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July 8, 2009

Future Shock

Great Leaps Forward

by Kevin Goldstein

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As the baseball season has reached the halfway mark, it's a good time to look back at some rankings. However, I'm not going to provide a full re-ranking, the reasons of which I went into detail during a recent interview with the good folks at Phuture Phillies:

PP: As a quick parting question, your current Top 5 Phillies prospects list would be… ?

KG: I don't know. I realize that comes off as a crappy answer, so let me explain myself. I'm never comfortable with off-the-cuff rankings because they kind of lessen the value of the real ones I do. When I do the Phillies Top 11 in the offseason, it's going to involve pages and pages of notes, statistical analysis, as well as somewhere between five and ten phone calls to scouts. It's important to me to put that much work into them because I really want to get them right, so to just throw five names out right now would be incomplete and sloppy, not to mention six months from now I'd get, "you have this dude here, but now you've moved him there, what changed?" when nothing actually changed with the player as much as I did the work to try to rank him properly

Instead, let's identify the players who have taken the biggest steps forward and those who have seen the largest declines. To start off with today, here are ten from the pre-season Top 100 that have seen the biggest jumps up in their prospect status; we'll look at the bad side of things later this week. Note, these are players who began the year as Top 100 Prospects. I'll cover those who have moved their way into Top 100 consideration later in the week.

Brett Anderson, LHP, Athletics (Pre-season ranking: 24)
While his 4.86 ERA, .277 opponent's average, and 13 home runs in 831/3 innings might fail to impress, Anderson is the real deal, as anyone who saw the 21-year-old on Monday night now knows. If anything, he's learning on the job, and the two-hitter in Boston was a culmination of many steps forward for the southpaw. If anything, he has seen his upside increased considerably with his performance thus far. Often miscast as a command/control lefty, Anderson has that kind of ability to throw strikes, but he's been touching 97 mph with his fastball of late while sitting at 92-94. That's not a finesse pitcher, that's plus stuff and plus command, a formula that usually equates to stardom.

Daniel Bard, RHP, Red Sox (Pre-season ranking: 97)
Bard was one of those players who ranked low because it was impossible to fully trust his 2008 performance after the Blass-esque nightmare that was 2007. He clearly seems to be over that now, allowing earned runs in just three of 18 big-league performances and being absolutely dominant of late, as he's struck out seven over four perfect innings in his last three appearances. He seems to be slowly gaining more and more of Terry Francona's trust, and could be setting up Jonathan Papelbon by the end of the season.

Gordon Beckham, INF, White Sox (Pre-season ranking: 28)
This is a matter of the quickness of his arrival more than anything else. While most 2008 college draftees are in Double-A at best, Beckham started the year there after a monster spring training, went 13-for-28 in seven Triple-A games, and was in the big leagues by early June. He's done an admirable job defensively while learning to play third base as he goes, and after beginning his major league career by batting .172 in his first 18 games, he's batting .405/.436/.622 since and looks like a not-so-distant future All-Star.

Kyle Drabek, RHP, Phillies (Pre-season ranking: 92)
It's strange what kind of information can help you, as one of the reasons I ranked Drabek as the third-best prospect in the system entering the year despite his missing most of 2008 while recovering from Tommy John surgery was a conversation I had with his father Doug Drabek at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. It was an honest talk about Kyle's old and new mechanics, and what was working and what still needed to be worked on. By the time spring training arrived, Kyle had already tweaked his breaking ball back to plus status with the new delivery, as well as rediscovering his mid-90s velocity, which has led to a breakout year. Many scouts see stardom in his future, but expect less from him in the second half, at least on a workload level, since while his 109 strikeouts currently ranks third in the minors, his 1081/3 innings leads all minor leaguers and will need to be monitored.

Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays (Pre-season ranking: 49)
Jennings needed his 2008 season to prove that 2007's breakout was for real, but instead he had a lost season that was undermined by injuries. It was somewhat surprising to see him begin the year at Double-A Montgomery, but he was clearly up to the challenge, as his impressive .308/.384/.467 line is brought down by a recent slump. His tools are off the charts, as he boasts both plus-plus speed and average power, with one scout calling him, "Carl Crawford with a good approach."

Mat Latos, RHP, Padres (Pre-season ranking: 38)
The Padres' top prospect entering the year, Latos missed the first month of the season with an ankle injury, but after shaking the rust off by allowing one run in 251/3 innings in A-ball, the 21-year-old was moved up two levels past High-A to Double-A San Antonio, where he continues to dominate. He has put up a 2.14 ERA in eight starts while limiting batters to a .211 average without a home run in 152 at-bats. He's one of the better power pitchers in the game right now, but his service-time clock most likely won't be started until next year.

Jesus Montero, C, Yankees (Pre-season ranking: 38)
After a big full-season debut last year, Montero has gone from one of the better hitting prospects around to simply one of the best period, as after going off in the Florida State League with a .356/.406/.583 line, the 19-year-old hasn't missed a beat as one of the youngest players in Double-A, batting .312/.379/.527 for Trenton, including a recent four-game stretch in which he hit five home runs. "He has improved his plate discipline, he's making more contact, and he's still going to get better," said Mark Newman, Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Yankees. "His balance is going to get better, he's going to have a better plan at the plate... offensively, he's as good as anyone we've had here." Montero's defense behind the plate has often been the bigger story, but he continues to make strides there, with a handful of scouts believing he could at least start his big-league career behind the plate. "He's got a ways to go still," admitted Newman. "But his arm accuracy and delivery times are much better. We knew that was an issue when we first signed him, but my confidence in his ability to stay at catcher grows all the time."

Justin Smoak, 1B, Rangers (Pre-season ranking: 22)
While a strained oblique cost last year's first-round pick around a month of at-bats, Smoak was a middle-of-the-order force for Double-A Frisco, batting .328/.449/.481 in 50 games for the RoughRiders, far more production than some of the big bats taken ahead of him last June (notably Pedro Alvarez, Yonder Alonso, and Eric Hosmer). He was promoted to Triple-A last week just as incumbent first baseman Chris Davis was sent down to join him. Smoak could be a huge addition to the Rangers' playoff run, and is looking more and more like one of the steals of the 2008 draft.

Michael Taylor, OF, Phillies (Pre-season ranking: 55)
Like Bard, Taylor's ranking was brought down a bit by "is it real?" syndrome, as his 2008 campaign was seemingly out of nowhere. Now, with a .339/.402/.582 line at Double-A Reading, he's seen as a proven commodity with star potential, as his numbers have now consistently matched his tools for over a year. He's a bit of a strange player, as a 6-foot-6, 250-pound monster athlete who nonetheless focuses more on contact at the plate than power, Taylor's natural strength sends balls out of the yard. His surprisingly low strikeout rate keeps his average high, and he's a good runner to boot, with 14 stolen bases and good range in an outfield corner.

Josh Vitters, 3B, Cubs (Pre-season ranking: 34)
One of the most impressive bats in the minors this year, Vitters hit .316/.351/.535 at Single-A Peoria before moving up to the Florida State League last week, including an incredible streak in which he hit 11 home runs over just 15 games. Reviews of his defense have been mixed, but most believe he's the kind of player who could at least begin a big-league career at third base before moving over to first, like Jim Thome or Albert Pujols. As for his bat, everyone is a believer, including Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita, who admits that players like Vitters are at times best left alone. "You just let guys like that play," observed Fleita. "I learned a long time ago that guys who can hit .300 with power, you can teach them to hit .200 with no power, so when they have that much talent, you let them write their own script."

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

45 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

basejaw

Kevin, would you say Neftali Feliz has improved his status? I read recent reports that he was sitting at 98 and touched 101 in a recent outing.

Jul 08, 2009 09:31 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

How is that different from last year?

Jul 08, 2009 10:14 AM
 
basejaw

Its not, I was just wondering if he has improved, regressed, or stayed about the same in your eyes?

Jul 09, 2009 08:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Ira

As a fan. I would say that Feliz has NOT improved from last year, but Derrick Holland has. Holland has been in and out of the Rangers Rotation and bullpen but not been that impressive. Feliz is still hitting 100 on the gun, but his control is still spotty and he's now being tried in relief in AAA to see if he might be called up in a Joba style right-handed power reliever role down the stretch. (though, just like Joba, he'll probably return to the rotation next year).

Just to sum. Up for Feliz is the Rangers Rotation. Down would have been AA. Right now, I'd call it a push. (though putting him at AAA at age 20 was a stretch for him)

Jul 09, 2009 21:01 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Fix the picture caption - Brett Anderson - not Brian

Jul 08, 2009 09:37 AM
rating: -2
 
HeavyHitter

Mike Stanton. Same age as Montero, better athlete, more power. Is it better to play catcher poorly than it is to play a corner outfield position well?

Jul 08, 2009 09:43 AM
rating: 0
 
pbconnection

Stanton's obviously a super-talented prospect, but he's not exactly destroying the Double-A Southern League through just over 100 ABs (his current .221/.315/.442 line is far from an embarrassment for his age, though). Montero is raking at Double-A Trenton, thus his inclusion on a "Great Leaps Forward" list.

Jul 08, 2009 09:57 AM
rating: 2
 
ostrowj1

Stanton was ranked # 14 in the top 100 list. I think that answers your question...

Jul 08, 2009 10:04 AM
rating: 2
 
Fresh Hops

It depends on what you mean by play catcher poorly. If the standards are playing catcher like the weakest defensive catchers in MLB while playing the corner like a guy who could play center in a pinch, then it's about a wash. Tom Tango's calculations indicate that the ability to play catcher at the average level is worth about 20 runs over the ability to play the corner OF. A bad catcher is probably -10 runs and a good corner OF is about +10 runs (guys better than that usually move to center.) So, the difference is a wash. (If you mean by "playing catcher poorly" not really playing at teh MLB level but sitting behind the plate anyway, then it's better to be a good corner OF.)

Jul 08, 2009 14:31 PM
rating: 0
 
steveomd

How about Cody Johnson for the Braves? His 2009 has been one of the biggest steps forward I've seen in a while...

Jul 08, 2009 10:25 AM
rating: -1
 
nsacpi

But he wasn't on the Top 100 list going into the season. I suspect he will feature in Kevin's article on players not the Top 100 who might be climbing into the picture. He's gone into a little slump since Heyward and Freeman got promoted. He might be feeling a bit disappointed, but he's got more refining to do to his game than they do.

Jul 08, 2009 10:55 AM
rating: 0
 
ramtax

101 strikeouts in 269 at-bats. Yeah, he's got some refining to do. Nice upside if he can get his contact rate up and maintain the power.

Jul 08, 2009 12:27 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

Yeah. Read that numbers again and get back to me. He's Rob Deer at best.

Jul 08, 2009 12:47 PM
 
nsacpi

Or Russell Branyan.

Jul 09, 2009 08:13 AM
rating: 0
 
baserip4

If you were the Orioles, would you rather have Smoak or Matusz? This was a topic of much discussion immediately after the draft, and neither player has done anything but excel in the minors.

Jul 08, 2009 10:47 AM
rating: -1
 
Nick Smith

Casey Kelly's gotta be on the next list, right? He was a three star prospect coming into the season and is looking very much like a five star guy after conquering A+ at 19. Does he make the top 20?

Jul 08, 2009 10:54 AM
rating: 0
 
tywright7

I know Brandon Snyder wasn't in your preseason top 100, but would you say he has made the biggest leap up the ratings than any other prospect?

Jul 08, 2009 11:31 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

ANY other prospect? No. Up, certainly. But ANY OTHER PROSPECT?

Jul 08, 2009 12:48 PM
 
Aaron/YYZ

Kevin, I know he was off list but after his strong debut I'm curious how big a leap forward you would see for Vin Mazzaro if he was still eligible.

In a similar vein: Ricky Romero. He doesn't look anything like his numbers or scouting reports I've read from previous years. What happened there, did things just click?

Jul 08, 2009 11:41 AM
rating: 3
 
ZeusIsLoose

It's a little sad that I see that note from Oneri Fleita, and am buoyed by it. The less the cubs try to develop a hitter, the better chance he might have.

Jul 08, 2009 11:45 AM
rating: 0
 
G. Guest

If Anderson's "Perfect World" in the Top 11 was a #2 and his ceiling has increased considerably, does that mean he can be an ace or simply a better #2?

Jul 08, 2009 12:12 PM
rating: 2
 
Al Skorupa

Kevin - any thoughts on Rzepczynski?

Jul 08, 2009 12:19 PM
rating: 0
 
edanddom

What to make of Smoak's RHP-LHP splits? Didn't seem to be a problem in college, and not yet a ton of professional at bats, but .378/.487/.600 vs. RHPs compared to .203/.282/.328 vs. LHPs is striking. Would they dare platoon him in the majors in '09 at the risk of his development?

Jul 08, 2009 12:37 PM
rating: 0
 
Al Skorupa

Its all SSS.

He's only had 244 ABs as a pro. Of those, only 64 were against LHPs. At that point just 3 more hits would have him batting .250. As you say, its never been a problem before - and him being a switch hitting further adds to the skepticism.

Who would they platoon him with? LHH (and terrible) Chris Davis...? LHH Hank Blalock?

Jul 08, 2009 12:55 PM
rating: 0
 
edanddom

Totally get it; just wondering if Kevin could qualify (with a potential usage scenario) his suggestion that Smoak could come up this year and help Texas in a playoff run in a division where half the starters are LHPs, given his splits (which, as we are both saying, may or may not be real).

Jul 08, 2009 14:38 PM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

I don't think the Rangers would bring him up before Sept. 1st if they planned to platoon him. One month of platooning isn't going to ruin his development, so if they're looking at a playoff run, he could be on the 40 man in the fall. (When you think about it, most talk about hindering player development is probably a little overstated. It's a concern, but it's also not the sort of thing you should get carried away with. Was Justin Upton hurt by arriving too early?)

And I second the SSS point. He actually struck out more frequently against RHP than LHP. His .200 BABIP against LHP is more the source of the split than anything.

Jul 08, 2009 14:45 PM
rating: 0
 
mwashuc06

Where would you rank Jennry Mejia in your top 100?

Jul 08, 2009 13:24 PM
rating: -1
 
jayman4

Off topic, so please feel free to ignore, but wondering if you, or others, have written an analysis of the performance of drafting philosophies. Not to be overly obvious, but there is 2x2: college vs. high school; hitter vs. pitcher


The kind of stuff I am interested in:
I am guessing a lot has to do with specific talent (e.g. the Uptons would skew things towards high school hitters, but that may just be because of their prodigous talent, not so much a philosophy), but which category (e.g. college & hitter) is yielding the most in terms of MLB VORP? What are the trends we are seeing? Are teams following consistent biases/philosophies or moving all over the place? And, would love to see a summary, by franchise, showing VORP of their drafting going back 10-15 years (even if the player ends up on someone else's roster, the drafting franchise gets the credit).

Given I am a Padres fan, the future is all that is interesting now.

Jul 08, 2009 13:42 PM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

People have done studies on this. However, the amount of apparent randomness of player performance makes small samples extremely difficult to overcome. The data is very noisy and the more noise there is, the bigger the sample you need to see what effects are real and what effects are chance.

Besides, basing draft decisions too much on hitter/pitcher-college/HS is probably foolish. "College hitter" is likely far less predictive than "scouts and stats predict x."

Jul 08, 2009 14:52 PM
rating: 0
 
elm
(41)

Rany did a series looking at stuff similar to this a few years ago here at BP. Search the archives for his stuff, and I'm sure you'll find it.

Jul 08, 2009 16:25 PM
rating: 1
 
steveomd

Oops, I didn't see the "pre-season top 100" caveat there. My mistake. I agree that he still needs a lot of polish, but you can't possibly think that he hasn't made a tremendous improvement over last year, can you?

Jul 08, 2009 14:06 PM
rating: 0
 
ElAngelo
(942)

What does Chris Tillman have to do to get some love?

Jul 08, 2009 14:50 PM
rating: -3
 
Cromulent

I'm guessing Chris Tillman is doing pretty well with the ladies, but your concern is touching.

Jul 08, 2009 16:24 PM
rating: 8
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

Awesome . . .

Jul 08, 2009 16:36 PM
 
JD Sussman

haha - yeah he would probably be a good catch.

Jul 08, 2009 16:48 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

Context, context, context. He's not really improved a ton -- he's just still really good.

Jul 08, 2009 16:37 PM
 
Amos

He was ranked 16th overall before the season, behind several players who have graduated, and he recently got a rave writeup in the daily update, as well as in the piece about young Orioles pitching that also ran on ESPN.com. How much more love can anyone get? There wasn't a leap forward to be made.

Jul 09, 2009 00:08 AM
rating: 0
 
careytrc

How on earth could you leave Rick Porcello off this list? The guy went from High A to a 3rd or 4th major league starter at age 20! What else can he do?

Jul 08, 2009 16:53 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

I had him as the No. 7 prospect in baseball coming into the year. I was in the Detroit papers saying I expected he'd be fine in the big leagues and hold his own, so how is that a leap forward?

Jul 08, 2009 17:52 PM
 
gluckschmerz

Kevin: Brett Anderson or David Price the rest of this season? The next 5 seasons?

Should Pirates fans be worried about Alvarez? Or is he just experienceing growing pains?

Jul 08, 2009 17:30 PM
rating: -1
 
G. Guest

Alvarez has been in a couple of Minor League Updates recently.

http://baseballprospectus.com/minorleagueupdate/

Jul 08, 2009 17:59 PM
rating: 0
 
careytrc

Sorry KG did not see your earlier material. Just started subscribing a couple of months ago. Can't wait to see where Casey Kelly and Brett Lawrie shape up in your updated top 100.

Jul 08, 2009 18:18 PM
rating: 0
 
tercet

Myself and a commenter above are somewhat surprised you left Ricky Romero off the list.
He was average-below average minor leaguer over his 4 year tenure. But suddenly things clicked in spring training and he got a shot at Blue Jays staff due to the curse of Brad Arnsberg.
He went from a below-average minor leaguer who was only still hanging around due to being a #5 overall pick, to the leading AL East Rookie of the year Candidate currently.

Jul 08, 2009 18:42 PM
rating: -1
 
antoine6

KG: Any chance you wanna do a little mini-column comparing what teams can offer for Halladay? As a Phils fan, I'd like to see if we could make an offer without Drabek or Brown that could be competitive. The Jays would have to consider something like Taylor, Carrasco, Donald and a young guy (Collier, Gose) or another pitcher (Carpenter, Worley). Right?

Jul 08, 2009 20:05 PM
rating: 1
 
Ira

I'm super suprised you didn't mention Elvis Andrus. I don't think anyone really expected him to stay in the starting role as a 20 year old straight out of AA, but he's kept his Errors under control and is managing a .253 EQA on top of that (.262/.320/.362). All that and his range has made even Michael Young say, "ok, I would have replaced me with this kid".* (not an actual quote from MY).

Jul 09, 2009 21:06 PM
rating: 1
 
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