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January 25, 2008

Future Shock

Rockies Mail Bag

by Kevin Goldstein

Prospect rankings generate tons of emails, be it from fans, agents, front office folks, even players themselves. More often than not, they are simple enough questions. 'Why isn't player X ranked higher, or ranked at all?' is the usual tone these emails take, but one of our subscribers delivered quite the missive concerning this week's rankings of the Colorado Rockies, and it's one that took some time to reply to, while also covering some broader ground on the ranking process in general, so I thought I'd share with the class.

BK writes in with this:

Kevin,

In the too subjective world of prospect evaluations, how can you grade Franklin Morales as a 5-star prospect based upon electric stuff of which there has been no reliable data points that show that he can control it, he is only 6', his development is about to be stunted by the Rox throwing him in their rotation (and counting on him) AND RAVE PROFESSIONALISM REVIEWS FROM TEAM OFFICIALS when he has yet to show any more consistency than Ian Stewart. Yes, Morales' ceiling is higher, but I do not see how you can consider it to be much anymore than where he is now unless you believe that Clint Hurdle and Bob Apodaca can appropriately cultivate him in the majors... I'd love to hear that reply. This has to be considered in his evaluation.

Yet, you dog Stewart for even his defense when there a number of examples of players actually wanting to work diligently on their defense (hmm, Eric Chavez comes to mind) so they can become a Gold Glove winner. Sure, Gold Gloves are entirely too subjective, too... just like your evaluation of Stewart. Out of mere interest, yes, Stewart's road ISO is 56% of his home ISO, this largely due to his ~1/3 2B rate. This is the primary source of his ISO discrepancy which would be a more appropriate reference and source for his possible average offense other than 'many wonder' and unfortunately I do not have this potential knowledge at my finger tips...

I apologize for being so blunt; however, I have noticed that time and time again you have dogged Stewart and I feel like you focus on the negative aspects and use this information to dismiss any positive... I'm just saying that's how it appears. I love your info, so thank you.

To which I reply:

Hi Brad,

Thanks for writing and more importantly, thanks for subscribing to BP. This is quite an email, so I'm going to try to address as much as possible for you, and I'll do my best to go in order here.

  1. I grade Morales as not only a five-star prospect, but as an upper-echelon one at that. In my Top 100, he's going to be VERY high. And yes, I grade him on electric stuff, based on the conversations I've had with scouts who have seen him on multiple occasions. You don't need more than one hand to count the number of left-handers at ANY LEVEL who can match Morales on a pure stuff level, and that really does count for something.

  2. You say I have no reliable data points, I argue that scouting reports are reliable data points, and in my experience, far more reliable for evaluating prospects than raw minor league statistics. Not that pure performance isn't important, but it's not as important to me as scouting reports, and while that might not fit in with what Baseball Prospectus has traditionally been about, I would argue that we've evolved into something better, stronger, faster. Nobody, nowhere, with any system, can do a credible job of ranking prospects based solely on the numbers. Even PECOTA is evolving to the point where there is a bit of scouting information involved, and it's better because of it.

  3. You emphasize "rave professionalism reviews" as if it is a bad thing--I assume this is because it is not a specific data point. I can tell you, one thing I've learned from my many years of doing this, which have given me the wonderful opportunity to deal with people inside the game on a daily basis, is that MAKEUP COUNTS. It really does. Supreme talent can overcome bad makeup, but average, even good talent rarely can. You can look at old prospect lists and focus on the misses, and when you do that, for every player who just wasn't as good as we thought, there was a player who didn't become what he could of, or even should of, because he didn't put in the work necessary to become a big leaguer. Baseball is a remarkably difficult game, and those who approach the game with the proper effort and yes, professionalism have a significant leg up on those who don't, and can often pass those who are far more talented. You want to know why I was so wrong about Dustin Pedroia? It's not because I under-evaluated his tools, I can read my report on those and they're still very accurate. It's because I underrated just how valuable his effort is to his overall productivity. As an aside, I think you actually agree with that when you talk about Stewart and his defense, which I'll cover in a moment.

  4. Clint Hurdle, Bob Apodaca, and/or anyone else's ability to 'properly cultivate' Morales really can't play into prospect rankings, nor can other factors like potential home park or opportunity. You need to kind of rank in a vacuum, if you will. I can't ding a pitcher because you think his coaching will be poor, or because he'll be pitching in Coors, nor could I ding a power prospect with Seattle, nor could I ding Chris Nelson because Troy Tulowitzki is locked in through 2014. You almost have to place each player in a non-existent organization playing in perfectly neutral park with no more than replacement-level players ahead of him.

  5. Did I really dog Stewart for his defense? You claim I do and cite examples of players 'wanting to work diligently' on their defense, yet in my write-up of Stewart, I used the exact phrase 'worked hard' when it comes to Stewart and his glove work. He has worked hard. Three years ago, everyone you talked to said he'd have to move to another position, and now they don't, and Stewart should be commended for it. That said, hard work only gets you so far, no matter what we tell our children these days. There really is such a thing as natural talent, and as an average third baseman with an above-average arm, Stewart is getting the maximum out of his abilities. He's improved his grade a solid two ticks since singing, and that's pretty rare as it is. You point out Eric Chavez as another player who's worked hard on his defense, and while I agree, I would also say that Chavez started out at a much higher point than Stewart, and was seen as a very good defender back during his Mount Carmel High School days of the mid-'90s. You can only become so good with hard work. No matter how hard you tried, even if you worked solely on teaching a single skill eight hours a day, you'd still never turn Prince Fielder into a center fielder, or Juan Pierre into a guy with pull power, or get Jamie Moyer to hit 96 mph on the radar gun as an extreme examples. There are limits to everything, and to everyone's talent.

  6. I find it difficult to classify Stewart's home/road splits as of 'mere interest.' They are a very tangible. Any statistics coming out of Colorado Springs have to be taken with a grain of salt, as the team basically plays in the Coors Field of the PCL. As a whole last year, the Sky Sox hit .317/.378/.511 at home, and .269/.330/.397 on the road. That's a tremendous split, and one that makes Stewart's numbers looks far better than they are. You say it's all doubles, yet he hit just six home runs in 207 road at-bats, and had just 13 extra-base hits overall. In fact, Stewart has played in friendly hitting environments throughout his pro career, which getting back to Morales for a moment, means that the left-hander has always been pitching in places that aren't very conducive to his good raw numbers.

  7. The phrase 'many wonder' is in reference to discussions with scouts who have seen him recently, but did not see him during his stunning full-season debut, when he was the Sally League MVP with a monster campaign. The point being is that Stewart was seen as a world-beater at that time, and his scouting reports simply no longer live up to the hype that season created--a season which is now three years in the past, and one that Stewart has come nowhere close to replicating at any level since. Therefore, it's a season he should probably no longer receive much credit for when it comes to making any future projection for him.

  8. You say that I have dogged Stewart time and time again. Ranking a player sixth in a strong system is not "dogging him." In fact the write-up of Stewart praises his approach, swing, raw power, as well as the work that he's put in on the defensive side of things. It goes on to project him as basically an average big-league third baseman--which is the kind of prospect that many systems don't have at all. That's hardly dogging. That said, I might not be totally innocent on this one. What I see is many other sources writing about Stewart as a stud prospect, and I might feel I have to be a little louder with my thoughts on him, because they are in the minority and I want them to be heard among the cacophony of what I feel is unwarranted praise.

So, to wrap up, I think Morales is an outstanding prospect, and I think Stewart is merely solid, and not Top 100-worthy. And both opinions are based far more on scouting reports as data points than statistics.

Thanks for writing, and thanks for giving me a lot to think about.--KG

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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