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February 22, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies

PECOTA Takes On Prospects, Part Three

by Nate Silver

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Shortstops

Player                                WARP    Upside     Comb
1. Joel Guzman, SS, LAN (21)          19.9     175.6     374.3
2. Eric Aybar, SS, LAA (22)           20.8     161.2     369.2
3. Brandon Wood, SS, LAA (21)         18.7     161.2     347.8
4. Eduardo Nunez, SS, NYA (19)        16.4     181.6     345.7

5. Adam Jones, SS, SEA (20)           16.5     130.2     295.4

6. Hanley Ramirez, SS, FLO (22)       14.6     100.3     246.7
7. Stephen Drew, SS, ARI (23)         13.4     103.8     237.8

8. Chin-Lung Hu, SS, LAN (22)         14.4      48.6     192.4
9. Yunel Escobar, SS, ATL (23)        13.1      59.5     190.9
10. Anderson Hernandez, SS, NYN (23)  14.0      47.2     187.0
11. Marcus Sanders, SS, SFN (20)      13.6      49.6     185.4
12. Tony Giarratano, SS, DET (23)     13.1      52.7     184.0
13. Joaquin Arias, SS, TEX (21)       13.3      50.0     183.1
14. Sean Rodriguez, SS, LAA (21)      13.9      38.9     177.4
15. Josh Wilson, SS, COL (25)         12.7      44.9     171.7
16. Bradley Harman, SS, PHI (20)      10.7      60.1     167.5
17. Welinson Baez, SS, PHI (21)        9.5      66.2     161.2
18. Rob Valido, SS, CHA (21)          12.3      36.8     159.9
19. Mike Aviles, SS, KCA (25)         11.0      48.7     158.5
20. Donald Kelly, SS, DET (26)        12.0      36.6     156.3
21. Sergio Santos, SS, TOR (22)        8.1      72.4     153.7
22. J.J. Furmaniak, SS, PIT (26)      10.9      40.9     150.2
23. Christopher McConnell, SS, KCA (20)8.8      56.7     145.0
24. Reid Brignac, SS, TBA (20)         9.6      45.0     140.7
25. Javier Guzman, SS, PIT (22)       10.7      30.2     137.1
26. Alcides Escobar, SS, MIL (19)     12.4      11.9     135.9
27. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, SEA (20)     9.3      33.3     126.0
28. Brendan Ryan, SS, SLN (24)         9.9      26.1     125.4
29. Danny Sandoval, SS, PHI (27)       9.7      24.1     120.8
30. Clifton Pennington, SS, OAK (22)   8.9      31.4     120.3
31. Jerry Gil, SS, ARI (23)            7.5      40.9     116.3
32. Matt Tuiasosopo, SS, SEA (20)      6.5      50.0     115.4
33. John Nelson, SS, SLN (27)          8.9      25.8     114.7
34. Michael Rouse, SS, OAK (26)        8.3      29.5     112.3
35. Ian Desmond, SS, WAS (20)          8.3      25.5     109.0
36. Matthew Macri, SS, COL (24)        7.6      33.0     108.5
37. Brandon Fahey, SS, BAL (25)        9.4      11.9     106.3
Back in September, when I first started looking over year-end minor league statistics in some detail, I was ready to bring the guns out in defense of Brandon Wood as our #1 guy, knowing full well that every other publication on the planet would have that chair reserved for Delmon Young. Instead, he slipped to #6 on our Top 50 list, and he would rank slightly lower than that--10th or 11th--on a pure PECOTA list. What happened?

I suspect that it's hard for people, myself included, to make the full mental adjustment for the California League. Cal League teams averaged 5.73 runs per game last season, a figure about 20% higher than the Carolina League, and 25% higher than the Florida State League, the other two leagues at the High-A classification. It's as though Wood were playing half his games in Coors Field.

However, the most basic reason for Wood's modest rating isn't quite as sexy as that. Namely, 2005 isn't the only season on Brandon Wood's track record, and his numbers prior to 2005 were not especially impressive. I went back and re-ran Wood's PECOTA, using his 2005 numbers only. When we do that, his combined rating shoots up to 498.1, which would rank him as the second best prospect in baseball, and #1 in the Upside department.

Is it fair to do that? One of the improvements we made to PECOTA this winter was to change the weighting for previous seasons based on the age of the player. For a player who is very young or (especially) very old, we weight the most recent season a little bit more heavily, while we spread the weighting out more evenly if the player in the middle of his career. All of this is based on a very careful, very empirical examination of the historical data record, and it does help Wood's projection out a bit.

There is no evidence, however, that we should ignore a prospect's previous performance completely. A 21-year-old is just as likely as a 28-year-old or a 35-year-old to have a performance that is out of line with his underlying ability level--the sort of performance that we'd ordinarily call a "career year." Now, when we look at the 21-year-old some number of years later, we might not see it as a career year, because it happens to come at a time before the player's underlying ability level is at its peak. In the chart below, for example, we see a hypothetical player who has a massive fluke season at age 21. Because his true ability level is much higher at age 26 or 27 than it is at age 21, this turns out to be only the fourth- or fifth-best season of his career. But it's a fluke season nevertheless, in that it's a fairly misleading reflection of the player's present level of talent.

chart 1

Brandon Wood's EqA last year was .271. He's a tremendous prospect, and he'll almost certainly have several major-league seasons in which his EqA is that high or higher. Nevertheless, it's very unlikely that he was really as good as his numbers last year, even after we get done adjusting for his league and level.

One last take on this issue (if we didn't beat certain subjects to death, this wouldn't be LDL). The statistic that PECOTA uses to calibrate its hitting forecasts is EqR/27, or Equivalent Runs per 27 outs. (Although we rarely use EqR in this form, the correlation between EqR/27 and EqA is essentially perfect). The table below lists the largest year-to-year jumps in EqR/27 for players in the DT database, subject to the following constraints:

  • The player was no older than 22 at the time the jump occurred;

  • The player had at least 400 PA in both the 'jump' season and the season immediately preceding the jump season.

  • The player started at a baseline of at least 2.00 EqR/27--not a very strenuous threshold, but we want to eliminate the complete non-prospects.
                        EqR / 27
Player          Age    Year     n-1     n        Jump     n+1
Scott Kirby      21    1999     2.03    5.15    +3.12     3.74
Alexis Rios      22    2003     3.43    6.45    +3.02     3.58
Mike Jacobs      22    2003     2.50    5.04    +2.53     1.11
Ryan Langerhans  21    2001     2.67    5.19    +2.52     3.96
Omar Infante     22    2004     2.38    4.87    +2.49     3.39
Tony Torcato     20    2000     2.06    4.52    +2.47     4.03
Casey Rogowski   20    2001     2.19    4.65    +2.46     3.14
Choo Freeman     22    2002     2.52    4.98    +2.46     2.33
Jhonny Peralta   22    2004     2.80    5.25    +2.44     7.12
Brent Clevlen    21    2005     2.47    4.86    +2.39      N/A
Joel Guzman      19    2004     2.11    4.49    +2.38     4.45
Aramis Ramirez   21    1999     3.17    5.54    +2.38     4.15
Albert Pujols    21    2001     5.42    7.75    +2.33     7.20
Josh Phelps      21    1999     2.83    5.10    +2.27     4.35
Jason Romano     20    1999     3.12    5.29    +2.17     3.30
Miguel Cabrera   20    2003     3.87    6.00    +2.13     5.98
James Hardy      20    2003     2.05    4.17    +2.13     3.49
Austin Kearns    20    2000     3.65    5.76    +2.12     4.17
Adam Dunn        21    2001     5.32    7.39    +2.07     6.21
Jason Kubel      22    2004     4.41    6.48    +2.07     Injured
Humberto Cota    22    2001     2.68    4.74    +2.07     3.58
Scott Hodges     21    2000     2.97    5.01    +2.03     2.99
Adam Laroche     22    2002     3.11    5.14    +2.03     5.00
Brandon Wood     20    2005     2.84    4.86    +2.02      N/A
Mike Peeples     22    1999     2.02    4.04    +2.02     4.05
AVERAGE                         2.98    5.31    +2.32     4.15
These players posted an average EqR/27 of 2.98 in year n-1, then jumped up to 5.31 EqR/27 in year n. What happened in the year following the jump? The average performance dropped back down to 4.15 EqR/27--almost exactly the midpoint of the two previous seasons. Certainly, this list contains some examples that should look very favorable to Brandon Wood fans--guys like Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols and Adam Dunn. Wood isn't quite as advanced as those guys were at his age, but he certainly could turn out almost as well. But there are also a lot of names like Scott Kirby Jason Romano and Alexis Rios. Overall, it looks much like a typical PECOTA comparables list, with a rather stark mix of successes and failures.

There are three players that join Wood in the top tier of shortstop prospects. Joel Guzman's name is the most familiar. He's the same age as Wood, and his profile, very much masked by the tough hitting conditions at Jacksonville, is distinctly similar. He perhaps deserves some discount because he's unlikely to stick at shortstop, although whether "tall players can't play shortstop" is more fact or self-fulfilling prophecy is something that could be debated.

Erick Aybar is one of those players who "profile" well, meaning that PECOTA can find a lot of players with the same basic skills set who went on to become successful major leaguers. A fast, line-drive hitter who does most of his damage early in the count: this is a very common profile for a major league shortstop. A skill-by-skill comparison of Aybar and Brandon Wood is interesting:

  • Hitting for power. Wood's power is vastly, vastly superior.

  • Hitting for contract. Aybar's translated batting averages have been much better than Wood's.

  • Plate discipline. Neither player walks much, but Aybar's strikeout rates are much better. Aybar has also run up some high HBP totals.

  • Defense. Wood's defense is adequate, but Aybar rates as a potential plus defender at the position.

  • Speed/athleticism. Aybar has had some of the highest speed scores in minor league baseball. He's been caught stealing a lot, but CS is one of those stats that doesn't "translate" meaningfully to the major-league level, where his stolen-base attempts will be regulated much more carefully. Wood's speed metrics are poor for a minor leaguer. Wood has the better body, although Aybar's is fine for the skill set he's trying to leverage.

Power is far and away the most important skill for a minor league player, and Wood has that in droves, but Aybar rates as Wood's superior in every category except for power. Aybar is fourteen months older but also a level ahead of Wood on the development ladder. He's had three decent seasons of minor league performance versus Wood's one outstanding season and two poor ones. Which player would I rather have in my system? Brandon Wood, certainly, but it's a much closer call than you'd think.

The biggest surprise on any of these lists might be Eduardo Nunez, who played for the Yankees' Staten Island affiliate last season. Nunez is not a complete unknown--Baseball America ranked him as the sixth-best prospect in a rejuvenated Yankees system--but he was sufficiently obscure that he didn't grab an entry in BP 2006. It's easy enough to see why we might have overlooked him: his .313/.365/.427 batting line looks only so impressive in a short-season league. But that performance came in a league that hit just .255/.324/.368, in a cold-looking park that depressed run scoring by 20 percent, at the age of 18.

Nunez' untranslated EqA (accounting for his offensive environment, but adjusting not league difficulty) was .295. Clay Davenport provided me with a list of the highest "raw" EqAs posted by 18-year-olds since 1997 (these exclude rookie ball performances).

1. Adrian Beltre, 1997 FSL, .329
2. Sean Burroughs, 1999 Mid, .329
3. Nick Johnson, 1997 SAL, .318
4. Vernon Wells, 1997 NYP, .315
5. B.J. Upton, 2003 SAL, .310
6. Wilson Betemit, 2000 NYP, .306
7. Ismael Castro, 2002 NW, .304
8. Edwin Encarnacion, 2001 SAL, .296
9. Pablo Sandoval, 2005 NW, .296
10. Eduardo Nunez, 2005 NYP, .295
11. Gregor Blanco, 2002 SAL, .295
12. Michael Saunders, 2005 NW, .283
13. Sheldon Fulse, 2000 Mid, .283
14. Jackie Rexrode, 1997 Mid, .282
15. Melky Cabrera, 2003 NYP, .281
16. Grady Sizemore, 2001 Mid, .273
There are a few obscurities in there--and a reminder of just how far Sean Burroughs has fallen. But this is generally an impressive list, and it goes a long way toward explaining why Nunez' PECOTA comes out as it does.

The other surprise is Stephen Drew's relatively low ranking. PECOTA dings Drew's playing time estimate a bit because of his extended holdout--we don't translate Independent League statistics (take that, Scott Boras). Nevertheless, his .218/.301/.386 untranslated batting line over 113 PA in the Southern League is hard to ignore, even if it comes with an abundance of excuses. Moreover, PECOTA sees Drew has having a mature skill set that is unlikely to develop much further.

Second Basemen

Player                              WARP     Upside      Comb
1. Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA (22)     26.6     247.1      512.9

2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS (22)     25.3     220.2      472.7

3. Joshua Barfield, 2B, SDN (23)    20.1     125.9      327.0
4. Ian Kinsler, 2B, TEX (24)        18.7     140.2      326.9

5. Donald Murphy, 2B, KCA (23)      17.9     116.1      295.1

6. Kevin Frandsen, 2B, SFN (24)     17.5      92.8      267.6
7. Delwyn Young, 2B, LAN (24)       14.2     121.2      263.4
8. Eric Patterson, 2B, CHN (23)     17.4      76.5      250.9

9. Craig Stansberry, 2B, PIT (24)   14.8      64.0      212.3
10. Kevin Melillo, 2B, OAK (24)     12.6      77.5      203.3
11. Alberto Callaspo, 2B, LAA (23)  13.9      49.4      188.8
12. Alejandro Machado, 2B, BOS (24) 13.8      42.4      180.9
13. Jeffrey Keppinger, 2B, NYN (26) 12.7      50.3      177.6
14. Ryan Raburn, 2B, DET (25)       11.5      62.2      176.9
15. Eider Torres, 2B, CLE (23)      13.1      44.0      174.9
16. Hernan Iribarren, 2B, MIL (22)  11.8      52.4      170.4
17. Travis Denker, 2B, LAN (20)     12.8      41.2      169.5
18. Nate Spears, 2B, CHN (21)       12.5      39.6      164.6
19. Chase Lambin, 2B, NYN (26)      10.5      55.9      160.9
20. Brooks Conrad, 2B, HOU (26)     12.2      37.2      159.7
21. Brendan Harris, 2B, WAS (25)    11.4      45.7      159.4
22. Mike Fontenot, 2B, CHN (26)     10.5      33.2      138.3
23. Alexi Casilla, 2B, MIN (21)     10.3      28.5      131.8
24. Ryan Roberts, 2B, TOR (25)       8.7      38.3      125.6
25. William Bergolla, 2B, CIN (23)  10.1      19.4      120.7
26. Andy Green, 2B, ARI (28)         8.9      30.2      119.3
27. Elliot Johnson, 2B, TBA (22)     8.4      23.1      106.7
28. Joe Inglett, 2B, CLE (28)        8.1      24.2      105.5
29. Etanislao Abreu, 2B, LAN (21)    8.2      18.4      100.3
The Howie Kendrick cat is out of the bag; he placed #5 on our consensus Top 50 list, one slot ahead of Brandon Wood. PECOTA goes one step further, rating him as the best overall prospect in baseball.

We have learned to be skeptical about prospects whose primary skill is hitting for average. Batting averages, as we've said many times before, are subject to far more year-to-year fluctuation than other statistical categories. Hitters moving up the ladder not only have to deal with better pitching, but also better defenses that record a progressively higher percentage of outs on balls in play. But sometimes, a prospect comes along whose contact hitting credentials are so impressive that no amount of regression to the mean can knock him down. Since 1998, there are 54 players (including major leaguers) who posted a translated BA of .300 or better in a season in which they were age 22 or younger (minimum 300 AB). Only seven of those players made the list twice:

  • Sean Burroughs
  • Miguel Cabrera
  • Howie Kendrick
  • Joe Mauer
  • Albert Pujols
  • Tony Torcato
  • David Wright

Cabrera, Wright, Mauer and Pujols presently rate among the ten most valuable commodities in baseball. Burroughs and Tony Torcato were abject failures, but Kendrick has significantly more power and runs significantly better than either of them. In any event, those are pretty good odds.

I'm sure a few of you are asking how Baseball Prospectus can be so high on a player that walks so rarely. For one thing, we don't care about walks--we care about production, and a second baseman whose equivalent batting lines project in the .310/.360/.520 range is a very productive player. For another, it's important to look at the entire plate discipline picture, especially for a developing player. Kendrick rarely walks, but he also rarely strikes out. Most players who hit for very high batting averages are instinct hitters who operate early in the count; they don't need to wait for a perfect pitch, and they lose some of their advantage when they get into a guessing game with the pitcher.

The better question is how PECOTA can "like" players like Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar at the same time it likes high-strikeout players like Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, and Wily Mo Pena. As I wrote in a column last year, strikeout rates are one of the more complicated elements of the player projection exercise. It is not so much that a certain strikeout rate is good or bad unto itself, but that you want the plate approach to match the player's talents. For hitters like Aybar that run well and generate most of their value from their contact hitting ability, avoiding strikeouts is essential. On the other hand, strikeouts are not such a concern for power hitters, and may even be a positive developmental sign. The later case is only up to a point; PECOTA does not see much hope for players like Richie Robnett and Brian Dopirak who have such a tough time making contact that they can't adequately hit A-ball pitching.

No prospect is generating more controversy this year than Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia isn't likely to crack BA's Top 50. John Sickels rated him below a relief pitcher. Even some Red Sox fanboys aren't willing to defend Pedroia. But he's #11 on our list, and #4 based on a pure PECOTA ranking.

You might say that Pedroia is this year's Jeremy Brown. Except that he's not, and understanding the differences between Pedroia and Brown goes a long way toward explaining his ranking. Brown was an amateur player whom the A's were expecting, perhaps wrongly, to develop into a good major league player. Pedroia is a professional player who has already succeeded in the high minors. Yes, I know that Pedroia hasn't "mastered" Triple-A yet, although for the sake of comparison, his .245 EqA at Pawtucket was better than Delmon Young's .234 at Durham. And unlike Young, Pedroia had the excuse of a wrist injury.

The point is that Dustin Pedroia doesn't need to develop further--he is already very good. Over the course of his professional career, Pedroia has put up an equivalent batting line of .288/.365/.448. PECOTA is projecting some small degree of growth next year, getting him up to .297/.371/.467. It sees him adding just a tiny bit more secondary average thereafter, peaking at .295/.383/.479 as a 26-year-old.

In fact, the basis for Pedroia's strong ranking is not really PECOTA, but his minor league translations (DTs). We need to give more and more weight to scouting information the further a player is away from the majors, and the further his present performance needs to be extrapolated upward. But translating performance from Double-A and Triple-A to the major leagues is relatively foolproof science. There are lots of players who post very promising numbers in the lower minors and then hit a road bump at some stage or another. There are far fewer players who crush Double-A pitching in their first exposure to the circuit at the age of 21, yet fail to become good-to-very-good major leaguers. The exceptions tend to have highly unusual statistical profiles--the Jack Custs of the world--but Pedroia's skills set is quite robust, and his similarity index is reasonably high. There aren't any backstory issues that we're aware of; in fact, his makeup is universally lauded as a positive. His defense should be good at second base, or acceptable at shortstop.

By one definition, in fact, PECOTA does not like Pedroia very much. One of the metrics I look at is the degree of growth projected within a player's Five-Year Forecast. Pedroia, for example, is projected at a .290 EqA next year. The highest EqA in his Five-Year Forecast is .299, coming in 2010 at the age of 26. That's projected growth of nine points, which is a very modest figure. In fact, it's the lowest figure for any 22-year-old (hitting) prospect who ranks in the PECOTA Top 100.

Projected EqA Growth for 22-year-old prospects

Andy Marte, 3B, CLE (22)       +27
Hanley Ramirez, SS, FLO (22)   +25
Prince Fielder, 1B, MIL (22)   +23

Chin-Lung Hu, SS, LAN (22)     +23
Chris Young, CF, ARI (22)      +22
Eric Aybar, SS, LAA (22)       +22
Brandon Moss, RF, BOS (22)     +18
Alexander Romero, LF, MIN (22) +17
Miguel Montero, C, ARI (22)    +17
Andy Laroche, 3B, LAN (22)     +14
Jeremy Hermida, RF, FLO (22)   +14
Ryan Braun, 3B, MIL (22)       +13
Elijah Dukes, CF, TBA (22)     +13
Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA (22)   +11
Wesley Bankston, 1B, TBA (22)   +9
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS (22)    +9
AVERAGE                        +17
If you want to talk about a player who PECOTA "likes"--that it expects to get a lot better than he is presently--it should be Andy Marte or Chris Young or even Hanley Ramirez, and not Pedoria.

The other wrinkle that PECOTA adds, of course, is to assign a systematic value to different prospects, which gets back to some of the debates that we had in the first article in this series. I played nice before, but to put a bit of a finer point on it: valuing prospectus is a complicated enough exercise that "ballparking it" isn't going to be good enough. You can quibble with PECOTA's methodology, or its enthusiasm for a particular prospect. You can make adjustments based on scouting opinion and other factors, as we do in our consensus Top 50. But there are so many different things to balance when evaluating a prospect--his age, his level, his ballpark, his statistical performance, the shape of his skill set, his projected development curve, his position, his defense, his body type, his injury status, the weighting of upside versus certainty, the weighting of performance today versus performance tomorrow, the pitcher-versus-hitter debate--that if you don't systemize things to some degree, you aren't going to get very far.

Most of the other second basemen on this list--Delwyn Young, who has a riskier profile, is an exception--fit into the same general profile. They are relatively older prospects who have reached the advance minors and project as solid big-league regulars, but are unlikely to be stars. I'd suggest, again, that this type of prospect is underrated (or the "other" type of prospect is overrated). That aside, it is noteworthy that PECOTA regards so many second basemen as being legitimate prospects, since second base is generally thought to be a dumping ground for failed or low-ceiling prospects. Is it possible that there's something about our valuation metrics (VORP and WARP) that's overrating second basemen in general? I think it is possible, given that most shortstops can play a good second base, but not vice versa. But we'll save that for another column.

Third Basemen

Player                              WARP     Upside     Comb
1. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, WAS (21)     24.7     245.8     492.9

2. Andy Marte, 3B, CLE (22)         22.1     205.0     426.2

3. Rob Cosby, 3B, TOR (25)          14.6     106.5     252.0

4. Willy Aybar, 3B, LAN (23)        14.9      75.7     224.6
5. Andy Laroche, 3B, LAN (22)       12.7      91.3     218.3
6. Jeff Baker, 3B, COL (25)         12.2      88.4     210.5
7. Ian Stewart, 3B, COL (21)        13.4      59.0     192.7
8. Aaron Baldiris, 3B, NYN (23)     13.5      51.8     187.1
9. Ryan Braun, 3B, MIL (22)**        9.3      89.0     182.4
10. Eric Duncan, 3B, NYA (21)       10.4      72.0     176.0
11. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, CLE (24)  10.8      50.9     159.1
12. Koby Clemens, 3B, HOU (19)       9.1      59.6     150.4
13. Marshall McDougall, 3B, TEX (27)10.0      50.0     149.6
14. Matt Moses, 3B, MIN (21)        10.4      38.1     141.9
15. Brian Barden, 3B, ARI (25)      10.1      30.5     131.5
16. Kody Kirkland, 3B, DET (23)      8.8      23.1     111.2
17. Jose Bautista, 3B, PIT (25)      8.0      28.3     108.5
18. Marcos Vechionacci, 3B, NYA (19) 8.8      13.0     101.4
** Small Sample Size Warning
This year's consensus "big three" are Brandon Wood, Jeremy Hermida and Delmon Young. PECOTA's "big three" are Young, Howie Kendrick, and Ryan Zimmerman. There's been absolutely nothing wrong with Zimmerman's performance since he switched to wood bats. If there's a concern, it's that Zimmerman's numbers were not overly impressive in college particularly before his junior season. All of this is eyeballed, of course--we're not quite there in terms of being able to translate NCAA numbers--and it's worth noting that Boyd Nation's site lists UVA as being a significant pitchers' park. On the other hand, PECOTA seems conservative, if anything, in evaluating the quality of Zimmerman's defense.

I already mentioned that PECOTA likes Andy Marte a great deal. Why is that? It seems that PECOTA gravitates toward players that have one or two ready, major league plus skills (in Marte's case, his power and walk rate), but also have an area or two in which they could improve (in Marte's case, his contact hitting ability). It also helps for a player to be young for his levels, as Marte has always been, since this suggests that whatever deficiencies a player might have, they aren't preventing him from making progress.

Next to Eduardo Nunez, Rob Cosby is the biggest "who in the hell?" prospect on this year's list. Like Nunez, Cosby is a player whose value is substantially hidden by his hitting environment--it ain't easy to hit a baseball in New Hampshire. I'm not quite this sold on Cosby--he's old, and his profile is almost eerily similar to Shea Hillenbrand's. But a late breakout would not be unreasonable, given that Cosby lost essentially all of 2004 to an ACL tear, and PECOTA expects exactly that.

Ian Stewart is probably underrated by this methodology. His rating takes a big hit as a result of his poor translated performance in the California League, but his numbers got a lot better as the year wore on and he overcame a series of injuries. It does worry me that Stewart had three distinct injuries over the span of seven months (including one in the AFL) and, perhaps appropriately, PECOTA assigns him higher attrition and drop rates than it does for comparable prospects.

Almost Prospects

Player                             WARP      Upside      Comb
B.J. Upton, SS, TBA (21)           25.6      307.1      563.3
Jhonny Peralta, SS, CLE (24)       28.0      232.1      512.1
Jose Reyes, SS, NYN (23)           25.7      143.9      400.6
James Hardy, SS, MIL (23)          20.1      143.4      344.0
Jason Bartlett, SS, MIN (26)       20.0       88.5      289.0
Aaron Hill, SS, TOR (24)           17.0       93.2      263.3
Ronny Cedeno, SS, CHN (23)         16.4       91.6      255.1
Yuniesky Betancourt, SS, SEA (24)  15.5       46.4      201.9
Michael Morse, SS, SEA (24)        11.1       73.5      184.3
Omar Quintanilla, SS, COL (24)     12.0       52.9      172.5
Brandon Phillips, SS, CLE (25)      9.9       24.9      123.9

Player                             WARP      Upside      Comb
Rickie Weeks, 2B, MIL (23)         23.0      220.0      449.6
Jorge Cantu, 2B, TBA (24)          19.1      165.2      355.7
Jose Lopez, 2B, SEA (22)           17.7      147.0      323.7
Robinson Cano, 2B, NYA (23)        19.0      129.5      319.6
Ruben Gotay, 2B, KCA (23)          15.4      107.8      261.9
Omar Infante, 2B, DET (24)         13.5       48.3      183.6

Player                             WARP      Upside      Comb
David Wright, 3B, NYN (23)         36.0      424.6      784.4
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, CIN (23)    21.6      180.1      396.6
Dallas McPherson, 3B, LAA (25)     19.1      167.4      358.4
Mark Teahen, 3B, KCA (24)          13.5       60.9      195.4
Kevin Youkilis, 3B, BOS (27)       12.1       55.8      176.5
Wilson Betemit, 3B, ATL (24)       10.0       72.3      172.4
You'll see B.J. Upton's name on some other prospect lists, and as Rany Jazayerli said in his chat yesterday, if there's ever a prospect who's going through a sort of second virginity, it's Upton. Were he eligible, Upton would rate as PECOTA's #1 prospect (though Felix Hernandez, another player who has found himself on some prospect lists, would rate ahead of him).

It might be surprising that a player like Jose Reyes, whose game we're not supposed to "like" very much, rates as the more valuable long-term commodity than all but the top handful of prospects. That reiterates the point that breaking into the major leagues early is a huge indicator of future success, and Reyes didn't only handle the major leagues last year, but as a 20-year-old in 2003. There was a thread on Baseball Think Factory a little while ago about Robinson Cano; the claim was made that Cano has a 10% chance to make the Hall of Fame. Although PECOTA is not particularly high on Cano, I suspect that claim is about right. The number of players who make for decent major-league regulars at 22 is small, and having access to major-league resources--the best coaching and training, the competitive and financial incentives, the presence of veterans in the clubhouse--is an enormous plus for a developing baseball player.

Edwin Encarnacion falls into the Brian McCann class of players who may be overlooked because their stat line was divided across two levels. The same goes really for Jose Lopez, whose season has been divided two years in a row. If nothing else, this type of player tends to make for a great sleeper pickup in a fantasy league. Note also that PECOTA maintains most of its enthusiasm for Dallas McPherson, who for all his struggles last year, still hit for tremendous isolated power.

Almost Prospects: Outfielders Redux

I unwittingly excluded a number of outfielders from last week's installment of the Almost Prospects list, so let's rerun that without further comment. Our further apologies to Oakland's Travis Buck, whose 107.0 combined rating should have snuck him onto the outfielders list with a sample size warning. Also stay tuned for a rare double scoop of LDL coming on Friday, when we'll reignite the TNSTAAPP debate, and tee off Red Sox Nation by dissing Jon Papelbon.

Player                           WARP      Upside     Comb
Miguel Cabrera, LF, FLO (23)     36.0      464.1     824.1
Grady Sizemore, CF, CLE (23)     26.5      231.9     496.7
Wily Pena, RF, CIN (24)          19.7      203.9     401.4
Curtis Granderson, CF, DET (25)  23.8      150.9     389.0
Jonny Gomes, RF, TBA (25)        18.9      179.2     368.6
Jeffrey Francoeur, RF, ATL (22)  18.7      144.2     331.3
Carl Crawford, LF, TBA (24)      21.4      102.0     316.4
Rocco Baldelli, CF, TBA (24)     19.2      101.2     293.2
Shane Victorino, CF, PHI (25)    20.4       84.7     288.8
Victor Diaz, RF, NYN (24)        16.2       99.8     262.3
Kelly Johnson, LF, ATL (24)      17.9       80.3     259.7
Willy Taveras, CF, HOU (24)      17.2       34.1     205.9
Matt Murton, LF, CHN (24)        14.0       60.8     200.7
Shin-Soo Choo, LF, SEA (23)      13.3       66.0     198.9
Christopher Duffy, CF, PIT (26)  12.6       59.6     186.0
Todd Linden, RF, SFN (26)        12.3       56.7     179.6

Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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