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August 25, 2011

Future Shock

Second-Half Surges

by Kevin Goldstein

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Prospect stock can have wild variance, and while it is wrong to react too much to one bad start or one hot streak at the plate, a good or bad month or two—along with corresponding scouting reports—can impact how the industry views a player's future. Every year, there are hundreds of players who fail to live up to expectations. Here's an all-star team of players who hurt themselves early, but have regained their prospect status.

Catcher: Jesus Montero, Yankees
Montero slugged .517 in Triple-A as a 20-year-old in 2010, but he failed to repeat those numbers this year, with scouts noticing some effort issues both at and behind the plate. Montero’s frustration is somewhat understandable considering there is no obvious opening for him in the Bronx, but the backstop has bounced back since the All-Star break by slugging .515 in the second half, including eight home runs in 130 at-bats. He has stopped tinkering with his swing and returned to last year's form. The bad news is that Montero still isn’t seen as a big-league catcher, so an off-season trade might be his best bet for a shot at the majors.

First Base: Neftali Soto, Reds
Despite hitting a career-high 21 homers, Soto took a big prospect hit in 2010 because he also became a full-time first baseman, a position at which one must profile as a middle-of-the-order hitter in the big leagues to even be considered as a prospect. Soto had hit just five homers by mid-June, but now he leads all minor leaguers in home runs since that date; he has 22 in his last 58 games, lifting his season averages to .265/.321/.560. Scouts don't question his power, but his impatient approach leaves them wondering how much he'll be able to unleash it as he moves up the Cincinnati ladder.

Second Base: Scooter Gennett, Brewers
Gennett charmed Midwest League scouts in 2010 while hitting .309/.354/.463 for Low-A Wisconsin. With a 5-foot-9, 164-pound frame, there is no player with a more apt nickname; one talent evaluator said Gennett would have been a first-round pick had he been taller. When Gennett hit just .267 during the first half of the season, the bloom seemed to be off the rose, but in the second half he’s batting .346/.360/.487 in one of the worst hitter's parks in one of the worst hitter's leagues. Gennett is an impatient hitter with few tools past the bat, but he's left few questions about his ability to hit for average.

Third Base: Zack Cox, Cardinals
Entering the year, the only debate about Cox, the Cardinals’ first-round pick from 2010, revolved around his power. As 27 of his first 29 hits in full-season ball were singles, he did little to answer the question. Cox didn't hit his first home run until his 31stgame of the year. Moved to Double-A in late May, the third baseman hit just two home runs in his first 43 games for Springfield in the Texas League, but he recently unlocked his home-run swing with seven jacks in the last two months while bashing to the tune of .351/.434/.560 since the break. If he can stay at third base, where he's proven to be error-prone, Cox just might be worth the big-league contract he signed.

Shortstop: Billy Hamilton, Reds
There is no faster player in organized baseball, but Hamilton was on the end of all sorts of “can't steal first” jokes when his average was hovering around the Mendoza line throughout the first two months of the season. While his season OPS of 680 still fails to impress, Hamilton’s .307/.376/.365 line in the second half has scouts projecting him as an impact player at the top of the order. With 92 stolen bases and 12 games to go, his quest for 100 is one to watch, and with 11 swipes in his last six contests, he's picking up the pace.

Outfield: Michael Choice, Athletics
Choice, Oakland's first-round pick in 2010, was given a challenging assignment to begin the year, starting the season in High-A despite coming from a smaller school and having plenty of concerns about his strikeout rate. Despite hitting just .248, his power and patience led to good overall numbers in the first half. Choice has exploded, with a .333/.415/.605 line in the second half, while his strikeout rate has fallen 15 percent during that time, providing evidence that this is more than just a fluke. He could provide the power hitter the A's have been in search of for years by 2013.

Outfield: Brett Jackson, Cubs
Jackson, like Choice, is one of the better outfield prospects in the game, but the amount of swing-and-miss in his game has always kept him from elite status. After hitting just .256 at Double-A, a mid-July move to Triple-A has ignited a fire; he’s hitting .315/.391/.577 in 38 games for Iowa and is lining himself up for a September callup and a long look this spring. While 55 strikeouts in 149 at-bats leave the high average unsustainable, Jackson projects as a 20/20 center fielder with plus defense and one of the Cubs’ few upper-level prospects who projects as an important part of the team's future.

Outfield: Donavan Tate, Padres
Yes, Tate can't stay healthy (and his season is over due to a wrist problem), and yes he's done some stupid stuff off the field (resulting in a 25-game suspension for a positive drug test), but when this former first-round pick played this year, he looked good. With a strikeout rate nearly halved from last year and a healthy walk rate, Tate hit .288/.410/.411 between Low-A and short-season, so the only issue is that he's now behind the curve age-wise. He'll be 21 next month, and might be forced to High-A to begin 2012.

Pitcher: Chad Betts, Rockies
Betts, a second-round pick last year, had an excellent pro debut, but it was clear that his secondary pitches would need more development as his 2011 season began at High-A Modesto. While his fastball has always been plus and has hit the mid-90s this year, it's both Betts’ slider and changeup that have refined into average-or-better offerings. After his ERA sat at 5.14 at the end of May, Betts has had a 2.14 ERA in 14 starts since while striking out 97 over 96 2/3 innings. He's arguably the best starter in the Colorado system, and almost assuredly the one who offers the most assurance of a big-league career.

Pitcher: Tyler Matzek, Rockies
Matzek was the most-hyped prospect in Colorado’s system entering the 2010 season, and while he put up a 2.92 ERA at Low-A Asheville, his stuff came and went throughout the year; his velocity was often average at best, as opposed to the mid-90s range he showed in high school. The wheels came off completely to begin the 2011 season, as Matzek put up a 9.82 ERA with 46 walks in 33 innings in 10 starts for High-A Modesto. The Rockies took an almost unprecedented step in allowing him to leave the team to work with his high school pitching coach in an attempt to find a return to form. While he's still overcoming his wildness, with 29 walks over 41 innings since his return, Matzek has also whiffed 49 while showing a fastball that, for the first time in his career, is consistently in the low- to mid-90s range. He's still in the tall weeds, but there just might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Pitcher: Trevor May, Phillies
The rotation at Clearwater started the year among the best in the minors, but Brody Colvin has suffered through injuries, Jarred Cosart is now an Astro, and May has become perhaps the best prospect in the system. It didn't seem that way early on, as his ERA was 5.54 after five starts, but he’s been getting more dominant by the start; he has struck out 109 batters over just 72 1/3 innings since the All-Star break while limiting batters to a .211 batting average. With a pro body (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) and pure power stuff, May’s ability to miss bats could land him in Philadelphia by the end of 2012.  

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  First Month

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

BP Comment Quick Links

mharrop

Can you put 100 minor league SBs in context? Has that been done recently? Ever? What's your best guess at Hamilton's peak SBs/season in the majors?

Aug 25, 2011 14:33 PM
rating: 0
 
HeavyHitter

Otis Nixon stole 107 bases in 1982 at age 23 in AA/AAA. He didn't really make an impact at the MLB level until age 29, which is also the last time he spent a significant portion of a season in the minors. Nixon never hit more than 2 HR in a single season. He stole more than 40 bases per season in 9 consecutive seasons in the majors. If Hamilton is an average or better shortstop, he will make it to the bigs much faster than Nixon, who was an outfielder. So that's my question - - is he projected to be an average or better fielding shortstop?

Aug 25, 2011 15:46 PM
rating: 2
 
Lou Doench

I haven't seen him, but I thought Billy was slated for 2b. If he can play ss, we can have a spot for him on the river as soon as he's ready.

Aug 25, 2011 16:07 PM
rating: 0
 
HeavyHitter

BTW, Ricky Henderson never stole 100 bases in the minors. However, he had 3 100 SB seasons in the majors by age 24. Henderson also had much more power than Nixon or Hamiton, despite the fact his build (6'1", 160 lbs.)was identical to Hamilton's (at least at the beginning of Henderson's career). (Nixon was listed at 6'1", 180 lbs.) At age 23 (in 1982, the same year Nixon stole 100 bases in the minors) he set the MLB record of 130 SB.

Aug 25, 2011 16:04 PM
rating: 0
 
harderj

I was curious to see how successful Billy Hamilton had been in his attempts. Was also amused to find that the "original" Billy Hamilton had three seasons with more than 100 stolen bases toward a career total of 912 (and a career triple slash line of .344/.455/.432).

The present-day one has 19 caught to go with his 92 steals, a 76% success rate. That's about break-even, right? He had 12 caught and 62 steals his first two years in the pros, an 84% success rate.

Rickey Henderson had 26 caught against 100 steals (79%), 42/130 (76%), and 19/108 (85%) in his three one-hundred steal years, and was 335/1406 (80.758%) for his career.

Vince Coleman had 25/110 (81%), 14/107 (88%), and 22/109 (83%) in his three, an overall better success rate than Rickey's three, but ended up virtually identical in career success rate (177/752, 80.947%). Then again, as you noted, Rickey had two seasons when he matched Coleman's career home run output.

Other notables: Lou Brock, 33/118 (78%; career 307/938 = 75%), Maury Wills 13/104 (89%; career 208/586 = 74%), #117 Ty Cobb 38/96 (72%; career 178*/892, *caught stealing data incomplete).

Otis Nixon's MLB career netted 186/620 (77%), but I couldn't find his minor league caught stealing numbers, nor Coleman's, nor any minor league data for the others. Anyone have that (or care :-)?

Any guesses on who holds the record for career stolen base success rate with at least 100 (career) steals?

Aug 26, 2011 08:22 AM
rating: 0
 
Dan W.

Carlos Beltran, I believe. Around 88%.

Aug 26, 2011 09:11 AM
rating: 0
 
harderj

Very impressive (88.22%), and he is indeed the best with over 200 career steals.

But over 100, there's someone who is slightly better, at 89.34%. He only made it to 100 this season, in which he is perfect in 13 attempts.

I only arbitrarily picked 100 career steals, before looking into it at all, and it turns out an amazing number of players have done that through history (792, including many with no, or incomplete caught stealing data). So Beltran, with only 39 caught against 292 steals, is clearly elite.

The highest for anyone with more than 300 but fewer than 900 is Tim Raines at 84.70%, and over 900, it's Rickey at 80.76% (with a caveat that we don't know how many times Billy Hamilton and other old-timers were caught).

Aug 26, 2011 10:50 AM
rating: 0
 
Nickus

Chase Utley?

Aug 26, 2011 11:09 AM
rating: 1
 
harderj

Indeed, it is he. Utley overtakes Beltran in that category, Beltran still leads among those with more than 200 steals.

Aug 26, 2011 11:37 AM
rating: 0
 
HeavyHitter

Nixon was caught stealing 30 times during the season in which he stole 107 bases, a 72% success rate.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=nixon-001oti

Aug 26, 2011 13:24 PM
rating: 0
 
bdesrochers

Chad Bettis not Betts, no?

Aug 25, 2011 19:29 PM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

Vince Coleman stole 145 (!!!) bases for Macon in the South Atlantic League in 1983 in only 113 games. He then stole 101 base for Louisville the following year.

Aug 26, 2011 02:47 AM
rating: 1
 
harderj

And yet he wasn't speedy enough to outrun a tarp...

Aug 26, 2011 07:03 AM
rating: 1
 
Eddie

Re: Montero. I never undestand why players always are trying to 'tinker' with their swing. Maybe as a prospect, they felt he had holes in his swing that could be corrected, but you also see this in established players. See Jason Bay after he came to NY. Why mess wth success?

Aug 26, 2011 08:39 AM
rating: 0
 
bisanders
(329)

If it works, it's not "tinkering," it's "making adjustments."

It's only when the adjustments aren't working that we call it "tinkering." d;-)

Aug 26, 2011 11:38 AM
rating: 2
 
onegameref

Donnell Nixon, Otis Nixon's brother, 144 for 168 in 135 gms at Bakersfield in 1983. He stole 102 the next year at Chattanooga. He actually walked a fair amount but for some reason it never seemed to translate to the majors as well. Minors OBP of .372 but majors only .337. Of course there are more than a few leadoff hitters that have made plenty of $ with OBP lower than that too. I guess its timing and where you are that can make or break the player.

Aug 26, 2011 15:51 PM
rating: 1
 
cirwin

IIRC, He did miss a lot of time with a severely broken leg.

Aug 28, 2011 15:54 PM
rating: 0
 
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