January 13, 2006
The Best of the Newest
When I saw that Hal Morris had gotten five votes for the Hall of Fame I began to wonder if there wasn't an idea for a movie in that. Hollywood has always produced comedies in which some unlikely guy ends up as president or something because of a quirk in the system. What if you push the envelope on the concept and have a movie about a player of Morris's caliber who, by some quirk, gets enough votes to be in the Hall of Fame? Maybe the voters were mad about something and did it as a protest. I don't know. Maybe the player blackmailed them all. That can be worked out later. The important thing is that audiences are made to laugh and that I am given money for the idea. Oh--and figuring out who in their right mind thinks Hal Morris had a Cooperstown-caliber career and why it is that those people are allowed the honor of voting.
Moving on, I thought we'd go position-by-position today and see which players sans major league experience have the best PECOTA projections for 2006 at each position. These are not necessarily the best prospects in baseball (although some of them are), just those whose translations suggest they could survive right now in the majors.
Philip Hughes, New York Yankees (24.3 projected VORP)
What ho? A 20-year old pitcher on the Yankees? Not bloody likely. Hughes' projected VORP of 24.3 is better than all Yankee starters except for Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, but the last time anybody that young started a game for New York was in 1984 when 19-year old Jose Rijo got five starts in 24 appearances. The youngest Yankee to get a start under the Joe Torre regime has been Jake Westbrook on June 17, 2000. He was 22 years, eight months and change. He beats Ryan Bradley's 22 years, 10 months which came on August 26, 1998. Dave Eiland (1988) and Al Leiter (1987)--who were both 21--were the only other pitchers 22 or younger to get a start for New York in the last two decades. Ten years ago, 24-year olds Andy Pettitte and Sterling Hitchcock started 34 and 11 games respectively. That is the last time any Yankee pitcher under the age of 25 has been given anything like a serious starting workload.
Since then, under-25s have combined to start a total of 22 games for New York. That's over a period of nine seasons. Bradley, Ed Yarnall, Westbrook, Randy Keisler, Ben Ford, Brett Jodie, Jorge DePaula, Brandon Claussen, Brad Halsey and Sean Henn have all gotten a start or two in that time with Halsey (7) and Henn (3) getting more opportunities than the rest. For the sake of comparison, the Braves have given 173 starts to U-25s in the same period, with 21 and 22 year-olds getting 68 turns.
Of course, given the eventual careers of most of those Yankee pitchers, limiting their exposure was not necessarily a bad thing. The Yankees haven't exactly been a font of young pitching talent in recent times and now that they have a legitimate prospect it simply means that he's on the top of the Players-Most-Likely-to-be-Traded list.
Kevin Whelan, Detroit Tigers (8.8)
The former Aggie dominated the hell out of those unfortunate enough to face him in the New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues last year. He's faced 87 batters in his professional career and only 14 of them have reached base. Just six of those 14 were on hits. Of those 87 batters, just 39 were able to put the ball in play. He's closing, though, and the Tigers have committed to Troy Percival for that role. Is this the closest thing we have to a pitching savant? Including Texas A&M, he's thrown a grand total of 64 innings as an adult. That doesn't include the Cape Cod League, but the former college back-up catcher has got to be celebrating the decision to move to the mound at this point.
Kenji Jojima, Seattle Mariners (24.3)
Japanese catchers are an enigma in North America. We've seen the fancy windups of Japanese pitchers and the fundamental-rich play of players at other positions, but what, exactly, does the game of a Japanese catcher look like? If it's half as entertaining as what we've seen from the other positions, we're in for a treat. If Jojima nails his projection or exceeds it by 10 to 20 percent, he'll be one of the better catchers in the American League. If he had signed with a National League team, he'd have a shot at being the best in a catching-depleted league.
Ryan Garko, Cleveland Indians (17.3)
Garko actually had one at bat with Cleveland last year, so I guess I don't quite qualify as a column-concept fascist. With the signing of Eduardo Perez to a guaranteed contract for which he'll be paid to platoon with Ben Broussard, there doesn't appear to be much hope for Garko, who is already 25. He projects higher than both players, however: Broussard (13.4) and Perez (10.0).
Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (36.1)
Now here's something you don't see every day: Kendrick has the highest projection of any second baseman in baseball including Jeff Kent (who won't even be a second baseman anymore), Marcus Giles and Brian Roberts. You just don't get any more ready for the bigs than that.
Ranked sixth among second basemen is Dustin Pedroia of Boston. Last year, he had the highest PECOTA projection of any player with no previous major league experience. This year he is at 33.6, second behind Kendrick. This is a slight up-tick from his 2005 projection. These are the five players from 2005 who had the best PECOTA projection, did not win a big league job coming out of spring training and who had no major league experience to that point:
- 33.1: Pedroia: Triple-A finally slowed him down a bit as Pawtucket was the first place he's played since high school where he didn't log an OBP of at least .400. Another half-season there and he should be ready.
- 28.9: Carlos Quentin, (Arizona)--Not as ambitious this year, falling to 11.0. The rightfielder had great walk totals at Tucson last year. He's still just 23.
- 25.9: Justin Huber, (Kansas City)--He's a couple notches below Garko on the first base list at 16.2 this year. He had a fairly inauspicious call-up with the Royals after bettering his already impressive minor league OBP numbers in stops at Wichita and Omaha.
- 22.4: Ben Zobrist, (Houston)--The shortstop walked up a storm at two A-level stops last year while also hitting over .300. Problem: he's 25 this year.
- 22.4: Daric Barton, (Oakland)--His projection has slipped to 12.2 but he's still on his way. He's only 20 and has walked better than once every six trips to the plate through Double-A so far.
Rob Cosby, Toronto Blue Jays (16.5)
It doesn't look good from here. He'll be 25 this year and has yet to play above Double-A. What is more, his parent club already had 16 third basemen before trading for Troy Glaus.
Brandon Wood, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (17.5)
Eric Aybar, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (17.1)
Wood--along with Kendrick--give the Angels the keystone combo on this list which is really, really something they should be grinning about like a bunch of idiots. To have this kind of talent up the middle should make everyone in the front office do an organizational jig. Wood is only 20 and the dust has to settle on his 43-homer year at Rancho Cucamonga but both he and Aybar--who is two years older--project higher than incumbent Orlando Cabrera (13.2)
Alexander Romero, Minnesota Twins (14.6)
Mark time! No sooner do the Twins forget about Jacque Jones than they bring in Rondell White. As it stands, none of their rostered outfielders projects anything better than a VORP of 20.0:
19.2: Torii Hunter
15.3: Rondell White
14.6: Alexander Romero
14.6: Lew Ford
4.8: Shannon Stewart
4.4: Jason Kubel
0.8: Jason Pridie
Actually, Romero isn't on the roster. From the looks of it, this could well shape up as another punch-less year in the Twins outfield. Kubel's PECOTA is held down by the fact that he missed all of last year with an injury. His projection for 2005 was 22.2, so if he returns to form he could be the best of the bunch.
Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks (24.5)
He has the fifth-highest projection among National League center fielders behind Jim Edmonds, Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran and Ken Griffey Jr. and easily has the best one among Arizona outfielders. He walks, he steals, he pops and he's 22. What he's missing at this point is a good nickname because baseball already has a Chris Young.
Delmon Young, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (14.7)
He's only 20 and is already projecting a better 2006 than multi-millionaire rightfielders Jeromy Burnitz, Jermaine Dye and Magglio Ordonez. You'd kill for his future. Metaphorically, of course.