Category Archives: Baseball

MLB’s Top 10 Prospects for 2018

Yesterday, mlb.com released its “Who will be the top 10 prospects a year from now” list. First, it’s important to define some criteria. To be considered as a “prospect”, the player must not have played in MLB. With that in mind, at best, I agree with only 2 of the 10 players on Callis’ list (Guerrero and Bichette), which is shown below, and with the highest level reached for each player in 2017 in parenthesis:

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (A+): Guerrero had a great year in combined low A and A+: 0.323 BA, 13 HRs, 76 RBIs in 119 games, with more walks than strikeouts. Defensively, he was solid, with only 15 errors. Many players his age commit double the amount of errors from the left side of the infield (see Bichette, Rodgers, below).
  2. Gleyber Torres (AAA): Gleyber missed most of 2017 with Tommy John surgery, and there’s no way I’d pick a player coming off a major injury as a top-10 prospect for the following year.
  3. Luis Robert (Rookie level): It’s difficult to make accurate predictions on players like Robert, who have a small sample size: 28 career games at the rookie-ball level.
  4. Bo Bichette Jr. (A+): Like his teammate with the Blue Jays, Vlad Jr., Bichette had a monster year between combined low A and A+: 0.362 BA, 13 HRs, 74 RBIs in 110 games. In low A, Bichette flirted with hitting 0.400 for much of his 70 games prior to his call-up to A+. In contrast, he struggled at bit towards the end of the season, batting only 0.250 over the last 21 games. In terms of defense, Bichette made 21 errors in 86 games at SS, which projects to 40 errors over a full 162 game season, and is way too much. While Bichette’s offensive capability may be hard to match, I’d like to see how he handles AA-level pitching, and improve his defensive skills.
  5. Fernando Tatis Jr. (AA): Superficially, Tatis had a strong year: 0.275 BA, 22 HRs, 75 RBIs, 32 steals between low A and AA (14 games). But of concern is Tatis’ ability to make contact: he’s K’d 198 times in 186 games throughout his minor league career. Considering the struggle of players like Yoan Moncada with similarly high minor league strikeout rates in adjusting to MLB pitching, Tatis may have a tougher time handling higher-level pitching. Also, his defense has much room for improvement, with 45 errors at SS in 154 games.
  6. Brendan Rodgers (AA): Brendan Rodgers began the year at high-A on fire, batting 0.387 with 12 HRs and 47 RBIs in 51 games. He cooled a bit after being promoted to AA, and missed some time to injury. Similar to Bichette and Tatis, Rodgers has been error prone at SS, with 45 errors in 165 career games. Also, assuming a great year at AA/AAA for Rodgers in 2018, where will be play? The Rockies have Arenado at 3B, Story at SS, and LeMahieu at 2B, effectively blocking Rodgers’ promotion.
  7. MacKenzie Gore (Rookie level): Gore’s performance in the Rookie league was dominant, with a 1.27 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 34 K’s with only 7 BBs in 21 IP. However, many prospects have dominated Rookie ball only to fizzle in the upper levels. Again, this is too small of a sample size for me to make a prediction.
  8. Hunter Greene (Rookie level): #2 overall 2017 pick Hunter Greene did not fare well in his 7 games as a hitter (0.233 BA) or in his 3 games as a pitcher (12.46 ERA). While Greene will probably develop into a top-notch player, predictions about his 2018 production are difficult based on his small 2017 sample size. Also, when considering many MLB teams limit their pitcher’s IP (especially for newly drafted high school players) in the first 2 years post-draft, I don’t expect Greene to pitch more than 100 IP in 2018.
  9. Forrest Whitley (AA): Whitley was the 17th overall pick in the 2016 draft. As I mentioned earlier, many MLB teams start their newly-drafted high school pitchers out slow, with IP limits in their first couple of years. This is true for Whitley, who is being used as a starter, but threw 19 IP post-draft in 2016, and 92 IP in 2017. Whether Whitley can be stretched to 140+ in 2018 is unknown. Moreover, his relatively high BB rate in 2016 (more than 3 per 9 IP) makes me wonder how dominant he’ll be against upper level hitting. For ex., pitchers like Tyler Glasnow can dominate the minor leagues with high BB-rates, but struggle against more selective MLB hitters.
  10. Juan Soto (A-): Soto’s career stats are outstanding, with a 0.362 BA, 8 HRs, 50 RBIs, and great plate discipline (29 BBs, 38Ks) over 83 games. However, whether he can replicate his performance for a full 135 game minor league season and at higher minor league levels is unknown.

In contrast to the many lower-level players on mlb.com’s list, I prefer to identify prospects who have demonstrated above-average success at levels higher than Rookie-level ball. So which players are on my top 10 prospect list for 2018? Interestingly, I expect that 7 or 8 (or more) will make their MLB debut in 2018!

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (A+): Vlad Jr.s inclusion on my list is a no-brainer. Power, RBIs, high batting average and OBA, plate discipline (high BBs, low Ks), and solid defense collectively put him #1.
  2. Triston McKenzie (A+): The Indians have 3 players on my list (McKenzie, Bieber, Civale), and could’ve had 4, as Francisco Mejia was called up from AA-a scary thought considering they’re already playoff bound. McKenzie may be the most dominant pitcher in all of minor league baseball. He went 12-6 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 186 Ks (45 BBs) in 143 IP. The question is, however, can he throw 150 IP+ again, as he broke 100 IP for the first time since being drafted in 2015, and keep the BB-rate low as he ascends to AA and beyond?
  3. Mike Soroka (AA): Forget about Newcomb and Sims, Braves fans, Mike Soroka will probably be your #1 pitcher very soon! Soroka was also drafted in 2015, and in 2017 went 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, and 125 K’s (34 BBs), in 153 IP. The ability of a young pitcher to consistently throw more than 140 IP in the minors should allow them to reach 200 IP relatively quickly in the majors, and he’s already thrown more than 140 IP twice. I expect Soroka to be in Atlanta’s rotation sometime in 2018. Interestingly, Soroka’s team was not very good, as it only won 58 games (80 losses), but yet Soroka still had a winning record.
  4. Shane Bieber (AA): Speaking about innings eaters, Shane Bieber, drafted in 2016 by the Indians threw 173 IP in 2017, and 159 IP in 2016, when combining his college and minors stats. In 2017, Bieber was 11-5 with a 2.86 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, 162 K’s and only walked 10 hitters all year! Assuming he pitches well at AAA, Bieber can easily make the jump to 200 IP as a MLB starter.
  5. Aaron Civale (A+): The 3rd Indians starter on my prospect list is Aaron Civale. Drafted in 2016, Civale is also an innings eater with great control, throwing 164 IP and walking only 14, and was 13-6 with a 3.28 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and 142 K’s in 2017. This was the 2nd time Civale has thrown more than 150 IP, as he threw 152 IP in 2016, when combining his college and minors stats.
  6. Alex Wells (A-): My prospect theme of throwing a low of innings with great control continues with Alex Wells, who signed in 2016 after going undrafted. In his first full year in the minors, he threw 140 IP, going 11-5 with a 2.38 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP, 122 K’s and only 10 BBs. Whether Wells can break 140 IP again going forward is unknown, so let’s see how he does in 2018.
  7. Yohnny Chirinos (AAA): Perhaps the closest of the prospects on my list to reaching MLB is Chirinos, who has dominated throughout his minors career: 36-17, 2.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 363 K’s and only 74 BBs in 474 career minors innings. In 2016, he threw 128 IP, and 168 IP in 2017, making a jump to 200+ likely next year with the Rays. In fact, I’m surprised they haven’t called him up already!
  8. Tom Eschelman (AAA): Probably the 2nd closest to reaching the majors is Eschelman, but it may be a while, considering how long it took the Phillies to call up Hoskins. Including his college stats, Eshelman has averaged 132 IP per year for the past 5 years, making it likely for him to be easily stretched out to reach high IP in the majors. In terms of production, in 2017, in 121 IP Eshelman was 10-3 with a 2.23 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 80 K’s and only 13 BBs. I’d be shocked if Eshelman doesn’t make the Phillies starting rotation out of spring training in 2018.
  9. Eloy Jiminez (AA): Eloy Jiminez was traded by the Cubs to the White Sox for Jose Quintana and is a player who potentially has the best power/RBI potential in the minors. Based on data for 300 minor league games, Jiminez has averaged 23 HRs and 111 RBIs, when projected over a full 162 game season. And don’t worry, he won’t strike out like Gallo or Judge-his 0.302 career BA and 4.75 Abs per K suggest otherwise. The issue with Jiminez is his health, missing 20 and ~40 games in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
  10. Jon Duplantier (A+): Last, but not least, is Jon Duplantier, the Diamondbacks 3rd round pick in 2016. In 2017, Duplantier’s 1st full minor league season, he went 12-3 with a 1.39 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP, and 165 K’s (42 BBs) in 136 IP. In Duplantier’s last college season, he threw 111 IP and had a relatively high walk rate, 3.81. So the issues for him going forward are, can he break 150 IP, and, keep the BB-rate low as he ascends?
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Jesse Hahn should not be a starting pitcher!

Billy Beane has great success in finding under-valued talent. However, why is Jesse Hahn being used as a starting pitcher? Shown below are his pitching data, including college, the minors and majors.

hahn

What we see is that Hahn has been a starter for almost his entire career. However, his career high for innings pitched in 8 years was last year, totaling 115 innings. Do the A’s intend to get 150 innings out of Hahn as their #5 starter? That seems to be a best case scenario. Including college, Hahn has averaged 57 innings per year, including missing all of 2011. Take out 2011 and his yearly average is still only 66.3 innings! In a worst case scenario, Hahn may not last the full year. Based on these data, Hahn may be best suited for a relief role.

https://twitter.com/mike_lustgarten

Stats via thebaseballcube.com

Kyle Schwarber may be the next big-time Cubs prospect to be promoted

Update: Schwarber is still doing well at AA. Through 31 games, he has 7 HR and 20 RBI’s, and is also showing great plate discipline, with 22 BBs. However, he probably shouldn’t be promoted as a catcher-he has only stopped 7 base runners from stealing, while 34 have succeeded!

4/23/2015 Although he only has 4 RBI’s through 10 games in AA, Kyle Schwarber is playing well (.345/.513/1.030), and in my opinion will be promoted to AAA soon, and to MLB sometime this year. Here’s his MILB page: http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=656941#/career/R/hitting/2015/ALL

Steven Souza: Terrible Hitter or Great?

Involved in the Will Myers trade is Steven Souza. His 2014 stats at AAA, .350/.432/1.032, 75 RBI’s in 90 games are impressive. But, what I’d like to point out is that Souza was a terrible hitter from 2007-2011. In 444 games during that time, Souza hit .226 (347 hits in 1538 ABs), with walks and strike outs once for every 8.7 and 3.9 ABs, respectively. In contrast, from 2012-2014, in 278 games Souza hit .314, an almost unheard of 9 percent improvement in batting average. How did Souza do this? At least two factors are involved. Souza was able to strike out less, once every 4.9 ABs, while maintaining the same walk rate (1/8.8 ABs), thereby indicating that a better ability to make contact. Second, Souza played 3B/SS from 2007-2010, making lots of errors-92 in 249 games, which translates into 60 errors for a 162 game season! From 2012-2014, Souza played the outfield extensively, and, not having to think about errors in the infield may be a second reason for Souza’s improved success at the plate.

Stats obtained from: 
http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=souza-001ste