June 7, 2012
How to Evaluate Precocious Prospects
This article began as a comparison of Tigers third-base prospect Nick Castellanos and former Padres third-base prospect Sean Burroughs. Castellanos tore through the Florida State League this season, hitting .405/.461/.553 in 55 games, before being promoted to Double-A earlier this week, though his raw power has yet to manifest itself outside of batting practice.
At the same age more than a decade ago, Sean Burroughs was working on a .322/.386/.467 season at Triple-A Portland of the Pacific Coast League, two levels ahead of Castellanos’ recently-vacated Advanced Class-A assignment. Burroughs was also two levels ahead at age 19, making the task of comparing the players a challenge.
Despite posting impressive slash rates at levels he was quite young for, Burroughs rarely dominated. His .291 average in the Southern League in 2000 was only 11% better than the league average, while his on-base percentage and slugging percentages were better by just 17% and 2%, respectively.
Granted, Burroughs was 19 years old and holding his own against competition several years his senior. But in retrospect, the dominance-to-hype ratio at that point in his career appears to have been heavily unbalanced.
Burroughs put up good-not-great numbers in Double-A at age 19, but Castellanos performed better in the Midwest League, albeit against less-advanced competition, in 2011. His batting average (23%), on-base percentage (18%), and slugging percentage (14%) compared to league average were all better than the figures Burroughs posted in Double-A at the same age.
Is it possible to compare the by Burroughs and Castellanos despite the disparity in the quality of the competition each player faced at the same ages? If so, how much, if any, additional credit should Burroughs receive for holding his own against better players? More broadly, is it better for a prospect to be very good or very young?
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