June 18, 2014
PECOTA Takes on Prospects
To the outfield corners we go.
Very Good Prospects
Santana recently appeared in the news as the rumored accidental inclusion in the Hunter Pence trade between Houston and Philadelphia. At the time of the trade in 2011, Santana was the same sort of player, a power prospect with swing-and-miss liability. However, he’s taken major steps since joining the Astros. In the Phillies organization, Santana struck out 33 percent of the time; with Houston, he’s reduced that rate to 28 percent while upping his True Average from .279 to .304. We can probably attribute this improvement to natural growth; Santana had barely turned 19 when selected by the Astros’ then-GM Ed Wade. It’s also worth noting that his run environments went from very bad with Philadelphia to very good with Houston just as he realized his power potential (TAv already adjusts for parks).
Santana has been equally destructive this season in a tough mix of ballparks (his BPF is 96). His strikeout rate hasn’t improved, prompting us to ask whether his long swing will survive in the majors. It’s not surprising to see Jay Bruce as one of his top comps and Travis Snider shadowing him. They reflect Santana’s overall comps—a mix of power hitters who strike out frequently. Justin Upton, Cody Johnson, Colby Rasmus, Kyle Blanks—there’s a success story for every failure there.
Santana, who bats right-handed, is also taller than his comps. At 6’5”, he works against a large strike zone, one we’ll soon be examining with PITCHf/x. PECOTA has a harder time comparing him in this regard. He might “fit in” with today’s major-league strikeout convention. That’s something for PECOTA to consider, if it’s being too harsh on hitters who could sustain a career striking out at today’s increasing levels when they wouldn’t have in previous eras. For all of Santana’s whiff woes, he’s a prospect who slugged .536 in his age-19 season and is now slugging .498 in a bad hitter’s environment. Without a real hit tool, he’s a one-course meal, but the Astros will happily accept 20-25 home runs from their future no. 6 hitter.
Randal Grichuk is infamously often compared to a certain center fielder drafted after him, but PECOTA goes a different way, comping him to 2008 Carlos Gonzalez with a 93 Similarity Score. Indeed, Gonzalez was the same age as Grichuk now when he debuted with Oakland that year, and exhibited similar underlying minor-league numbers—contact, power, speed included—and a similar development path.
But that doesn’t equate to Gonzalez representing future Grichuk, especially when his other 19 comps are a depressing bunch. He has a chance to be Gonzalez. Everyone with a .285 Double-A TAv has a chance. Grichuk is a decent prospect. Remove CarGo from his comps and his UPSIDE plummets; of course, that wouldn’t be fair to him. Nevertheless, beware of prospects with fewer big-league comps, regardless of magnitude. None of Santana’s six comps dazzle like Gonzalez, but they assure him more of a career.
Almonte’s future role will likely mirror Grichuk’s—bench bat or fourth outfielder. Curiously, his comps are a slew of major leaguers—but bad ones. That makes sense, given that he logged 2013 time with the Yankees—an unimpressive stint, but a major-league stint nonetheless. In other words, he’s a big leaguer, if being compared to Justin Huber, Brandon Guyer, Justin Maxwell, and Scott Van Slyke means being a big leaguer.
PECOTA quite likes Jesse Winker, for a left fielder without experience above Low-A. He doesn’t boast the required power for the position—a reservation brought forth by Jason Parks—but he makes contact, takes walks, and hits for average. It’s not the prototypical corner outfield profile (unlike Santana’s), but those are skills that will translate seamlessly to the majors, even if they’re not of the impact variety.
If there’s any power growth left in Alex Hassan, now would be the ideal time for it to emerge. As a 26-year-old, his on-base ability places him on the fringes of Boston’s 25-man roster. He won’t save the Red Sox’ disappointing season just by walking a lot, but you could do worse than his .305 lifetime minor-league TAv. Despite the reasonable offensive profile, the Red Sox own a crowded outfield, and Hassan can’t make the relative impact that Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, or even Mike Carp could.
FRAA has not been a friend of Nick Castellanos, who ranks in the PECOTA top 100 despite poor defensive numbers. We ran his UPSIDE as a left fielder, and while the results would look better at third base, PECOTA doesn’t regard him as favorably as scouts do. Part of this comes from his dry spell in Double-A Erie during 2012; his .226 TAv in 341 plate appearances there weights considerably with PECOTA, while we might just brush it off as a performance anomaly.
That half-season makes it tougher to evaluate Castellanos if it was indeed a fluke. As his age-20 season, we might’ve expected a power breakout from him, which actually came the following year in Toledo. That reassures PECOTA that he’s legitimate as a recent performance indicator, but the stain of the Double-A stint lingers. PECOTA suggests that he won’t provide both a high average and significant power; his peak average projection is .270, his peak slugging .417. With an average fielding grade, that’s an average player. Castellanos drops to fringe average because FRAA projects him as a -10-run third baseman. To date, he’s batting .269/.305/.403, in line with PECOTA’s preseason forecast of .264/.304/.396.
Notable Average/Marginal Prospects
While PECOTA expects Choice to carry his big power into the major leagues, the .280-.300 batting average is unlikely to stay (thus far, it hasn’t). PECOTA also sees a mediocre left fielder in Choice, with a projected FRAA return of -12 runs. Like every other prospect we’re covering this week, Choice incurs a negative positional adjustment; while the power offsets some of it, he ultimately projects as just above replacement level. You could say that PECOTA agreed with Oakland’s decision to trade him, their no. 2 prospect, for smooth-fielding Craig Gentry.
Nick Williams slugged .543 as a 19-year-old in Low-A; he also walked 3.7 percent of the time and struck out over seven times as often. It’s tough to get on PECOTA’s nice list that way. In all likelihood, his contact skills will improve rather than worsen, in a “nowhere to go but up” way, yet if we perused his top comps—Willy Garcia, Juan Duran, Jonathan Garcia, Guillermo Pimentel—we’d see that many of them kept whiffing away at the same rates. When it comes to strikeout rate, it doesn’t always get better. In fact, it tends not to, according to Williams’ comps. It might—no. 6 comp Marcell Ozuna nearly doubled his BB/K moving from Low-A to High-A and now bats sixth for the Marlins—but PECOTA knows only probabilities, rather than how a specific prospect could improve his contact (swing mechanics, better pitch recognition, revamped approach, plain development etc.)
Top 25-and-under corner outfielders
In theory, batters should often compare to other batters within this generation, given the changes the offensive environment has undergone, but PECOTA took one look at Giancarlo Stanton and couldn’t comply with that principle. After all, if PECOTA thinks you’re the best young player in the game, then comparing you to today’s other young players wouldn’t be “comps,” by definition—all of them would be inferior. In lieu of that, PECOTA reaches back for Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire, and Eddie Matthews in Stanton’s case.