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September 8, 2013

Overthinking It

The 2013 All-Fringe-Prospect Team

by Ben Lindbergh

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The authors of Baseball Prospectus 2014, the 19th edition of our annual book, are a couple weeks away from submitting player lists to the editing team. Generally, it’s pretty easy to compile a complete count of players who deserve to be profiled. Anyone who played for the big club and is still in the organization merits a mention, as do recent top draft picks and other minor leaguers who appear on top prospect lists. But there’s always a player who resists easy assignment—someone whose stats stand out but whose name is unknown.

At BP, we believe in blending stats and scouting information to get the most accurate picture of a player, so when those of us who mainly watch major-league action come across one of these enigmas, we seek out our colleagues on the scouting side. “Is this a prospect?” we ask, and often the answer is, “No.” “But he slugged .600!” our inner triple-slash-line lover says, before being drowned out by the evidence against him: he’s old for his level, or he plays in High Desert, or he has the sort of swing that won’t work well against advanced pitching. Put it all together, and the player’s projection is too fringy for the book.

At some point, the high-wire act falls flat. Take 25-year-old Rockies reliever Kenneth Roberts, who posted a 1.30 ERA and walked 1.5 per nine without allowing a home run in 55 1/3 High-A innings this season. In 16 1/3 innings after a promotion to the Texas League in late July, he walked 13, struck out six, and gave up four homers. The trick is to identify those guys before they fail.

Last September, I drew up the inaugural edition of the All-Fringe-Prospect Team, picking a player at each position whose stats exaggerated his actual abilities. Each of the players had to satisfy three criteria, which I’ll paste in here:

  • 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.

As I noted last year, many members of this team will one day make the majors, or have already blown a brief call-up. That makes them more accomplished than most minor leaguers, but not necessarily worth any excitement. The names and numbers have changed since 2012—this year, Hessman hit only 25 homers—but the qualifications are still the same. I give you our second annual collection of under-30, rookie-eligible, full-season statistical stars with suspect scouting reports—the 2013 All-Fringe-Prospect Team.

Catcher: Johnny Monell, Giants

What he did: In his first full season at Triple-A, Monell hit a PCL-inflated .275/.365/.494 with a career-high 20 homers. That was good enough to get him a call-up to San Francisco, where he’s serving as Bruce Bochy’s third-string catcher for September.

Why what he did doesn’t matter: Monell, a 2007 30th-round pick, will turn 28 before his next Opening Day, and he’s not a strong defensive catcher. He played almost as many games at first as he did behind the plate, and in the 48 games he did catch, he allowed six passed balls, made 13 errors, and threw out only 10 of 61 attempted baserunners.

As I wrote last year, “It’s hard to find a catcher who can hit at all and doesn’t have at least a little promise.” It was surprisingly easy this time around. Monell had some stiff competition in fellow 27-year-old Bowie Baysox backstop Caleb Joseph (.299/.346/.494 with 22 homers in a second tour of duty at Double-A) and 24-year-old Padres catcher Robert Kral, who hit .286/.426/.528 in High-A after bombing in Double-A to start the season, and whom Jason Cole called a “non-prospect.”

First Base: Allan Dykstra, Mets

What he did: In his second season at Double-A, Dykstra hit .274/.436/.503 with 21 homers. Going 14-for-74 in August couldn’t have helped his chances at a Triple-A call-up that didn’t come.

Why what he did doesn’t matter: “In his second season at Double-A” says it all. Dykstra is 26, so he couldn’t afford to repeat the level. In BP2009, we called him “a classic slugging first baseman,” but this was his first year with a SLG over .500 (and only just barely). The 102 walks were nice, but not enough.

Dykstra’s primary competition for a spot on the All-Fringe-Prospect Team was Padres Double-A first baseman Tommy Medica. Medica slugged .582 with 18 homers in 280 at-bats, but he’ll turn 26 shortly after his next Opening Day, and first basemen really have to hit to keep rising.

Honorable mention goes to Matt Fields, a 28-year-old first baseman in the Royals system who hit .222 with 181 strikeouts but also led the minors with 31 homers.

Second Base: Dean Anna, Padres

What he did: Coming off a year in which he repeated Double-A with no statistical improvement, Dean spent a full season in Tucson, batting .331/.410/.482.

Why what he did doesn’t matter: A 2008 26th-rounder, Anna is pushing 27 and has the PCL and an out-of-character .361 BABIP to thank for his high average and Triple-A batting title. He played four positions, which might help him make it to the majors, but not as anything more than a utility type. He doesn’t have the range or the arm to stick on the left side of the infield, and without power or the kind of hit tool that a batting title would indicate, he’d have a tough time holding on to a roster spot.

Shortstop: Chris Curley, White Sox

What he did: In his first full season at High-A, Curley put up huge numbers for a shortstop, hitting .280/.350/.471 with 24 homers in 604 plate appearances.

Why what he did doesn’t matter: He turned 26 in August, and he’s not much of a defender—he made most of his starts at short but appeared in over 40 games at third. As Zach Mortimer put it, he’s “not exactly a shortstop.” It’s usually not a great sign when both the “Player Comments” and “Articles” sections of your BP player card are blank. Curley is one of those guys.

Another 26-year-old contender: Tommy Field, who hit .303/.391/.484 in 372 PA for Salt Lake. In three call-ups over the past three seasons, two for the Rockies and the most recent with Anaheim, Field has hit .227/.282/.227 in the majors with (clearly) no extra-base hits in 66 at-bats.

Third Base: Matt Duffy, Astros

What he did: This is Matt Duffy the 24-year-old Double-A Astros third baseman, not to be confused with Matt Duffy the 22-year-old High-A Giants shortstop. Astros Duffy hit a combined .309/.378/.535 with 24 homers between Lancaster and Corpus Christi, which he moved up to a month ago.

Why what he did doesn’t matter: Lancaster is one of the best hitting environments in the minors. On the season, Duffy hit .318/.386/.594 at home and .302/.373/.483 on the road. According to members of the BP Prospect Staff who’ve seen him, he “didn’t look like a prospect” and is “more of an org type.”

Left Field: OF Scott Schebler, Dodgers

What he did: Raked in High-A, hitting .296/.360/.581 with 27 homers in 534 PA.

Why what he did doesn’t matter: Last year’s left fielder, Scott Van Slyke, lost his rookie eligibility in 2013, but we can replace him with another member of the LA organization. Schebler was a 26th-round pick in 2010, which is the first clue that his stats might be somewhat misleading (though he may have dropped a bit due to signability concerns). At 22, he’s the youngest player on our roster, but his stats are inflated by the Cal League, and a below-average arm likely limits him to left. That means he has to mash, which could be a problem: Schebler struck out 140 times, and as Mark Anderson put it, he “has some holes in his swing and can’t handle premium velocity.” He has some speed and athleticism, but Mark’s verdict is “up-and-down type or extra outfielder.”

Center Field: Nick Buss, Dodgers

What he did: Hit .303/.363/.525 with 17 homers and 21 steals (against only two CS) in his first trip to Triple-A.

Why what he did doesn’t matter: Buss was playing in Albuquerque, the minor-league stadium with the highest preseason park factor. His home/road split was extreme: .362/.434/.642 vs. .249/.295/.419, and he’ll turn 27 in December. On the other hand, his middle name is “Chili,” which is now what he goes by. But even that probably won’t be enough to make him a major leaguer.

I’m cheating a bit by sticking Chili here, since he played only 19 games in center this season. (He’d primarily played center in previous seasons.) But the pickings in center were slim, and I was eager to avoid a repeat appearance by Corey Brown.

Right Field: Kevin Rivers, Mariners

What he did: The High-A outfielder hit .297/.381/.515 with 20 home runs and 13 outfield assists, though he didn’t receive a promotion.

Why what he did doesn’t matter: Four reasons: he wasn’t drafted; he’s 25; he plays for High Desert; he was repeating the level. If you need a fifth reason, 19 of his homers were hit against righties.

Another candidate, albeit one with a much higher ceiling than Rivers: 23-year-old Mac Williamson, who hit .292/.375/.504 for San Jose. There are more reasons to be optimistic about Williamson—he has the pedigree of a third-round pick, 2013 was his first exposure to High-A, and he’s significantly younger. But as BP2013 put it, he “has questions to answer about his bat-to-ball skills,” and his 132 strikeouts didn’t help. As Chris Rodriguez wrote in late May, “Pitchers with a plan (and a good curve) can have a field day with Williamson, due to his slow trigger and long swing.” Chris’ updated take: “I just don’t think he’ll hit enough. He could carve out a nice fourth OF role, and maybe even a little more. But that’s all I see.”

Starting Pitcher: Daniel Winkler, Rockies

What he did: Double-A righty led the minor leagues in strikeouts, recording 175 in a combined 157 innings and 27 starts across two levels to go with a sub-3.00 ERA. The 23-year-old spent most of the season with High-A Modesto before earning an August promotion to Double-A Tulsa, where his ERA held steady but his peripherals declined.

Why what he did doesn’t matter: The ability to miss bats is usually a positive sign, and Winkler fanned over 10 batters per nine at an offense-friendly level (although Modesto is one of the Cal League’s more pitcher-friendly parks). However, he doesn’t have the stuff to sustain that strikeout rate as he climbs the ladder. Jason Cole came away unimpressed by a “brutal (though deceptive) delivery and 84-88 mph velocity,” and Mark Anderson has seen him sit 87-90 but has “had reports of him working lower.” With few exceptions, that’s not enough to succeed as a starter from the right side.

Relief Pitcher: Kevin Quackenbush (Padres)/Alex Claudio/Ben Rowen, Rangers

What they did: I’m grouping Quackenbush and this duo of upper-level Rangers relievers together. Quackenbush (24), Rowen (24), and Claudio (21) combined for 203 1/3 innings in 153 games, posting a collective 1.16 ERA and 10.9 K/9 across three levels (mostly Double-A and Triple-A). Any number of relievers in the minors were fluky BABIP success stories, but these three had the peripherals (if not the stuff) to match the stats.

Why what they did doesn’t matter: Quackenbush is the closest thing to a prospect here. In his three professional seasons, he owns a 1.15 ERA with a 12.3 K/9, and he’s allowed a total of two homers in 164 2/3 innings. Jason Cole wrote about him for a Ten Pack in early June, and again for our minor-league first-half recap. Quackenbush, Cole wrote, “continues to befuddle scouts” with a fastball between 90 and 93 and a “decent” but “far from wipeout” slider. His success depends entirely on his ability to hide the ball:

Time will tell whether the deception works on more advanced hitters. Quackenbush’s numbers showed some signs of strain after a mid-season promotion to the PCL, but aside from a high walk rate, he remained effective.

Claudio is a mid-80s sidearming lefty with a mid-60s changeup. Lefties have hit .133/.179/.211 against him as a professional. That profile has led to LOOGY success for Randy Choate, but the stuff is awfully thin, and he did get hit hard toward the tail end of his time in the Texas League. You can see him in this video courtesy of Cole, which also features All-Fringe contenders Robert Kral and Tommy Medica.

Alex Claudio, LHP, Double-A Frisco (Rangers) – August 20, 2013 from Jason Cole on Vimeo.

Rowen offers yet another odd look. He’s a submariner who throws 79-82 without much sink, and with an average-ish slider. He doesn’t miss many bats, but no one has hit him yet. Here he is from the side and from behind home plate:

Submarining RHP Ben Rowen from Jason Cole on Vimeo.

Ben Rowen vs. Wilmington (7/7/2012) from Jason Cole on Vimeo.

According to Cole, Rowen was nearly released in his first spring training with Texas, when he was sitting 77-79. When the Rangers told him he had to throw harder, he pointed out that he threw as hard as Chad Bradford did. The Rangers’ response? “Yeah, when he was 40.”

Thanks to the BP Prospect Staff for scouting 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:  Scouting,  Detroit Tigers,  Minor Leaguers

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