Saturday, January 16, 2010
Yankees’ Top Prospects: 1-5
First, I guess I should introduce myself. As should be obvious, my name is Kyle, I’m currently stuck in Arizona until I finish college, and—as is appropriate for this site—I am a stat-geek. SG and I had talked about me contributing some minor league stuff to the site, but it took a while for it to actually happen—and I’ve been procrastinating during my break between semesters.
I figured I’d start off with a completely unoriginal top prospect list, because I don’t think you are allowed to blog about prospects in the offseason without doing one. I’m going to focus on stats a lot more than publications like Baseball America, Pinstripes Plus, etc., but that’s because they already do far better work than I could with scouting. I do try to use a mix of both scouting and statistics when judging a prospect, and tend to agree with Theo Epstein’s view:
“For players in the rookie leagues and the lower levels, we focus more on traditional scoutings and tools. As the player rises through the minors, we shift our emphasis towards performance and statistical evaluation. When a player reaches AA, we balance these two schools of evaluation 50-50… and it more or less remains that way.”
Part of the problem with using minor league statistics is they’re often not put in a proper context. Not only is there a difference in parks, but you also have leagues that are wildly different from each other, even at the same level. Thanks to Baseball-Reference for the minor league stats—both league and player—and Dan Szymborski for the park multipliers, I was able to put together a spreadsheet that calculates OPS+, ERA+, and the league average for pretty much every league in the 2000’s.
Of course since they’re minor leaguers, how they got to their performance matters more than the value their performance was worth since we care about their major league potential (and trade value), not how many championships they bring to Charleston. I tend to be pessimistic on high-strikeout hitters, as I don’t believe most of them can support their on-contact numbers in the majors, nor do I think they’re likely to cut down significantly on their strikeouts as they move up the ladder and face tougher pitchers. For pitchers, of course I want to see strong numbers in the FIP components (SO, BB, HBP, HR, GB%), but I’m also wary of minor league pitchers that give up a high number of hits on balls in play as I believe guys that do so while showing strong SO, BB, and HR rates tend to have fringy stuff.
For all the players I rank I’ll post their stat lines from my spreadsheet. Anything highlighted in yellow is what the league average is for that year, league, and park. I don’t have any park factors for the foreign leagues or the Gulf Coast League in recent years, but every other level is park-adjusted. I’ll include a quick glossary on some stats you may not be familiar with at the end of this post.
Anyway, here we go:
1.) Jesus Montero, C, B/T: R/R, 6’5” 225lbs , signed in 2006 for $1.6M
Strengths: The bat. He’s received Manny Ramirez, Mike Piazza, Carlos Delgado, and Paul Konerko comps from Baseball America and John Sickels. Baseball America said he’s close to projecting as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale for both hitting and power. His career OPS+ in the minors is 159. In 2009 as a 19-year old, he had a 191 OPS+ in the FSL where the average hitter is 22 and a 166 OPS+ in the EL where the average hitter is 24. The only minor league hitter I might take over Montero is Jason Heyward, but both look like they could be middle-of-the-order, All-Star level hitters.
Weaknesses: Defense. He may have above average raw arm strength, but it hasn’t played up in games due to a slow release. For his career he’s given up 24 more SB than the average catcher, and has never been above average at any level. He did see his CS% jump from 12.5% in the FSL to 31.8% in the EL, so there’s some hope he’s improving, however, at least one scout in the EL wasn’t impressed:
“...but we had a scout in the EL tell us he got a 2.35 pop time on Montero there (the time from the ball hitting his mitt to getting to second base), which was the slowest time he’d seen in a Double-A game, so it’s hard to say it’s improvement.”
—Baseball America Chat
Of course this could have just been a particularly bad throw and/or game for Montero, and he reportedly showed much better times to 2B at other times. Montero is also a slow runner, which doesn’t matter a whole lot for a catcher, but it does make it less likely he could handle a move to the OF. The only weakness I can find with his hitting is that he doesn’t walk that often—7% compared to a league average of 9%. However, he can and does hit balls out of the strike zone with authority, and he rarely strikes out—especially for a power hitter—so it’s not much of a concern.
Path to The Big Leagues: Montero is set to start 2010 in AAA Scranton. As with all Yankees’ AAA catchers, he’ll get some practice in at 1B and 3B, although not necessarily in games. His bat is or is close to major league ready, and if Nick Johnson spends significant time on the DL, I would not be surprised to see Montero fill-in. The biggest question long-term of course, is what position he plays. 1B isn’t really an option with the Yankees (if he’s traded I’d expect him to move to 1B right away), and his speed makes a move to the OF unlikely, although I hope the Yankees at least try him there if he can’t stick at catcher. RF in Yankee Stadium isn’t that big, and his arm should play there. On the Yankees, it’s really a matter of how bad of defense they can tolerate at catcher. Mike Piazza was -61 runs at catcher over his entire career according to Total Zone while his position value was 83 runs, so if Montero can play defense as well as Piazza, I’d probably keep him there as long as he can hold up.
Even if he’s not a full-time catcher, catching around 30-40 games, playing 1B another 10-15, and DH’ing the rest of the time would still open up some opportunities with roster construction, and I don’t think anyone will be too upset that he’s not a full-time catcher if he really does end up as a Manny or Delgado level bat.
2.) Austin Romine, C, B/T: R/R, 6’2” 210lbs, drafted 30th in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft, signed for $500K
Strengths: Romine has shown good contact skills to go along with plus power potential. As a 20-year old in the FSL, he put up a 124 OPS+ while making contact in over 82% of his ABs. Despite a low success rate, his 11 SB is impressive for a catcher. He has a strong arm and threw out 30% of would-be-basestealers in 2009 (essentially league average), a dramatic improvement on the 20% he threw out in 2008. Scouts believe he has the tools necessary to remain at catcher, however, and Yankees pitchers do not focus on holding runners at that level.
Weaknesses: Romine does a lot of good things when he swings the bat, the problem is he needs to learn when not to swing as well. He walked in only 5.7% of his PAs in 2009, essentially unchanged from the 5.8% he walked in 2008. It wouldn’t concern me as much but he also saw his contact% go down in 2009, and you never want to see a hitter’s BB/SO ratio decline. Luckily, he plays the position with the lowest offensive demands, but he’s still going to need to show he can control the strikezone if he’s going to be an everyday player. Defensively, he’s still a bit rough, and needs to improve his receiving, blocking pitches in the dirt, and cut down on his throwing errors. He just turned 21 so he has plenty of time to improve here, and still projects as at least average on defense.
Path to The Big Leagues: Romine will start 2010 in AA Trenton, and should be the everyday catcher for the whole season for the first time in his career—he and Montero alternated between catcher and DH before Montero’s promotion to AA last year. He’s more likely to be the Yankees’ long-term catcher than Montero, but is less likely to see the majors in 2010. His bat isn’t good enough to fill-in at DH, and I can’t see the Yankees using him as a backup catcher and possibly delaying his development if Cervelli were to get hurt. He still has plenty to work on offensively, and needs to smooth out the edges on defense. If he can develop better plate discipline to go along with his plus power, he could be an everyday catcher and perhaps even occasional all-star. If not, he still could be a good backup catcher with some pop.
Grade: B, borderline B+
And now, for the other three guys.
3.) Manny Banuelos, SP, B/T: L/L, 5’10” 155lbs
Strengths: Banuelos constantly gets praised for his command and poise on the mound at such a young age. Only 18-years old, he spent almost all of 2009 in full-season A ball, where he put up an ERA+ of 132 with nearly a strikeout per inning and only 2.33 BB/9. His fastball can reach 94-95, although is usually high 80’s to low 90’s, and both his changeup and curveball project as average pitches, the changeup perhaps above average.
Weaknesses: Since Manny is so small, scouts don’t expect him to add much velocity as he ages. This would likely limit his ceiling to a mid-rotation starter, even if his curveball improves as expected. Despite above average walk rates, he threw 13 WP last year and hit 9 batters. Both marks were slightly below average, and something he’ll need to improve on as he moves up the ladder if he wants to reach his ceiling—better defensive catchers should help with the former at least. His GB% was 43 last year, which is about neutral, but it’s something to keep in mind if he relies heavily on his changeup.
Path to The Big Leagues: Banuelos will start 2010 in high-A Tampa at only 19-years old. He could conceivably get a shot at the big leagues by age 20, but there should be no rush and even if he spends a full season at each level, he’d be ready for the majors by 22. It will be interesting to see if he does add any velocity as he fills out; all the sources I’ve seen have him listed at only 155lbs., and even at 5’10” he has plenty of room to add muscle. He was called up to Tampa at the end of last season for their playoff run, and his 18 SO/9, INF SO/BB, and GB% of 100 surely points to him being the Mexican Sandy Koufax once he reaches the majors.
4.) Zach McAllister, SP, B/T: R/R, 6’6” 230lbs, drafted 28th in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft, signed for $368K
Strengths: McAllister has great command, good movement on his fastball, an above average to plus slider, and can throw all four of his pitches for strikes. He put up a 157 ERA+ in 121 IP in AA Trenton last year, which is actually his worst ERA+ in a full-season league. He gets a good number of GB, rarely hits a batter or throws a wild pitch, doesn’t give up many HR, and has an average strikeout rate.
Weaknesses: McAllister doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and will have to be precise with his location to succeed in the majors. His GB% has declined gradually as he’s moved up the ladder, and he won’t get the strikeouts to make up for a high HR rate if this continues. Both his changeup and curveball are fringy, and he has below average velocity on his fastball. He gives up a high number of unearned runs—likely due to being a GB pitcher—so his career RA+ of 125 (FIP+ is 124) is a better representation of his production than the 132 ERA+. McAllister also missed time in 2009 with a sore shoulder, although no surgery was needed and he ended the year healthy.
Path to The Big Leagues: McAllister will start 2010 in AAA Scranton, and may be the first starter in line for a promotion. He pitches better against RHB than LHB, but has done a nice job with his slider against lefties to get more strikeouts. Assuming both Hughes and Joba are in the majors to start the year, he may get a spot start as soon as a starter gets injured, since Cashman has said they don’t want to move either of them from the pen to starting in-season. If he stays healthy, productive, and a Yankee, I’d expect him to open up 2011 in Chad Gaudin’s spot. As long as he can maintain his GB rates, he could end up as a good #4 or #5.
5.) Slade Heathcott, CF, B/T: L/L, 6’1” 190lbs, drafted 29th in the 1st round of the 2009 draft, signed for $2.2M
Strengths: Slade is a potential five-tool CF with almost unlimited upside. He pitched in high school, and if he doesn’t make it as a position player could always be tried as a reliever where he’s flashed a fastball that’s reached the mid 90’s.
Weaknesses: He only has 11 professional PA, and was plagued by injury problems his last year of high school.
Path to The Big Leagues: I would not be surprised to see Heathcott rank anywhere from #1 to #20 among Yankees prospects next year. He’s at least 3 years away from the majors, and likely more, but if he can fulfill his potential, he could be ready just as Granderson’s contract is up. I loved this pick when it was made, but there’s really nothing else to be said until we see how he handles Charleston in 2010.
If anyone wants to see his stats, I’ll post them, but they’re less than useless.
I’ll try and get 6-10 done soon too, and if anyone wants the spreadsheet it’s here. You need excel 2007, and if you want to add players I haven’t yet, just send me a message through the site and I’ll give you instructions. I’ll update the spreadsheet again once the season starts so it will calculate in-season OPS+, ERA+, etc.
All the splits and GB rates in this post were from minor league splits.
Now for a quick explanation of some of the stats. All the adjusted stats take the percentage of PA (or BF for pitchers) that an event happened compared to the rate it happened in the league the player was in (park adjusted when possible). It then applies a league factor based on the rate it happened in that league compared to the rate it happened across all minor leagues in the 2000s and prorates it out to 650 PA (or 870 BF for starters and 325 for relievers). I may end up changing this so it only looks at the level the player was at, but just remember it’s more of a toy, especially for short-season leagues.
For advanced hitter’s stats:
AIR: just like on BR, think of it like OPS+, only for the leagues the player has played in compared to all the minor leagues in the 2000s. The Yankees farm clubs play in very pitcher friendly leagues.
BAoC (batting average on contact): H / (AB-SO+SF)
ISOD (isolated discipline): OBP-BA
SLGoC (slugging on contact): TB / (AB-SO+SF)
XBH%: XBH / H
SBR: SB / (1B+BB+HBP-IBB)
3B%: 3B / (2B+3B)
SPD: 1-10, 5 is typically average. Uses the same formula that fangraphs does.
SECA (secondary average): (TB-H+SB-CS+BB) / AB
BR (batting runs): linear weights, out run value is variable to get league average to zero
BR650: batting runs per 650 PA
BRC: batting runs created
Advanced pitching stats:
AIR: similar to hitters, only using runs instead of OPS. Below 100 is still pitcher friendly, while above 100 is hitter friendly.
HR%: HR / (AB-SO), just trying to get percentage of BIP that go for HR
BF/IP (batters faced / innings pitched): to see how quickly a pitcher gets through an inning
UER% (unearned run percentage)
RA (run average)
RS (runs saved): lgR - R
RS200 (runs saved per 200 innings)
RA+: scaled just as ERA+, using RA instead
FIPRS (FIP runs saved)
FIP+: scaled just as ERA+, using FIP instead
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