficult to imagine the Marlins improving upon last season’s third place finish—even considering likely improvements from Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton and the upgrades at catcher of John Buck and Javier Vasquez replacing Nate Robertson. The problem is that the Marlins just don’t spend the money to continue to keep up with teams like the Phillies. It shows up glaringly when examining the amateur draft. Where the typical Major League team annually shells out in the neighborhood of $7.0 million in signing bonuses (draft and international); the Marlins rank in the bottom 10%, having averaged about $4.3 million over the last four years. This becomes evident when examining the Marlins Minor League talent levels. The Marlins are a team that have a history of successfully accomplishing ‘more with less’, so it would be silly to write them off now, but this is a franchise in need of a major prospect talent infusion.

Best Pick from 2010 – We could go in a lot of directions with this as we have consistently believed in Dominguez, cautioned that Chad James was a ‘reach’ in 2009 and have been ahead of the curve on Marcell Ozuna, but the logically choice here is our selection of Brad Hand at #10, who is likely to be found no worse than 7th or 8th in any 2011 rankings and even higher in ours.

Worst Pick from 2010 – Injuries played a role in a number of Marlins’ misses in 2010, such as Bryan Berglund and Isaac Galloway, but Ryan Tucker, who we had at #6, has not returned to the levels that we had expected.

Grade A-

1) Matt Dominguez, 3B (2010 Performance Scores– Power 66; Discipline 57; First Base Rate 41; Speed 29)

We have been touting Dominguez as the Minor’s best defensive third baseman for three years now. Because of the defense, the Marlin’s have rushed him a bit and his offense has lagged behind—despite still posting the #7 Performance Score in the Southern League (SOL) in 2010. The important thing to remember is that Dominguez will play nearly all of the 2011 season as a 21yo, and if the Marlins’ plans workout, in the Major Leagues. If Dominguez is never more than a .720 OPS hitter, he will still be an everyday Major League third baseman—his glove is that good. But don’t fear, as he matures, there is every reason to believe that Dominguez will develop average, across-the-board, hitting skills for the position—with potentially above average power (50 XBH in AA as a 20yo in 2010). Given time, the assessment is that Dominguez should develop into a league-average offensive player with ‘gold glove’ defensive abilities. That said, it won’t be in 2011. The Marlins plan to give Dominguez a solid shot at winning a starting position this spring. Instead, we hope they will send him to AAA to start the season and give him at least another half season in the minors. His offensive game is not yet Major League ready—especially vs. left-handers. Long-term, however, Dominguez has an all-star caliber ceiling. It is quite possible that Dominguez is the best overall third base prospect—among those likely to remain at the position. The question is whether the Marlins will be patient with his offensive development.

Grade B+

2) Christian Yelich, OF/1B

We had Yelich pegged as a sandwich round pick last June, before the Marlins selected him with the #23 pick in the first round. A polished hitter, Yelich showed no signs of problems transitioning to the pro game in his brief 2010 debut. With above average contact skills and average power and speed skills there is little concern about his offensive abilities. The real question lies in his defense. After playing primarily first base in high school, the Marlins are trying Yelich in the outfield. There is little reason to believe that Yelich has the requisite coverage skills to play in center and his below average arm will not play in right field. This leaves left field and first base as his likely eventual defensive destination. We are not confident that Yelich possesses the requisite power skills for a Major League first baseman (hence our slight pre-draft downgrade), thereby making his ceiling likely limited to a league average left fielder or perhaps even a platoon type player. Given his advanced development, his ‘certainty’ rating is higher than most—leading to his ranking on this list, but we don’t find the upside that you would expect from a first round pick. We will watch, with interest, his defensive development. The Marlins are likely to send him to full-season A-ball to begin 2011, and it wouldn’t shock us to see him spend less than a ‘full-season’ there.

3) Chad James, LHP (2010– Dominance 48; Control 23; HRrate 71; Stamina 67)

Much like Yelich, we believed James to be a sandwich round talent in 2009 before the Marlins tabbed him at #18. Also much like Yelich, our concerns center around taking a prep pick with a limited ceiling in the first round—the washout rate is extensive. In 2010, James did little to change our minds, as he showed the ability to use a relatively developed, heavy, repertoire to keep the ball on the ground—but lacked a dominant ‘swing and miss’ pitch. To properly frame this, we are higher on Ian Krol, a smallish lefty with a similar upside that the A’s selected six rounds later in 2010. While it sounds like we are bashing James, the reality is that he still has a very projectable 6’3” frame that should leave him with a consistent low-90s fastball. His best pitch remains his hard curve and he has an adequate change—leaving him with a solid three pitch arsenal and making him a projectable #2/#3 starter. His 2010 South Atlantic League performance earned him the league’s #9 Score. While he struggled with his control, it has more to do with his approach than any flaw in his mechanics. The Marlins are likely to begin him in the Florida State League to open 2011—despite being barely 20 yo. There is still plenty to be optimistic on with James and this season would be a good spot for him to start to demonstrate it.

4) Brad Hand, LHP (2010– Dominance 54; Control 49; HRrate 38; Stamina 72)

We became ‘enamored’ with Hand after his fastball took a bit of a jump—leading to a breakout 2009 season. Already possessing a plus curve and an average change, the solid fastball was the key to believing that Hand had the makings of a solid mid-rotation starter. Hand built upon his 2009 season, finishing 2010 with the #8 Performance Score in FSL. The Marlins believed in Hand enough that they made him part of their AA playoff rotation, where he had a masterful couple of starts—as a 20yo. Hand should return to the SOL in 2011, where he will be one of the League’s youngest starters. His ceiling isn’t extremely high, but this is a young left-handed starter with three solid Major League pitches—making him very attractive on the ‘certainty’ side. An argument could be made that Hand is the most attractive starting pitching prospect in the system. With another solid season this year, he should be part of the Marlins’ rotation plans in 2012.

5) Marcell Ozuna, RF (2010 – Power 80; Discipline 24; First Base Rate 26; Speed 47)

We sounded the watch for Ozuna in our 2010 guide, and he did little to alter our thinking this past season. An early season wrist injury ended his full-season debut, but when he returned in the New York-Penn League he went on a monster offensive tear, belting 21 Home Runs in 270 ABs—50% more than the league runner up—earning the top Performance Score in the League. Ozuna possesses plus-plus power skills, above average speed and a strong arm—all which should make him a natural for right field. The downside is his contact skills, as his strikeout rate soared to 33% in 2010, and Ozuna rarely sees a pitch that he doesn’t believe is worthy of a swing. If you are looking for comps, think Greg Halman or Johermyn Chavez for the Mariners—although we like Ozuna’s upside slightly more than either of them. Plate discipline is the key. If Ozuna finds it, he has the potential to be an all-star caliber Major League right fielder…if he doesn’t he may never escape the Minors. Look for Ozuna to begin 2011 in the SAL.

Grade B

6) Osvaldo Martinez, MI (2010 – Power 39; Discipline 72; First Base Rate 70; Speed 54)

Martinez checked in at #20 on our 2010 list, before posting a breakout season that earned him the #12 Performance Score in the SOL and a Major League call-up when Hanley Ramirez was shut down. Martinez possesses solid defensive skills with soft hands and a solid arm. This makes him a high ‘floor’ type with the defensive capabilities of handling any of the three infield positions. Offensively Martinez possesses below average power, average speed and above average contact and plate discipline skills. This leads us to believe that he has the ceiling of a Major League average middle infielder and #2 hitter. Expect Martinez to begin 2011 in AAA. With Ramirez entrenched at shortstop, second base appears to be Martinez’s best bet to win a Major League job. It is interesting that the Marlins dealt for Omar Infante this off-season, as the similarities between the two players are striking.

7) Jhan Marinez, RP (2010– Dominance 80; Control 26; HRrate 67; Stamina 26)

While we are never high on Minor League relief pitchers, Marinez is clearly one of the game’s better ones. With a mid-to upper-90s fastball, Marinez has back of the bullpen potential. How closely he comes to realizing it will depend on the development of slider and improvements in his control. Marinez got a brief opportunity with the Marlins in 2010 and without a true closer in the organization, his path is clear. Look for him to begin 2011 in AAA. If he can show improved control he will likely join the Big League team by mid-season. It wouldn’t even surprise us to see him closing games by season’s end.

Grade B-

8) Kyle Skipworth, C (2010 – Power 73; Discipline 25; First Base Rate 37; Speed 32)

Skipworth made strides in 2010, posting his best season as a pro—belting 17 Home Runs in 397 At Bats. However, it still was a far cry from what has been expected of him since the Marlins made him the sixth overall pick in 2008. His Achilles heel has been a propensity to strike out, and 2010 was no different as he fanned in 31% of his Plate Appearances. Skipworth remains a developing, but very solid, defensive backstop. He will turn 21yo just before the 2011 season begins, and will likely begin it in AA. The point being that there is still a significant ceiling here and plenty of time to realize it. Given that the Marlins invested $2.3 million in him when he was drafted they are likely to give him plenty of opportunity. It is still likely a couple of seasons before we should expect to see him in Florida, but we do expect to eventually see him there.

9) Scott Cousins, CF (2010 – Power 57; Discipline 51; First Base Rate 46; Speed 71)

Another ‘high-floor’/’low-ceiling’ prospect, Cousins will be given an opportunity to earn a starting role as Cameron Maybin’s replacement. There are those that will tell you that the 2006 third round pick has one of the stronger ‘tools’ sets in the system. As we forecast in the 2010 edition, we see Cousins as strictly a 4th outfield/platoon type player with average offensive skills being his upside—an unlikely one. Cousins enters 2011 as a 26yo. While the center field job is available to him, our guess is that it ends up going to Coghlan and Cousins secures a bench role with the Marlins. There isn’t likely to be much projection left here and therefore we see that as is likely outcome.

10) Rob Rassmussen, LHP

We had Rasmussen as a late second/early third round pick—a bit below where the Marlins tabbed him. Rassmussen fits the mold of recent Marlin early round picks—namely solid skills but limited ceiling. With a low-90s fastball and four solid pitches—including a plus-curve, it isn’t difficult to envision the leap from where Rassmussen is to the back of the Marlins’ rotation. But the ‘back’ of the rotation is likely his ceiling. Look for Rassmussen to open 2009 in the FSL, but he could move quickly—even seeing the Marlin bullpen in early 2012.

Grade C+

11) Michael Dunn, RP (2010– Dominance 79; Control 28; HRrate 76; Stamina 27)

Dunn was acquired by the Marlins in the Dan Uggla trade. He possesses a mid-90s fastball that he effectively utilizes to set up his ‘swing-and-miss’ slider. Unfortunately, the 25yo has never been able to consistently harness his command enough to provide significant hope that he winds up anything more than a solid ‘LOOGY’. He should get an opportunity to earn a bullpen job with the Marlins this spring, but we are less than confident that you will see much more in the way of development with him.

12) Noah Perio, 2B/SS (2010 – Power 30; Discipline 76; First Base Rate 54; Speed 74)

A name you are unlikely to find any other prospect list, Perio was a top 200 draft talent that the Marlins selected in the 39th round in 2009. Perio played 2010 as an 18yo in the NYP—the League’s 5th youngest everyday player—where he earned the #3 Performance Score. A solid athlete with soft-hands, Perio is a smooth fielder. Offensively he shows plus speed and plate discipline skills and average contact skills. We believe that once his 6’1” frame fills out, he even has the potential for average middle infield power to develop. This makes his ceiling that of a slightly above average middle infielder. There is a long way between here and there, for 2011 Perio should face a legitimate challenge in full-season ball.

Other Top 300 Considerations – We are already past the Top 500!

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Friday, December 24, 2010

TEAM #28 – Baltimore Orioles

Machado has the potential to be the best high school shortstop drafted in more than 15 years

Orioles fans can take some solace in the number of prospects that they have graduated to the Majors over the last couple of seasons, including Josh Bell, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta who all were top four prospects from last year’s rankings (TEAM #21 – Baltimore Orioles). Unfortunately, that has left this year’s list a bit thin. The top two players match up well with most any organization, but the gap to #3 is substantial; and the best of the lot appear to be quite a distance away in the lower levels. And the Orioles haven’t been helped by injuries either, as four of their top sixteen prospects from last year’s list missed significant 2010 time due to injury—something that was particularly hard on the 2009 draft class. Couple that with Matt Hobgood’s extreme over draft in 2009, and you have a pretty big hole to fill—as only Givens at #7, from that class, makes the top ten.

Perhaps more important, is the question of long-term strategy. The Orioles have a very good nucleus of young players, as three of their starting eight and four of their top five starting pitchers are all 25yo or younger. But the Yankees and Red Sox aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon, and the Rays have an even better young nucleus. It is difficult to imagine a path for the Orioles to overcome, at least, two of the three teams that are ahead of them anytime in the next few years. With their best prospects now at the major league level, they are going to need to be able to maximize their value by determining which of the young players are future stars—and need to be locked up to long term deals, and which of the players need to be dealt for key additions that might enable them to compete with the other teams in the AL East. One such decision appears to be in the offing in 2011, as Zach Britton looks ready to join the rotation by June. If the Orioles are to succeed anytime soon, they remain a quality outfielder, middle infielder, first baseman and closer away—none of which appears to be coming from the farm system soon. There is substantial promise here, but a clear path seems to be lacking.

Best Pick from 2010 – The top four slots were relatively no brainers in 2010, so we have to go down the list a bit further. We cautioned against Hobgood, but still overrated him at #6. The best pick was likely Xavier Aver at #10, who came into the season with a .655 OPS, but played as a 20yo at Hi-A and AA and still managed to post a .723 OPS in 2010.

Worst Pick from 2010 – You have to dig deep to find a bad one, but with Erbe’s injury placing his career in jeopardy his #6 ranking is likely to take the biggest fall.

Grade A

1) Manny Machado, SS -

We don’t want to draw the obvious Alex Rodriguez comparisons—nearly identical builds, prep shortstops out of South Florida, etc—but Machado is likely the best high school ‘pure’ shortstop drafted since the Mariners drafted Rodriguez in 1993. Granted the list of high school shortstop prospects selected in the top five picks since then is not a lengthy one (essentially see Tim Beckham and the Uptons), but that doesn’t diminish Machado’s skill set, nor the fact that he played the entire 2010 season under the spotlight of carrying the label of the best prep position player available in the upcoming draft. Contact is Machado’s best skill, but he also projects to have plus-power for the shortstop position. Defensively he has good range, solid footwork, soft hands and a strong arm. If he has any weakness, it is that he likely possesses below average speed for a shortstop. Nonetheless, the ceiling for Machado is sky high and he’ll likely open 2011 in full-season ball, playing most of the season as an 18yo. If we have not made ourselves clear, this is a special talent that could move through the Minors very quickly and could fill one of those Orioles’ weaknesses as early as 2013.

2) Zach Britton, LHP (2010 Performance Scores – Dominance 50; Control 56; HRrate 74; Stamina 72)

It is unusual to find a prep pitching prospect, without a dominating fastball, that has as high a floor as Britton has carried for the last couple of seasons. That isn’t a knock against his fastball—as it is a low-90s offering with excellent movement—just a recognition that this is the complete pitching package. Nearly all of his pitches come in ‘heavy’, with his sinker being among the best in all of the minors. His refined, four-pitch arsenal has generated ground out to air out ratios of a nearly unheard of 2.81, 3.38 and 2.80 over the last three seasons. If Britton has a weakness, it is occasional struggles with command of his secondary offerings, but he still managed to take his BB/9 IP down to 3.0 in 2010 from 3.54 in 2009.

The obvious comparison for Britton, who is unlikely to ever post huge strikeout numbers, is a left-handed version of Brandon Webb. Despite a loaded, young, Oriole rotation, we would prefer him to any of their current Major League starters—excepting possibly Matusz. After posting the #7 Performance Score in the International League (IL) in 2010, there is little left for Britton to prove in the Minors. That doesn’t mean that service time considerations won’t keep him in AAA until June, but he should become a mainstay in the Oriole rotation by sometime in early 2011 and looks like a solid bet for a productive career.

Grade B

3) Jonathon Schoop, SS (2010 – Power 58; Discipline 78; First Base Rate 72; Speed 33)

The drop to Schoop at #3 is a precipitous one, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t high on him. If there is one area where the Orioles are loaded, it is at the shortstop position in the lower levels. Machado is the star, but Schoop would easily assume that position in many organizations. Schoop possesses plus contact skills, but his 5 HRs and 18 doubles in 214 ABs is an indicator of eventual plus power for a middle infielder. It is the middle infield designation that may be his biggest negative. Schoop covers plenty of ground, sets up well, and has a powerful arm at shortstop, but barely 19yo, there is concern that his already below average speed will eventually force a move to third base as he matures. After watching Schoop post the #4 Performance Score in the Appalachian League (APY) in 2010—as an 18yo, we have little doubt that he can eventually hit enough to succeed at that position, but the difference is between being a league average third baseman vs. an above average offensive shortstop. Because Machado is likely to open up 2011 as the Delmarva shortstop, the Orioles will likely be forced into some decision on this as early as the upcoming season. We likely rank Schoop higher than most, but we have little doubt that there is no other prospect that follows on this list that has Schoop’s offensive upside at a premium position.

4) Xavier Avery, CF (2010 – Power 42; Discipline 39; First Base Rate 48; Speed 78)

Easily the most athletic prospect in the system, Avery was likely rushed a bit in 2010, as he finished the year with 107 ABs in AA—as a 20yo. Still, he posted a top ten Performance score in the Carolina League (CAR) prior to that and showed tremendous promise. All of Avery’s skills are raw, and he could use a solid year at AA to refine them, but he profiles as the classic leadoff hitter with plus-plus speed. Both offensively and defensively he is still more athlete than baseball player, but we are not sure that that doesn’t make the success he has had all that more impressive. Do not misunderstand, Avery is still extremely raw, but his ceiling is that of a significant top of the order center field threat. In a perfect world, the Orioles will leave Avery in AA all season and not expect to see him in Baltimore until late 2012.

5) L.J. Hoes, 2B (2010 – Power 35; Discipline 60; First Base Rate 76; Speed 53)

Hoes actually produced a better Performance Score (#7) in the CAR than did Avery—primarily on the basis of excellent plate discipline and plus contact skills. While there are fewer questions with Hoes as to whether or not he will continue to hit as he progresses, he doesn’t profile well defensively. Predominantly an outfielder in high school, Hoes has worked diligently at becoming a second baseman but has yet to assuage concerns about his ability to stay there. If not, he likely ends up in left field—where he doesn’t project to hit for enough power. While he could be a league average offensive second basemen on the upside, a position switch likely results in a fourth outfielder scenario. Look for Hoes to join Avery in the Eastern League to begin 2011.

6) Dan Klein, RHP

Klein, who we had rated at #95 entering the draft, was selected by the Orioles with the 85th overall pick this past June. Klein commands four average or better pitches extremely well, and with his athletic build it is not difficult to project Klein as a mid-rotation workhorse. However, Klein had shoulder surgery his sophomore year at UCLA, and has only really worked out of the bullpen since then. While his ceiling is solid, the limited workload and injury history are a concern. The Orioles will likely be cautious with Klein in 2011, starting him at Frederick on a strict pitch count. If he is unable to successfully stretch out as a starter, his ranking will take a significant hit.

7) Mychael Givens, SS (2010 – Power 62; Discipline 64; First Base Rate 67; Speed 51)

The Orioles second round pick in 2009 missed most of the 2010 season with a thumb injury. When he did get on the diamond, he demonstrated better offensive skills—especially discipline and contact--than we had expected prior to his being drafted. Defensively, there is little reason to not believe that his range, soft hands and strong arm (97mph as a pitcher in high school) can profile well at shortstop. However, by losing the 2010 season, Givens could use more time at Delmarva—which is likely to be home to Manny Machado. The Orioles have two choices, they could push Givens up to Frederick—which could be a struggle; or they could move him to second base at Delmarva—forming an impressive infield of Schoop, Machado and Givens. In either case, it is likely to be at least 2013 before Givens reaches Baltimore, and not before many more questions are answered.

8) Tyler Townsend, 1B (2010 – Power 77; Discipline 61; First Base Rate 55; Speed 33)

Injuries played havoc with Townsend’s 2010 season, but we did see enough of him to learn a few things. First, he was clearly a ‘man among boys’ playing as a 22yo in the South Atlantic League. Second, although he hit only six home runs in 197 ABs, he blasted 21 doubles and nearly 50% of his hits went for extra bases. Finally, with a 16% strikeout rate, his plate discipline is better than expected and good enough to portend positive results as he moves up. While we would feel better about his chances if we felt he could stick in the outfield, Townsend looks to possess a strong enough bat to give him a chance to be no worse than a left-handed portion of a Major League first base or DH platoon. While he is likely to return to the Carolina League to begin 2011, Townsend appears ready to take on the challenges of AA and he could be ready for some At Bats in Baltimore in 2012.

9) Connor Narron, SS/2B -

The Orioles drafted Narron in the fifth round in June and inked him to second round money despite a disappointing senior prep season. Narron’s struggles continued in his brief pro debut, begging the question of why the lofty ranking? Partly due to the weakness of the Orioles’ system and partly due to what we can envision as his ceiling, Narron slots well here. Narron is a switch hitter that has demonstrated above average offensive skills prior to 2010. While there is little reason to believe that he will stay as a middle infielder—except perhaps in a utility role—his bat is solid enough to be successful at third base, where he would become a plus defender. There isn’t ‘sky high’ ceiling here, but it isn’t difficult to see Narron as a league average Major League third baseman. In a system with as many question marks as the Orioles have, that makes him noteworthy. The expectation is that the Orioles will keep Narron in extended Spring Training before sending him to the APY—but a good spring could see him in the SAL in May.

10) Ryan Adams, 2B (2010 – Power 62; Discipline 45; First Base Rate 52; Speed 35)

Others have always been higher on Adams than we have, as we have difficulty envision an everyday position for him at the Major League level. Improving power numbers in 2010, where he hit 15 HRs for the first time, give Adams an outside shot of sticking at third base—or at least as a utility player. Adams is a solid ball-striker who will take a few walks. The problem has always been that he hasn’t demonstrated the requisite power to accompany his 21% strikeout rate. Given the fact that he lacks both the speed and athleticism to imagine him as an everyday infielder at the Major League level, we have never been comfortable about where he will play. We still aren’t, but we can at least consider the possibility that he could make it at third base or in left field if some of those 43 doubles begin to turn into home runs. Adams will head to AAA to begin 2011. While we still see a utility role as his likely ceiling, the probability of attaining it is getting stronger.

Grade B -

11) Joe Mahoney, 1B (2010 – Power 70; Discipline 55; First Base Rate 56; Speed 63)

We have been slow to warm to the huge Oriole first base prospect. As he didn’t even make our Oriole top fifty last year. And while we still have tremendous doubts, his #13 Performance Score in the Eastern League (ESL) in 2010 has gotten our attention—as he took his strikeout rate down from 23% to 19%. With more mobility than you would expect from a 6’7”, 245lb first baseman, and the present dearth of first base talent at the upper levels of the Oriole system, it is possible that the Orioles will give him an opportunity in Baltimore at some point in 2011. His power game will be his calling card, and we could see him as a potential power left-handed bench bat in the Majors. Look for him to return to the ESL to begin 2011—but the expectation is that he won’t finish there.

12) Matt Hobgood, RHP (2010 – Dominance 27; Control 39; HRrate 48; Stamina 64)

We have written plenty over the last two years about how awful a pick we found it to be when the Orioles selected Hobgood at #5 in 2009. There was a ton of unquestionably better prep pitching talent on the board at this slot and we liked at least six of them better. Nonetheless, the Orioles envisioned a significant mid-rotation workhorse in Hobgood’s 6’4”, 245lb frame. If there is one thing that we have found even more disappointing than his draft position, it has been his velocity drop and inability to strike out opposing hitters (5.6 K/9IP). His conditioning is poor, and his ‘pitchability’ has been less than impressive. Only potential, and the likelihood that the Orioles will give him ample opportunities to prove critics like us wrong keep him rated even this highly. He is likely to begin 2011 at Frederick, but he has a ton left to improve upon.

Other Top 300 Considerations – We haven’t missed anyone.

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

TEAM #29 – Milwaukee Brewers

Why not Caleb Gindl as the Brewers top prospect?

When the eGuide is published, it is quite likely that the Brewers will be team #30—after finishing last year at #22 (TEAM #22 – Milwaukee Brewers). We have always used 130ABs and 50 IPs as our thresholds for inclusion on this list, but with the industry trend being to match Major League rookie levels—which have a service time component, Zach Braddock and his 34 Major League innings no longer qualify. That plus the expected confirmation that Jeremy Jeffress is the player to be named in the Greinke deal, is enough to make up the margin of difference between the Brewers and the White Sox. Now one could make the argument that the Brewers’ Minor League system will be taking the mound in Milwaukee this season in the form of Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum…but that is another story.

Doug Melvin has taken the Kenny Williams approach to farm systems this offseason, dealing what some might argue were the top three players in the system. Couple that with failing to sign first round pick Dylan Covey, and you could be scratching your head as to what Melvin is doing to the Brewer Future. A closer look reveals tremendous shrewdness. By not signing Covey, the Brewers will receive the 16th selection in 2011, and are likely to have much more to choose from in what is shaping up to be a considerably deeper draft. While Lawrie and Odorizzi are nice prospects, they both possess enough questions (Lawrie as to his eventual position and Odorizzi on his secondary offerings) to keep them from the elite level of the prospect rankings. Jeffress and Alcides Escobar are players with baggage, and Lorenzo Cain is a low ceiling outfielder—something that the Brewers are extremely deep at. In return they receive two quality Major League starting pitchers—both with two years remaining on their contracts—and now possess a lineup and rotation capable of competing for the N.L. Central title.

Where you have to worry if you’re a Brewers’ fan is Melvin’s ability to rebuild the system. In eight drafts since taking over as Brewer GM, Melvin has made 63 picks in the first seven rounds, twelve of them first-rounders, and ten of them who he has signed to $1 million+ bonuses. The average selection position of the first pick has been 8th. Yet the only significant pitcher produced has been Yovanni Gallardo and the list of hitters that have accumulated 250+ Major League at bats ends at: Rickie Weeks, Tony Gwyyn, jr,, Ryan Braun, Mat Gamel, Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta and Jonathan Lucroy. The system is fraught with low-ceiling, undersized hitters, and either power pitchers with troublesome control or control pitchers with limited power. Without a significant strategical change in their draft philosophy, it is difficult to see how the situation improves. No system in the game is weaker at the top of the rankings, and it isn’t likely to improve much in the foreseeable future.

Best Pick from 2010 – Given our placement of Gindl, one could argue that his slotting at #4 was the best pick, but since the consensus opinion in the community of experts is still selling him ‘short’ (no pun intended), we will go with the slotting of Wily Peralta at #11.

Worst Pick from 2010 – That’s easy…we believed Angel Salome could overcome his poor mechanics and succeed as a Major League backstop. We never counted on him turning into a complete ‘headcase’ who is now a marginal prospect at best.

Grade B+

1) Caleb Gindl, OF (2010 Performance Scores – Power 56; Discipline 63; First Base Rate 54; Speed 57)

Admittedly, there isn’t a weaker #1 prospect in all of baseball than Gindl, but that would have been said about any player on this list—and someone has to take the top spot. Actually Gindl is a perfect top prospect for the Brewers, because he is the poster boy representative of what this system offers—namely under-sized, under-skilled ‘grinders’. Gindl has an advanced plate-approach that should allow him to make solid contact as he continues to advance. His #9 Performance Score in the Southern League (SOL) ranked just a tick below, then teammate, Brett Lawrie. Most impressively, he held his own as a 21yo in AA—something that he has been able to do at every stop of his professional career; and his once problematic strikeout rate fell to just over 15% in 2010—the lowest in his four seasons. Defensively, he is capable of manning any of the three positions, but likely profiles best as a right-fielder. While Gindl provides a solid across-the-board skill set, none of his skills standout and he is unlikely to put up the kind of power numbers that you would ideally want from a corner outfielder. That said, his offensive upside is higher than that of former Brewer farmhand Michael Brantley, who is likely to carve out a career as a solid fourth/platoon outfielder. When we watch Gindl, we are reminded of Nate McLouth. We believe Gindl is a ‘high-floor’/’low-ceiling’ prospect that should achieve a decent amount of Major League success. With the right opportunity, he could become a league-average everyday player. Expect Gindl to begin 2011 in AAA, and see Milwaukee at some point during the season.

Grade B

2) Ryan ‘Scooter’ Gennett, 2B (2010 – Power 65; Discipline 65; First Base Rate 53; Speed 70)

With above average power and contact skills for a middle infielder, Gennett would rank higher if it weren’t for a 5’9”, 165lb build. More to the point he attacks the game both in the field and at the plate, which makes him a fan favorite. In somewhat of a breakout year, 2010 ended with Gennett posting a top ten Performance Score in the Midwest League (MWL) and 2011 should find him in the Florida State League (FSL). If Gennett is to continue his march toward a potential league average second baseman, he will have to continue to hit—as his defensive skill set and speed are merely average. There isn’t a tremendously high-ceiling with Gennett, but his bat and approach should ensure that he gets the most of his natural abilities.

3) Wily Peralta, RHP (2010 – Dominance 35; Control 38; HRrate 43; Stamina 72)

In the ‘more of the same’ category, Peralta is another player with a limited ‘ceiling’, but a skill set that provides him with a solid shot at maxing out his abilities. Peralta played 2010 as a 21yo in the SOL, where he posted the #17 Performance Score. His out pitch is his low-to-mid 90s fastball, and he complements that with average secondary offerings. While he fights occasional bouts of control issues, there is little in his make-up that suggests he can’t become a solid middle of the rotation Major League starter. Unfortunately, there is little to suggest that he can become much more than that. At 22yo, Peralta is likely to find himself in AAA to begin the 2011 season. While the Brewer rotation appears to be set, he could find time in Milwaukee before the year is out.

4) Mark Rogers, RHP (2010 – Dominance 62; Control 25; HRrate 72; Stamina 64)

The former first round pick (#5 in 2004), Rogers has yet to realize his potential due to an injury-plagued professional career. Finally healthy and pitching over 100 innings for the first time since being drafted, Rogers enjoyed a solid season in the SOL. He even made a couple of starts in Milwaukee, at the end of the season, where he once-again looked solid. Rogers throws a heavy fastball that sits comfortably in the low-to-mid 90s. He complements that with a solid curve. The downside is that he really doesn’t possess a Major League quality third offering and has never really mastered the art of control. It is for these reasons that Rogers doesn’t rank higher on a thin Brewer list. Whereas Peralta looks like a solid bet to remain in the rotation, Rogers looks destined to fill a bullpen role—despite the fact that he will be given every opportunity to remain a starter. Look for Rogers to begin the 2011 in the Nashville rotation. Should the need arise, he is likely the first pitcher to be called up and looks like a certainty to spend some significant time in the Majors—we just don’t see it being in an impact role.

5) Tyler Roberts, C (2010 – Power 79; Discipline 67; First Base Rate 37; Speed 29)

Roberts may be our favorite player on this list—and is likely the player with the highest upside. A ‘beefy’ 6’0”, 230lbs, Roberts is raw in both his offensive and defensive approaches. He possesses excellent power skills and makes surprising contact considering his long, powerful swing. There is somewhat of an all or nothing approach, however, as more than 50% of Roberts hits were for extra bases in 2010 and he possesses what could only be termed ‘base-clogging’ speed. Defensively, he possesses a powerful arm, but is often lost at times with his fundamental receiving skills. With refinement, Roberts could become a power-hitting Major League backstop, but he will be only making his full-season debut in 2011, so there is a long way from here to there.

6) Cody Scarpetta, RHP (2010 – Dominance 64; Control 28; HRrate 67; Stamina 65)

Speaking of ‘beefy’ players, the 22yo Scarpetta can block out the sun with the best of them. His fastball sits comfortably in the low-90s, and sets up his outpitch—a plus-plus curve. In 2010, Scarpetta rode them to a #14 Performance Score in the FSL. The downside is that Scarpetta’s change is still a work-in-process and he has made little improvement on his control that has caused him to allow more than 4.5 base-on-balls per 9IP. While the ‘ceiling’ isn’t extreme, he seems to have the makings of a solid mid-rotation innings eater. Refining that command will be the key to him achieving it. Look for Scarpetta to begin 2011 in the SOL, with a possible rotation shot when Marcum and Greinke’s contracts expire.

7) Kyle Heckathorn, RHP (2010 – Dominance 35; Control 64; HRrate 71; Stamina 69)

While Heckathorn’s 2010 numbers were an improvement over his 2009 debut, they still lacked the sizzle that was expected after his collegiate career. On a pure raw stuff basis, Heckathorn’s stuff was as good as any college pitcher in the 2009 draft that wasn’t named Strasburg. He throws a heavy low-90s sinker and has a slider with plus potential. At 6’6”, he has a durable frame that one can easily envision as a solid #2/#3 Major League starter. But Heckathorn has yet to find away to dominate lower level hitters the way that a 22yo should. His change still needs considerable work and without a dominating out pitch, there are questions about whether he will ever be more than back of the rotation material. 2011 will be a huge year for Heckathorn, as he is likely to return to the FSL to start the year before making a mid-season AA debut. He needs to take a big step forward.

Grade B-

8) Erik Komatsu, OF (2010 – Power 50; Discipline 75; First Base Rate 78; Speed 78)

I easily could have copied Gindl’s write-up into this space as the stories are similar—under-sized and under-skilled. The basic difference is that Komatsu appears to have the speed to play an everyday center field and actually profiles fairly well for the position. His plate discipline skills are first-rate and like most center fielders, he displays only minimal power. Komatsu parlayed all of that into a fine 2010, as he finished with the #6 Performance Score in the FSL. The downside is that Komatsu is already 23yo and doesn’t look to have much in the way of projection remaining, so we are looking at an upside of a league average center fielder. Despite his advanced development and a strong collegiate background, Komatsu will only be getting his first taste of AA in 2011. With a repeat performance of 2010, he will play his when into legitimate prospect notoriety. Without it, we may be looking at a 4th/5th OF type.

9) Khris Davis, LF (2010 – Power 79; Discipline 41; First Base Rate 70; Speed 59)

Khris and Kentrail Davis formed a solid outfield combo at Wisconsin this past summer, with Davis our slight preference of the two. Possessing plus power skills and patience enough to coax 77 walks and post a nearly .400 OBP, Davis established himself as a legitimate prospect. The downside is that Davis fanned 22% of the time—despite being a 22yo in the MWL. We liked Davis coming out of Fullerton, where he posted the #19 Performance Score in 2009. We felt the Brewers received excellent value by tabbing him in the 7th round. But we need to see Davis in a more age appropriate environment. Look for Davis to begin 2011 in the FSL, but he must reach AA by mid-season in order to continue to be viewed as a legitimate prospect. This grade is as much based on what we believe Davis is capable of as it what he has actually shown as a professional.

10) Kentrail Davis, OF (2010 – Power 49; Discipline 66; First Base Rate 69; Speed 51)

Davis is easily the most athletic player on this list, and has the tools to become a potential everyday Major League centerfielder, as he makes excellent contact and possesses average speed. Power is the question mark , for the former supplemental first round pick, as he hit only three home runs in over 400 PAs as a 22yo in A-ball. While Davis currently projects as a centerfielder, there are those that worry that his compact frame (5’9”, 195lbs) will cause him to slow down as he matures—forcing a move to left field. If that happens, there is little reason to believe that he will post the requisite power for an outfield corner, thereby relegating him to a fourth outfielder role. Davis disappointed in his 2009 FSL debut—before being demoted. He will return their to open the 2011 season, as he turns 23yo mid-season, he will need to advance to AA sometime during the year to continue being considered a legitimate prospect.

11) Tyler Thornburg, RHP (2010 – Dominance 79; Control 33; HRrate 48; Stamina 36)

If we felt confident that Thornburg could actually develop a credible off-speed pitch to go with his low-90s fastball and plus-curve, he would rank higher on this list. The Brewers third round pick in June made his professional debut in the Pioneer League where he dominated the way that a 21yo should—fanning 38 in 23 innings while allowing opposing hitters to bat a mere .171 against him. That said, there isn’t a tremendous amount of projection remaining in his 5’11” frame and he currently is a two-pitch pitcher. The upside of a solid mid-rotation is there, but we are more inclined to see him as a back of the bullpen pitcher down the road. In either case, he is likely to begin 2011 in the MWL; with a stop in the FSL, before the season ends, probable.

12) Hunter Morris, 1B (2010 – Power 73; Discipline 62; First Base Rate 30; Speed 57)
Morris’ 23 home runs at Auburn allowed him to post a top 25 Performance Score in 2010. The Brewers then selected him with their fourth round pick this past June. Power is his calling card, as it is easily his only plus-skill. While his speed may be adequate at first base, his defense is a liability almost anywhere. Morris made a solid 2010 MWL debut. While he has a tendency to fall into ruts where he pulls everything, he showed enough to believe that his bat can play at the Major League level. It will have to, as there isn’t much else to recommend. Look for Morris to begin 2011 in the FSL, with a mid-season promotion to AA in the plans.

Other Considerations for the Top 300 - Giveme a break...It was hard enough coming up with these!

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

TEAM #30 – Chicago White Sox

Sorting out how to use Sale will be a major focus this spring

It is not so much that the White Sox have fallen from last year’s rankings, where they ended up at #28 in our guide (TEAM #26 – Chicago White Sox) , as much as it is that the teams that were behind them last season (the Astros and the Cardinals) have taken major steps forward. Overall, the strength of the system is presently comparable to the same time last year. While the Edwin Jackson deal did likely deprive them of a player that would have made this list (David Holmberg), the White Sox primary reason for occupying the ‘prospect basement’, despite getting Chris Sale as a steal at #13 last June, has to do with significant fall-offs from players like Tyler Flowers and Jordan Danks and the injury to Jared Mitchell. The system falls off a bit after Viciedo, and the drop accelerates rapidly after Morel. Combine that with the fact that the system has barely 2% of the nearly 1900 players that we graded ‘C’ or better this year and it becomes apparent that the ‘nearly bare cupboard’ that we described last year is becoming a problem.

Kenny Williams has never been afraid to trade from his farm system to help his Major League club. More times than not, in the past, he has seemingly gotten the better end of this type of deal. The Peavy and Jackson deals over the last 18 months were supposed to follow that path. But with the seasons that were put together by Clayton Richard and Dan Hudson in 2010, it begs the question whether Williams now is getting caught up more in the need to make something happen than looking out for the long-term interests of the club. The answer to that should be a lot clearer after this season, because, where the Sox could have dismantled an aging team and ceded the Central division to the Twins or the Tigers, Williams has resigned Konerko (34) and Pierzynski (34) and added Adam Dunn (31). While this will buy him some time to rebuild the farm system as the White Sox make a run at the division title, it saddles him with more ‘Peavy-like’ contracts that will be difficult to move if things should head south. It is a ‘riverboat gambler’ strategy that Williams has never shied away from, but will certainly expose Williams and the White Sox to further criticism should it fail. If there is a bright side, it comes in the form of the 2010 draft that appears to rival the 2008 and 2003 drafts for strongest White Sox draft of the last ten years, with seven first year players among the Sox top thirty prospects. Sox fans could be celebrating a banner 2011 season next October, but if not the farm system isn’t likely going to ease any pain.

Best Pick from 2010 – Our 2010 assessment of the organization stands up to anyone’s, but there was nothing that particularly stands out, as we rightly tabbed Hudson as #1 and correctly placed Viciedo and Morel higher than most of the ‘experts’—while warning against Flowers and Danks.

Worst Pick from 2010 – This is pretty easy, as Sergio Santos made the transition to bullpen arm in a huge way in 2010 and he only finished #22 on our list.

Grade A

1) Chris Sale, LHP (2010 Performance Scores– Dominance 80; Control 60; HRrate 29; Stamina 27)

We believed Chris Sale was the best college arm available in the 2010 draft. His 2010 College Performance score trailed only Texas A&M’s Barrett Loux. So we were as shocked as the White Sox likely were when he was still available at #13. The Sox fast-tracked Sale to the Big Leagues in a relief role, and he only continued to make favorable impressions once arriving—ending the season as the team’s best option at closer. Coming out of the bullpen allowed Sale to consistently throw his fastball in the mid-90s—a few ticks higher than he had worked as a starter. The relief work also allowed him to focus on his slider—the pitch that offered greatest concerns coming into the draft. What the bullpen did not allow him to do was showcase his plus-plus change—the pitch that is the main reason why we believe that he is ideally suited for a starting role.

At a slight 6’6”, we believe Sale could ‘beef-up’ and work in the mid-90s as a front of the rotation starter with a solid three-pitch repertoire. Unfortunately, word out of Chicago is that Sale is likely to once again find himself in the bullpen in 2011. This isn’t a two-pitch Neftali Feliz, that we advocated a bullpen role for. Therein lies the paradox with the White Sox decision to make a run at the Central division in 2011—as it likely means that Sale is the de facto closer vs. working on being a difference maker at the top of the rotation. Still just 21yo, the White Sox are unlikely to harm his development in any significant way, but this is a special arm that should be developed as such.

2) Dayan Viciedo, 3B (2010 Performance Scores – Power 75; Discipline 43; First Base Rate 28; Speed 34)

The scouting community continues to overlook the potential of Viciedo as a Major League bat. Only 21yo, Viciedo blasted 25 HRs in 343 AAA At Bats—finishing with a top ten Performance Score in the International League behind some very good hitters. More than that though, Viciedo posted an .840 OPS in 104 late season At Bats with the White Sox. This is a solid middle of the order Major League bat, with the potential for 35+ home runs, yet we were the only place that ranked Viciedo (#90) as a Top 100 talent last year and are almost surely to ranking him higher than most anyone else again this season.

The knock on Viciedo comes in two forms: 1) a 33:166 BB:K ratio thus far as a professional and 2) a lumbering build that makes Pedro Alvarez look sleek at third base. While we don’t expect Viciedo to ever become a patient hitter, his development curve is likely to produce reasonable BB:K numbers as he matures—remember he won’t turn 22yo until just before the 2011 season. As to the defense, the downside is that he is limited to a 1B/DH role, but the bat is special enough to make that acceptable. His arm is not a question at third base, so if he can continue to make strides on his conditioning and agility, the upside is that he becomes an adequate fielding, power-hitting third basemen—something that Brent Morel is unlikely to ever become. With the re-signing of Konerko and the addition of Adam Dunn, expect Viciedo to return to AAA to begin 2011. He may be the Sox most tradeable commodity should the need arise in-season. In any case, expect a bright offensive future from Viciedo.

Grade B+

3) Brent Morel, 3B (2010 – Power 55; Discipline 62; First Base Rate 51; Speed 45)

While, based on my earlier comments, it may sound like I am down on Morel; nothing could be further from the truth. We had Morel as the White Sox #4 prospect last season and he did nothing to disappoint in 2010, as the 23yo posted a top twenty Performance Score in the International League. Morel provides excellent third base defense and plus plate discipline skills. His contact skills rate as average. The problem lies in his power skills as we envision Morel’s upside to be very Joe Randa or Jeff Cirillo-ish. As we have mentioned before—‘ceiling’ trumps ‘floor’ and that would make Morel the #2 third base prospect in the organization—behind Viciedo. Fortunately for Randa—I mean Morel, Ozzie Guillen is a former shortstop who values defense and this team went into the 2010 season with Mark Teahan as their everyday thirdbaseman and played Omar Vizquel there heavily down the stretch. That translates into Morel having every opportunity to win the thirdbase job this spring. Compare him to the Marlins Matt Dominguez and we believe you will find similar hit skills—actually Dominguez has more potential with two years of development in hand, but Dominguez is a gold glove caliber defensive player—thereby providing a ceiling that matches the offensive risk. Morel’s defense is very good, but he is a high-floor prospect, whereby his glove will play in the Majors and his bat looks to be merely adequate at best.

Grade B

4) Jared Mitchell, CF

We were excited about Mitchell’s potential heading into the 2010 season and felt that he had true five-tool potential with a vast ‘ceiling’. That said, we expected his development curve to be somewhat slow—due to the fact that he was a two-sport college athlete. The White Sox had other ideas though and had visions of him opening the year in AA and, if the breaks went their way, patrolling the outfield in Cellular Field by September. But the breaks—namely a torn ankle tendon—went anything but their way and sidelined Mitchell for the entire season. Shaking off the rust in the Arizona Fall League, Mitchell looked extremely over-matched and now appears destined for the Carolina League to open 2011. Nothing that we said last year about Mitchell doesn’t still hold true today, but the development curve issue becomes bigger. Mitchell will be a 22yo in Hi-A to open the season and looks to be at least one and one-half years away from a Big League opportunity, meaning that he is likely to be nearly 24yo before he receives a legitimate shot. Still a huge boom or bust type prospect.

5) Eduardo Escobar, SS (2010 – Power 37; Discipline 59; First Base Rate 39; Speed 51)

While Escobar was on our radar screen last year (#13 White Sox prospect), he did not truly open eyes until his AZFL play this fall where he showed dazzling glove work and posted a top ten Performance Score. Escobar’s glove has never been in doubt, as he has good range, soft hands and a quick release. What has changed is a true breakout with the bat, as Escobar came into the season with a career .648 OPS and posted a .709 OPS as a 21yo between Hi-A and AA. With continued improvements at the plate, we can imagine a plus shortstop defender with an Omar Infante-esque bat. That is an above average Major Leaguer for the position. Expect Escobar to return to Birmingham to begin 2011 and he could be ready for a Major League job sometime in 2012.

6) Trayce Thompson, OF (2010 – Power 75; Discipline 26; First Base Rate 29; Speed 46)

Thompson remains more promise than production at this point, but we were adequately pleased with his injury-plagued 2010. Plus-power remains his top skill, but he combines that with average speed and solid outfield defense. The downside remains patience at the plate, as he whiffed 30% of the time in 2009 and now has done so 32% of the time as a pro. That said, he played in full-season ball as a 19yo and encouraging signs are there. What Thompson needs at this stage is time to develop. The White Sox should provide that by returning him to the South Atlantic League (SAL) in 2011. While he remains a considerable way off, his potential is as high as most anyone’s in the organization.

Grade B-

7) Jacob Petricka, RHP (2010 – Dominance 73; Control 63; HRrate 68; Stamina 64)

The White Sox selected Petricka in the second round last June—right about where his pre-draft ratings placed him. With a frame that could hold more weight, Petricka is likely to pitch in the mid-90s with his fastball. While he has potentially adequate secondary offerings that will allow the White Sox to try to develop him as a starter, his upside there is not as high as it would be coming out of the pen where he could excel toward the back of a Major League bullpen. That is not the type of profile that you would like to see quite this high on the list, but there is a reason why the White Sox are ranked at #30. Look for Petricka to open 2011 in the Carolina League.

8) Brandon Short, OF (2010 – Power 62; Discipline 52; First Base Rate 48; Speed 64)

It was a breakout season for Short, who entered the year as the organization’s #19 prospect. Short posted an .856 OPS in nearly 500 Carolina League (CAR) at bats, where he finished with the League’s #22 Performance Score. While he displayed average skills across the board in 2010, Short still lacks patience at the plate—something that is likely to be exploited at upper levels. Defensively he covers above average ground, but lacks arm-strength. This is his biggest potential negative, because he is unlikely to be able to stay in Centerfield as he matures and is unlikely to display typical corner outfield power. 2011 will be critical for Short, as his lack of patience will receive a real test at AA.

9) Andre Rienzo, RHP (2010 – Dominance 76; Control 53; HRrate 59; Stamina 70)

Despite this being the fourth year in the organization, it is the first year that Rienzo has made us believe that he was anything more than an oddity—namely being a Brazilian-born professional. His 125:32 K:BB ratio in 101 SAL innings was good enough to earn Rienzo a top twenty Performance Score in 2010—besting his #30 DSL ranking in 2008. Rienzo uses a low-mid 90s fastball to key a relatively well-developed three-pitch repertoire. He carries his velocity deep into games, and looks like a potential back of the rotation starter. While we don’t see a tremendously high-ceiling, Rienzo was a bright spot in 2010 for an organization that had few in its prospect ranks. Look for him to spend 2011 in the Carolina League.

10) Tyler Flowers, C (2010 – Power 72; Discipline 21; First Base Rate 41; Speed 38)

Little has changed in the way of our assessment of Flowers, except that another year has been removed from the calendar and the White Sox, through the Pierzynski signing, have indicated that they aren’t ready to turn over the everyday job to him. Flowers still has good power, and draws a fair amount of walks, but he also still strikes out way too often and is only marginal behind the plate. There are worst skill sets on display as Major League backstops, so we still expect Flowers to get a Big League shot, but we remain skeptical of Flower’s chances of Major League success. He will return to Charlotte to begin 2011.

11) Greg Infante, RP (2010 -Dominance 64; Control 40; HRrate 77; Stamina 25)

When your top 12 prospect list contains three probable bullpen arms, it speaks enormously of the quality of your organizational strength. That is where the White Sox find themselves as the final two names are both relievers. The White Sox used Infante exclusively out of the pen in 2010—for the first time, and he seems to have found a home, as he began the year in Hi-A and finished it in the Majors. An extreme groundball inducer, Infante pitches off of a mid-to-high 90s heater. His secondary offerings are nothing special and he can struggle with control at times, but he allowed no home runs in 65 innings of work in 2010. The White Sox have created opportunities in their 2011 bull pen, and it would not surprise us to see Infante become the 2011 version of Sergio Santos. This is not a player with an especially high upside, but he looks certain to have a Big League chance.

Grade C+

12) Addison Reed, RHP (2010 – Dominance 79; Control 69; HRrate 71; Stamina 32)

The White Sox selected Reed in the third round this past June and got decent value for the pick as Reed was one of the more accomplished college arms available—posting a top twenty Performance Score. The White Sox are said to be developing Reed as a starter, but we feel confident that if he is to reach the Majors, it will be in a bullpen role. The problem is that none of Reed’s raw stuff is spectacular. In the pen, he can deliver a mid-90s fastball that becomes a low 90s offering in a starting role. His curve is merely average, and his change would best be described as developing. In college he succeeded on guile, but he will need more than that to succeed in the pros. Our best guess is that he begins 2011 in the Kannapolis rotation.

Other Top 300 Candidates – You have got to be kidding me!

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Albert Pujols, Omar Infante and the 2011 Prospect Evaluations

How many Omar Infantes would it take to equal one Albert Pujols?

This year is sort of an anniversary for us. It was ten years ago this off-season that I developed what I called ‘Peak Performance Analysis’ and began incorporating it into my prospect evaluations. At the time it was a relatively crude system that used an ‘aging’ formula on normalized Minor League data to project a player’s performance over their 27, 28 and 29yo seasons. At the time, I was the lead writer for a now-defunct prospect website and one of my readers was starting a prospect web-site and published the entire 27yo projections for nearly 500 players using this formula. I have no idea if that site is still around, but I was having a discussion the other day that caused me to go back and look at that ten year old data.

As regular readers are aware, the foundational philosophy for our prospect analysis is the notion of what value a player is likely to produce over his career. While it isn’t quite this straightforward, the concept of expected career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is the metric we use to operationalize ‘value’. This is relevant, because the discussion I was having had to do with Albert Pujols and Omar Infante—both players that we rated higher than anyone else on our Top 300 list ten years ago (Diamond Futures’ Retrospective: Our 2001 Top 100). Essentially the discussion centered around these players of the same age and their relative trade values. If Albert Pujols is going to produce approximately 8.0 WAR in each of the next few seasons and Omar Infante is going to produce 2.0 WAR, then are four Omar Infantes equal to one Albert Pujols? Before I get to the discussion, remember that prior to the 2001 season, Pujols had just finished his 21yo season with 490 professional ABs and only 14 of them above A-ball…Infante had finished his 19yo season and had then amassed 404 ABs—with none above A-ball. Here were our age 27-29yo projections for them (with actual 27-29yo results for Pujols and 26-28yo results for Infante):

Albert Pujols
Age: 22
Rank: #9
AB – 1623 (1657)
R – 310 (323)
H – 537 (558)
2B – 130 (127)
3B – 6 (2)
HR – 111 (116)
RBI – 384 (354)
SB – 5 (25)
BB – 234 (318)
K – 200 (176)
AVG - .331 (.337)
OBP - .416 (.444)
SLG - .623 (.626)
OPS – 1.039 (1.069)
WAR – 26.8 (27.1)

Omar Infante
Age: 20
Rank: #79
AB – 1155 (991)
H – 181 (134)
2B – 55 (48)
3B – 6 (7)
HR – 13 (13)
RBI – 140 (114)
SB – 15 (9)
BB – 96 (70)
K – 152 (134)
AVG - .304 (.309)
OBP - .357 (.354)
SLG - .395 (.411)
OPS - .752 (.765)
WAR – 6.9 (5.8)

Both players, given their experience levels—and thereby the associated risk to achieve these projections—had similar beta values. While Infante is a bit light in the playing time component, it is quite probable that once his 26yo season is replaced with his 29yo season, after this upcoming year, that both of these projections will turn out to be remarkably accurate. But the key thing is that consistent 4:1 WAR ratio between the two players. Once again, are four Omar Infantes equal to one Albert Pujols?

Looking at the question in a different way, who was the better player Howard Johnson, with 225 HRs, two all-star appearances and three MVP top 10 finishes; or Mark Grudzielanik and his 90 career HRs? Career WAR values 25.0 to 24.3. How about Carlos Lee, with 331 HRs and four all-star appearances or Bernard Gilkey with 118 HRs and no all-star games? Career WAR values 20.5 to 21.4. Therein lies the problem with a WAR approach to prospect analysis. Our contention is that there exists no number of Omar Infantes that would ever be of equal value to Albert Pujols, because 'Pujols-like' upside can only be valued against players with similar upside—which are obviously extremely rare.

Despite being able to objectively quantify most every aspect of our prospect analysis, we still have not been able to satisfactorily develop a single objective measure of prospect value. While you can read about our approach here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions, in the end we objectively evaluate a player along two distinct dimensions—a player’s expected peak performance value and the certainty of them achieving it. Then we have to take these two objective measures and subjectively determine a value for the combination of the two. Without a lengthy discussion of vector analysis and vector magnitude the problem may not be entirely clear. However, where it relates to our prospect analysis is that we give more relative weight to a player’s upside than we do the certainty of them reaching it. In the end we produce a distribution of expected career WAR values, that lean more heavily to upside. So keep that in mind when you read our prospect rankings over the next two months. The other thing to keep in mind is that, as demonstrated above, we are very comfortable in projecting younger players at the lower levels of the minors. As you can see in this three part analysis of our last year rankings (How Did We Do? Trying to Make a Quantitative Assessment of a Subjective Topic ; How Did We Do? Trying to Make a Quantitative Assessment of a Subjective Topic (part II) ; How Did We Do? Trying to Make a Quantitative Assessment of a Subjective Topic (part III) ) it gives us a leg up on the competition. The result is that while you will read about players like Fabio Martinez-Mesa, Adrian Salcedo and Oswaldo Arcia in other places this year, we were already talking about them last year.

As to what you can expect in regards to our prospect lists, beginning tomorrow we will be posting approximately four teams per week. We will do this in reverse order of organizational strength—just like last year. So over the next two months, you will receive our team-by-team lists for all thirty teams, culminating with our top 300 list in mid-February. Our grading scale is unchanged. We begin with a list of over 5000 Minor League players and winnow that list down to the 2000 players or so that we truly consider to be legitimate Major League prospects. The top 1% of Minor League players earn a grade of ‘A’. The next 1% earn a grade of ‘A-‘ and the third 1% earn a ‘B+’. Prospects that fall in the 4th thru 6th percentile earn a grade of ‘B’ and the 7th thru 10th percentile earn a ‘B-‘.

There are some changes from last year. First, due to our compressed time frame this year, our focus is on the Prospect eGuide (more on the guide in the coming weeks). On the site, you will get write-ups for the top twelve prospects for each team plus a listing of any other players that are considerations for the top 300 list. You will have to purchase the eGuide for more in-depth analysis. Second, we are adding more retrospective analysis on each team’s prospect ‘risers’ and ‘fallers’ from last year’s list. Finally, although you will have to purchase the guide to really take advantage of it, one of the biggest changes to the guide this year is some new metrics that we have developed on ‘organizational’ performance. We hope you will enjoy the content.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What You Can Expect Over the Next Two Months

Just a quick update. We are finishing up our player career trajectories and ranking the organizational values. Once that is complete (Tuesday or Wednesday), we will begin our team-by-team prospect analysis. The Prospect e-Guide is on track for an early February release and it will have a few interesting twists this year that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else.

Beginning next week (the week of December 20th), we will begin posting, in reverse organizational strength, approximately 4-5 teams per week over the following seven weeks. This puts us on target for a release of our Top 300 prospects (for those of you who don’t buy the guide) around the middle of February.