February 21, 2004
Top 50 Prospects, Part I
Baseball Prospectus Top 40 Prospects Reviews:
In preparing the annual top prospect list for Baseball Prospectus 2004, BP authors participated in the annual extended roundtable discussion of baseball's top prospects. The ranking and review process balanced translated statistics, scouting reports, and injury reports with the strong personal opinions of BP's finest…all with the goal of putting together the "best damn prospect list the world has ever seen." In Part I today we'll listen in on the discussion of the top prospects among pitchers, catchers, first basemen and second basemen. Parts II through IV will run Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. We'll also unveil the final list Tuesday, with the Top 50 prospects (we've expanded from prior years' Top 40) revealed. Rany Jazayerli will be along to discuss the Top 50 list and the process that went into compiling it in Tuesday night's Chat.
The order of pitchers and all other positions listed in the Roundtable are preliminary rankings. Birthdates for every player as well as his age as of 6/30/04 are included at each position.
Rany Jazayerli: Since about mid-season, I've been struck by the emergence of a stunning number of top pitching prospects who are still in their teens. It's easy to look at all these 19-year-olds and just dismiss them by saying that two-thirds of them will see an OR before they're 22, but I think we're seeing a real sea change in how these guys are handled.
Scott Kazmir made 25 starts...and threw 109 innings, which is 4.36 innings a start. Kazmir is short and had a little arm stiffness last winter, but Zack Greinke, who has no health problems and throws as few pitches per inning as any minor league starter, threw just 140 innings in 23 starts. Not one prospect being considered for this list threw even 160 innings in a minor league season (counting his time in L.A. in September, Edwin Jackson threw close to 170.)
Zack Greinke 10/21/83 20 years, 8 months (gap) Scott Kazmir 01/24/84 20 years, 5 months Edwin Jackson 09/09/83 20 years, 9 months (gap) Ervin Santana 01/10/83 21 years, 5 months (gap) Clint Nageotte 10/25/80 23 years, 8 months Cole Hamels 12/27/83 20 years, 6 months Gavin Floyd 01/27/83 21 years, 5 months Greg Miller 11/03/84 19 years, 7 months (gap) Dustin McGowan 03/24/82 22 years, 3 months Adam Wainwright 08/30/81 22 years, 10 months (gap) Angel Guzman 12/14/81 22 years, 6 months (gap) Felix Hernandez 04/08/86 18 years, 3 months Merkin Valdez 11/05/81 22 years, 7 months Joe Blanton 12/11/80 23 years, 6 months Chin-Hui Tsao 06/02/81 23 years, 0 months Joel Zumaya 11/09/84 19 years, 7 months
The Field, Alphabetically
Sean Burnett 09/17/82 21 years, 9 months David Bush 11/09/79 24 years, 7 months Francisco Cruceta 07/04/81 22 years, 11 months Juan Dominguez 05/18/80 24 years, 1 month Kris Honel 11/07/82 21 years, 7 months Bobby Jenks 03/14/81 23 years, 3 months John Maine 05/08/81 23 years, 1 month Ian Oquendo 10/30/81 22 years, 8 months Matt Riley 08/02/79 24 years, 10 months John VanBenschoten 04/14/80 24 years, 3 months Charlie Zink 08/26/79 24 years, 10 months
I may be accused of bias, but in my mind Greinke clearly has less risk associated with him than any pitching prospect in the game, and with pitchers, the best prospect is the one with the least risk. The minor league experts I've spoken to all seem to agree with me.
Kazmir throws hard. Edwin Jackson won his major league debut on his 20th birthday, the youngest guy to do that since Dwight Gooden.
Ervin Santana had a 2.53 ERA. At Rancho Cucamonga.
Cole Hamels and Greg Miller would be Top 15 material if I were certain about their health. Hamels still has that humerus fracture from high school to worry about. Miller ended his season with a shoulder problem, obscuring the fact that he struck out 40 men in 27 innings at Double-A at age 18. Gavin Floyd doesn't have great numbers, but apparently the Phillies won't let him throw his curveball (his best pitch) to work on his change-up.
I like Dustin McGowan's ability to keep the ball down (two homers in 151 innings). Adam Wainwright's future is a little cloudy; he'll have more opportunities to pitch in St. Louis, but loses the Atlanta development machine.
Angel Guzman is as talented as the top guys, but has more injury concerns than almost anyone on this list.
Felix Hernandez's age is not a typo, but it might be a lie. Even if he's two or three years older, it doesn't change the Frankie Rodriguez comparisons. I can see a case against him; he's got all of 14 innings in full-season ball. Chin-Hui Tsao would rank higher if he didn't pitch in Colorado; I'm not sure he belongs on the list, though, because he pitches in Colorado.
Two or three guys from The Field will probably be on the list. I'm fascinated by Sean Burnett, who now has two straight seasons where he's been effective without striking out anyone--and it's not because he's hit-lucky, he just never gives up walks or homers.
Nate Silver: PECOTA does not yet use minor league comps for forecasting pitching prospects. However, a few observations:
1) Based strictly on the PECOTAs, the top tier pitching prospects would rank thusly:
There's a big gap after that...Tsao and Burnett are probably the best contenders for #5.
2) Greinke gets a *really* nice projection (as does Jackson), and I think we should consider Dayn's findings that many elite major leaguers did *not* have fantastic strikeout rates in the minor leagues. They had good strikeout rates, like Greinke does, and did other things well, like Greinke does. Strikeout rate is important, but it is not all-important.
3) Guys that PECOTA did *not* like include Floyd and Nageotte.
4) The conventional wisdom on Adam Wainwright seems a little bit backward to me. He had, far and away, his best year statistically, halving his walk rate, but nevertheless lost status in many people's eyes. I think a lot of people shared in Dave's disappointment that Wainwright's velocity hasn't increased, and I'll admit that it limits his upside to a certain extent. But the guy has demonstrated a pretty good understanding of how to pitch, should have an opportunity waiting for him in St. Louis, and I think he deserves his place in the middle tier.
5) The system likes Burnett quite a bit, and comps him to guys in the Mark Buehrle/Tommy John family. The only caveat is that PECOTA does not use minor league comps for pitchers, as it does for position players. It's *possible* that this particular profile is easier to sustain in the minor leagues than it is in the majors, but I don't know that for sure one way or the other. In any event, I certainly think that he deserves to be ranked. Dude has allowed *6* HR in his last 300 IP. That's sweet.
Chris Kahrl: Responses, mostly superficial, and/or reflecting my bias against people with only low-A experience:
Greinke, Kazmir, Jackson...it's a very tough call, but I'm comfortable with that order.
I think you've got McGowan, Wainwright, and Tsao too low, especially McGowan, who I'd rate with Nageotte, just behind the top trifecta. I'd consider Santana as listed too high, Cucamonga sweetness or no.
Felix Hernandez has an awful lot to prove to rate a mention this high.
I may be unclear on what the field represents, but I'm surprised to see Riley or Zink or Burnett, but not guys like Edgar Gonzalez or Justin Duchscherer or Brandon Claussen. Again, I'm biased towards people who should wind up being useful big leaguers now.
Adam Katz: How does everyone feel about Neal Cotts? I know he's a little old, but he had disgusting numbers in Double-A...he walks a lot of guys but his K rates are phenomenal. He's borderline top 50 but I'd rather have him than some of the guys floated for the bottom end of the list.
I'd also nominate J.D. Durbin as a bottom-of-the-list kind of guy.
Will Carroll: I've got a bit of an issue with Guzman, since he had to have shoulder surgery, and Tsao, since he's had an inability to stay healthy since Little League. Is "short" really a knock on Kazmir?
David Cameron: This is a difficult list, one for which there really is no "right answer." The margins between prospects are slim, and personal preference determines a great deal of the order.
Should be higher: Chin Hui-Tsao, Cole Hamels, Merkin Valdez
Should be lower: Zack Greinke, Gavin Floyd, Adam Wainwright, Joel Zumaya
Greinke carved up the Carolina League, and his command is unreal for a teenager. However, his stuff just isn't top-shelf, and his strikeout rates don't match up to what we would normally expect from a frontline starter. He mixes four good pitches well, but I'm not sure I see an out-pitch. I still see him as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and would peg him in the 5-10 range on this list.
Ranking Kazmir this high might be a bit premature. The Mets kept him on a strict pitch count, but he failed to work past the third inning frequently. Until he learns to be more conservative with his pitch counts, he's tough to profile. I want to see him consistently be able to get people out the third time through the order before I'm ordaining him as a frontline pitching prospect.
Edwin Jackson still needs to learn how to pitch, but he has the best combination of what I look for in a top-flight pitching prospect. His stuff is good, his command is fine, and his mechanics are solid. He's got experience and success against high-level hitters, and he's likely to spend most of next year in the majors. I think he should be #1 on this list.
Ervin Santana has two good pitches, but not everyone likes his arm action and few expect him to develop a quality change-up. He could be bullpen bound, which would cut into his value deeply. I'd move him down a few spots.
Nageotte's a very high-risk guy. He's got a funky landing which can throw off his release point and his command comes and goes. Woolf Stadium is very pitcher-friendly and he took advantage. He's ignored team orders to develop a change-up, and depends too heavily on his slider. He's a pretty good bet to end up as a reliever.
I don't think we can hold Hamels' injury against him. He broke his arm playing football in the street when he hit a car mirror two years ago. He's shown no ill effects, and his mechanics are as good as anyone else on this list. He's got three average pitches, and his change is just awesome. He should be several spots higher, and I wouldn't argue if he was top five.
The Phillies let Floyd loose this year, and he threw whatever he wanted and still didn't strike out a lot of hitters. The curveball restrictions were in '02. His change still needs work, and he pitches to contact. He's ranked this highly thanks to reputation rather than results. He reminds me a bit of Aaron Cook with a slightly better curve. I think we could consider leaving Floyd off the list, and I'd certainly suggest moving him down.
Greg Miller's arm problems scare me. Anytime you come up with a sore arm after beginning to throw a new pitch, I'll get worried. I don't think he can match expectations after a ridiculous 2003 season, and I think we'd be better off playing the better safe than sorry game with Miller.
McGowan came a long way this year, and he probably should be a few notches higher. Command of two above-average pitches and success in Double-A is a lot better resume than many guys ahead of him.
I've seen Wainwright a ton the past two years, and he isn't improving. He's still 87-91 on the fastball, despite the 6'7" frame. The curve is a knockout pitch, and the change has potential, but he's basically a tall Aaron Sele right now. I'd move him down.
Angel Guzman is like Greg Miller, except we know that Guzman's hurt. He is reportedly doing well in rehab, but he just seems like a big risk, and I don't see the exceptional potential that makes it worth while to have him ranked highly. Good, not great, prospect with a known injury. Fringe top-50 guy.
No one talked up "King Felix" Hernandez more than I did, but he shouldn't be on the list. No one knows if he's really 17, and he is basically a fastball-curveball pitcher right now with three starts in full-season ball. Certainly has the potential, but needs more time before he's competing with some of the others on this list.
Merkin Valdez has real good stuff. He was probably the best pitcher in Low-A this year. His command needs to improve though. I might move him up a few spots, but he is in the right area.
Joe Blanton is what he is. If we believe that performance is really the key, he should be a lot higher. His command is superb, and he has a nice arsenal of average stuff. Clearly, he had no business in low-A most of the year, but the Texas League didn't exactly light him up either.
I know Will's concerned about his arm, and being in the Colorado organization means we may never look good by ranking him highly, but Chin-Hui Tsao needs to be a lot higher. He's got the stuff, command, and performance at high levels. The only knock on him is the injury history and his future home ballpark, but I don't think those are enough to keep him this far down. I'd probably rank him third or fourth on this list.
Zumaya's stuff wasn't near what it was before the back problems, and he has a lot more to prove at higher levels. I can't see him as a legit top-50 guy this year.
Burnett's an interesting guy, extremely confident, and I don't think we can ignore the Mark Buehrle comparison, but he got a lot worse in the second half and there are concerns about his arm. Toss in the low strikeout rate and he's a tough one to make a case for.
As has been noted earlier, Jeff Francis should be on the list. I don't see much of a difference between him and Blanton. I'm going to fight for Hanrahan and Blackley as well. I'll be less vigorous about McBride and Durbin, though I think both are better than most of "The Field" guys.
To answer Adam's query, I hate Neal Cotts' delivery, and think it's a foregone conclusion that he's going to shred his arm. His command is also pretty freaking bad, and his stuff is average at best. If we love strikeout rate, he's worth talking about, but I wouldn't give him strong consideration.
Rany: This is a surprisingly deep position this year:
Joe Mauer 04/19/83 21 years, 2 months Dioner Navarro 02/09/84 20 years, 4 months Guillermo Quiroz 11/29/81 22 years, 7 months Jeff Mathis 03/31/83 21 years, 3 months (gap) Justin Huber 07/01/82 21 years, 11 months (big gap) Ryan Doumit 04/03/81 23 years, 2 months Kelly Shoppach 04/29/80 24 years, 2 months
I think the first five guys should be on the list, and the first four guys are probably all Top 30 material. Joe Mauer's a pretty clear #1; his main downside, in my mind, is that the profile of catcher/batting champ is so bizarre that we don't really have any good comps for him. Dioner Navarro has the most power potential of anyone on the list, but Jeff Mathis is younger and has a tremendous defensive reputation, plus he can hit a little, so I could easily be persuaded to move him ahead. Justin Huber was on the bottom of the list last year, and made steady progress again this year. Ryan Doumit and Kelly Shoppach are listed as a courtesy.
Joe Mauer Age 20 5 Year EqAs:.238, .248, .257, .271, .264 5 Year WARP: 0.1, 0.5, 0.7, 1.1, 1.5
PECOTA verifies exactly what Rany had said about Mauer: It's next to impossible to identify any comparables for him, once you consider his combination of size, skill, and position. There certainly isn't any good catching comparable for him...Werth is a stretch and ranks pretty far down his list. So the system doesn't seem to like him very much, but take that all worth a grain of salt. The one thing to keep in mind is that, as in the case of Burroughs, power isn't necessarily guaranteed to come--but a healthier version of Jason Kendall is a fine downside.
Jeff Mathis Age 21 5 Year EqAs: .227, .240, .255, .261, .280 5 Year WARP: -0.1, 0.2, 0.8, 1.1, 2.4
Mathis, on the other hand, has displayed fine power for his age--look at all those doubles he hits. Among the comparable players, the catchers tend to make for less flattering comparisons than those at other positions, but again, this may partly be a matter of sample size.
Justin Huber Age 21 5 Year EqAs: .236, .253, .270, .275, .286 5 Year WARP: 0.0, 0.6, 1.0, 1.3, 1.5
PECOTA does *not* perceive a huge gap between Huber and the other guys that we've discussed. Huber's batting averages haven't been in the same territory as Mauer's or Navarro's, but his secondary attributes project just as well, and he's huge. I think it would be a mistake to dismiss him too quickly.
Guillermo Quiroz Age 22 5 Year EqAs: .237, .242, .262, .274, .279 5 Year WARP: 0.2, 0.4, 1.0, 1.3, 1.7
Quiroz's power is for real, and the upside here is a player like Parrish. There are also a fair number of misses in the Ben Petrick mold.
Dioner Navarro Age 20 5 Year EqAs: .223, .236, .249, .260, .272 5 Year WARP: -0.3, 0.1, 0.5, 0.9, 1.4
There's nothing all that profound that distinguishes Navarro from the last two we talked about; Navarro's third-best comparable, in fact, is Jeff Mathis. Navarro's a little bit small (5' 10") to project to be a great power hitter, but PECOTA doesn't seem to mind all that much.
Ryan Doumit Age 23 5 Year EqAs: .228, .247, .260, .265, .269 5 Year WARP: -0.1, 0.3, 0.7, 0.9, 1.1
The upside isn't quite as high because of his age, and there aren't quite as many high-impact comparables, but Doumit's not that far behind the rest of the players in the group.
Kelly Shoppach Age 24 5 Year EqAs: .233, .236, .257, .262, .264 5 Year WARP: -0.1, 0.1, 0.6, 0.8, 0.8
Trails the rest of the group by a wee bit, and a fair number of his comparables did not really pan out; the distinctions are not night and day, but it isn't certain that he'll make for a good major league regular.
Recommendations: Not many. Frankly, I think PECOTA struggles with minor league catchers, but that's also an indication of how difficult the position is to project. I wouldn't be upset if Mauer was our #1 player, but I wouldn't be upset if he wasn't. I might bump up Huber's ranking a little bit. I do think that Navarro might be a little bit overhyped.
Jonah Keri: Shoppach put up great numbers in college and hit a ton of doubles, with decent homer and walk totals in the tough hitting environment of the FSL in '02 and Portland in Double-A. He's 23, but two years out of college and bound for Triple-A off of two good seasons, I'm not holding that against him. Unless this is a really good prospects class, Shoppach should make the list.
David: I'm definitely against Dioner Navarro being anywhere near the top 10. He's barely in my top 50. The comparisons to Pudge are unbelievably ridiculous. Think Craig Biggio, than take away his speed and power.
Mark Armour: My feeling on Shoppach is that it depends on what the list criteria is. I believe that his chances of an eight-year career as a major league regular are as good as just about anyone on the eventual Top 50 list. It is unlikely that he will be a star.
David: Other guys to consider: Mike Jacobs
Should be higher: Jeff Mathis, Kelly Shoppach
Should be lower: Dioner Navarro
Likely position switch: Justin Huber (to first base)
Mauer's the pretty clear #1 prospect in the game right now, but I think this is a fairly weak class. I'm still not convinced he's going to hit for power anytime soon, and I'd bet on him putting up a .270/.300/.330 line next year in Minnesota if they give him the everyday job. He is a lot bigger than most catchers, but he'd probably have to tear his knees up before the TWARP thought of moving him. They are in love with the way he handles a pitching staff, and his arm strength will keep his defensive reputation in good standing. I think it would take a serious injury to get him out from behind the plate before he turns 30.
We de-emphasize body types, for good reason, but Dioner Navarro's can't be ignored. He's tiny. The 5'10" is a joke, as I'd peg him at 5'8 and 150 pounds the day after Thanksgiving. There's no upper body strength whatsoever, and he swings with the authority of a 9-year-old schoolgirl. There's just no room for him to get any stronger without turning into a Warren Newson-type athlete, and I can't see any major league team sticking a player like that behind the plate. We have to assume that he's never going to develop much power, and the high average screams fluke to me. His 2003 reminds me a lot of Gookie Dawkins' 1999 season, where he went from a middling prospect to a superstar in the making based on a small sample of good ABs in Double-A at a young age. Same offensive skill set, but Dawkins also had speed on his side. I wouldn't be surprised if Navarro followed a similar career path. He probably should make the tail end of the Top 50, but I think his absolute upside is the current incarnation of Jason Kendall, and he probably has a 5 % chance of making that. I'm obviously not a big fan.
I go back and forth on Quiroz and Mathis all the time. I think we probably should rank Quiroz higher, since he has the Double-A experience and didn't get to inflate his numbers in the Cal League last year, but Jeff Mathis has the chance to be really good. He can do a lot more than "hit a little." If he improves his plate discipline even a little bit, he's an All-Star in the making. Of course, I said the exact same thing about John Buck two years ago. I'm not sure Quiroz will ever hit for much of an average, but he'll be consistently underrated throughout the next decade.
Justin Huber isn't going to catch in the big leagues, and I think we'd all agree he wouldn't make this list as a first baseman. He's huge, he's slow, and his arm is already below average. In five years, people are going to think of him as a catching prospect the way we all think of Carlos Lee as a third base prospect; you're amazed it was ever considered. I'm not lobbying for Mike Jacobs to make the list (lousy plate discipline, also likely moving from behind the plate, 2003 screams fluke year), but he's got a very similar skill set to Huber, just minus the earlier hype.
Mark basically nailed Shoppach on the head. He's got a great chance to be the next Dan Wilson, and we can debate whether or not that is a good thing. He's good enough at everything to start in the majors, but not good enough at anything to be better than average. During his prime, he might hit .290 one year and sneak into an All-Star game, and he's going to have a nice career as an unspectacular, and probably overrated, player.
In the end, I'd say that Mauer should be #1, Mathis and Quiroz should be Top 30, and Shoppach and Navarro should fight for a couple of the last few spots on the list, but I have no strong convictions to make sure either one gets on.
Will: I'll state that I know jack about prospects right off the bat...but Mauer's comps always seem to include Hank Blalock. Both were widely touted as the "best prospect in baseball," both have (supposedly) can't-miss bats, and both are young. I worry the comp will include "rushed to majors where they promptly tanked." Sure, Blalock came back and became the player many projected him to be, but with the jump the TWARP expect Mauer to make being roughly equivalent to Blalock's, I don't see much reason that a similar result won't occur, other than lack of backup (depending on LeCroy, Blanco, etc).
Rany: I'm surprised at just how few top-hitting first basemen there were in the minors last year.
Prince Fielder 05/09/84 20 years, 1 month (gap) Justin Morneau 05/15/81 23 years, 1 month (gap) Casey Kotchman 02/22/83 21 years, 4 months (gap) James Loney 05/07/84 20 years, 1 month Jason Stokes 01/23/82 22 years, 5 months Adrian Gonzalez 05/08/82 22 years, 1 month
I think Prince Fielder is pretty clearly a Top-10 guy. Sure, he's overweight, but he's a young player with old player skills, etc. I'm not looking for the player who will be the best in his 30s. Fielder probably has the most offensive upside of anyone who played in the minors last year, considering he hit .313/.409/.526 last year and started the season at age 18. That's insane.
There's not much to say about Justin Morneau; he's probably one of the three best hitters on the TWARP right now. Next on the list are four straight guys who had wrist surgery last winter, which makes trying to evaluate them next to impossible. Casey Kotchman's the only one to actually hit well when he played; even in Rancho Cucamonga, .350/.441/.524 is impressive for a 20-year-old. James Loney fits ahead of Jason Stokes and Adrian Gonzalez based on age and the fact that he put up decent numbers for the FSL. Stokes and Gonzalez both took huge dives from their status a year ago, but I don't really know how much their wrists were responsible for that. Right now they're both on the bubble.
It really seems like I must have missed a first baseman or two along the way; if anyone has any suggestions, put a shout out.
Justin Morneau Age: 23 5-Year EqAs: .269, .276, .286, .298, .302 5 Year WARP: 1.2, 1.2, 1.9, 2.7, 2.9
Here's a player that PECOTA really likes: It thinks that Morneau can be an above-average big league hitter next year, with further improvement to follow. His split season makes his numbers a touch less impressive on the surface, but I think he deserves strong consideration for the top 10.
Prince Fielder Age 20 5-Year EqAs: .235, .243, .272, .277, .307 5-Year WARP: -0.7, -0.3, 0.7, 1.0, 2.1
Because of his size, it's nearly impossible to identify good comps for him--Adam Dunn works well enough, I suppose. But the guy is a stud, and PECOTA does nothing to contradict the notion that he's top-10 material.
Casey Kotchman Age 21 5-Year EqAs: .244, .263, .275, .281, .286 5-Year WARP: -0.1, 0.5, 1.1, 1.3, 1.8
Noteworthy Comparables: Hank Blalock, Sean Burroughs, Rusty Staub
He's a good prospect. PECOTA expects a little bit of regression next year because it doesn't think he'll sustain the same very high batting average, but it likes him fine long term.
Jason Stokes Age 22 5-Year EqAs: .238, .257, .270, .272, .298 5-Year WARP: -0.4, 0.4, 0.8, 1.1, 2.0
I think it's possible to get too hung up on the most recent year's worth of data for minor leaguers; Stokes' stock has fallen, but he's still a good prospect. Even in a down year, he had 51 XBH in the Florida State League, which ain't too shabby for a 21-year-old.
James Loney Age 20 5-Year EqAs: .223, .231, .246, .262, .285 5-Year WARP: -0.9, -0.6, -0.0, 0.4, 1.5
Noteworthy Comparables: Adrian Gonzalez, Brad Nelson, Casey Kotchman
Essentially, Loney is in the same place that Kotchman was a year ago, but Kotchman followed through with another fine season, while some other comps like Adrian Gonzalez did not.
Adrian Gonzalez Age 22 5-Year EqAs: .231, .246, .261, .269, .272 5-Year WARP: -0.7, 0.0, 0.4, 0.6, 0.8
PECOTA does not really see a special player here. He's going on two years now without having shown any improvement and few of his comparables were star players. Quite honestly, I'm not sure that he deserves to be ranked at all.
Recommendations: Should be self-evident from the player comments. Rank Morneau highly. Don't forget about Jason Stokes. Do forget about Adrian Gonzalez.
David: There are four guys here who project as future All-Stars. To me, that's a loaded position. I love this group, except for Jason Stokes.
Others to consider: Adam LaRoche, Larry Broadway
Should be higher: Casey Kotchman, Adrian Gonzalez
Should be lower: Prince Fielder
Likely positional switch: Fielder will probably need to DH for the second half of his career
I think we might be getting carried away with Prince's projections because he's already a slugging machine. The biggest point in his favor is his age, but he's not a normal 18-year-old that we can expect to add 40 pounds of muscle and make a leap. He's a grown man who can't add much more power than he already has. Prince is going to be a good, probably great, hitter, but I expect that he's already done most of his developing. Toss in the fact that, in 8-10 years, only the American League teams will have a use for him, and that dims his star in my eyes a bit. Top 15-20 prospect, sure. But I'd rather have Morneau or Kotchman.
The only thing standing between Morneau and stardom is another 20 walks a year. We probably need Will here, but on a pure at-bat basis, there is no prospect in the land better than Casey Kotchman. He's an unbelievable hitter, very similar to Nick Johnson coming through the minors. He's exactly what we want a hitter to be, and he's a pretty good first baseman to boot. I have a hard time faulting him for getting hit on the wrist by a pitch, though the continuing hamstring problems worry me. If we could be assured that health wasn't going to be a serious problem, I'd lobby for Kotchman in the top 5. As it is, I still think he's 10-15.
If we want to nail a 2004 breakout, we should jump on James Loney. The combination of the FSL and the lingering wrist problem kept his numbers down, but this was still a 19-year-old being an above-average hitter in high-A ball coming off an injury that saps all power. His swing is darn near perfect and his plate discipline is a lot better than his numbers show. People like to talk about Andy Marte pulling a Miguel Cabrera in 2004, but I'll nominate Loney as the most likely guy to make The Leap next year.
I know his PCL numbers are ugly, but I think the consensus is that Adrian Gonzalez's stock went back up this year. I've always liked him more than Stokes, and I still like him more than Stokes. Gonzalez won't be an every-year All-Star, but he's going to be a good player. I can take or leave Jason Stokes. He just doesn't impress me. The Marlins picked the wrong guy to tie their cart to.
Adam LaRoche has to make the list. Barring a bad spring, he's going to start at least half the games in Atlanta next year, and he's not a bad bet for Rookie of the Year. The improvements he made the past 12 months are real, and he's now combining average offensive skills with a nice glove, and should be a solid player in 2004.
Larry Broadway should get some end-of-list consideration as well. He's the Kelly Shoppach of first basemen. It will be an upset if he becomes a star, but he's as good a bet as anyone to have a decent major league career, and it could start next summer.
Nate: I compiled the Atlanta list for Rany, and deliberately left LaRoche off of it. He has, in my mind, a very good chance to be Doug Mientkiewicz, and very little chance to be much better than that. His PECOTA comparables are not good. I don't think we should be putting our weight behind any first baseman with 'average' offensive skills, even if he's Keith Hernandez with the leather.
Clay Davenport: Loney's DT shows a .204 translated EqA for 2003, with an expected future peak EqA of .289. If we ignore the first 45 games he actually played (pretend he sat out in order to let his wrist heal), it would have been a .222 EqA and a projected future of .316, right in line with his 2002 numbers.
Loney hit .233/.283/.337 through the first 45 of the FSL, .301/.369/.436 thereafter. I think this is one of those times when ignoring a certain subset of the data is justified.
Rany: This is a pretty weak position.
Rickie Weeks 09/13/82 21 years, 9 months Josh Barfield 12/17/82 21 years, 6 months (big gap) Scott Hairston 05/25/80 24 years, 1 month
Those are really the only three guys who merit any Top 50 consideration. I'm not even sure that Hairston deserves to make the list, because he put up lousy numbers at El Paso and can't really field, but he played through a back problem and most people are convinced that he'll hit (as his 2002 performance suggests he will). Small sample size notwithstanding, Weeks' college performance makes him a Top-10 player in my mind, and he certainly did nothing after signing to suggest otherwise. I see Barfield in the 20s somewhere; he profiles a lot like Hairston did a year ago, putting up monster numbers in an admittedly good hitter's league, and with some defensive questions (although not nearly as many as Hairston has).
I used the Royals' pair of second base prospects, Ruben Gotay and Donald Murphy, as a litmus test of sorts. They're both fine prospects but not quite Top 50-caliber, so I figured that to get consideration at the position a prospect had to be clearly better than their level. As far as I could see, no one else was.
Rickie Weeks Age 21 5-Year EqA: .258, .280, .288, .287, .299 5-Year WARP: 1.0, 1.6, 2.0, 2.0, 2.4
PECOTA is using about 80 plate appearances worth of evidence to project the next five seasons for him, which I'm not fully comfortable with. That said, Weeks has a good projection--perhaps a few struggles this year, but a very good chance to be a very good player thereafter. The Joe Morgan comparisons, however, are premature. Weeks belongs in the top 10, if not the top five.
Josh Barfield Age 21 5-Year EqAs: .232, .245, .252, .255, .269 5-Year WARP: 0.1, 0.5, 0.9, 1.0, 1.8
I've listed four comparables instead of three, simply because I think it's such an odd list. A lot depends on whether he continues to develop power. Barfield is a little bit small, and plays the wrong position for it, but he certainly has the bloodlines. His speed is a plus. Barfield may be a touch overrated.
Scott Hairston Age 24 5-Year EqA: .257, .264, .272, .269, .278 5-Year WARP: 0.9, 1.0, 1.3, 1.3, 1.6
PECOTA doesn't seem to think that he has tremendous upside, but it would be a travesty not to rank him. Todd Walker doesn't appear on his comparables list, but I think that's an appropriate way to think about him. Hairston should be ranked.
Joe Sheehan: I want to hear Dayn on this, but I've reached a point of not taking anything Padre hitters do at Lake Elsinore seriously. The Gautreau/Nady/Bozied class has yet to do anything above the Cal League, and while Barfield is younger with more positional value and athleticism, I think you have to downgrade his performance in that light. I also doubt he ever plays 400 games at second base in the majors. I'm not saying he shouldn't be ranked. I am saying I see a (big gap) between Weeks and Barfield.
David: Second base will almost always be a weak position, by nature. In comparison to most years, this is a bumper crop.
Others to consider: Jayson Nix
Should be higher: The big gap (it's between Weeks and everyone else)
Should be lower: Scott Hairston
Likely position switch: Scott Hairston (to left field)
Rickie Weeks should be #2 with a bullet on this list. His college career was devastating, and he didn't slow down when he switched to wood bats. He's one of the best athletes to come out of college in years, and his defensive shortcomings are overstated. He's got the abilities to be a quality second baseman, but simply needs repetitions to improve his skills. I have few doubts that he's going to hit, and hit really well, and his potential lies somewhere between Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, and Jeff Kent. If he develops as expected, he's a multi-year All-Star. If I was certain the Brewers would leave him at second base, I might take him ahead of Joe Mauer.
I agree with Joe that Barfield is overrated thanks to the Cal League's collection of bandboxes, though Lake Elsinore isn't in that group. I won't hold the lack of development of the Gautreau/Nady/Bozied trio against him, as I was never a big fan of any of those three in the first place. But Barfield's game has a ways to go before he's a quality major league player. He's a gap hitter with occasional home run power, downright bad strike zone judgment, and questionable defensive abilities. The differences between him and Nix are slight, and I have a hard time buying either one as a top-40 prospect. Both should fight for end-of-the-list spots.
If we went further than 50, I'd throw some praise to Alberto Callaspo, who we're going to love in a year. But he doesn't belong on a top 50 just yet.