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September 25, 2012

Overthinking It

The 2012 All-Fringe-Prospect Team

by Ben Lindbergh

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It used to be that BP based its prospect lists largely on statistical performance. Sometimes this approach served us well, when the numbers picked up on something scouts overlooked. Other times—probably most times—we were the ones missing out. Never were the advantages and disadvantages of the stathead approach to prospect rankings made more clear than on our 2005 Top-50 list, when we placed Dustin Pedroia and Mitch Einertson in a 49th-place tie. Baseball America didn’t put Pedroia in its top 100 that year, and he went on to win an MVP award, so score one for us. Baseball America never put Einertson in its top 100, and he followed up the small-sample .303/.406/.688 2004 season that got us all excited by not making the majors, so score one for the scouts. So far, anyway. Einertson is only 26 and still playing in the American Association, so there’s still hope.

These days, of course, we take both stats and scouting into account. While we still make mistakes, we have a better process in place. However, that process can be disappointing. Sometimes, our inner numbers nerds start dreaming on a stat line, only to have our hopes crushed when we find out our new favorite prospect is a poseur who won’t be able to miss bats at the major-league level or hit a big-league breaking ball. This article is a position-by-position tribute to the fringy prospects who wouldn’t be able to back up the eye-catching stats on the back of their baseball cards, if they were good enough to have baseball cards.

A few ground rules:

  • The player has to have played in a full-season league (Class A and above). Short-season stats are strange.
     
  • The player has to be under 30. I don’t have to tell you that a 30-year-old minor leaguer is either A) on a rehab assignment or B) not a prospect. Sure, 34-year-old Mike Hessman hit a career-high 35 homers, bringing his minor-league total to 370, but no one would confuse him with a prospect at this point.
     
  • The player has to be rookie eligible. For the most part, anyone whose rookie eligibility is up has already had his chance and blown it. Nobody cares what Jeff Clement hit in Indianapolis this season, except for Bill Bavasi, who’s still hoping that third-overall pick pans out.

Most of these players have already spent some time in the majors or will make the majors eventually, which means they’re more talented than the vast majority of minor leaguers. But contrary to what their 2012 stats might suggest, they likely won’t last long or amount to much.

Catcher
Tim Federowicz, Dodgers
What he did: Federowicz, who went to the Dodgers with Stephen Fife in the Trayvon Robinson trade at the 2011 deadline, hit .294/.371/.461 in 475 plate appearances for Triple-A Albuquerque. He threw out 39 percent of attempted basestealers. He earned a call-up to Los Angeles at the start of September and has received a whopping one plate appearance since. Apparently there’s a pennant race on.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: The first prospect on the list might be the best one—as a former seventh-round pick, he’s practically a blue-chipper compared to some of the players to come. It’s hard to find a catcher who can hit at all and doesn’t have at least a little promise, so we’ll have to settle for a slightly superior player here. However, while Federowicz might be a big leaguer, he’s not nearly as good as his superficial stats. Catchers take time to develop, but at 25, he’s not ahead of the curve. More disturbingly, his numbers were dramatically inflated by the offensive environment at Albuquerque. On the road, Federowicz hit .245/.331/.370. He also did most of his damage against lefties, though he hadn’t shown as severe a platoon split in previous seasons. Federowicz’s raw stats might suggest a starter, but he profiles best as a part-timer who gets some starts against southpaws.

First Base
Darin Ruf, Phillies
What he did: You’ve probably already read about Ruf, the first baseman for Double-A Reading who led the minor leagues with 38 home runs. Ruf hit .317/.408/.620 in 584 plate appearances, striking out a respectable 102 times. The right-handed Ruf murdered opposite-handed pitching, slugging .845 against southpaws before getting a cup of coffee with the big club in September.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: The former 20th-round pick turned 26 years old this season, which he started with only 25 career home runs. His position is listed as “Pinch Hitter” at Baseball-Reference, and there’s a good reason for that: he’s barely passable defensively either at first or the outfield corners. His relative weakness against righties and tendency to go after bad balls should make him an easy target in the majors. That the Phillies have given Ruf only three plate appearances after the minor-league season he had tells you most of what you need to know. That the minor-league home run leaders in three of the past four seasons were Bryan LaHair, Jon Gaston, and Dallas McPherson, respectively, tells you the rest.

Second Base
Jake Elmore, Diamondbacks
What he did: Elmore, who entered the season as a career .273/.370/.364 hitter in four minor-league seasons, exploded to post a .344/.442/.465 slash line at Triple-A Reno, good for the seventh-highest batting average and third-highest on-base percentage among qualifying full-season players. He walked 20 more times than he struck out, stole 32 bases in 40 attempts, and earned an August call-up to Arizona, where he filled in at short before and after the departure of Stephen Drew.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Elmore’s skillset suits a former 34th-round selection; as one scouting executive told me, “Elmore doesn’t have tools.” None of Elmore’s abilities grades out as average, and his stolen bases stemmed from instincts, not speed. He benefited from both the inflated offensive environment of the PCL—as a group (including pitchers), the Aces hit .297/.363/.448—and a fluky .386 BABIP, which was well above his career rate. Although he put the ball in play, he homered only once in 511 PA, an impressive display of non-power for a player who played half his games at Aces Ballpark. Elmore appeared at five positions, but he’s not a natural at any of them. True to form, he struck out just four times in 60 plate appearances with the D-Backs, but he managed only a .197 TAv. He’s a back-of-the-bench guy at best.

Shortstop
Kevin Nolan, Blue Jays
What he did: Nolan hit .316/.384/.471 in 349 plate appearances for High-A Dunedin, impressive offensive statistics for a shortstop. It’s difficult to find numbers like that anywhere in the minors for a player at his position.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Nolan was the top shortstop in the Florida State League, but that’s just it—he was in the Florida State League. Nolan will turn 25 in December, and he was repeating the level. That means he’s already behind the developmental curve, and his progress was slowed even further by a hamstring injury that cost him most of the second half of the season. He’s decent defensively and, unlike many minor-league shortstops, can probably stick at the position, but at this point, even a utility role might be beyond him. He could be a career minor leaguer.

Third Base
Adam Duvall, Giants
What he did: Duvall hit 30 homers, tying for fourth among qualifying full-season players. The former 11th-rounder spent most of the season at age 23 and was taking his first crack at the Cal League, so his performance comes with fewer age and experience caveats than most of the fringe prospects on this list.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Darin Ruf, Wil Myers, Mike Hessman, and Adam Duvall: one of these players at the top of the minor-league home run leaderboard is not like the others.* Duval’s power is his only true tool. He has an average arm and average hands, but poor range makes him a below-average defender at third and second. Approach issues hurt his hit tool, and he hit just .249/.312/.461 against righties. He could be a one-dimensional bench bat until he’s displaced by a two-dimensional bench bat.

*(It’s Myers!)

Left Field
Andrew Brown, Rockies
What he did: Hit .308/.364/.597 with 24 home runs in 438 Triple-A plate appearances and has gone deep at least 20 times in three straight minor-league seasons.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: He turned 28 earlier this month, he was repeating Triple-A, and he was playing in Colorado Springs. On the road, he hit .228/.301/.471. Need more reasons? He’s a former 18th-rounder, he’s not a good defender, and he has a long swing that doesn’t serve him well against quality breaking stuff. (I could keep going.) Brown has hit .222/.286/.407 in 91 plate appearances for the Rockies this season, which sounds about right.

Center Field
Corey Brown, Nationals
What he did: Few minor-league center fielders hit better than Brown, who mustered a .285/.365/.523 line with 25 home runs in 554 plate appearances for Triple-A Syracuse. The left-handed hitter holds the distinction of being the lone first-round pick on this list (supplemental round, but still).
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Brown was repeating the level, and he’ll turn 27 just after Thanksgiving. He also struck out 139 times, which doesn’t bode well for his batting average. Brown can play center, so he could get a job as a fourth or fifth outfielder, but that’s as high as his upside goes. Jason Parks labeled him “a poor man’s Drew Stubbs.” The real Stubbs has a career .251 TAv, so a poor man’s version of him isn’t worth regular playing time. In 28 major-league plate appearances over the past two seasons, Brown has struck out 10 times without a walk.

Right Field
Scott Van Slyke, Dodgers
What he did: Van Slyke mashed in Triple-A, hitting .327/.404/.578 with 18 homers on the heels of a .348/.427/.595 campaign in the Southern League last season.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Here’s a familiar refrain: Van Slyke is a former 14th-round pick who turned 26 in July and played for Albuquerque. His bat held up better than Federowicz’s did on the road, but he hit just .167/.196/.315 in 57 plate appearances for the Dodgers. He’s not fast or athletic enough to play center, and while he has some legitimate power, he probably can’t catch up to big-league fastballs consistently enough to start in a corner. His future, if he has one, is as a fourth outfielder.

Starting Pitcher
Drew Granier, Athletics
What he did: Granier finished fifth among full-season starters in strikeouts, fanning 167 in 162 2/3 innings in the Midwest League. He cut his walk rate from 5.1 per nine innings to 2.9 in his sophomore season, and he’s allowed only half a home run per nine innings as a professional.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Pitching stats can be extremely deceptive: a pitcher who can throw strikes and disguise a changeup can succeed in A-ball, but his repertoire won’t work in the upper levels. The first clue that the 23-year-old Granier might be something less than he seems is his draft position: the right-hander was selected in the 32nd round in 2011. The second is his stuff: one scouting executive summarized his arsenal as, “89-90, curve, slider, change. Throws everything for strikes, no out pitch.” The verdict? “Probably an org arm.” Another source said his ceiling was middle relief. Now you’re not excited.

Relief Pitcher
Danny Barnes, Blue Jays
What he did: Barnes led the full-season leagues in saves, nailing down 34 in 36 opportunities. In 51 1/3 innings for Dunedin, he struck out 63 and walked 16, good for your average 1.40 ERA.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Barnes was drafted in the 35th round. A scouting exec says he has average velo and an average slider. Average control and command of average stuff made him a dominant force in the Florida State League, but it won’t work so well as he climbs the ladder. A report Jason has on him from this season says he sat 89-92 and touched 94 a few times: that plus a fringy slider and good control could get him to the majors, but only in middle relief.

Thanks to Jason Parks for research assistance.

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

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor Leagues,  Stats,  Minor Leaguers

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