Sunday, February 26, 2006

What's a prospect?

Sorry for the short delay in posting - I've been embroiled in a long debate about Yuniesky Betancourt here, here and here.
Dr. Detecto views Betancourt as a premium, Grade A prospect *with the bat* - and points, strangely, to his MLB trial as evidence for this. I believe, based on seeing him play, and based on his contact ability, that he'll be an all-star at his peak. Much of his value will derive from his defense, of course, but I think he'll put up a few years in the .295/.330/.440 range, and that's plenty good enough for an all-star spot. He may not take a walk - and that's going to limit his offensive potential - but he won't be hurting the M's at all. In some parts of the M's blogosphere, this is taken as skepticism or even pessimism.
But the discussion also brought up the nature, the essential qualities, of baseball prospects. It's a tough call, and you can see two very different approaches at work in the top prospect rankings from Baseball America and John Sickels. No matter if you're a 'tools' or 'performance' type prospect guy, the M's system is sort of a strange one. With the promotion of guys like Felix, Betancourt and Reed, they don't have a lot of guys that stand out - no matter what approach you use. The pitchers with the most pure talent (Fruto, Bazardo) often have blah minor league stats. The guy with some real success under his belt (Livingston) is viewed (by BA at least) as a smoke-and-mirrors guy who's luck will run out at either AAA or MLB.
After reading the rather negative assessments from BA and, to a degree, Sickels; and then reading the positive reviews from Dr. D, I'm even less sure what to think about the system. But since blogging is all about shooting one's mouth off, and since I kinda want to look back at this at the end of the year, I wanted to put up a list. Please note: I'm not an expert like this guy, or this guy (easily the most underrated M's blogger). I'm just someone with the keys to a blog, and I want to get some discussion going.

1: Adam Jones - CF; potential and tools finally translated into big-time performance in Inland Empire and then San Antonio. Maybe the M's knew what they were doing drafting this guy as a hitter.... early reports on his D at CF have been mixed, but everyone's agreed that the has the ability (and, importantly, the desire) to be an impact defender. Power potential is there too. I'm just hoping to see him in Tacoma around Aug./Sep.
2: Clint Nageotte - RHP; Mr. Slider has, if his 2005 is anything to go by, reinvented himself. A former FB/Slider power arm with problematic walk rates now seems to be a control artist who induces lots of ground balls. It's asking a lot of the Arizona Fall League stats to predict he'll continue putting up gaudy K/BB rates or even GB/FB rates, but it was one of the best bits of news concerning Nageotte since 2003 or so. No one will be inspected more closely in the early going than this guy... unless perhaps it's Jesse Foppert.
3: Jeff Clement - C; 2005 top draft pick put up a very nice first year in Everett and Wisconsin. His ability to hit for average was a nice surprise, and in part made up for a lack of power (don't get me wrong - 6 HRs in 110+ ABs is great, especially in Wisconsin, but that 30% of hits for extra bases will probably grow over time). He's right on track, and the M's are right to expect big things.
4: Asdrubal Cabrera - SS; of the M's myriad MI prospects, Cabrera's the guy who made The Leap in 2005. That's something of a surprise; he was always the guy with the defensive reputation, not the big bat potential like Tui, Yung-Chi Chen or even Oswaldo Navarro. Well, that's why they play the games. Cabrera put up a .270 Major League equivalent EqA in a tough offensive environment in the Midwest League. At 19, he got a well-earned promotion to the Cal League, and even a cup of coffee in Tacoma (and I can assure you, he's every bit as good with the glove as you've heard). He's clearly willing to learn, and that shows up in a surprisingly mature approach at the plate - check out his on-base skills at Wisconsin. One to watch.
5: Bobby Livingston - LHP; yeah, maybe he doesn't have the best pure stuff in the system (though that change-up really is something), and maybe he'll never be a top-of-the-rotation guy in the bigs, but I really think people are selling this guy short. There's got to be a place for a guy who goes out and wins, and who puts up a career K/BB rate of over 4. I think people would like him more if his antipodean doppleganger Travis Blackley hadn't crashed and burned, but I think that had a lot more to do with Blackley's shoulder injury than anything. I can't wait to see the Tacoma rotation this year.
6: Yorman Bazardo - RHP; Best name in baseball, with all apologies to Jetsy Extrano and Yuniesky Betancourt. He was rumored to have high-90s velocity while in the Marlins system, and that never showed up in his stats. He was good, but didn't really strike anyone out. His stats in the M's organization have been similar, though there are more and more reports that he's now primarily a 90-93-range pitcher, not 98 mph. That's not bad, and coupled with very good K/BB rates in the Venezuelan Summer League, I'm still bullish on his chances.
7: Shin-Soo Choo - OF; Probably the most disappointing season of any M's minor leaguer (though he's got lots of competition), Choo did a lot to make people question his prospect credentials. While he's still on all the lists, more and more people are scaling back their estimations of what he can become in the majors. He hit for almost no power in Tacoma, despite that memorable (and fluky) home run over the CF wall, and didn't hit for average either. even his defense looked suspect, though that seems to affect basically every OF prospect in the PCL. As an aside, I'm really starting to wonder what the hell is going on at Cheney that guys can look so utterly lost out there and then look decent in the Majors. Jeremy Reed looked like he was under the influence of powerful drugs out there, and so did Choo. That said, Choo still has that cannon arm, and I'm willing to look past one poor year. He's not the uberprospect he once was, and we need to scale back some expectations a bit, but he still could be a solid pro.
8: Wladimir Balentien - OF; Another candidate for most disappointing season, Wlad gets the nod over the third triumvir of disappointment, Matt Tuisasosopo, due to his impressive 2004 and playing at a higher level. Wlad's power potential is simply unrivaled in the M's system, and this type of player often does develop later, but he's going to have to do something about those K's. At some point, his inability to hit breaking balls is a fatal flaw, and not just a stage in his development. I don't think we're there yet, but he simply needs to get out of the Cal League next year.
9: Sebastian Boucher - OF; With all of the guys with tons of potential and so-so performance on the various lists (Tui, Wlad, Choo), I need to give a shout-out to a guy who put up a combined 900 OPS at Wisc. and Inland Empire. He's a college guy, and some say he was old for the Midwest league, but he wasn't that old for the Cal League, and put up a line of .352/.453/.474. Not a huge amount of power, but very solid OBP plus a 15/3 SB/CS mark means that this is a guy with some value. And hey, for those that talk about developmental versus actual age, this guy's canadian. I bet he's played fewer innings of organized baseball than guys four years his junior who come up through the dominican, or even the southern US. I'm really curious to see what he can do in the high-minors; another huge year like last year, and he'll shake that 'future fourth OF' tag once and for all.
10: Luis Valbuena - 2b; I really don't know much about him, but he did win the NWL MVP (edit: J points out that this is a straight-up lie. My bad. Just keeping you on your toes. Or something), right? There's always room for a middle infielder with power, and that's what Valbuena brings to the table. There's plenty of room for doubt - he's only played SS ball, he hit in the 260s, etc. But everyone seems to agree on his potential, and with 12 HRs in 270 ABs, why not?

OK, how wrong am I?


At 2/27/2006 6:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty much with you, 'cept the top three. Jones, Clement and then Nageott3. IMHO.

At 2/27/2006 7:47 PM, Blogger Jay Y. said...

I have to say, it takes guts to go out and produce a top ten in baseball because there are so many factors involved tht most people aren't aware of, and so many players, many of which you don't get the opportunity to see first-hand, to keep track of throughout the whole mess.

It's not a bad list, you can make a case for all the guys on here, though my top two are pretty much Clement and Jones whenever anyone asks. Nags IS being underrated by most right now, as is Valbuena, who DIDN'T win league MVP, by the way. I think the Castro comps are overblown, largley because Castro got injured so many times and that contributed to his fall, but that's evened out by the valid point of Everett Memorial being a bandbox. Choo, as well, to a lesser extent, given his rebound, and I think people are trying to play it safe with Boucher before declaring him to be Kenny Lofton-lite.

But Wlad, I have to argue against, even though he was one of my favorites of yesteryear. I've been hearing some people agreeing with my conclusion that he was having difficulty recognizing pitches, and that worries me. I'd probably stick with the BA assessment and say he's one of the more talented guys left off the top ten, but I didn't see him adapt quite as well as he has before and there was a good stretch at the end where the pitchers were killing him.

Overall, your list seems to make a few choices based on this season's performance, which would explain the absence of Snelling and Tui. It could end up that those you chose instead end up making a top ten at some point, but even though I'm not a card-carrying member of the Doyle fan club, and Tui's season was a little disappointing for me, I have to keep them both in my top ten because their ceiling is a bit higher (so, same basic list, minus Valbuena, Balentien, and Boucher, plus Snelling, Tui, and Rob Johnson).

But thanks for adding to the dialogue, along with the kind words for my work earlier in the post.

At 2/27/2006 8:41 PM, Blogger marc w. said...

Thanks for your views, RD and J.
I can see putting Clement over Nageotte - hell, everyone else is doing it! I think I'm a bit more concerned than most about Catching Prospect Fatigue syndrome. Clement had a good, but not exactly Saltalamacchia-esque year. He's right on track, and his contact skills are better than I'd thought. But this is a very polished college hitter who did most of his damage in the Midwest league. Does that mean I'm reading waaay too much into the AFL stats for Clint? yeah, probably, but I still think Clint's got at least as good a chance to be an impact player with the big club as Clement. He's clearly got more of a chance to contribute right away.

Wlad: yeah, it's either him or Tui that engenders the most debate. My argument is that Tui, while he has all the physical tools in the world, has yet to do anything - at all- outside of Rookie league. He's had 1.5 seasons to hit either NWL or MWL pitching, and he hasn't. I still think he'll figure things out eventually, though I'm just not sure about his peak power potential. He can hit a FB a mile, but can he react to 'mistake' offspeed stuff and turn on it? Not yet. I'm just a little wary of giving a lot of credit to toolsy guys who were drafted highly who haven't done as much as some other guys.
Wlad clearly didn't adapt, but when a guy this raw can still hit .291 (albeit in the most entertainingly offensive environment this side of the Chapelle show), he's not exactly running into a wall. He did that in a repeat year, true... but he's still done nothing worse than guys like Carlos Beltran, Miggy Ordonez - a lot of raw, power OFs take a long time to 'figure out' pro pitching. Am I guilty of cherry-picking these comps because I want him to succeed? Yep.
I chose to ignore snelling because of MLB service time, not because he doesn't belong here. Clearly, he's a top five talent, but you've got to draw the line somewhere - I kinda wanted to plug George Sherrill too, but he really can't be a prospect any more than Snelling can (or Morse, or Betancourt, etc.).
Rob Johnson was my #11. I love that guy. With all the talk about most disappointing seasons, I wanted to talk about the greatest WTF year in the M's system. Given that he really hasn't played a lot of catcher in organized baseball, this was even more impressive. I'll definitely be keeping my eye on him.

Thanks for taking a look!

At 2/27/2006 10:07 PM, Blogger Jay Y. said...


I chalk up some of Clement's year to the fact that we didn't bring him in immediately. As good as he is, he was a little rusty and had been taking batting practice off his dad the previous weeks before signing. He could have an excellent year in full-season ball, but once he got rolling in the Midwest... wow.

And Tui... well, like a lot of prospect evaltuators, I had to reinterpret what exactly treading water in the Midwest League means as a teenager in light of the breakouts of Wood, Jones, and others. Tui's ratios are near identical to what Jones had coming into his breakout season, and I think that's a good indicator for his future success. Wlad, meanwhile, already had enough Ks to be a concern and didn't show as much development over the course of '04 as I would've liked. When he was in Peoria and the VSL, he would improve his act as the season went on and start taking walks in the bunches while striking out less. Now, it's looking more like pitchers were afraid to throw to him than Wlad having a sound approach at the plate.

Y'know, Sherrill is technically still rookie eligible...

At 2/28/2006 10:28 AM, Blogger marc w. said...

Oooh, Sherrill for ROY!
What are the odds that he has this Jeff Zimmermanesque year that comes 'out of nowhere' to the 99% of baseball fans who've never heard of this guy? I'm an optimist, so I'll say 50/50. If he's used the way the rangers used Zimmerman, he'll make some noise.

Wlad...I guess I'm reading a lot into a certain idea of who he might become and who his comparables are. Still, check out Mike Cameron's K rates in the minors, particularly his first stop in Birmingham. Yes, Cammy had OBP skills that mitigated the 'damage' of his Ks, but they still might be good comps - it took Cameron a looong time to become a productive hitter, but he did. I'm not willing to write off Wlad yet - especially after he actually DID hit for power in the MWL. If we're going to give Tui the benefit of the doubt, then I think we kinda have to do the same for Wlad. And again, even though he did disappoint a bit, he put up a 900OPS. In this system, that stands out.
The MWL is really, really hard to get a read on. It's certainly the reason I've got AsCab so high - if you put up a break-out season *there* (and not the Cal League), then that means something.


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