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February 11, 2005

Prospectus Roundtable

Top 50 Prospects - Shortstops and Third Basemen

by Baseball Prospectus

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On February 22, we'll release our 2005 Top 50 Prospects list. Leading up to that announcement, we're providing a peek into the process of assembling the list, the discussions that took place in December amongst BP staffers. You can read about catchers, too, as well as first basemen and second basemen.

Today, the left side of the infield…

--

Shortstops

Rany Jazayerli: The Dodgers' Joel Guzman is a major stud, the sort of high-cost international signing who, like Miguel Cabrera, makes a good case for international signings. He's still raw and could still end up being Chad Hermansen, but that's a minor quibble.

Nate Silver: PECOTA sees an awful lot of upside here:

WARP: 2.2, 1.5, 1.9, 1.9, 2.8
Comps: Alex Rodriguez, Jose Castillo, Michael Cuddyer.

He's very young, has the size you look for in a big hitter, and his ISO and SPD rate well. We should not overlook the fact that his hitting approach needs a lot of work, and that he's in an organization that might not be particularly well-equipped to teach him. I like him slightly better than PECOTA does.

RJ: It's worth pointing out that Guzman, who was listed as 6'4" in press reports when he was signed, is now listed by Baseball America at 6'6". That would make him the tallest shortstop (minimum: 30 games) in major-league history.

Chris Kahrl: Interesting point...I wonder if the Dodgers should be asking Cal Ripken to talk to him about how to play shortstop, or asking any of Ripken's legion of second basemen if there were any physical/mechanical issues with having a giant at short and the usual mite at second. Maybe it was a matter of positioning, but I don't really remember Ripken spending a lot of time doing any minuets around the bag with his double-play partner.

RJ: Maybe it's because we put him on the list two years ago just in time for his lousy 2003 season, but I'm not as convinced about Hanley Ramirez (Red Sox) as some people are. I could be convinced, I suppose. I hear his work ethic is better, though who knows how much stock we can put in that.

NS: PECOTA isn't keen on guys whose primary offensive strength is their batting average. Ramirez has five-year WARPs of 1.8, 1.2, 1.7, 1.8 and 2.1, His comps include Garry Templeton, Felipe Lopez and Wilson Betemit.

Ramirez's defense has not rated very well. His solid performance upon his promotion to the Eastern League is encouraging, but I think he's overrated.

CK: I haven't seen Clay's defensive figures, but Ramirez played a pretty error-prone short at Sarasota. With Dustin Pedroia coming up behind him, what's the likelihood that he'll get moved off of shortstop?

James Click: With Renteria signed to that stupid deal, last I heard Ramirez would move to third base and likely Pedroia to second base. Ramirez's high error totals have long been blamed on his "range," but Clay's metrics can speak to that.

CK: I still don't understand the fascination with Ramirez. He's young, and he's got a good month at Double-A under his belt. On the other hand, his offensive upside seems limited, and his defense is a big strike against him.

Admittedly, I'm sort of suspicious of any Red Sox prospect; they seem to get more touts than even Yankee farmhands, and for less reason. Or do we need more updates on the fate of Andy Yount?

RJ: I'd bump him below Ian Kinsler (Rangers). Kinsler may have come out of nowhere, but even the scouts think he's for real.

NS: For Kinsler, PECOTA discounts the huge BA at Clinton. It still sees a nice, well-rounded skill set, which is more than enough to make up for his being slightly old at 23:

WARP: 3.3, 2.4, 3.2, 2.8, 2.9
Comps: Luis Aguayo, Jay Bell, Paul Blair.

RJ: I could be overrating Omar Quintanilla (Athletics) because of his organization; he has put up his numbers in some very good hitters' parks. His DTs and PECOTAs would be telling here.

NS: Quintanilla's five-year WARPs: 2.4, 1.4, 1.5, 1.5 and 1.5. He has limited upside on account of his age (24), his small size and his relative lack of speed. The stagnant trend in his EqA line (.252/.256/.259/.259/.255) is troubling. His comps: Dickie Thon, Rance Mulliniks and Edgardo Alfonzo.

RJ: I must confess that of all the A's prospects under discussion, Quintanilla is the only one who really worries me. Maybe it's his mediocre plate discipline, maybe it's the fact that he spent last year in Modesto and Midland, both excellent hitters' parks. In his defense, this was his first full-season experience, but consistent with my caution about Carlos Quentin among the outfielders, a top-college-program guy is supposed to hit in the California and Texas Leagues.

RJ: I actually like J.J. Hardy (Brewers) almost as much as I did a year ago; he did miss most of the season with an injury, but before that he had eased my concerns regarding his bat considerably. Will, what's his health status?

Will Carroll: Hardy has a recurrent shoulder laxity. He basically had the same thing Richie Sexson did. It was his second time losing significant time to the injury. He also had the surgery, and though the Brewers are convinced he'll be healthy, I don't buy it. I only saw 20-25 games of him at most at Indianapolis, and he was unimpressive. He has a long swing for a non-power guy, and he seemed lost defensively in a great park for defense.

He's better than Bill Hall.

NS: PECOTA on Hardy:

WARP: 3.3, 2.5, 3.0, 3.2, 3.6
Comps: Jim Anderson, Chris Gomez, Wil Cordero.

PECOTA may be giving him slightly too much credit in the isolated power department, as it places a fair amount of weight on his 2004 performance in spite of the small sample size. A lot of the high WARP projection comes from his defense, which has rated well.

CK: I think we can pitch Hardy if his shoulder is that much of an issue; the Brewers seem to be guided by wishful thinking.

RJ: Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox) is my personal favorite for Mr. Irrelevant at #50, both because of his obvious ability--the only thing not to like about his statistical record is its brevity--and because his backstory is exactly what BP is all about. Pedroia is a collegiate player, short on tools but long on production, who worked his way into the second round on performance and continued to hit as a pro.

NS: Pedroia posted a translated EqA of around .295 in about 175 plate appearances between the Sally and Florida State leagues. That is going to project very, very well, and Pedroia has a pretty well-rounded skill set:

WARP: 4.8, 4.5, 5.1, 5.2, 5.4
Comps: Bobby Valentine, Gary Sheffield, Aurelio Rodriguez.

Note that PECOTA isn't taking any special precautions to avoid being fooled by short-season players, and we need to heed the example of Rickie Weeks, who's 2003 performance may have fooled us.

RJ: I'm so convinced that Pedroia makes the perfect Mr. Irrelevant that I've already written his comment. If anything, PECOTA would suggest we move him up from that spot, but for a player with just two months of data to work with, discretion is advised. As Nate notes, we made that mistake with Weeks last year, and Pedroia is certainly not in the can't-miss zone of a Mark Teixeira or a Mark Prior.

By the way, if you can differentiate between the Jays' Russ Adams and Aaron Hill, you're a better man than I.

NS: Adams, 24, is in very much the same category as Quintanilla. He should hold his own in the major leagues but has little star potential, and his defensive numbers have been subpar:

WARP: 2.1, 1.3, 1.3, 1.4, 1.3
Comps: Danny Heep, Denny Walling, Toby Harrah.

Hill is another player whose batting average translates better than his other skills, but he is a bit younger than Adams and has good plate discipline:

WARP: 2.3, 1.5, 2.0, 2.1, 2.4
Comps: Chris Gomez, Alex Trevino, Mark Ellis.

Hill's comparables probably underrate him slightly.

CK: Adams is supposed to be the Opening Day shortstop for the Jays, and there's some thought that Hill will move to second base.

RJ: If Chris is right that Adams is staying at shortstop and Hill will probably move across the keystone, that's the difference between a spot at the bottom of the list for Adams and a spot on HM, if at all, for Hill.

RJ: As with organization mate Alberto Callaspo at second base, there are enough warning signs with the Angels' Erick Aybar to consign him to HM at best. Sure, the prospect mavens may howl, but I've seen enough empty .330 performances in the California League to be wary of yet another one.

CK: I guess I'm a little or a lot more skeptical about Aybar. Rancho Cucamonga numbers deflate, but I'll be interested in seeing what PECOTA has to say about him.

NS: Aybar:

WARP: 1.7, 1.0, 1.7, 1.7, 1.7
Comps: Tony Giarratano, Alberto Callaspo, Garry Templeton

He's a generic shortstop prospect with good speed and batting average. His isolated power isn't there yet and his plate discipline is very poor. The odds are against these guys. Aybar did smack a fair number of extra base hits but it was in the Cal league and they came in a large number of at-bats.

Third Basemen

RJ: Now here is where the top-line talent is. The Braves' Andy Marte is on the short list for the top prospect in the game; his combination of age, hitting ability, defense and organization is almost without peer.

NS: Honest to goodness I thought we might have overrated him last year, but his isolated power and walk rate have translated very well for two years running, his defense rated better this year, and PECOTA loves him even more than the scouts do.

WARP: 3.4, 3.6, 4.5, 5.4, 5.6
Comps: Miguel Cabrera, Ron Santo, Ken McMullen

His strikeout rates have been on the high side, but PECOTA doesn't think that is too much of a problem for a player with this profile.

RJ: Dallas McPherson (Angels) is awfully old, 25, for a top prospect, which only serves as a reminder of just how devastating a hitter he has been the last two seasons. He could have been an everyday third baseman in the major leagues on Opening Day, 2003.

NS: PECOTA on McPherson:

WARP: 3.2, 3.4, 3.4, 3.6, 3.7
Comps: Franklin Stubbs, Mike Pagliarulo, Jim Thome

This is sort of an interesting projection; PECOTA thinks he'll almost certainly be a good to very good major-league hitter in the immediate term. It also thinks he might experience some stagnation down the road, on account of his age, his high strikeout rate and his problematic defense. He's still a very good prospect, but Marte has the higher ceiling.

RJ: Ian Stewart is an exciting example of what might happen if the Rockies decide to use the draft to play to their strengths and take good hitters who will be even better in Coors Field. Stewart hit the crap out of the ball last year, and while his defensive rep isn't great, Clay rates him at +13 last year, which is pretty incredible.

NS: He's basically where Andy Marte was a year ago. Marte was playing at high A, whereas Stewart was playing at regular A, but Stewart makes up some ground since his speed metrics have been better:

WARP: 2.3, 2.7, 2.8, 3.1, 3.5
Comps: Adrian Beltre, Kelly Johnson, Michael Cuddyer

Asheville is a very strong hitters' park, which is why I think some caution is warranted here.

CK: I might argue for Stewart ahead of McPherson.

RJ: The Yankees' Eric Duncan really isn't all that different from Stewart as a prospect on the surface. But Stewart's translated numbers are about 40 points higher across the board, and Duncan's poor defensive rep appears justified; Clay has him at -10. He's still a good prospect.

NS: Duncan has the same sort of profile as Stewart, but is slightly behind in terms of BA and speed development. It would be easy to overestimate the difference between the two, seeing as Duncan has played in tougher hitting environments and his stats were split between two levels.

PECOTA says:

WARP: 1.7, 1.8, 2.4, 2.6, 3.1
Comps: Kelly Johnson, Andy Marte, Drew Henson

RJ: The Reds' Edwin Encarnacion continues to be one of the most underrated prospects in the game.

NS: He's not quite in the same mold as Stewart and Duncan. Encarnacion strikes out less and runs better but his ISO/BB skills aren't quite as good:

WARP: 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 3.0, 3.0
Comps: Clete Boyer, Jay Bell, Brendan Harris

PECOTA likes him reasonably well, but sees more upside in the other type of skill set.

RJ: Garrett Atkins gets surprisingly little press given that he hit .366/.434/.578 in Colorado Springs last year and might break camp with the third-base job in Colorado. The dude can hit anywhere, and I'm not sure he shouldn't rank pretty highly given where he'll play home games. Ordinarily, I don't consider a player's home venue when putting the list together; good players are good players wherever. But the Coors Effect can destroy a young pitcher, and conversely, it might give a young hitter the confidence (and job security) to ease his transition to the major leagues.

CK: Atkins won't really last at third base; he's not good at it.

NS: He's 25 and not a very good athlete, which limits his upside:

WARP: 1.8, 1.8, 1.8, 1.9, 1.6
Comps: Ed Sprague, Ted Cox, Kevin Orie

Atkins has a good chance to be a major league regular for a few years, but you have to go all the way down to Tony Perez at #19 before you find a real star on his comparables list.

Derek Zumsteg: I disagree that having a position waiting makes up for age and particularly defensive concerns, and would push him lower if we believe he's a defensive liability.

Chaim Bloom: Matt Holliday hit .290/.349/.488, and you'd think he walked on water the way they talk about him.

RJ: I guess my point is not so much that he's got a job waiting for him, but that the job involves playing 81 games in Coors Field, which will likely help him to put up numbers that are superficially impressive enough to guarantee him job security even if it's not truly warranted.

On the other hand, PECOTA's projection for next year is surprisingly cruel. It forecasts a significant drop in his true batting performance, such that even factoring in Coors, he would only hit .287/.354/.461. That's not going to impress anyone in Colorado, so maybe HM is best for him after all.

DZ: I guess that makes me even more leery of ranking him highly. If it's a guy who'll be modest in a park that makes him overrated, that modest performance, however highly regarded and whatever job security it imparts, should be what we rate him on.

RJ: I have no idea what to do with the Royals' Billy Butler, or any other high schooler drafted in 2004. (Specifically, I'm thinking of the Astros' Mitch Einertson here.) Given the perils of trying to project based on short-season stats, I'm comfortable with leaving both of them off this list. I just felt obligated to put the names out there for debate.

CK: I think we can safely dispense with Butler. Short-season guys do interesting things, but judging performance records of what people do in full-season leagues playing with adults is what I think our business is.

NS: PECOTA has trouble with short-season players…

WARP: 0.8, 1.8, 2.5, 2.6, 1.4
Comps: Ed Kranepool, Adam Dunn, Jackson Melian

…which is why his numbers bounce around pretty wildly. If his isolated power translated better, I think we'd need to find a place for him, but it came out at just .119 after considering the extreme environment of the Pioneer League, so I think we're better off hedging with an HM.

RJ: I'm comfortable with leaving Butler off the list entirely.

CK: The Royals' Mark Teahen deserves more consideration for the bottom of the list or honorable mention, but then I'd rank Teahen with Atkins. Both have opportunities, but Teahen can play third base, while Atkins can only stand there.

NS: PECOTA completely hates Teahen.

CK: I may be the only person who feels this way, but I see Teahen as somebody who could have a decent career while being a fine replacement for Joe Randa. I have no use whatsoever for Atkins, a man who can't play the position for an organization that runs hot and cold so often on its own farmhands that it seems stuck in permanent menopause.

So to repeat, if there's a third baseman we want at the end of the list because of a balance of talent and opportunity, I'd much prefer Teahen to Atkins.

Jonah Keri: And I'd prefer Atkins. PECOTA's the tiebreaker, and likes Atkins a lot more.

CK: Finally, I'd nominate the Jays' John Hattig and perhaps Florida's Joe Dillon for HMs, but I don't know if Dillon is in some other positional pile.

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