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February 11, 2009

Future Shock

Impact Rookies

by Kevin Goldstein

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When our famous PECOTA projections were released earlier this month, our own Jay Jaffe took a look at the National League East and noted that the system smiled on Marlins outfielder Cameron Maybin. This shouldn't be a huge surprise to anyone, as Maybin has been at the top of prospect lists since his selection in the first round of the 2005 draft, and he was one of the big prospect prizes in the trade that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit.

There are few players anywhere in the minors who can match Maybin on a pure tools level, as he combines power, blazing speed, and a cannon for an arm. At the same time, his strikeout rate has always been a cause for concern, as his long, all arms-and-legs swing can tie him up in knots against good breaking balls. Still, with Maybin projected for a 23.5 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) as a center fielder, he's on the short list of this year's top rookies.

Let's look at three big-name rookies in each league, and what PECOTA thinks they can do with a full season. We'll balance that with information that PECOTA doesn't account for, while also throwing the projections against a prominent member of a big-league front office (who will remain anonymous) for some thoughts from someone inside the game. This is hardly a complete list of rookies, as much as it is the most interesting.

National League

Tommy Hanson, RHP, Braves
PECOTA Says: 4.90 ERA, 129 IP, 124 H, 63 BB, 116 K; 7.9 VORP
What PECOTA Doesn't Know: PECOTA can't see Hanson's continuous in-season improvement, accentuated by the most dominating pitching performance in Arizona Fall League history. In the hitter-friendly AFL, Hanson's combination of plus velocity and plus-plus secondary offerings limited opposing batters to just ten hits and two runs in 28 2/3 innings while the six-foot-six righty struck out 49. The only question is what the Braves will do with him; many think he's ready for the big leagues, but the Braves insist that they'll take things slowly.
Baseball Official: "Gimme fewer walks and an ERA more in the 4.50 range ... scouts in the Arizona Fall League thought he was the second coming of John Smoltz-he's not there yet, but could be in time."

Cameron Maybin, CF, Marlins
PECOTA Says: .265/.347/.429 in 588 PA with 15 HR, 57 RBI, 62 BB, 165 K; 23.5 VORP
What PECOTA Doesn't Know: In this case, PECOTA knows all, as it has three full years of professional data to go on. If there is one thing it can't do, PECOTA lacks the ability to pick up a phone and call scouts, so it doesn't know that nearly every talent evaluator in the game thinks Maybin is perpetually on the verge of a major breakout. This projection would be a very good first season in what could be the beginning of a very good career.
Baseball Official: "The walks are high... I don't think he will hit 15 home runs... Among the top prospects, he may have the most holes in his swing."

Colby Rasmus, CF, Cardinals
PECOTA Says: .247/.328/.414 in 534 PA with 16 HR, 63 RBI, 55 BB, 108 K; 15.8 VORP
What PECOTA Doesn't Know: Rasmus' 2008 season was one of the most disappointing in all of prospect land last year, but much of this was attributed to a slump that originated when he didn't make the big-league club out of spring training. He was really just getting going, batting .337/.442/.535 in June before a knee injury cost him the remainder of the season and the ability to pick up his numbers on the year to a point where PECOTA would like him better.
Baseball Official: "I think the stolen bases are high, as the Cardinals don't run much... I also think the strikeouts are low, as he's a very streaky player."

American League

David Price, LHP, Rays
PECOTA Says: 4.20 ERA, 102 1/3 IP, 106 H, 37 BB, 78 K; 13.0 VORP
What PECOTA Doesn't Know: PECOTA doesn't have eyes, so it didn't actually see what everyone saw during October, which was a dominating force coming into his own pitching in the postseason. What it does have is a guy who was very good but not great in the minors. As one scout said, "He basically looked bored in the minors at times, he needed the big-league challenge to really step up and bring it all together." A question remains as to how the Rays will use him in 2009 as he enters the spring as a candidate for both starting and closing roles.
Baseball Official: "I love him and think he'll easily exceed that... He's a candidate for Rookie of the Year... If the changeup comes around he could be special."

Adam Miller, RHP, Indians
PECOTA Says: 5.22 ERA, 81 IP, 91 H, 36 BB, 54 K
What PECOTA Doesn't Know: What everyone saw during the offseason; Miller has been a "perennial prospect," as he now enters his seventh professional year balancing ridiculously good stuff with constant injuries. The Indians hope a move to the bullpen will help keep Miller off of the DL, and when he returned from a finger injury to pitch in the Dominican Winter League, scouts were blown away by a fastball that sat at 95-98 mph as well as a wipeout slider. He'll get a shot at a bullpen job this spring, and could be contending for high-leverage late-inning usage by the end of the year.
Baseball Official: "I think he will be much better than that... Same age, same stuff as Seattle's Brandon Morrow... I'd predict an ERA around four with more than a strikeout per inning."

Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
PECOTA Says: .247/.299/.332 in 586 PA with 4 HR, 38 BB, 119 K
What PECOTA Doesn't Know: In this case, it's what PECOTA does know. Andrus' performances are always mitigated by his youth, and while he's always been among the youngest players at every level he's played at, he's also shown nothing more than an ability to hit first-pitch fastballs all over the field, which produces a good batting average but nearly nothing by way of power or patience. Throw in amazing defensive skills but a penchant for sloppy errors, and as weird as it might sound, Rangers fans should be glad that Omar Vizquel is around.
Baseball Official: "I think this projection is right on... He's never really dominated anywhere, and I think he's overrated... Between being one of the big prizes of the Teixeira trade and the Michael Young move to third, there's a lot of pressure on this kid."

How does PECOTA fare with rookies in general? Pretty damn well. Here are last year's projections for the top three in the 2008 Rookie of the Year voting; Evan Longoria (Rays), Alexis Ramirez (White Sox), and Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox) in the American League, and Geovany Soto (Cubs), Joey Votto (Reds) and Jair Jurrjens (Braves) in the National League:


AL         Projected                  Actual
Player     AVG/ OBP/ SLG  HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  HR RBI SB   
Longoria  .267/.339/.460  25  86  6  .272/.343/.531  27  85  7
Ramirez   .294/.343/.463  15  70  9  .290/.317/.475  21  77 13
Ellsbury  .280/.344/.405   5  53 33  .280/.336/.394   9  47 50

Evan Longoria: A slight underestimation on the power, but PECOTA knew that he'd be a stud, and gave him the best rookie projection in the AL.
Alexis Ramirez: One of PECOTA's best hits, this projection was generated without any professional track record to go by, except for Cuban numbers which were painstakingly (and deadly accurately) translated by our king of adjustments, Clay Davenport.
Jacoby Ellsbury: That's a pure bullseye. He's good, but the Boston hype machine put him up there as a star; PECOTA saw through that, as PECOTA doesn't read.


NL         PROJECTED                  ACTUAL
Player     AVG/ OBP/ SLG  HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  HR RBI SB
Soto      .274/.353/.476  19  70  2  .285/.364/.504  23  86  0
Votto     .280/.360/.499  27  91 12  .297/.368/.506  24  87  7

            ERA  W  L   K  WHIP         ERA  W  L  K   WHIP
Jurrjens   5.07  8 10  97  1.48        3.68 13 10 139  1.37

Geovany Soto: Similar to Longoria, PECOTA was only a touch short on projecting the power, otherwise seeing him as ready to be one of the better-hitting catchers in the game.
Joey Votto: The on-base percentage off by just .008, the slugging off by .007. What else could you ask for?
Jair Jurrjens: A rare miss, as PECOTA just didn't see him making the jump from Double-A, where he was a guy known more for his command and polish than his ability to overpower hitters. At times, those attributes can be undervalued.

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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