Breakout pitchers based on 'stuff'.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When forecasting pitchers, the numbers we see in box scores don't tell the whole story. As Yogi Berra may well have once said, you can observe a lot just by watching.
Play Fantasy Baseball
FLB You lose 100 percent of the leagues you don't join.
Play For Free on ESPN.com »
In an attempt to capture some of the insights one gains from scouting pitchers without relying on our own subjective judgments, my colleagues and I at Steamer built a model to project a pitcher's performance based on the velocity, movement and diversity of their pitches, as captured by PITCHf/x. This model, which attempts to measure a pitcher's "stuff," uses PITCHf/x data from BrooksBaseball.
Based on their 2013 pitches and the resulting "stuff" ratings, we expect the following pitchers to be better than they appear based on traditional statistics alone.
1. Danny Salazar, RHP | Cleveland Indians
Salazar was terrific in the 52 major league innings he threw this past summer, but this is the kind of small sample size we'd typically view with great skepticism. What the numbers don't reveal is that Salazar has "stuff" that's as good as that of any starter in the game, with a 96 mph four-seam fastball and a tremendous splitter.
His performances in Double- and Triple-A in 2013 further reinforce our belief in his dominance -- adjusted for league quality, those performances translate to a 2.74 MLB ERA. Finally, we can look at xxFIP, a metric designed by Chris Carruthers that is based on pitch-level data (swings, misses, foul balls and strikes looking) and has more predictive power than traditional statistics for pitchers with limited history.
According to xxFIP, Salazar's 2013 season was the best performance by any starting pitcher in the PITCHf/x era (since 2007, that is) who faced at least 200 batters. In short, based on the most granular numbers available, as well as his repertoire, we can't rule out the possibility that Salazar is the best pitcher in baseball right now. He might be about to show it.
2. Francisco Liriano, LHP | Pittsburgh Pirates
Liriano, last year's National League Comeback Player of the Year, has alternated between excellence and futility over the course of his career, and in cases like his, the best forecast is usually something in between. In Liriano's case, however, there's a clear connection between his "stuff" and his results; in seasons in which Liriano's fastball has averaged at least 93 mph, he's struck out better than one batter per inning.
If we keep an eye on Liriano's radar gun readings during his first two or three starts in 2014, we should have a better idea which Liriano we'll see this year. If he's throwing 93 mph, there's reason for more optimism than his stats alone would allow.
3. Charlie Morton, RHP | Pittsburgh Pirates
Morton allowed a mere six home runs in 116 innings last year. Success based largely on keeping the ball in the ballpark should typically be taken with a grain of salt, but not so in the case of Morton, whose tremendous sinker induced ground balls 63 percent of balls put in play last year, a mark that would have easily led the league if he had pitched enough innings to qualify.
Morton's "stuff" -- the quality of his sinker and the frequency with which he uses it -- suggests that we can expect his worm-killing ways to continue.
4. Homer Bailey, RHP | Cincinnati Reds
Bailey struck out 23 percent of the batters he faced last year, a significant jump from the 18 percent he'd struck out previously in his career. While it would generally be prudent to hedge your bets and to expect significant regression, there's reason for more optimism in Bailey's case.
He started throwing his four-seam fastball a full 1.5 mph faster last year and, over the last two seasons, has mixed his offerings more than he had in the past. Bailey's higher strikeout rate was commensurate with his "stuff," which was better than ever and ranked among the best in the game. Bailey has a chance to show that he's among the game's elite pitchers this year.
5. Zack Wheeler, RHP | New York Mets
Wheeler's "stuff" was among the best in baseball last year, but his strikeout-walk ratio (1.83) suggests that his pitching was not nearly as good. However, as Jeff Sullivan recently pointed out, there's an alternative explanation that leads to a stronger forecast. Wheeler was disproportionately hurt by a miserly strike zone last year, receiving 35 fewer strike calls than would be expected based on the locations of his pitches. This may have been due to John Buck's poor pitch framing, it might be a reflection of the umpire's reluctance to give borderline calls to a rookie pitcher with shaky command, or it might have simply been bad luck. In any case, it's unlikely to continue.
While 35 strikes might not sound like much, over 100 innings it's the difference between a pitcher with an average strike rate and one who struggles with control. Put another way, 35 lost strikes is equivalent to an extra four-tenths of a point in ERA over the 100 innings Wheeler threw.
6. Jeff Samardzija, RHP | Chicago Cubs
The Shark has excellent strikeout and walk numbers over the past two seasons, and has been held back only by allowing more than his share of home runs. This turns out to be good news, as allowing home runs typically has little predictive power.
Samardzija's hard sinker, along with his ground-ball rate, strongly suggests that home runs are unlikely to be a problem for him going forward, and his 95 mph four-seam fastball indicates that he's a good bet to maintain his high strikeout rates.
7. Yordano Ventura, RHP | Kansas City Royals
Ventura has the honor of having thrown the fastest recorded pitch by a starting pitcher in the PITCHf/x era, a blazing 101.9 mph. His fastball averaged 98 mph last season, and those few spring training fastballs that have been captured by PITCHf/x so far this year have averaged 98 mph as well.
He complements his four-seamer with a mix of curveballs, sinkers, changeups and cutters. Unlike Salazar, whose performance in both the minors and majors indicates that he's an ace, Ventura's numbers suggest that he's simply an average MLB starter. His "stuff" implies that he could be much more.
8. Nate Eovaldi, RHP | Miami Marlins
Despite his 96 mph fastball, Eovaldi had a below-average strikeout rate last year and succeeded primarily by avoiding home runs, a trend that's unlikely to persist. Both his walk rate and his strikeout rate are kept in check by his heavy and predictable reliance on his fastball -- a pitch he threw 86 percent of the time when he was behind in the count.
If he can learn to command as well as to trust his off-speed pitches, anything is possible and there's more upside here than Eovaldi's numbers suggest.
9. James Paxton, LHP | Seattle Mariners
Paxton's fastball averaged 94 mph last season, making him the hardest-throwing left-handed starter in baseball. All else equal, a left-handed starter can be expected to strike out roughly one more batter per nine innings than a right-handed pitcher who throws equally hard.
In fact, a lefty who throws 94 mph is akin to a right-handed pitcher throwing 96. Paxton's minor league numbers are underwhelming, equivalent to a 4.75 MLB ERA, but his "stuff" makes him worth monitoring.
10. Kevin Gausman, RHP | Baltimore Orioles
Look past the 5.66 ERA Gausman accrued over 47 2/3 innings split between starting and relief last year. Gausman's "stuff" insists that there's no limit to how good he might be, and his minor league numbers (the MLB equivalent of a 3.64 ERA) and his most granular MLB numbers (a 3.68 xxFIP) both suggest that he's a high-quality pitcher already.
Gausman has as good of a chance as anyone to be this year's Jose Fernandez, and should be considered one of favorites for the Rookie of the Year award.
Honorable mentions: Taijuan Walker, Carlos Martinez, Gerrit Cole and Garrett Richards.
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Duffy to the bullpen in KC?
March, 18, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
We have a winner in the competition for the job of fifth starter in Kansas City -- Yordano Ventura was declared the winner over Danny Duffy.
After Ventura threw six scoreless innings against the Rangers, Monday’s announcement was not a major surprise. But manager Ned Yost threw a bit of a curveball on what to do with Duffy, writes Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star.
It was originally believed that Duffy would best serve the club as a starter at Triple-A Omaha if he could not crack the big league rotation. But Yost now says Duffy will compete for the final spot in the big-league bullpen, making his first relief appearance on Wednesday.
All 31 of Duffy's big league appearances have come as a starter.
Francisley Bueno and Donnie Joseph look like the leading candidates for the final bullpen spot. They could end up being bumped by Duffy if he adapts well to a relief role.
Tags:Kansas City Royals, Danny Duffy
Hanrahan close to a deal?
March, 17, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
Joel Hanrahan, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and will not be available until late in the spring, could sign with a team “fairly soon,” tweets Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com.
According to Rosenthal, Hanrahan “is up to 90-92 mph in workouts, which could put him line to for an incentive-laden deal. The righthander pitched just 7 1/3 innings for the Red Sox last season before undergoing surgery in May.
Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reported last month that the Yankees were monitoring the former All-Star closer. The Yankees seem prepared to with David Robertson as their closer, but Hanrahan could provide some extra insurance.
Other teams are likely interested in a low-cost deal with Hanrahan, who is just 32 and has 100 career saves.
Cubs more open to dealing Samardzija?
March, 17, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
Among the more valuable trade chips in the Chicago Cubs' rebuilding efforts is righthander Jeff Samardzija, a free agent after 2015 who could bring back some of the top-shelf prospects that Theo Epstein covet.
Epstein and his staff shopped Samardzija in the offseason, but could they be more likely to pull the trigger now that several legitimate playoff contenders are dealing with serious rotation issues?
The Atlanta Braves have seen Kris Medlen and Brandon Beach go down with significant injuries in the Grapefruit League, and there is “some buzz in the scouting community that (they) might have an interest in the former Notre Dame wide receiver,” writes Nick Cafardo in Sunday’s Boston Globe.
That sounds quite bold given the Braves signed free agent Ervin Santana last week and gave up a relatively high draft pick.
A more plausible option is the Arizona Diamondbacks, who may have lost Patrick Corbin for the season with a torn elbow ligament. The D-backs unsuccessfully pursed Samardzija over the winter before signing free agent Bronson Arroyo and could be more willing to deal. The price for Samardjiza, however, may have gone up as well.
Bruce Levine of CBSChicago.com reports Samardzija will again be scouted by the D-backs.
According to Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com, the Cubs will try to trade Samadrzija, their Opening Day starter, if they can't sign him to a long-term deal.
Who backs up Flowers in Chicago?
March, 17, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura all but officially ordained Tyler Flowers as his No. 1 catcher on Sunday.
Flowers, who is hitting just .231 in Cactus League play, will open the season behind the plate Sunday "unless something drastically changes," which appears unlikely since neither of the remaining candidates -- Josh Phegly, Hector Gimenez, and Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto – have made a compelling case.
Ventura would not name a frontrunner for the backup job, adding to the speculation that the White Sox might be looking to deal.
Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish recently cited a source as saying there's "lots of trade interest" in catcher Francisco Cervelli of the New York Yankees. Cotillo says the White Sox were among the many teams monitoring Cervelli.
Cervelli has never been a regular in parts of six big league seasons, and would make a nice complement to Flowers.
Position battle: Rockies fifth starter
March, 17, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
The Colorado Rockies have been forced to do some mixing and matching after likely Opening Day starter Jhoulys Chacin suffered a right shoulder strain that will likely land him on the disabled list. It also has opened up a race for the fifth and final spot in the rotation, and the race is down to two:
Jordan Lyles, age 23, throws right
Franklin Morales, age 28, throws left
Lyles: The righthander who came over from Houston in the Dexter Fowler deal had a chance to separate himself in the race Sunday, but couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning. He was charged with three runs on five hits and walked two. The performance elavated Lyles' ERA from 1.13 to 2.92, but one very positive sign was seven groundouts, writes MLB.com’s Thomas Harding.
Morales: The 28-year-old, who owns a 3.97 ERA this spring, was used primarily out of the bullpen last season and struggled with his control (5.3 walks per nine innings).
Latest update: At the time of the deal with Houston, the Rockies thought Lyles needed more times in the minors after getting pounded with the Astros. But a strong spring training has the Rockies reconsidering their position, reports Troy Renck of the Denver Post.
Current leader: While it still may be too close to call, Morales’ ability to work out of the bullpen could work against him. Lyles is viewed only as a starter, which gives him the edge if the numbers stay similar.
Tags:Colorado Rockies, Franklin Morales, Jordan Lyles
Could D-backs deal for a pitcher?
March, 17, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
The Arizona Diamondbacks got the worst possible news regarding Patrick Corbin, who could be lost for the season after an MRI revealed a tear to the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
Corbin was scheduled to start on Opening Day in Australia against the Dodgers on Saturday, but will now get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews. Left-hander Wade Miley will start the opener.
Candidates for the open spot in the rotation include top prospect Archie Bradley, Randall Delgado or Josh Collmenter. The injury to Corbin increases the likelihood Bradley will play a “significant role” for the D-backs this season, writes our Buster Olney.
Both Delgado and Collmenter would have to be moved from bullpen roles.
The Diamondbacks have playoff aspirations and could look to deal for another starting pitcher. John Harper of the New York Daily News asks if the D-backs might be willing to trade one of their shortstops, Didi Gregorius or Chris Owings, to the New York Mets for a young pitcher such as Rafael Montero.
The Mets are reluctantly prepared to open the season with Ruben Tejada a shortstop and have been linked all winter to free agent Stephen Drew.
The odds of any deal with the Mets, however, seem far less likely after scheduled Opening Day starter Jon Niese left Sunday’s outing with elbow discomfort and could start the season on the disabled list.
The D-backs were very interested in Cubs righthander Jeff Samardzija during the offseason, and those talks could easily be renewed.
The Tigers Don’t Need Stephen Drew.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Over the last few years, we’ve seen several players with stalled markets become the beneficiary of an unexpected serious injury. Prince Fielder failed to generate interest at the price that he was asking until Victor Martinez blew out his knee and the Tigers suddenly had an opening in their line-up. Ervin Santana apparently wasn’t all that interested in playing in Baltimore or Toronto, so Kris Medlen‘s elbow problems led him to Atlanta. One team’s needs in November and December might not be the same as their needs in February or March, and while players who sign late generally get less money than players who sign early, needs can develop that increase demand for a player closer to Opening Day.
So, naturally, when news broke on Saturday that Jose Iglesias was going to miss at least four months and maybe the entire season, all eyes turned to Stephen Drew. He’s the only free agent SS of substance left on the market, a solid contributor who held down the position for the defending World Champs a year ago and would perhaps even be an upgrade over Iglesias for the 2014 season. Drew’s market has been essentially non-existent at the price that Scott Boras is asking for, but the Tigers make all kinds of sense for Drew.
They’re a contender with a sudden need for a shortstop, they pick towards the end of the first round, they’ve historically been willing to give up draft picks to sign free agents, and they’re a strong contender with a real shot at winning the World Series. Once Iglesias’ injury became known, the general assumption is that Drew would be in camp with the Tigers within a few days. Except the obvious fit isn’t such an obvious fit for Dave Dombrowski, who has reportedly suggested to local media that he will not pursue Drew as a replacement for Iglesias. And in this instance, I think he’s entirely correct: the Tigers do not need Stephen Drew.
This isn’t because I believe strongly in the value of Hernan Perez, Don Kelly, or Eugenio Suarez. The Tigers internal solutions for replacing Iglesias essentially define replacement level, as none of them should be expected to hit at all and none makes up for it with Iglesias-style defense. If pressed into action, they will look like utility players being asked to carry a load above their pay grade, and the Tigers will see a real drop-off in value at shortstop.
It isn’t a question of whether or not Drew is better than the Tigers’ existing options; he is, unquestionably. But adding Drew isn’t simply as easy as “he’s an upgrade, so let’s sign him”, because the marginal impact of adding Drew now versus waiting a few months to collect some information simply isn’t likely to move the Tigers odds of reaching the postseason much at all.
The math is the easy part. Drew projects as roughly a two win player for 2014, and would keep them around a forecast level of 90 wins, which is where they were pre-Iglesias injury; without either, they’re probably closer to an 88 win team. But the question the Tigers are asking isn’t really Drew versus full season performances of a replacement level player, or players. There’s no reason to think that signing Drew will be their only chance to upgrade the position this year, and even if teams aren’t selling shortstops before the All-Star break that often, the lost value between signing Drew now and waiting until the summer to evaluate their options is likely to cost them roughly one win.
At that point, they may still very well be able to sign Drew himself, and his cost of acquisition will come down once the draft pick compensation no longer attaches in mid-June. If the Tigers think that Boras is serious about holding Drew out until after the draft if he doesn’t get an offer to their liking, then it is quite possible that the Tigers could simply sign Drew for the final 3 1/2 months of the season without surrendering the 23rd pick in the draft, and the lost value that comes with not having him for April and May would be of little impact on the team’s overall expected record.
Or, other options may very well present themselves. The Tigers have not said that Iglesias is out for the year, and they should have a better understanding of his ability to return for the stretch run by mid-summer. If Iglesias’ legs heal, the need to acquire a full-time shortstop diminishes greatly, and they could simply turn towards acquiring a stop-gap type who would give them insurance in case Iglesias got hurt again. A guy like Cliff Pennington might be more useful than a guy like Drew if Iglesias looks like he could play again in 2014.
And even if Iglesias is out for the year, well, the Tigers still don’t really need Drew that badly. As we’ve noted before, no team has a larger cushion in their division than the Tigers in the AL Central; the Indians are projected as the second best AL Central team with an expected record of 83-79. The Royals, who are seen as an up-and-coming challenger, project as a .500 team, according to our calculations. Even knocking the Tigers down by a win or two, they’re still going to be the prohibitive favorites to win that division. The rest of their roster is so good that they can run away from Cleveland and Kansas City even with Hernan Perez starting at shortstop.
The Tigers shouldn’t go into August with Perez, Kelly, or Suarez as their regular SS for the stretch run, but not signing Drew now doesn’t mean that is the alternative. There will be shortstops available in trade this summer. Iglesias might be able to come back for the postseason. Drew could still be a free agent in a few months, only without the draft pick tax in place. The Tigers are not choosing between a full year of Drew and a full year of Scrubby McScrubberson. For right now, the choice is what they should pay for a shortstop for the next few months of the season. Given their cushion in the division and the limited marginal difference between a few months of an average player and a replacement level player, they can afford to sit around and collect more information.
It’s an unfortunate injury for Detroit, but they aren’t the Braves. They don’t need every last marginal upgrade in order to keep up with a team like Washington. The mediocrity of the AL Central gives them flexibility, and Dave Dombrowski is right to use it. If the kids can’t hack it, they can adjust, but there simply isn’t that much to lose by telling Drew that they may or may not have interest in a few months if he wants to wait until after the draft to sign.
Pitching Through Pain Rarely Works Out Well.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin suffered a partial tear to his ulnar collateral ligament over the weekend, and will almost certainly require Tommy John surgery. Obviously, that’s a big blow to Arizona’s playoff hopes — and, as with Matt Harvey last year and Stephen Strasburg before that, just a huge downer to any baseball fan who enjoys watching talented young pitching — but we’ll get back to that in a second. What really caught my eye about Corbin’s injury was this quote from the MLB.com story:
Corbin said he had been feeling tightness in his forearm through much of the spring and during his Saturday start, but the pain went to a next level with the final three of his 91 pitches in Saturday’s game. He said he felt “a little shock” but no pop in his elbow those last few pitches, and he decided to shut it down.
“It was just the same tightness I kind of had the first three starts, but nothing out of the ordinary,” Corbin said
That’s because Mets lefty Jon Niese said something similar after leaving Sunday’s game with what is being termed “elbow discomfort”…
“I told them I felt fine, but obviously they don’t want to take any chances,” Niese said, noting that he first felt discomfort in his elbow during an intrasquad game last week, which was his first game action since a bout of shoulder pain in late February.
…as did Dodgers prospect Ross Stripling earlier this month…
He first noticed something was wrong with his elbow early in spring training after pitching to former minor league teammate Joc Pederson during batting practice.
Stripling said the competition got the best of him and after he threw a series of cutters to Pederson, he felt a tearing sensation. He continued to pitch but his elbow felt sore the rest of the week. After an MRI exam, the Dodgers’ medical staff said surgery was necessary.
…and A’s starter Jarrod Parker, who has the dreaded “visit to Dr. Andrews” on his calendar:
The early days of spring weren’t bad, but the more he threw, the more he had trouble getting comfortable or even throwing without pain.
He tried to pitch through it, hoping things would clear up, but on Thursday’s side session, both pitching coach Curt Young and manager Bob Melvin noticed his struggles. Melvin called him into his office, and it was then that Parker admitted the pain was back.
Notice a pattern there? When the human body is asked to do something that it’s perhaps not built to do — say, repeatedly throwing a baseball at a high velocity thousands of times — and there are already clear warning signs, continuing to perform that same activity generally only continues to add stress, until the stress reaches such a point that the body can’t take it any longer. Something breaks. Seasons end.
And those are just in the last few weeks. If you delve into previous years, there’s undoubtedly dozens, if not hundreds, of similar examples of pitchers attempting to push through pain, only to find that the outcome wasn’t a positive one. Tony Cingrani hid a back injury last season, eventually landing on the disabled list when it worsened, or as he put it, “I really couldn’t even stand up any more.” In 2006, Eric Gagne tried to pitch through pain, and after it became clear something was wrong during spring training, he admitted to it and found that the damage was such that the valuable portion of his career was essentially over at age 30.
You get it, of course, and we don’t know for sure that the teams weren’t aware of any of this (though Parker’s and Stripling’s seem to be clear that their clubs did not). Professional athletes are groomed to be “warriors,” to “play through the pain,” to “leave it all out on the field,” or whatever other description works best for you. No one wants to be injured. You want to play, right up until the point where it’s absolutely not possible for you to do so. Some don’t want to be seen as being weak or risk their standing in the clubhouse by appearing too often in the trainer’s room, as this excerpt from former major leaguer Dirk Hayhurst‘s most recent book shows all too well. For a younger player, there’s the worry that the chance in front of them is the only one they might get, which Rockies pitcher Franklin Morales all but admitted to in 2008, when he hid a back injury all season long. Morales didn’t end up causing himself further injury, but he did hurt himself in another way — after a nice 2007 debut, he pitched so poorly in 2008 while hurting that he ended up spending most of the season in Triple-A. For Daniel Hudson, he kept elbow discomfort to himself because he was weeks away from completing a long rehab from Tommy John and was eager to return; he’s now currently attempting to rehab his second elbow operation.
Intuitively, this makes sense. There’s obviously a certain amount of ego that goes into being a professional athlete, that belief that you are the best at what you do, that you are indestructible. And as any athlete will tell you, there’s rarely a time where you feel 100 percent — there is always some sort of ache to work through over a long season. Objectively, however, you wonder how some of these injuries might have played out had they been dealt with immediately. If Stripling, for example, had stopped pitching when he first felt soreness, perhaps he might not have blown out his elbow. If he hadn’t continued to pitch for the remainder of the week after feeling “a tearing sensation,” it probably wouldn’t have prevented the Tommy John — it’s pretty easy to assume the damage was done by that point — but maybe he would’t have had to undergo a preliminary elbow surgery just to prepare for the Tommy John, because since he still hasn’t had the zipper done yet, his 2014 season isn’t just gone, his 2015 outlook is in peril too.
This isn’t limited to pitchers — there are similar examples among position players — but with the recent spate of pitching injuries this spring, with Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Cory Luebke, A.J. Griffin, and Joe Wieland all suffering serious arm trouble, we’ve been talking a lot about what can be done to keep pitchers healthier. Perhaps a good first step is attempting to improve the communication and the culture around being open with what a player is feeling internally. That certainly won’t solve every issue, because pitchers are always going to get hurt. Any pitch could be their last, and it doesn’t always come with a warning. But many do, and an atmosphere where it’s not necessarily seen as “weak” to disclose and report trouble might save arms in a way we could never really measure.
Back to Corbin, he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll have the surgery, and we also don’t know the exact sequence of events that he did or did not discuss with his training staff. But it definitely doesn’t sound promising for him, sadly, and with Bronson Arroyo having made only a single spring appearance while battling back trouble, this cascades down the Arizona rotation. Instead of having enough depth to send Archie Bradley to the minors to start the year, they now may need to rush him and start his clock. Instead of the 2-3 WAR Corbin was expected to provide, they now need Wade Miley to be more than he is, and to wonder if they’ll need to resort to Zeke Spruill or Bo Schultz or Alex Sanabia or Josh Collmenter in the rotation.
It’s bad for both Corbin and his Diamondbacks, who spent this winter in order to contend right now. The events of the last few days make that seem less likely. Mostly, it’s bad for baseball. No matter how you feel about Arizona, no one wants to see a pitcher coming off a breakout year go down, and with the number of injuries we’ve seen recently, it’s become more clear than ever that the next great breakthrough in baseball — the one that will be worth millions or even billions — will be the one that helps figure out how to preserve some of these arms. It’ll take work on both sides, though. The first step has to be honesty.
Jimmy Rollins and the Incentives of Vesting Options.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The news out of Phillies camp this week is that Ryne Sandberg and Jimmy Rollins were not on the same page. Despite being healthy, Rollins wasn’t in the line-up for four straight games, and Sandberg went out of his way to praise Freddy Galvis‘ energy. Suddenly, a pretty cut and dried starter/backup depth chart seems to be not quite so cut and dried.
In the end, this may turn out to be nothing. Perhaps Sandberg is just trying to motivate Rollins by letting him know that he’s not guaranteed a spot in the line-up everyday. Perhaps he was just resting an aging player in meaningless spring training games. Perhaps the team just wanted to see if Galvis could hit big league pitching, and the only way to get him those at-bats in March is to let him play the first few innings. But because of the structure of Rollins’ contract, it isn’t too hard to see that this could also be the groundwork for ensuring that 2014 is his last year in Philadelphia.
After the 2011 season, Rollins signed a three year extension with the Phillies that included a vesting option for the 2015 season. That $11 million option becomes guaranteed if Rollins gets either 600 plate appearances in 2014 or 1,100 plate appearances between 2013 and 2014 combined. Because Rollins is a durable guy, he racked up 666 PAs last year, meaning he’s now just 434 PAs away from that option becoming a guaranteed salary. Given his health track record, it is very likely that option will vest, and the Phillies will be on the hook for an additional $11 million for next year as well.
Unless, of course, Rollins just finds himself out of the line-up on a regular basis, even if he’s healthy. The Phillies would vehemently deny that they would ever make playing time decisions based on preventing an option from vesting, of course, but teams still deny that they hold players down in the minors until after the service time windows pass to get a year towards free agency and Super Two arbitration status as well. The reality is that, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the Phillies hold the power of deciding how much Rollins plays, and how much Rollins plays determines whether or not the Phillies have to pay him a salary that would likely be more than he could get on the open market for 2015. There’s a conflict there, even if team officials insist it doesn’t influence their decision.
And Rollins case is actually even a little trickier than just a traditional vesting option, because his contract stipulates that if the option does not vest, it converts into an $8 million team option or a $5 million player option. While $11 million for an aging Rollins might be a tough pill to swallow, an $8 million option for a player who can still start for most teams might actually be seen as a boon to his trade value. Or at least, it wouldn’t be a serious impediment, since even if an acquiring team didn’t want to pay the $8 million for 2015, his player option is only worth $5 million. It’s almost impossible to imagine that he’d be worth less than that on the open market, so if he falls short of 434 plate appearances, all the outcomes start to lean in favor of the team who controls his rights.
And there’s probably a pretty high likelihood that, come August, that team won’t be the Phillies. They’re unlikely contenders in 2014, and he’s the kind of guy that would be easiest to move and most desirable to other teams, given the short commitment and his ability to still play shortstop. In fact, if the Phillies anticipate trading Rollins at some point in 2014, not playing him everyday in the first half may do more to boost his trade value than letting him take the field.
If the Phillies made him share time with Galvis in the first half of the year, limiting him to a couple hundred plate appearances before the All-Star Break, then they could market Rollins as a potential regular for any team acquiring his services, since there would may not be enough time left in the season for Rollins’ option to vest, even if the new team returned him to his role as an everyday shortstop. In other words, the Phillies could depress his playing time in the first half to such a degree that they were essentially saving those plate appearances for any team looking to pick him up for the last two months of the season, while still keeping the option for 2015 from being guaranteed.
The Phillies can’t overtly put this plan into place. This is the kind of thing that would get the attention of the Players Association very quickly, and they’d be in for a legal fight if it was clear that they were benching Rollins for the primary purpose of keeping that option from vesting. But, with Galvis already getting praised for his energy and taking at-bats away from Rollins in spring training, the Phillies are creating a plausible scenario where Galvis could get starts at shortstop in the regular season without giving off the appearance that the decision has anything to do with contractual matters. And in reality, the gap between Rollins and Galvis isn’t so great that the Phillies wouldn’t be justified in giving the younger player a share of the at-bats.
Our depth charts projections give Rollins an expected .302 wOBA, while Galvis checks in at .281. Over the course of 600 plate appearances, a 20 point wOBA gap is about 10 runs. While Rollins has traditionally been a good defender, he is going to be 35 this year, and it’s not too difficult to make a case that Galvis is a better fielder at this point in their careers, and if Galvis is five runs better defensively than Rollins in 2014 — not a ridiculous assumption — then the gap between the two would be something like half a win over the entire season. In other words, transferring a few hundred PAs to Galvis from Rollins would likely have little tangible effect on the Phillies, and it’s not like they’d be intentionally making themselves much worse just to save a little money.
If the Phillies are as bad as our projections think, they’re likely going to be playing for the future by mid-May anyway, and a team that isn’t a likely contender shouldn’t be prioritizing fractions of a win over evaluating and developing future talent. Even putting the contract issues aside, the Phillies could be justified in playing Galvis over Rollins just because of their organizational place on the win curve. The contract issues just push the incentives even further in Galvis’ direction.
Of course, all of this will be denied, and the Phillies would say that no major league organization would ever let these factors influence their decision making. And maybe none of this ever materializes into anything, with Rollins going right back into the line-up and staying there all season. But it’s not crazy for the Phillies to want to play Freddy Galvis, especially because Rollins’ contract incentivizes them to do just that.
Brian Wilson Has Thought This Whole Thing Through.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Maybe you’ve seen the commercials and are tired of them. Maybe you didn’t like the gimp interview. Maybe you think the hair is ridiculous. That’s fine with Brian Wilson. There might be some ancillary benefits to the way he portrays himself on and off the field, but this is more about his work on the mound. Because, to him, the most important facet of pitching is confidence.
Take, for example, the knuckleball he threw the other day in a spring training game. Thanks to Grant Brisbee for the GIF:
I asked him if he was just screwing around. “I never [expletive] around, it’s an out pitch,” Wilson responded. That sort of seems ridiculous at first, given what you know about Wilson. It’s not.
You realize this a little more as you talk to him about his craft. Let’s say you talk about the cutter, which he’s gone to increasingly more often over the course of his career. It’s just the “opposite of a two-seamer,” the natural result of learning how to throw the ball “middle-finger dominant.” Does he throw it too much? “Is it any different than a lefty-handed specialist who comes in and throws slider after slider?” Wilson threw the cutter more than anyone not named Mariano Rivera last year, and he doesn’t have the platoon splits of a righty-only reliever. Does he do it with command? “Ask the hitters.” It’s confidence, is the sense you get.
Even with the knuckleball, the story is the same. He taught himself the knuckler — “everyone in this locker room has a knuckler” — and he’s not scared to throw it this year. “Why would you be scared? I don’t understand,” said the Dodgers reliever, “I’ve seen a lot of lot of home runs on 100 mph fastballs and a lot of people think that’s the best pitch on earth, I’ve seen Mariano give up runs and he’s got arguably the best pitch in the history of baseball.” Once again, there’s this lack of fear that’s pervasive in his image and his approach.
He’ll open up about it and specifically address the role of confidence, too. “If you’re not positive when you pitch, it doesn’t matter” how good you are, he says. Pitching is simple to Wilson: “You just need to be more confident than the hitter.”
Watch batting practice, and you’ll see batters pop up pitches that are 60 mph heaters. Wilson also points out that there have been many pitchers in baseball that have had marginal talent and played a lot of years — “they were more intelligent than the hitter.” They had no fear. “Most of the time you fail, you had fear,” Wilson says. “I don’t know the percentage of preparation, skillset, training, diet, mindset,” go into baseball, he continues, “but I do know that you have to have a brain in order to pitch — you can do all the other stuff physically, but if you don’t have determination behind it, then all the mechanical stuff goes out the window.”
It’s not an act in the way that some might fear. It’s not all bravado designed to make fans gravitate towards him, or to sell books or products or whatever. Not in the immediate sense. No, it’s more that Wilson is showing the confidence that he believes necessary to his job. Listen to him talk about the need to eradicate “I hope” from your mental lexicon: “You’re going to give up a home run if you think about not giving up a home run.”
Brian Wilson is acting confidently because he believes in the power of positive thinking, in effect. And that’s not crazy at all. Players that approach competition as a challenge rather than a threat have shown to be more successful, and the authors of the Mental Game of Baseball would also approve of his confident approach. Think positively, act confidently, even if it comes with a crazy haircut.
Ranking the Minor League Systems by Impact: #1-15.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
One of the many rites of the baseball offseason is the publication of minor league prospect and organizational rankings. It’s my turn to take a swipe at this process, and I’m going to take a little bit of a different tack. The organizations will be ranked from top to bottom, and a key word that you will see over and over again is “impact”. Each team’s inner core of impact prospects – those that project as likely above average major league regulars – will drive each team’s ranking, though the number of non-impact regulars and the system’s total number of viable future big leaguers will also play a role. Today, systems 1 through 15.
Below, each team will have a brief section, containing the following information:
- IMPACT – The number of impact prospects currently in the system, followed by their names in alpha order, with top-tier impact guys in ALL CAPS.
- Other 2013 Impact – A listing of other players on the team’s prior year impact prospect list, with the positive (in the majors) or negative (downgraded prospect status) reason they are no longer on the impact list.
- Strength/Weakness – Self explanatory
- Depth Ratio – The number of total viable MLB prospects in the organizations divided by the average number of viable prospects in a system.
- One I Like More – A prospect I like more than the industry consensus, and why.
- One I Like Less – A prospect I like less than the industry consensus, and why.
- Observation – One takeaway, big-picture thought on the organization at this moment in time.
A couple of words regarding the methodology used here – a combination of analytical and traditional scouting methods were utilized. A Top 10 or Top 30 organizational list approach can obscure the difference between very strong and very weak systems. Holding all players to the same age and performance thresholds enables one to more easily cut each system’s prospects into tiers. I have seen many of the players discussed below in person, but far from all of them. That’s where video, MILBtv, scouting reports and other forms of research come in. There’s also a healthy dose of gut feel. The older, professional players who never played in a team’s minor league system – the Masahiro Tanakas, the Jose Abreus, etc., were not included in this analysis. Enough of this……let’s get on with the rankings.
1 – Houston Astros
- IMPACT (
– RHP Mark Appel, SS CARLOS CORREA, 2B Delino DeShields, RHP Lance McCullers, RF DOMINGO SANTANA, 1B Jonathan Singleton, RHP Kyle Smith, CF George Springer
- Other 2013 Impact – None
- Strength/Weakness – Quality depth around the diamond, solid group of non-impact regular prospects, led by a group of RHPs fronted by Michael Feliz and Mike Foltynewicz, are right behind the impact guys. System is a bit light on quality LHP.
- Depth Ratio – 1.33
- One I Like More – Take your pick – Domingo Santana or Kyle Smith. Santana is a monster of a man who hit 25 HR and slugged .498 in the AA Texas League at age 20 last season. Very few positional prospects in the game can match that youth/production combo. Smith is not big at 5’11″, 175, but can really, really pitch. Plus curveball and command, and is very efficient. Will move fast, can max out as a #3 starter.
- One I Like Less – Foltynewicz. Though he can sit in the upper 90′s with his fastball, Foltynewicz has never truly dominated. The arrow is moving in the right direction, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a move to the bullpen is eventually in store for the big righty.
- Observation – The Astros’ system is deepest at the top, and among the deepest in the middle and at the bottom. They’ve been flipping marginal big league talent for useful organizational pieces for a couple seasons now, and things are about to start paying off at the MLB level.
2 – Minnesota Twins
- IMPACT (7) – RHP Jose Berrios, CF BYRON BUXTON, RHP Stephen Gonsalves, 2B Eddie Rosario, 3B MIGUEL SANO, RHP Kohl Stewart, LHP Lewis Thorpe
- Other 2013 Impact – RF Oswaldo Arcia (MLB), RHP Kyle Gibson (MLB), RHP Trevor May (non-impact future MLB regular)
- Strength/Weakness – Massive 1-2 punch of top-tier impact prospects in Buxton and Sano, who will miss 2014 after Tommy John surgery. Strong overall starting pitching depth. Beyond Buxton, limited OF depth.
- Depth Ratio – 0.93
- One I Like More – Gonsalves. Pitched only 28 IP after being drafted on the 4th round last season, but dominated older hitters in the Appalachian League in three starts there. Lots of physical projection at 6’5″, 195, and the now stuff is just fine. A potential breakthrough name for 2014.
- One I Like Less – RHP Alex Meyer – I like Meyer just fine, but hesitate to use the word “impact” to describe him. Is already 24, just reached AA last year, and has a lot of innings-building ahead of him before he can be relied upon in a big league rotation for a full season.
- Observation – Sano’s injury is a real bummer. The Buxton-Sano combo, when healthy, ranked ahead of Correa/Springer (HOU) and Javier Baez/Kris Bryant (CUB) among position player 1-2 punches. Position players are a little thin beyond the impact group, but watch out for 2B/SS Jorge Polanco, who has an advanced feel for hitting.
3 – Pittsburgh Pirates
- IMPACT (
– RHP Tyler Glasnow, SS Alen Hanson, RHP Luis Heredia, RHP Nick Kingham, C Reese McGuire, CF Austin Meadows, CF Gregory Polanco, RHP JAMESON TAILLON
- Other 2013 Impact – RHP Gerrit Cole (MLB)
- Strength/Weakness – Plenty of up-the-middle talent, some of whom will eventually move to corners and maintain or even improve the Pirates’ already strong big league defense. System is a bit top-heavy, with a smaller than average number of projected regulars behind the impact group.
- Depth Ratio – 0.93
- One I Like More – CF Jacoby Jones – The 2013 3rd rounder didn’t hit much at all in his last two years at LSU, but the tools are there, both offensively and defensively, and the early returns with the bat (.311-.358-.459) were good in an admittedly small 61 at-bat sample.
- One I Like Less – Polanco. Going to tread very lightly here, as I really like Polanco. Though he did step up big in winter ball, Polanco’s bat has been quite uneven throughout his pro career, and it’s very difficult for me to place a stud-level bat descriptor on him. Very solid, impactful, Starling Marte-type player, but not the next Andrew McCutchen.
- Observation – Excellent depth at the top, so-so depth at the middle and bottom, less than both of the clubs ranked ahead of them. Watch out for CF Harold Ramirez, who presently sits on the cusp of the impact group.
4 – Chicago Cubs
- IMPACT (5) – SS Arismendy Alcantara, CF Albert Almora, SS JAVIER BAEZ, 3B KRIS BRYANT, RF Jorge Soler
- Other 2013 Impact – 1B Dan Vogelbach (non-impact future MLB regular)
- Strength/Weakness – Massive impact on the way from core position player group. System has exceptional depth at 3B. Very limited LHP depth.
- Depth Ratio – 1.13
- One I Like More – Alcantara. Would stand out in almost any other system, but is obscured by Baez, Bryant, even Starlin Castro at MLB level. Probably winds up at 2B if he remains a Cub, and can be a .300 hitter who fills up the scoresheet, a 30-10-15-20 SB guy.
- One I Like Less – RHP C.J. Edwards – As with Polanco, going with a guy I really like in this spot. Not going to argue with the stuff or the performance to date, but have him ranked on the cusp of “impact” simply because I question the frame (6’2″, 155) and durability over the long haul. Great draft by the Rangers, great acquisition by the Cubs, think his prospect stock has gotten just a bit speculative.
- Observation – Things are going to beginning getting an awful lot brighter in Wrigley Field, likely beginning in 2015. No other club has more offensive thump on the way, and the impact group is complemented by a deeper than average group of non-impact regulars.
5 – Boston Red Sox
- IMPACT (6) – 2B Mookie Betts, CF Jackie Bradley, SS XANDER BOGAERTS, 3B Garin Cecchini, LHP Henry Owens, RHP Allen Webster
- Other 2013 Impact – None
- Strength/Weakness – Strong position-player depth, particularly up the middle. Limited corner infield power options, though some of the middle guys, like Bogaerts, should eventually help out there.
- Depth Ratio – 0.98
- One I Like More – Cecchini – This guy is a perfect fit for Fenway Park, with a Wade Boggs-like overall offensive portfolio. Has a career line of .312-.417-.457, with almost as many walks as whiffs. One cannot emphasize enough how much the Green Monster can help a lefthanded hitter, turning lots of routine opposite-field fly balls into wall doubles.
- One I Like Less – C Blake Swihart – Another guy I like, but that I can’t call impact. I see a solid, everyday catcher who makes the trains run on time, not a star, though the arrows are moving in the right direction for the switch-hitter.
- Observation – The Red Sox could get more value from their impact group in 2014 than any club, with Bogaerts and Bradley projected as starters and Webster and even Owens potential pitching contributors by season’s end. Just beyond the core group, RHP Matt Barnes could have his number called sometime in 2014 as well.
6 – Texas Rangers
- IMPACT (3) – 3B JOEY GALLO, 2B ROUGNED ODOR, LF Nick Williams
- Other 2013 Impact = SS Hanser Alberto (non-impact future MLB regular), RHP Cody Buckel (injured), 3B Mike Olt (CUB; non-impact future MLB regular), 2B Jurickson Profar (MLB)
- Strength/Weakness – Deepest group of non-impact future MLB regulars in the game, fronted by C Jorge Alfaro. Superior middle infield depth, even with the graduation of Profar to the majors. System does lack a slam-dunk pitching ace.
- Depth Ratio – 1.22
- One I Like More – Gallo. Ultra-high risk, ultra-high reward, but useable power like this doesn’t come along often. Think Chris Davis.
- One I Like Less – SS Luis Sardinas – Like him, but not sold on his development with the bat. Has always been among the youngest at his level, probably needs to stick at AA for awhile – he doesn’t turn 21 until May – to see if he can ramp it up a notch.
- Observation – Likely the deepest stockpile of Latin American talent in the game, with many of them lurking just beneath the current impact group. If one or more of Alfaro, Sardinas, Alberto, 1B Ronald Guzman, RF Nomar Mazara or RF Jairo Beras raise their game, watch out.
7 – St. Louis Cardinals
- IMPACT (4) – LHP Tim Cooney, RHP Carlos Martinez, RF OSCAR TAVERAS, 2B Kolten Wong
- Other 2013 Impact – RHP Shelby Miller (MLB), RHP Michael Wacha (MLB)
- Strength/Weakness – Extremely deep group of non-impact regulars behind the impact group. Superior pitching depth, quality group of outfielders. Limited corner infield depth.
- Depth Ratio – 1.00
- One I Like More – Cooney. The 2012 3rd rounder is quickly dicing his way through the minors, posting a 125/18 K/BB ratio in 118 AA innings last season. A typically efficient Cardinal pitching prospect, he could arrive later this season and eventually settle in as a 3rd starter.
- One I Like Less – RF Stephen Piscotty – Another guy that I do like, but just don’t see as an impact guy. See as a hit-before-power non-profile corner OF, .275, 15 HR type.
- Observation – No one drafts college players better than the Cardinals do, and no one gets the most from their prospects’ talent. Never bet against these guys.
8 – San Diego Padres
- IMPACT (4) – LHP Max Fried, C Austin Hedges, RHP Burch Smith, RHP MATT WISLER
- Other 2013 Impact – 2B Jedd Gyorko (MLB), RHP Casey Kelly (Inj; non-impact future MLB regular)
- Strength/Weakness – A very deep group of non-impact future MLB regulars, including Kelly, support the impact group. Starting pitching is very deep, a good thing, as an entire wave of pitching prospects was seemingly waylaid by Tommy John surgery. Corner infield options are limited.
- Depth Ratio – 1.07
- One I Like More – B.Smith. Though his overall performance in his major league debut was subpar, you have to love the K rate (46 in 36 IP). Big arm, strong frame, solid track record – he should be much more comfortable the second time around.
- One I Like Less – RF Rymer Liriano – Always loved the tools, but if anyone needed the year’s worth of at bats he lost to Tommy John surgery last season, it was Liriano. Tough to call him an impact guy at this point.
- Observation – Size of non-impact regular group stands out more than the quality and depth of the impact group. After a couple of years at or near the top of the heap, this system is starting to trend downward, and due to injuries, may never achieve its full promise.
9 – Kansas City Royals
- IMPACT (4) – RF Jorge Bonifacio, SS Raul Mondesi, RHP YORDANO VENTURA, RHP KYLE ZIMMER
- Other 2013 Impact – RHP Kyle Smith (HOU), CF Bubba Starling (non-impact future MLB regular)
- Strength/Weakness – Two high-end, near-ready MLB starting pitchers in Ventura and Zimmer is the clear greatest strength. The system is thin in catching – not a big deal with Salvador Perez in place – and lefthanded pitching.
- Depth Ratio – 0.87
- One I Like More – 3B Cheslor Cuthbert – Struggled in his first go-round in AA, but is still only 21 and possesses the all-around tools to be a regular major league 3B.
- One I Like Less – 3B Hunter Dozier – Liked the budget-saver pick of Dozier at 8th overall that enabled them to afford LHP Sean Manaea later, but Dozier himself is not an impact prospect. Posted a .303-.403-.509 line in the Pioneer League last season, but there’s some serious altitude there.
- Observation – The system has fallen from its heady peak, back in the Wil Myers era, and will fall quite a bit further once Ventura and Zimmer are entrenched in the big leagues. Their continuing ability to identify and develop under-the-radar types such as RHP’s Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford will keep them from falling too far, however.
10 – Cleveland Indians
- IMPACT (2) – CF Clint Frazier, SS FRANCISCO LINDOR
- Other 2013 Impact – RHP Trevor Bauer (non-impact future MLB regular), SS Dorssys Paulino (non-impact future MLB regular)
- Strength/Weakness – As always, the Indians are very deep in non-impact regular and niche roster filler talent, and a little short on the impact side. The presence of a transcendent talent like Lindor in itself makes this a Top 10 system. There’s plenty of catching, but limited starting pitching depth.
- Depth Ratio – 1.29
- One I Like More – C Francisco Mejia – This switch-hitting catcher made big noise as a 17-year-old in his pro debut, batting .305-.348-.524 in a small sample. Has lots to learn behind the plate, but has a big arm and big power.
- One I Like Less – CF Tyler Naquin – His power has been slow to develop, and his defensive ability might not be good enough to stay in CF. Looking like a tweener/non-profile corner, hasn’t made the strides I thought he would out of college.
- Observation – Typical Indians’ system, with lots of volume, but below average impact. Francisco Lindor, however, is worth about eight or nine ranking slots all by himself.
11 – Seattle Mariners
- IMPACT (3) – LHP Luiz Gohara, 1B D.J. Peterson, RHP TAIJUAN WALKER
- Other 2013 Impact – SS Nick Franklin (MLB), LHP Danny Hultzen (Inj; non-impact future MLB regular), SS Brad Miller (MLB), C Mike Zunino (MLB)
- Strength/Weakness – With the graduation of Franklin, Miller and Zunino to the big leagues, the impact position player talent has been pretty well cleaned out. There is a larger than average group of non-impact regulars still in place, led by LHP James Paxton, who just misses the impact cutoff because of his uneven performance record.
- Depth Ratio – 1.24
- One I Like More – RHP Carson Smith – It’s virtually impossible to elevate the baseball against this guy. He was a durable starter in college, and can be a valuable 2-IP relief option in the big leagues before long.
- One I Like Less – RF Austin Wilson – The Mariners essentially hitched their 2013 draft to Peterson and Wilson by going way over slot for the Stanford outfielder. The physical tools are undeniable, but he has never really hit, and has a massive popup tendency. His chances of reaching his ceiling are small.
- Observation – System has been thinned by promotions to MLB, a good thing, though some of them have been premature, a not so good thing. The minor league reloading process has been a bit slow at the lower levels, so the recent system decline could become a trend.
12 – Los Angeles Dodgers
- IMPACT (4) – RHP Zach Lee, CF Joc Pederson, SS Corey Seager, LHP JULIO URIAS
- Other 2013 Impact – None
- Strength/Weakness – Lots of pitching depth is bubbling just beneath the impact group, lefties and righties, starters and relievers. Behind Seager, infield depth is very limited.
- Depth Ratio – 1.13
- One I Like More – Urias. He pitched in a full-season league at age 16, and excelled. Needs to get stretched out, stay healthy, and continue to improve in all facets, but is one of the best pitching prospects in the game.
- One I Like Less – RHP Chris Withrow – Had stagnated, going from arguably the Dodgers’ top prospect to a 3-plus year veteran of AA Chattanooga, before breaking out last season. Expect the pendulum to swing back the other way in 2014, though he still should be an effective 6th-7th inning type for the Dodgers.
- Observation – System has made great strides in the last couple of years thanks both to shrewd selections throughout the draft and some solid Latin American signings. Though the Dodgers’ financial might at the major league level captures the headlines, their farm system is also on a positive trajectory.
13 – New York Mets
- IMPACT (3) – C Travis d’Arnaud, RHP Rafael Montero, RHP NOAH SYNDERGAARD
- Other 2013 Impact – RHP Zack Wheeler (MLB)
- Strength/Weakness – Small, but very solid impact group is a strength, and 1B Dominic Smith is right behind them. Overall OF pickings are pretty slim, as is starting pitching depth behind the two impact guys.
- Depth Ratio – 1.02
- One I Like More – RF Cesar Puello – Betting that he’ll remain productive after a 50-game PED suspension. There is serious power/speed potential here.
- One I Like Less – SS Gavin Cecchini – Don’t like him nearly as much as brother Garin. Has been very ordinary in two rookie ball seasons to date. Below average power and speed, limited physical projection – I’m not seeing the impact.
- Observation – Solid depth at the lower end of the system, one of the game’s pitching prospects in Syndergaard, and an immediate regular MLB catcher with bat potential is just enough to sneak the Mets into the top half of the rankings. Could drop a ways next year.
14 – Baltimore Orioles
- IMPACT (4) – RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Kevin Gausman, RHP Hunter Harvey, RHP Eduardo Rodriguez
- Other 2013 Impact – None
- Strength/Weakness – Obvious strength is high-end starting pitching; obvious weakness is almost total absence of high-end offensive potential.
- Depth Ratio – 1.00
- One I Like More – C Chance Sisco – It’s only 102 rookie ball at-bats, but for an 18-year-old to bat .363-.468-.451 at any position is a big deal. For a lefthanded-hitting catcher, it’s an even bigger deal.
- One I Like Less – LHP Tim Berry – Can’t get too worked up by a 22-year-old putting up below league average numbers and peripherals in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League. He’s a prospect, but not a major one.
- Observation – As usual, the O’s system is top-heavy, but each of those four impact pitchers is extremely interesting. Harvey’s 2013 was scintillating – he could turn out to be one of the single best selections in last year’s draft.
15 – Colorado Rockies
- IMPACT (4) – RHP Eddie Butler, RHP Jonathan Gray, SS Rosell Herrera, C Tom Murphy
- Other 2013 Impact – CF David Dahl (non-impact MLB regular), SS Trevor Story (non-impact MLB regular)
- Strength/Weakness – Biggest strength are the two impact starting pitcher prospects who could come very quickly. Overall organizational depth is below average, especially the pitching behind those two and RHP Chad Bettis. Middle infield depth is solid.
- Depth Ratio – 0.87
- One I Like More – 3B Ryan McMahon – Not a clear choice here. I do like McMahon a little more than the industry consensus – his very impressive pro debut (.321-.402-.583 in the Pioneer League) at age 18 marks him as a potential future impact guy.
- One I Like Less – Story. His rough 2013 batting line – .233-.305-.394 with 183 K’s – is bad enough, but considering that he posted it in the hitter-friendly California League, it looks even worse. He’ll play 2014 at age 21, so there’s still hope.
- Observation – The Rockies certainly appear to now have a cohesive organizational pitching strategy, with a rotation full of ground ball guys in place at the major league level, and two potentially superior talents on the way in Butler and Gray.