June 6, 2014
PECOTA Takes on Prospects
Have you ever liked a shortstop so much, you stopped short?
The last batter to match Correa’s .320/.405/.467 Low-A slash line at age 18 was Sean Burroughs in 1999. The questionable batter in comparison isn’t the point; rather, the takeaway is that no one in 13 years has produced those numbers at a high-school graduate age. Slugging .467 at age 18 means the prospect’s power baseline is already very, very high—as he steps into his biggest growth year. That feat has been accomplished by Freddie Freeman, Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward, and Jesus Montero—the latter two winding up in Correa’s top 20 comps.
Heyward and Montero slugged .481 and .491 as 18-year-olds in Low-A in 2008, both rising to .555 and .562 the following seasons at higher levels. PECOTA projects Correa to similarly add 60 points of slugging on contact this year. He hasn’t quite managed that in Lancaster thus far—his slugging currently sits at .502—but don’t count him out as he develops through this age-19 season. Few prospects have ever been this good this young, making it easy for PECOTA to tie Correa to players like Heyward, Jurickson Profar, and Mike Trout.
Does Correa comp to prospects who failed after blooming early? He does, actually. Fernando Martinez and his long injury history appears as his seventh-ranked comp. Jose Tabata and Matt Dominguez never translated their minor-league success into the majors, representing low-end scenarios for Correa. They aren’t particularly great comps for him, since he’s quite unique as a precocious hitter, but PECOTA has determined that they’re some the best possible comps because they shared aspects of the minor-league game present in Correa’s profile now. Tabata demonstrated contact ability but didn’t have Correa’s power potential; Dominguez had (and still has) the power but not the hit tool.
That goes to show the way in which Correa is unique: He’s not only a great young hitter, he’s a complete hitter. He’s not the lone constellation in the sky, though. Manny Machado circa 2012 actually draws a 91 Similarity Score to Correa. Both show tremendous raw hitting with power upside. Machado also moved off shortstop to third, as some scouts predict that Correa could do. He debuted with Baltimore that August as a 20-year-old; Jeff Luhnow probably won’t give Correa the call that early without extensive Double-A training first, but the comp remains a strong one.
Even with just 50 plate appearances on Bogaerts’ major-league ledger entering this season, PECOTA undoubtedly believed that he was ready for the show, giving him eight major leaguers in his top 20 Comparable Players. PECOTA tends to comp minor leaguers to minor leaguers and major leaguers to major leaguers; when a prospect should be nearing his debut, according to PECOTA, major leaguers will trickle onto his comp list. Not only did Bogaerts receive eight big-league comps, but they included the likes of Eric Hosmer, Christian Yelich, Billy Butler, Jay Bruce, and Freddie Freeman. You can infer from that group the type of player PECOTA expects Bogaerts to be: someone who’ll hit for a high average and power.
In contrast, the Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings, whom we’ll discuss later, amassed more major-league PA in 2013 than Bogaerts, but PECOTA found only six big-league comps for him. George Springer, without any major-league plate appearances prior to PECOTA’s computations, drew 12 major-league comps in his top 20. That’s PECOTA’s quick approximation of “readiness,” and two months in, both Bogaerts and Springer have proved that they were ready and plan to remain in the majors for a long time.
Very Good Prospects
Baez, Russell, and Seager line up closely with scout-think here. Baez strikes out often, but 30-homer power doesn’t come around often at shortstop. Russell skipped Low-A to demolish High-A with his power and speed. Seager slugged .529 as a 19-year-old. They’re young, they’re hitting, and they play shortstop.
Alen Hanson, PECOTA’s no. 30 prospect, went unranked in Jason Parks’ Top 101. BP’s prospect wizard doesn’t believe that Hanson is a shortstop (and with a -20-run rating for him over three seasons, neither does FRAA). PECOTA would certainly rate Hanson lower as a second baseman, but not much lower. While his power output fell in 2013 after recording 52 extra-base hits the prior year, High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona were unfavorable offensive environments; Hanson’s teammate (and PECOTA no. 7) Gregory Polanco fared only slightly better himself.
Aderlin Mejia comps well to Andrelton Simmons as a hitter, which is acceptable. However, he unfairly receives credit for Simmons’ historic FRAA numbers, inflating his UPSIDE. This fluke doesn’t happen often, but comparing defense at the minor-league level isn’t the easiest task.
Marcus Semien, with a fair major-league showing last September, represents the definition of a low-risk, average shortstop without any flashy skills or gaping liabilities. Players like that can fall on the “fringe” side of average, but PECOTA squares him clearly above the line. We won’t rave about him in the near future like we will with the names above, yet he’s playing third now, blocked by Alexei Ramirez, and many teams could use the production at short.
Lindor is one of the harder-to-comp shortstops—his on-base ability is rather unusual for a no-power prospect. Just two major-league hitters have managed a .370 on-base percentage and an ISO below .110 in the past three years. Perhaps that’s a testament to how special Lindor is, but PECOTA, noting his low Similarity Index, chooses to view it as the more common interpretation—minor-league stats that won’t translate.
In Lindor’s case, that’s quite unlikely, but PECOTA has a hard time believing that any hitter without power can retain that OBP in the majors. Lindor might admit that power deficiency, but he checks off all the other boxes PECOTA lacks a firm grasp on—instincts, makeup, defense—and checks them off more emphatically than anyone else. This is a case of PECOTA viewing a player’s quantifiable attributes as ordinary, not knowing the intangible layer that makes him extraordinary.
Notable Average/Marginal Prospects
Chris Owings trimmed his strikeouts in Triple-A Reno last year, but his past swing-and-miss propensity persists in PECOTA’s mind. While Triple-A pitchers might not exploit it, major leaguers do—and PECOTA knows that (it knows Reno is an extreme run environment). Despite his no. 81 ranking on Jason Parks’ preseason list, PECOTA puts him 298th overall, alarmed by his 3.8 percent walk rate in Reno. I mentioned how Owings drew six major-league comps in contrast to Xander Bogaerts’ eight; that’s not a huge difference, but Owings’ comps are noticeably worse. Alcides Escobar and Jean Segura aren’t the greatest comps to brag about. Give Owings credit, though: He’s already taken 11 walks this year. Whether his hit tool comes to life will depend on his ability to continue to make adjustments.
At shortstop, where pure defense can satisfy the positional requirements, PECOTA will have trouble with players like Sardinas, an elite defender. Slightly akin to Lindor, Sardinas’ minor-league on-base stats are unlikely to continue in the majors, and Sardinas has even less power, with five career home runs. Youth doesn’t benefit the prospect as much in this regard, as he won’t be growing into a bigger body or more strength.
In the eyes of PECOTA, Mondesi has turned in two below-average seasons with too much aggression and swing-and-miss. Obviously, he has plenty of time to develop, and it’s better to evaluate age–16 and –17 prospects on tools than on performance. Statistically, Mondesi’s age-17 TAv sits between 2010 Domingo Santana and 2009 Wilmer Flores—two of the eight players (including Mondesi) who have True Averages calculated in Low-A at that age. Not many prospect seasons exist at age 17—which says something—leaving Mondesi’s comps as older, less-accomplished players.