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August 9, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Too High/Too Low

by Jason Parks

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Second-guessing national prospect rankings is as American as apple pie, grossly overweight consumers, D-list celebrity obsession, and convenient nationalism during infrequent sporting competitions. But because of my personal connection to those who produce those national prospect rankings, I tend to avoid commenting on them; regardless of the innocent intent, comments can often come across as critical. I know what goes into the process of the rankings, and I respect the people who do it, so rather than take them to task for having a different opinion or process than my own, I’d much rather just appreciate their work while standing behind my own evaluations.

But people seem to enjoy articles about contrast, and I seem to enjoy writing articles that people seem to enjoy, so this article will highlight some of the more extreme differences of opinion found in prospect rankings. I’ll pick six prospects that I think receive too much love—or not enough love—on the national scene, breaking down why my opinions on the player differ from the highly respected voices who either sing their praises or are hesitant to champion their status. This is a subjective exercise, one that will present opinions that could change in two months, not to mention look absolutely foolish in two years. Rankings are snapshots of the moment, and some players flourish and grow long prospect legs when their moment happens to be in the sun. Other prospects live in the shadows, where the deficiencies in their statistical output dwarf the realities of their promising skill set. It’s a delicate balance to contextualize and categorize prospects while they are still in the developmental process, a system that encourages setbacks in order to find success. Because of the nature of the developmental beast, answers are always just opinions, not facts universally accepted by all those with eyes on the prospect prize. We all view the game through a different lens. So here are a few prospects currently in my viewfinder.

Others Are Too High On:

Prospect: OF Mason Williams (Yankees)
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
National Profile (Mid-Season Top 50 Status): Keith Law #21; Kevin Goldstein #36; Baseball America #28
My Range: 50-75
Why He’s Too High: To be completely honest, I’m not sure why Mason Williams doesn’t do it for me. Dating back to my first exposure to him, I was never smitten. I appreciated the quality of some of the tools, but I wasn’t double-fisting his future like I normally would. I should love Williams. He is a plus-plus athlete that plays a premium position at a high level. That’s exactly the type of player I tend to overrate. The speed is impressive, it can grade anywhere from 7 to 8, the arm is solid, the glove is solid, and the overall defensive profile should play at the position in the majors. Despite his promising offensive production so far in his career, I’ve never been in love with his swing, and I’ve never been convinced that he will have the upper-level strength to make hard contact against upper-level pitching. I see Williams as a role 5 major leaguer, a quality center fielder with well above average speed and contact ability at the plate. I don’t see a first-division talent when I watch Williams, and this is definitely a prospect that could make that prognostication look foolish down the line. Sometimes a player just doesn’t make sense to you even though he’s supposed to make sense to you. I get the fact that Williams is a very good prospect. I just don’t have him graded out in the same stratosphere as some others in the industry.

Prospect: RHP Cody Buckel (Rangers)
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
National Profile (Mid-Season Top 50 Status): Keith Law (Mentioned as a prospect that just missed inclusion in the top 50); Kevin Goldstein (not in top 50); Baseball America #41
My Range: ~100
Why He’s Too High: I know it might shock some of you to learn that I don’t always overhype Rangers prospects on this site, but I try to call it as I see it, and with Buckel, I just don’t see a top 50 prospect in baseball. His first-half explosion in High-A certainly aided in his rise up the prospect ranks, but the numbers suggest an eventuality that the scouting doesn’t sign off on. With advanced pitchability and a deep arsenal of solid-average offerings, Buckel was able to overwhelm Carolina League hitters and, despite a few stumbles in Double-A, he should be able to ascend to the majors at an accelerated rate. The problem is that Buckel lacks plus size and strength, and his fastball is only average, working mostly in the 90-93 range, touching both higher and lower. Without much projection, Buckel is a slave to his current stuff, and even though his secondary arsenal can flash plus and miss bats at the minor league level, their quality won't keep big league hitters up at night. Any organization in baseball would be happy to have Buckel in their system and on a trajectory to the majors, but this isn’t an arm that is going to pitch anywhere near the top of a major league rotation. I see a back-end starter, with the type of feel for pitching that might allow that projection to play up a bit in a best case scenario.

Prospect: RHP Zach Lee (Dodgers)
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
National Profile (Mid-Season Top 50 Status): Keith Law #49; Kevin Goldstein #47; Baseball America #49
My Range: 75-100
Why He’s Too High: I like Zach Lee. He’s a Texan, he’s athletic, he has size, he has a good feel for command, and the stuff is solid-average. But his once lofty projection—no doubt influenced by his $5.25M bonus coming out of high school and the hype surrounding that—painted the picture of a future ace, an arm that had the stuff to pitch at the top of a major league rotation. Unfortunately, the raw stuff isn’t of that quality, which isn’t to say that it lacks quality in general; rather, his arsenal is more solid-average than plus (or plus-plus), and his profile looks more like a number four starter than anything else. He still has tremendous value, and if the slider can find a consistent bite and become a plus outpitch, and the fastball can put more meat on the bone, a higher ceiling is possible. There is something to be said of a pitcher with a high floor, and I would put Zach Lee in that category and give him due credit accordingly. I just don’t value the floor enough to put him in my top 50.

Others Are Too Low On:

Prospect: 3B Kaleb Cowart (Angels)
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
National Profile (Mid-Season Top 50 Status): Keith Law (not in top 50); Kevin Goldstein #34; Baseball America (not in top 50)
My Range: 35-50
Why He’s Too Low: Cowart has all the physical tools to project as a first-division third baseman at the major league level, with a 7 arm, a glove that should eventually be at least solid-average, and a stick that has the potential to produce 20+ home runs at maturity. This type of player doesn’t just grow on trees. Despite being only 20 years old, Cowart has a plan at the plate and looks at a lot of pitches, which leads to strikeouts but also allows for favorable hitting environments and an on-base dimension to his offensive game. He flashes plus power potential from both sides of the plate, and I really like his swing from the right side; it looks easy and fluid, and he can produce bat speed while maintaining bat control. He’s not a special hitter, nor is he an elite defender, but the total package points to a very nice player, one that might not produce the big numbers that encourage the big love, but a player that will eventually have a lot of value at the major league level.

Prospect: RHP Taylor Guerrieri (Rays)
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
National Profile (Mid-Season Top 50 Status): N/A
My Range: ~50
Why He’s Too Low: Guerrieri was a first round pick in the 2011 draft, viewed by many as one of the top high school arms available. The Rays like to go slow and low with their arms, and simmering on the back burner can help disguise his prospecty value. His stuff as a professional isn’t as electric or intimidating as it was as an amateur, where he once sat in the 93-97 range with his fastball and used a hard, hammer curve to break the heart of many a high school hitter. The new Guerrieri might not have the same dominating presence he once had, but the pitchability has improved and the overall package remains very promising. Working mostly with a heavy low-90s fastball and a 79-83 curve that is major league quality, Guerrieri is hitting his spots, missing bats and limiting hard contact in short-season ball. He might not have the same elite projection as he had only a short time ago, but the total package could make him a solid number three starter at the major league level; he has the size and the strength to log innings and hold velocity, at least a solid-average fastball that features heavy sinking action, good command, a plus secondary pitch that can miss bats, and a competitive approach to pitching. That’s a profile that belongs in the top 50.

Prospect: C Austin Hedges (Padres)
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
National Profile (Mid-Season Top 50 Status): Keith Law (not in top 50); Kevin Goldstein #31; Baseball America (not in top 50)
My Range: 30-50
Why He’s Too Low: You can make the case that Hedges has the highest defensive ceiling in the minors, a catcher with the physical and mental skills behind the plate to project as an elite defender. That ain’t no sippin’ tea. Given his defensive prowess, which includes a plus-plus arm, well above-average receiving skills, and advanced game calling and leadership qualities, any positive offensive output would be seen as gravy. The reports on the bat have been more promising than I originally anticipated, and you have to be impressed with the 19-year-old’s production in the Midwest League. Hedges has a good swing and, even though he doesn’t project as a plus hitter, he shows the ability to make hard contact and to make adjustments during an at-bat. If he can develop into a fringe-average hitter, with some secondary skills and enough pop to keep pitchers honest, he has a chance to be an All-Star at the major league level. His defense is held in the highest possible regard by scouts I spoke with, and the majority of them aren’t sour on the bat, which makes Hedges a very promising prospect to keep an eye on. Given his skill set, I think he belongs in the top 50, and if you believe the bat has a chance to play at the highest level, putting him in the 30 range isn’t a stretch.

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

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor Leagues

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

BP Comment Quick Links

fawcettb

Very useful piece. Thanks.

Aug 09, 2012 04:56 AM
rating: 4
 
tmangell

Great opening line, Jason!

Aug 09, 2012 05:03 AM
rating: 2
 
Dave Holgado

"Too high? What does that mean, too high?"

Aug 09, 2012 05:13 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

"Who gives a shit? It's gone."

Aug 09, 2012 09:04 AM
 
choms57

Double fisting the future. You sir, are a scholar and a gentlemen.

Aug 09, 2012 05:25 AM
rating: 3
 
ttt

Any thoughts on Austin Wood?

Aug 09, 2012 06:12 AM
rating: 5
 
stoltzs2s

I understand the concern about Buckel's stuff, but man, he seems like a tough guy to bet against. Definitely will be an interesting case study for how far a merely average mix can take a guy.

Aug 09, 2012 07:28 AM
rating: 0
 
bumphadley

Just out of curiosity, why don't you and Kevin ever mention John Sickels? He's been in the prospect game for many years and his evaluations seem like they are very much within the mainstream. What makes Sickels stand out is that he, more than others, is willing to go back, evaluate what he has written, and interrogate his process.

Aug 09, 2012 07:54 AM
rating: 4
 
HeavyHitter

I don't think anyone wants to badmouth Sickels, but my impression is that Sickels scouts the boxcores and stat lines like any other schlub who doesn't have access to industry insiders, who doesn't work the phones or see many games in person. He mostly assimilates the work of others. KG is renown for his rolodex and I think Callis and Law are also in that category, with Parks and Badler moving up on the inside rail. These are just my personal impressions.

Aug 09, 2012 08:19 AM
rating: -2
 
bumphadley

Sickels goes on scouting trips and has some inside access. His process is probably a little more based on the stats than the others, but the fact that his process is a little different is all the more reason to include him in discussions like this. It almost seems as if the "cool" analysts just don't like him personally or something.

Aug 09, 2012 08:43 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I just picked the three national sources I use on a regular basis. I respect guys like Sickels and Mayo, but I just don't read their stuff very often, so I didn't think to include them in this article. It's not a personal statement or a passive-aggressive critique of the uncool.

Aug 09, 2012 09:03 AM
 
HeavyHitter

I don't think it's personal at all. I think he gets treated with kid gloves because no one wants to start an internet flame war. Bad for business. And predicting the future is hard; you can easily say things that make you look foolish later. But you're not going to talk up some guy who feeds off your work and sells it as his own. I think I could do what Sickels does, but I couldn't do what the others I mentioned do. And here are plenty of guys selling themselves as experts these days. All you need to do is start a website that fills a niche (e.g. MLB Depth Charts, an excellent site) and all of a sudden people are asking you for your opinions on trades, etc. I don't begrudge anyone their livelihood, but I do try to separate the giants of the industry from the pretenders.

Aug 09, 2012 09:38 AM
rating: -2
 
bumphadley

That is not at all an accurate description of Sickels. Sickels has been covering prospects since 1996, which, I believe, is several years before Kevin started at BA. I think that is even a year or two before Law started. He is hardly a guy "who feeds of ... work and sells it as his own."

Aug 09, 2012 11:42 AM
rating: 4
 
HeavyHitter

Again, I'm just giving my impressions. I've followed Sickels in the past and enjoyed his work. He's been around forever and obviously loves baseball. At this point, I think I've said enough.

Aug 09, 2012 12:02 PM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

Yeah, you sure have. You trashed the man, not because of anything you KNOW about how he works, but solely on the basis of your "impressions" of how he works. That's despicable.

I say you suck; but that's just my impression.

Aug 09, 2012 13:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

I don't know the exact methodology that John Sickels uses, but his work seems to me to be of high quality, and I'd recommend it as one of a number of valuable sources for people interested in prospects. HeavyHitter's comments are pretty shabby unless he knows a lot more about how Sickels operates.

Aug 10, 2012 06:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Shaun P.
(676)

I haven't read any of John's stuff in a few years, so I can't speak to his work at SB Nation. However, I know that when he wrote for ESPN, he frequently went to games and scouted guys in person, as well as talked to industry sources. That doesn't make him a scout or mean that he knows how to scout, or that he can (a la KG or Jason) pick up the phone and instantly get opinions from all over the industry on a player. But he definitely was not a "boxscore scout".

I like SBN's baseball coverage, and especially Rob Neyer, so I'd like to think they wouldn't have someone writing for them in a prominent role unless that person did really good work. (Sickels was, of course, a research assistant for Bill James in the late 90s/early 00s, and was good friends with Neyer; I assume that's still true.)

But again, I haven't read John since he left ESPN, so I just don't know.

Aug 09, 2012 09:52 AM
rating: 2
 
oakiegu007

How did Guerrieri's stuff go from great to okay in one year?

Aug 09, 2012 08:04 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Quite common for HS arms to lose stuff in their first professional season. It happens for a variety of reasons, which could include: throwing more frequently, more physical demands, command refinement, diet, stress, and more rigorous testing for supplemental intake.

Aug 09, 2012 08:23 AM
 
Shaun P.
(676)

I think I'm understanding you right, Jason, but please correct me if I'm wrong. If Mason Williams's swing indicated to you that he'd likely develop power, and that his strength would actualize enough to make hard contact against better pitching, then you'd love him, right?

I think it'd be fascinating to put you, KG, KLaw, and any of the BA guys in a room on camera, with a giant screen, and then put video of Williams up there, so you could point out what you aren't seeing his swing, and they could point out was they do see in his swing. Lather, rinse, repeat for other prospects where you all disagree. Am I hoping too much that my suggestion will lead to the Up and In prospect video podcast? Surely we have the technology!

Aug 09, 2012 10:01 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I don't need Williams to hit for power; he could have a first-division profile without a big power game. I just have questions about his swing and how it will play against advanced pitching. Strength is certainly an important part of the equation, but the characteristics of the swing itself give me pause. For whatever subjective reason, I tend to grade Williams a step down across the board. My sources had him pegged as a future 6 player at the major league level and I see him as a low-5 type, with good defensive chops and speed, but not a big offensive profile.

Aug 09, 2012 10:13 AM
 
amazin_mess

If Mason Williams was a Mariners prospect, he'd barely make the Top 100.

Aug 09, 2012 10:33 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I wish we were debating the validity of Hedges being in the top 50 or Zach Lee being out of the top 50 instead of debating the merits of someone not associated with this article.

Aug 09, 2012 14:15 PM
 
marctacoma

Ok, Ok - I'll bite: Why does Guerrieri merit a spot roughly 50 places ahead of Buckel if Guerrieri's raw stuff is now in Buckel's class? If he's throwing in the low-90s, that curve better be amazing. His pitchability has improved, but it wouldn't seem to be in Buckel's class - I completely understand that Guerrieri's curve may rate higher than anything Buckel has in his arsenal, but there's a whooooole lot of performance data to waive off, right?

Buckel didn't start in the NYPL, but his stats in the Sally League, at a younger age, are certainly comparable to Guerrieri's. Buckel's six months younger and in AA. As it happens, I'm essentially with you on Buckel's grade - I love the stats, but I think he'd struggle to be more than a #4. So I'm surprised that Guerrieri, who appears to be dominating by throwing strikes and BABIPing short-season hitters, would be ~50

I should point out that I'm an M's fan, so I have no dog in this fight, and that I would adopt either of these dogs following a search for their previous owners so brief that 'cursory' would be too strong a word. I was just struck by how much the description of Guerrieri reminded me of Buckel.

Thanks, and I really liked the post. Great topic/idea.

Aug 09, 2012 15:18 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I think Guerrieri has better raw stuff and a better physical profile (size/strength/projection). I like Buckel, but his polish allows him to achieve promising statistical results at a higher level than some of his contemporaries. This can inflate his actual value. Projection is the name of the game in scouting: what is the player going to be? I think Buckel is going to be a similar arm to what he is right now. I don't think the stuff gains a full scouting grade between now and maturity. On the other hand, I think Guerreri has a chance to take a step forward, with the combination of stuff/size/pitchability making him the superior arm to Buckel and a top 50 prospect in the game.

Aug 09, 2012 15:28 PM
 
marctacoma

Aren't you worried that Guerrieri's stuff has already seemed to take a step back, a la Blake Beavan's? What are the precedents for guys whose stuff became a bit more pedestrian as professionals reversing course and becoming elite again?

Aug 09, 2012 16:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Pat Folz

Madison Bumgarner?

Aug 09, 2012 17:02 PM
rating: 0
 
marctacoma

Good call. He definitely qualifies.

Aug 10, 2012 14:13 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I'm not worried. I'm not expecting him to return to the 94-97 range as a professional. I think if he can stay into the low-90s with a heavy fastball that he can pound the zone with, he can setup hitters for a knockout with his legit plus curve, a pitch that should continue to improve. The changeup is too firm in the 85-87 range, but he has good mechanics and a good body, and he should be able to develop that into an average pitch. The total package could be: 5 FB (maybe more, depending on how you value movement/command); 6+ CB; 5 CH; 6 delivery; 6 command. That's a mid-rotation starter. Huge value.

Beavan's HS velo/stuff was a product of violent mechanics that weren't sustainable at the professional level. Altered mechs and a focus on command sapped the intensity of the stuff, which is very common in HS arms. Some recover from the first year dip and some don't. It all depends on the arm and how the arm works.

Aug 09, 2012 17:09 PM
 
Behemoth

How would you grade out Buckel's pitches, delivery and command?

Aug 10, 2012 06:10 AM
rating: 0
 
gpurcell

So, I'm curious. For a guy like Lee, how long does the glamour related to his draft bonus continue to affect his prospect ranking?

Aug 09, 2012 18:29 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I guess it depends on the individual. Some people aren't as enamored with the expectations created by the financials. In theory, the play on the field and the scouting should be the only thing that matter, but when the evaluations don't match the hype, sometimes the higher bonus guys get a longer leash before their status takes a negative turn.

Aug 09, 2012 18:37 PM
 
Behemoth

The other thing is that high bonus or early draft pick prospects have shown very considerable potential at some stage, whereas a 40th rounder (say) may not have done. Given that, you might suspect the high bonus guy has a higher ceiling than the late round guy, even if current scouting reports and numbers are broadly similar.

Aug 10, 2012 06:02 AM
rating: 0
 
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