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March 7, 2012

Ten Prospects on the Bubble, Part Two

National League

by Bradley Ankrom

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Introduction and Part I

Christian Friedrich, LHP, Colorado Rockies (24)
With Brian Matusz off the board, Colorado grabbed arguably the second-best college left-hander in the 2008 draft when it snapped up Friedrich with the 25th pick. He signed quickly and was able to make 11 starts in the Northwest and South Atlantic Leagues, striking out 65 batters over 48 innings.

Friedrich began 2009 back in the Sally League, but a 2.18 ERA and 4.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio through eight starts earned him a promotion to advanced Class-A, where he was named the top pitching prospect in the California League by Baseball America after going 3-2 with a 2.54 ERA and striking out 11.3 batters per nine innings.

Various injuries limited Friedrich to 18 starts at Double-A the following year, and a couple of bad starts marred his overall stat line (his 5.05 ERA would have been 3.76 had it not been for two starts in which he allowed 16 earned runs in eight-plus innings). A return to Tulsa last year didn’t turn out any better, though Friedrich was healthy enough to take the ball 25 times.

Friedrich is the latest in a string of collegiate arms Colorado has drafted early but been unable to develop. Since 2000, the Rockies have taken 24 college pitchers in the top five rounds, but only six have made the big leagues. Left-hander Jeff Francis reached the majors in two years and gave the Rockies 130 starts and 11.2 WARP before a torn labrum cost him all of 2009.

 

 

MLB Statistics

Player       

Yr-Round

IP

WARP

Jason Young

2000-2

29.2

-0.1

Chris Buglovsky

2000-3

--

--

Cory Vance

2000-4

31.1

-0.4

Gerrit Simpson

2001-5

-

--

Jeff Francis

2002-1

1065.2

13.3

Ben Crockett

2002-3

--

--

Douglas Johnson

2002-5

--

--

Scott Beerer

2003-2

--

--

Aaron Marsden

2003-3

--

--

Steven Register

2004-3

12.0

-0.2

Zach Simons

2005-2

--

--

Brandon Durden

2005-4

--

--

Josh Sullivan

2005-5

--

--

Greg Reynolds

2006-1

94.0

-0.9

Keith Weiser

2006-3

--

--

Craig Baker

2006-4

--

--

Casey Weathers

2007-1

--

--

Connor Graham

2007-5

--

--

Christian Friedrich

2008-1

--

--

Ethan Hollingsworth

2008-4

--

--

Rex Brothers

2009-1

40.2

0.6

Chad Bettis

2010-2

--

--

Joshua Slaats

2010-5

--

--

Tyler Anderson

2011-1

--

--

The Rockies’ biggest miss came in 2006, when they opted for Stanford right-hander Greg Reynolds with the second-overall pick, rather than Long Beach third baseman Evan Longoria. Reynolds was traded to Texas for Chad Tracy in January after going a 5-8 with a 7.47 ERA and 1.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings with the Rockies.

After making 43 starts in Double-A over the last two seasons, Friedrich appears likely to move up to Triple-A Colorado Springs this year. Though he has the velocity to survive at altitude, Friedrich has shown little since returning from surgery to suggest he’s capable of succeeding at sea level, much less in the thin air of Colorado Springs or Denver.

Brad Holt, RHP, New York Mets (25)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: team drafts college pitcher, drops said pitcher into a short-season league, pitcher dominates. Since 1979, 147 pitchers between the ages of 20 and 22 have thrown at least 50 innings with a strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate of at least 10.0 in the summer they were drafted. Fifty-eight (40 percent) have reached the major leagues, but only seven have gone on to post career a WARP greater than 10.0.

Pitchers Age 20-22 in Short-Season Leagues with >= 50 IP, >= 10.0 SO/9 in Draft Year

Group

Count

Pct

Notables

>= 20 WARP

3

2.0%

Jamie Moyer, Mark Langston, Ted Lilly

10-19 WARP

4

2.7%

Pete Harnisch, Oil Can Boyd, Jim Deshaies, Scot Shields

1-9 WARP

16

10.9%

Daniel Hudson, Bobby Thigpen, Jerry DiPoto, Jon Rauch

0-0.9 WARP

13

8.8%

Jesse Foppert, Rick Krivda, Jess Todd, Shane Nance

< 0 WARP

22

15.0%

Dan Meyer, Josh Banks, Ken Vining, Blaise Ilsley

DNP

89

60.1%

John Sneed, Aaron Krawiec, Travis Minix, Jason Arnold

If the pool is limited to pitchers selected among the top 100 picks—presumably those with the most aptitude or best stuff—things improve slightly:

Group

Count

Pct

>= 20 WARP

1

3.9%

10-19 WARP

1

3.9%

1-9 WARP

5

19.2%

0-0.9 WARP

5

19.2%

< 0 WARP

6

23.1%

DNP

8

30.8%

A supplemental first-round pick of the Mets in 2008 out of UNC Wilmington, Holt became a member of both groups when he struck out 96 batters in 72 New York-Penn League innings that summer. The knocks on Holt entering the draft were his shaky command and lack of reliable secondary offerings. The command issues were on full display in his debut when he tied for the league lead with 33 walks and placed fifth among starting pitchers with 4.1 walks per nine innings.

The two most successful pitchers from the subset of top 100 picks above, Langston and Harnisch, posted two of the three worst strikeout-to-walk ratios in the group, both barely coming in under 2.50. Holt, by comparison, outperformed both at 2.91.

Since that summer in Brooklyn, however, Holt’s strikeout rate has dropped to under one per inning while his walk rate has risen precipitously, leading to an unsightly 1.62 strikeout-to-walk in 197 innings.

After he had walked more batters than he had struck out through 13 starts, the Mets moved Holt to the Double-A Binghamton bullpen last June, where his command improved considerably and his strikeout rate rebounded.

Role

IP

SO

BB

SO/BB

SO/9

BB/9

Starter

60.7

39

42

0.93

5.78

6.23

Reliever

33.0

35

15

2.33

9.55

4.09

Jio Mier, SS, Houston Astros (21)
Of the three hitters profiled here, Mier stands the best chance to earn a major-league pension. He doesn’t have Kyle Skipworth’s power or the raw tools of Donovan Tate, but Mier has collected more than 1300 plate appearances since Houston made him the first prep shortstop drafted in 2009 with the 21st pick, reaching advanced Class-A last June.

Since being named the top prospect in the Appalachian League by Baseball America in 2009, Mier has struggled to establish himself at the plate, suffering through prolonged slumps that cause his batting average to fluctuate wildly. He got off to a slow start in 2010, carrying a sub-.200 batting average through mid-June, but recovered somewhat with an 18-for-51 streak that pushed his average up to .229. A few weeks later, however, it had fallen back to .214. A strong August, in which Mier hit .304, brought his average up to .241—its highest point since the second week of the season—but a frigid September (2-for-19) stopped Mier’s end-of-season momentum in its tracks.

Mier begain last year back in the Sally League before receiving a second-half promotion to advanced Class-A Lancaster. With two weeks left in the regular season, Mier was hitting .195/.308/.247, but another strong finish bumped his season line up to .233/.335/.306.

After handling pitchers of either hand somewhat evenly in his first two seasons, Mier had much more trouble against left-handers in 2011.

 

 

vs. LHP

vs. RHP

Overall

Year

League

AVG/OBP/SLG

PA

AVG/OBP/SLG

PA

AVG/OBP/SLG

2009

Appalachian (SS-A)

.314/.405/.543

39

.268/.374/.471

183

.276/.380/.484

2010

South Atlantic (A)

.238/.321/.295

138

.235/.323/.321

418

.235/.323/.314

2011

South Atlantic (A)

.216/.344/.353

61

.255/.357/.388

192

.245/.354/.380

2011

California (A+)

.188/.289/.250

74

.254/.355/.331

158

.233/.335/.641

He’ll return to the Cal League this summer, and a reversal of the split he displayed in 2011 would go a long way toward projecting him as a potential major-league regular. As it stands, however, Mier has clearly fallen behind Jonathan Villar, acquired from Philadelphia in 2010, who is a year younger but also a level ahead of him in the organization.

Throughout his career, Mier has shown an ability to get on base, even as his batting average has endured its ups and downs. This suggests that he has some understanding of the difference between a ball and a strike. Because of that and the park he’ll call home, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Mier re-establishes himself in 2012.

Kyle Skipworth, C, Miami Marlins (22)
In retrospect, it’s ironic that Kyle Skipworth set a California high school record with hits in 15 consecutive at-bats before being drafted by the Marlins with the sixth pick of the 2008 draft. Praised for his contact- and power-hitting abilities, graded by some as 65-70 tools on the 20-80 scouting scale, Skipworth has struggled to exhibit either as a professional.

High School Catchers Drafted/Signed Among Top 10 Picks

 

 

Major League Statistics

Player

Yr-Pick

Yrs

>= 300
PA

Career

PA

AVG/OBP/SLG

WARP

Ted Simmons

1967-10

21

16

9685

.285/.348/.437

59.6

Darrell Porter

1970-4

17

11

6570

.247/.353/.409

41.9

Dale Murphy

1974-5

18

14

9040

.265/.346/.469

40.4

Joe Mauer

2001-1

8

7

3911

.323/.403/.471

34.8

Mike Lieberthal

1990-3

14

8

4695

.275/.336/.446

20.3

Ray Fosse

1965-7

12

5

3226

.256/.303/.367

13.8

Mike Ivie

1970-1

11

6

2962

.269/.322/.421

10.5

Barry Foote

1970-3

10

4

2300

.230/.276/.368

5.2

Ben Davis

1995-2

7

1

1698

.237/.305/.366

1.5

Tyler Houston

1989-2

8

3

1946

.265/.310/.423

1.1

Erik Pappas

1984-6

3

0

342

.242/.342/.298

0.6

John Mizerock

1979-8

4

0

275

.186/.305/.268

-0.2

Terry McDermott

1969-8

1

0

26

.130/.192/.130

-0.2

Matt Stark

1983-9

2

0

30

.179/.200/.214

-0.4

Butch Benton

1975-6

4

0

109

.162/.211/.202

-1.0

Steve Chilcott

1965-1

 

 

DNP

 

 

Martin Cott

1968-3

 

 

DNP

 

 

Jay Schroeder

1979-3

 

 

DNP

 

 

John Jones

1967-5

 

 

DNP

 

 

Bobby Goodman

1972-5

 

 

DNP

 

 

Kurt Brown

1985-5

 

 

DNP

 

 

Bob Cummings

1978-7

 

 

DNP

 

 

Nick Hernandez

1978-8

 

 

DNP

 

 

Rex Goodson

1970-8

 

 

DNP

 

 

Mike Nunn

1967-9

 

 

DNP

 

 

Of the 25 prep catchers taken among the first 10 picks, 15 (60 percent) have reached the major leagues, but only 10 (40 percent) have earned more than 342 plate appearances.

Based solely on history, it would appear that young Skipworth has a reasonable chance to have some kind of major-league career. But what about his actual performance? This is where things become discouraging.

Skipworth’s full-season debut was an unmitigated disaster. His .208 batting average ranked among the South Atlantic League’s eight worst, and he collected just three hits in 45 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers (oddly, two of his three hits were home runs).

The Marlins wisely returned Skipworth to Greensboro in 2010, and his numbers improved across the board: his 17 home runs placed eighth in the league and Skipworth raised his OPS by 126 points to a respectable 738.

Even though he had repeated a level the previous year, Skipworth was still expected to be among the younger everyday players in the Florida State League (where the average player age is 23) as a 21-year-old in 2011.

Instead, he drew an assignment to Double-A Jacksonville, where he was one of only four players under the age of 22 to make 400 plate appearances. Predictably, he struggled. Among Southern Leaguers to meet or exceed the 400 plate appearance threshold, Skipworth’s .207 batting average and .272 on-base percentage both ranked dead last. His 603 OPS placed second-to-last, better than only Greg Paiml’s 570 showing, and boosted by the league’s sixth-worst slugging average (.331).

After it appeared Skipworth had made progress while repeating the South Atlantic League in 2010, why did the Marlins ask him to skip a level?

There are a few examples of players who have spent a full season repeating Class A and then skipped over advanced Class A the following year as 21-year olds.

 

Y1 (A)

Y2 (A)

Y3 (AA)

MLB

Player

Age

PA

OPS

Age

PA

OPS

Age

PA

OPS

PA

WARP

Kyle Skipworth

19

286

611

20

436

738

20

434

603

--

--

Wily Mo Pena

18

272

634

19

565

813

20

436

735

1845

1.7

John Buck

19

450

821

20

498

826

21

494

736

3083

7.2

Carlos Hernandez

19

530

676

20

501

674

21

400

721

16

-0.2

Richard Hidalgo

18

444

739

19

511

831

20

530

743

3927

18.7

Danny Bautista

19

263

520

20

493

667

21

468

713

2718

0.1

Shane Andrews

19

424

720

20

570

822

21

512

809

1924

4.5

Steve Gibralter

18

588

699

19

596

863

20

511

645

5

-0.1

Jim Tatum

18

483

704

19

535

739

20

446

704

218

-0.7

Carlos Baerga

17

416

703

18

573

786

19

487

752

5895

16.6

Junior Noboa

17

471

646

18

522

647

19

436

627

526

-2.2

Leo Garcia

18

426

630

19

468

644

20

543

676

67

0.0

Ivan Calderon

19

449

877

20

515

861

21

589

840

3672

13.7

Joel Skinner

19

355

633

20

467

722

21

466

671

1551

-2.0

Greg Gagne

18

366

700

19

425

819

20

577

673

6207

21.8

George Wright

19

421

688

20

429

682

21

507

701

2322

1.6

Seven of the 16 players above registered an OPS in Double-A that was equal to or lower than their OPS in their first year of Class A. Of those, only two accrued positive WARP in the major leagues. It is worth noting, however, that none of those seven players started off as poorly as Skipworth, whose 611 OPS in year one is the second-lowest in the study.

Double-A Catchers with >= 400 PA, >= 3.00 SO/BB, and <= 700 OPS

 

 

 

Double-A

Major Leagues

Player

Yr

Age

PA

SO/BB

OPS

PA

WARP

Joel Skinner

1982

21

466

3.03

671

1551

-2.0

Brian Milner

1981

21

409

5.05

563

9

0.1

Kyle Skipworth

2011

21

409

4.21

603

--

--

Robbie Wine

1985

22

417

4.32

643

44

-0.6

Miguel Perez

2006

22

434

4.63

590

3

-0.1

Dane Sardinha

2002

23

420

8.14

518

171

-0.7

Lucas May

2008

23

441

3.50

696

39

-0.2

Omir Santos

2005

24

425

6.82

671

338

0.7

Tuffy Gosewisch

2011

27

406

3.05

697

--

--

In 2011, Skipworth became the ninth Double-A catcher since 1981 to receive at least 400 plate appearances and post a sub-700 OPS while also striking out at least three times as often as he walked.

Skinner and Santos both had exactly one major-league season in which they earned at least 300 plate appearances, and Santos leads the bunch with 0.7 career WARP. Six more received cups of coffee, but only former Cincinnati first-rounder Sardinha has seen action in three or more seasons.

While Skipworth was stalling at Double-A, Jacob Realmuto was thriving in his debut at Class-A Greensboro. The Marlins’ third-round pick in 2010, Realmuto quickly embraced catching after being drafted as a shortstop out of high school, earning praise for his coachability and handling of pitchers. Realmuto has clearly surpassed Skipworth as Miami’s catcher of the future but is still at least three years away from the big leagues. Skipworth is likely to return to the Southern League to begin the year, with Realmuto moving up to advanced Class-A Jupiter.

Donavan Tate, OF, San Diego Padres (21)
Recipient of the largest signing bonus in club history, Tate has yet to justify the Padres’ selection of the former North Carolina football recruit with the third-overall pick of the 2009 draft, succumbing to a series of illnesses, injuries, and substance abuse issues.

Tate appeared in just 25 games in 2010, beginning the year in extended spring training and fighting a stomach virus throughout his stay in the Arizona League that summer. He broke camp last spring with the Padres’ Midwest League affiliate in Fort Myers but lasted less than a week before landing on the disabled list with a hyperextended knee. A roster crunch prompted the Padres to send Tate to the short-season Northwest League in mid-June, but shortly after his assignment it was revealed that he had drawn a 50-game suspension for a second violation of baseball’s substance of abuse policy.

Coming out of high school, Tate’s hit tool was considered his rawest. After hitting just .222 in his 2010 debut, Tate posted a combined .283/.410/.411 line between injuries and suspensions last year.

Since 1980, there have been 61 high school outfielders drafted and signed out of the first round (including supplemental picks). Two years later, all but a handful had played at least half a season above short-season leagues.

High School Outfielders Drafted in the First Round with <= 200 Full Season PA After Two Seasons (Since 1980)

Player

Yr-Pick

Yr+2 PA > SS/R

MLB PA

MLB WARP

Tony Clark

1990-2

0

5120

6.7

J.J. Johnson

1991-37

107

--

--

Matt Farner

1993-37

0

--

--

McKay Christensen

1994-6

12

146

-0.3

Juan Lebron

1995-19

114

--

--

Robert Stratton

1996-13

0

--

--

Richard Elder

1998-26

57

--

--

Josh Hamilton

1999-1

108

2515

19.5

Mike Conroy

2001-43

0

--

--

Eli Iorg

2005-38

177

--

--

Kyler Burke

2006-35

144

--

--

Donavan Tate

2009-3

23

--

--

Randal Grichuk

2009-24

188

--

--

The track record for high school outfielders getting off to slow starts is discouraging but not hopeless. After a high-profile detour, Hamilton has righted his ship and established himself as one of the American League’s most dangerous hitters. A post-high school Mormon mission delayed the start of Christensen’s career by two years, while Clark lost a full year to injury. Excepting the 2009 draftees, 73 percent of the slow starters above failed to reach the major leagues, with only Stratton establishing himself as high as Triple-A.

Should Tate suffer more setbacks this year, his odds of reaching the big leagues will all but disappear. Only Tony Clark reached the majors after accumulating fewer than 500 full-season plate appearances in the first three years of his career.

High School Outfielders Drafted in the First Round with <= 500 Full Season PA After Three Seasons (Since 1980)

Player

Yr-Pick

Yr+3 PA > SS/R

MLB PA

MLB WARP

Tony Clark

1990-2

139

5120

6.7

Matt Farner

1993-37

36

--

--

Robert Stratton

1996-13

371

--

--

Mike Conroy

2001-43

438

--

--

Donavan Tate

2009-3

23

--

--

Randal Grichuk

2009-24

402

--

--

 

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