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July 9, 2009

Future Shock

Big Steps Backwards

by Kevin Goldstein

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After looking at some great leaps forward yesterday, let's flip the coin and look at ten Top 100 Prospects who have failed to live up to expectations-and in some cases, haven't even come close.

Yonder Alonso, 1B, Reds (Pre-season ranking: 35)
When the Reds selected Alonso in last year's draft, the confusion didn't revolve around why they liked him as much as why they liked him better than Justin Smoak. While Smoak is on the verge of making it to the big leagues, Alonso got off to a good start in the Florida State League, but he scuffled at Double-A while showing well below the kind of power that was expected. Concerns about his ability to hit left-handers also remain; while the sample size is small, he's 9-for-43 against southpaws without a home run. He'll get little chance to make improvements from there, as a broken hamate bone could cost him the remainder of the season.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates (Pre-season ranking: 4)
His disappointing junior year was written off as the result of a broken hand, but what excuses do we have now? Batting .240/.322/.479 across two levels, Alvarez has certainly shown off his tremendous raw power, but it's come at the price of 87 strikeouts in 288 at-bats, and scouting reports that say he'll need to move across the diamond to first base sooner rather than later.

Lars Anderson, 1B, Red Sox (Pre-season ranking: 17)
Entering the year as the top prospect in the Red Sox system, Anderson was seen as on the verge of something special, with a possible September callup. Even more disturbing than his .262/.356/.407 line that includes just eight home runs in 275 at-bats are consistent scouting reports from multiple sources that now project him as no more than a second-division starter in the big leagues.

Engel Beltre, OF, Rangers (Pre-season ranking: 68)
All the tools in the world and an assignment to the high-octane California League looked like the perfect formula for a breakout, but nothing has gone in the right direction for him. Beltre's swing-at-anything approach has led to more advanced pitching simply giving him nothing to hit, thus the miserable batting line .220/.271/.302.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (Pre-season ranking: 18)
Yes, adjusting the pro ball is a difficult thing, but when you get a $6 million bonus, immediate production is expected. The awaited second-half surge just doesn't seem to be taking form, as one of the best high school power hitters scouts had seen in years has just four bombs in 251 at-bats and an overall line of .251/.352/.378. Some scouts suggest that he needs to adjust his position in the batters' box, as he's so far away from the plate that it's affecting his ability to hit anything out of his wheelhouse.

Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Brewers (Pre-season ranking: 72)
You don't need more than one hand to count the number of pitchers who can match the kind of numbers Jeffress can put up on a radar gun, but he began the year with a profound inability to throw strikes, and just when it seemed like he was making progress back in the Florida State League, his inability to stay away from smoking marijuana cost him a 100-game suspension that will take him well into the 2010 season. It is a sad and stupid waste of talent.

Kellen Kulbacki, OF, Padres (Pre-season ranking: 84)
On a pure numbers level, Kulbacki was arguably the best hitter in the minors during the second half of 2008, but a slow recovery from shoulder surgery cost him the first month of the 2009 season, and he's been out since the end of June with a hamstring injury. Even more of a matter of concern was his .201/.257/.254 line in 36 games for Double-A San Antonio, making last year look more and more like your classic Cal League mirage.

Michael Main, RHP, Rangers (Pre-season ranking: 66)
A 2007 first-round pick, Main missed much of the 2008 season due to a cracked rib, but he showed tons of potential in his brief return, and as one of the most athletic pitchers in the minors, he oozed projection. A 7.33 ERA at High-A Bakersfield was already greatly disappointing, but then he went down with a mysterious ailment that including exhaustion among other symptoms that doctors have not been able to fully diagnose; there is no timetable for his return.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals (Pre-season ranking: 21)
After a slow start to his pro career, Moustakas was the best hitter in the Midwest League over the last few months of the 2008 season, and seemed poised for big things, but his season at High-A Wilmington has been anything but big. With only one home run in his last 41 games, he's now batting just .263/.302/.415 on the year, and his defense at third base has received some rough reviews.

Kyle Skipworth, C, Marlins (Pre-season ranking: 82)
The most worrying thing about Skipworth's .201/.259/.328 line at Single-A Greensboro is the fact that the Marlins drafted him with the sixth overall pick last year as a guy with a reputation for being an offense-oriented catcher. He's clearly not that, and he's made seven errors, been charged with 10 passed balls, and thrown out fewer than 20 percent of opposing basestealers, proving that his defense still needs a ton of work as well.

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

elm
(41)

This article and the last one have been great! Thanks.

Which of the players on this list do you think has the best shot to turn it around in the second half and end up the year at the same level they started at? Obviously not Alonso, Jeffress, or Main, but it seems to that if all Hosmer needs is a new batting stance, he could take off in the second half. Or is retooling a batting stance too tough to do in-season? Also, it looks like Alvarez and, to a lesser extent, Moustakas are at least showing good power, so I could see them improving their batting eye and contact skills as the season wears on and ending up the year with pretty good numbers.

Jul 09, 2009 09:16 AM
rating: 1
 
sungods7n

The last I heard was that Main had mononucleosis. Is that incorrect?

Jul 09, 2009 09:31 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

That was the initial diagnosis, but later was ruled out.

Jul 09, 2009 09:36 AM
 
jrfukudome

I can't work up much faux anger about Jeffress smoking marijuana, considering what's been going on in the bigs for years...

Jul 09, 2009 09:39 AM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

No matter your feelings on that issue, the fact remains that Jeffress knew what HIS rules were and knew exactly what the consequences were, so I'm not exactly ready to victimize him.

Jul 09, 2009 09:46 AM
 
jrfukudome

True. As you said, "his inability to stop..."

Jul 09, 2009 11:15 AM
rating: 1
 
sockeye

It's sad that Jeffress may be on the verge of tossing it all away due to a lack of internal discipline...but it's also really frickin' sad that the stuff carries such a stigma in the first place, and Jeffress is just another example of a person who loses something important because of our nation's inability to scale their perspective on this transgression relative to other ones. I say this as a non-user, but a keen observer of where the money and the human lives in this country get routed.

Jul 09, 2009 12:11 PM
rating: 0
 
Michael
(736)

I feel bad for Royals fans who read this article. That's some pretty grim news for their front line prospects.

Jul 09, 2009 09:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

I'm going to go see Hosmer tonight -- will be interesting to see if he's changed anything since earlier in the season when I saw him.

Jul 09, 2009 10:01 AM
 
billm21

What would be an interesting observation to add to these lists of overachievers and underachievers is the agent representing them. I see a lot of Scott Boras clients on the underachiever list. Of course, he represents a lot of the top draftees every year. But are there more Boras clients on the underachiever list as opposed to the overachiever list? Do Boras clients get overhyped and/or is their development delayed because they almost always sign late? I don't have any evidence to back up any of these questions, but I thought it would be an interesting discussion point.

Jul 09, 2009 10:24 AM
rating: 2
 
jseely

BP cut its collective teeth ignoring the scouts and basing projections solely on numbers.

Alonso, Alvarez, Hosmer, and Skipworth all made top-100 status before they even played in an actual pro league. Really the only guy on this list who would have made a BP list back in the old "we scoff at the scouts" days is Lars Anderson.

I realize it's hard to leave the ballyhooed prospects off the list and risk looking dumb when someone goes celestial, and you are the only guy who didn't have him on your list. But maybe it's time to go back to the numbers, and let Baseball America feed us the scouting community's consensus.



Jul 09, 2009 10:32 AM
rating: -1
 
Ben Solow

So instead BP should be down on Stephen Strasburg because he hasn't played in a pro league yet? It's nonsense to say "let's ignore all scouts and focus only on numbers", just like it's nonsense to say "lets ignore all numbers and only trust scouts". It's patently obvious to serious observers of the game that you need to mix both performance and scouting analysis. Focusing only on the numbers and ignoring scouting also would have led KG to leave probably 7-8 of his "great leaps forward" from the top 100 (e.g. everyone except Montero, Anderson, and possibly one of Vitters/Taylor/Bard depending on whose 1 year track record you believe in).

Jul 09, 2009 11:04 AM
rating: 7
 
jseely

No they should not be down on the player. Nice straw-man argument there. How about this: BP focuses on what they do well, statistical analysis. BA focuses on what they do well, and in fact better than BP: give us info from industry insiders.

Jul 09, 2009 11:15 AM
rating: -3
 
Al Skorupa

Id prefer BP continuing doing what theyre doing - an integrated approach that tries to paint the whole picture instead of just half.

Besides, BA's half full of crap anyway. What they "do well" is apparently invite beat writers who have no clue to write up top 10 lists.

Jul 09, 2009 11:45 AM
rating: 5
 
Ben Solow

In fact, what you said was "I realize it's hard to leave the ballyhooed prospects off the list and risk looking dumb when someone goes celestial". Your proposal to only do numbers (because that's what they're good at), by definition, would entail leaving people like Stephen Strasburg off any top prospects list right now, which is absurd on face. You can't imply that they should ignore scouting data, which is the ONLY difference between Strasburg and Mike Leake right now, but still somehow produce reasonable prospect rankings.

BP is not the best at scouting, but they're likely the best at an integrated scouting-and-stats framework, which is, you know, better than one or the other. The question is not whether BP makes mistakes, but whether they make MORE mistakes by including scouting reports or not. Your confirmation bias is causing you to ignore the overwhelming amount of information contained in scouting reports, even if they're not the best scouting reports ever.

Jul 09, 2009 11:59 AM
rating: 5
 
jseely
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

It's funny how my post is rated below the viewing threshold, yet half of the comments in the thread are devoted to responding to my point. Hint to the webmasters: traffic is good. Controversy generates traffic.

Now as to Strasburg, a singular talent, and the exception that proves the rule. What is the rush to get this guy onto a prospect list? Is it some level of fear that the player is going to skip the minors entirely?

Realistically, if the player signs and plays this year, then he will have a track record that can be evaluated. If he doesn't sign in time, and instead debuts in 2010, won't he be very unlikely to make the majors that same year anyway?

There will be plenty of time for Strasburg to prove his mettle before we try to shoehorn him onto some prospect list.

Meantime, we have the existing prospect list, and again, most of the guys who fell on their faces are the guys who were ranked based on secondhand reports rather than on their track record.

Sorry if you find that fact objectionable.

Jul 10, 2009 08:27 AM
rating: -4
 
Randy Brown
(189)

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=4800

Read this article. If you want BP (or pretty much any other entity) to stick to their main "focus" and never evolve or grow, well, I guess I just don't know what to tell you.

Jul 10, 2009 07:04 AM
rating: -1
 
battlekow

Yeah, I fondly remember the days when Jackie Rexrode broke the stats barrier.

Jul 09, 2009 11:08 AM
rating: 1
 
George

You want BP to give up on scouting because some of the guys in the top 100 had bad seasons? Isn't that to be expected no matter what methods you use to evaluate players?

Jul 09, 2009 11:45 AM
rating: 4
 
elm
(41)

Before KG showed up here at BP and the prospect lists were put together by consensus, with Rany taking the lead, there was a very entertaining roundtable that got posted in 2004. Rany wanted Delmon Young to be rated highly, at least #10 despite having only played in the AFL. Most of the rest of the authors who took a position thought this was too high given that he had no track record.

Will said, "I'd like to see Delmon Young slightly lower. There's a chance--however small--that he's not as good as everyone thinks. If we make him Top 10 on potential alone and he fails, that reflects on us."

Joe said, "We're. Not. Scouts. We're performance analysts, which means we have virtually no credible information to use in ranking Young.

Of course, things have changed at BP since 2004, and, though KG isn't a scout, he talks to them, as do other writers and the approach to prospect evaluation at BP has changed to reflect the additional information available.

Now, given how Young turned out, you might think this is an argument for going back to the old ways. But, given that Joe was pushing for Jeremy Reed to be #1 that year and a lot of the writers were highly skeptical of Mauer being rated too high because he was too tall for a catcher and Andy Marte was getting a lot of love, I don't think that conclusion is all that obvious.

Jul 09, 2009 11:54 AM
rating: 13
 
sungods7n

You can find a lot of excellent statistical analysis of prospects on the web these days and most of it is free. If you are that interested in it you can probably look over the indicators you like and come to your own conclusions. I do, I don't need someone to spoon feed me the numbers.

However the number of people who have contacts inside the industry is small. That's the kind of information I'm looking for and that's why I pay for BP. I appreciate BA because they have a larger staff dedicated to prospecting but some of it hard to sort out. You are listening to different people with varying interpretations of what they have heard. I agree with someone else said, the Top 10s by guys from your local paper make this even worse.

What KG brings as opposed to BA is a singular voice. If he likes, doesn't like someone I know why. BA is a consensus of a consensus and sometimes the "why" gets lost.

Jul 09, 2009 14:41 PM
rating: 3
 
LindInMoskva

So if Greg Halman wasn't on your steps forward list for leading his league in homeruns and if he wasn't on your steps backward list for striking out every other at bat then is he basically in the same place as last year (middle of the top 100)? I was about to give up on him.

Jul 09, 2009 11:14 AM
rating: 2
 
sockeye

I would have thought Greg Halman would be on there, too. Is his absence due to some aspect that mitigates the numbers (e.g., taking the first three pitches every at bat)?

Jul 09, 2009 12:06 PM
rating: 1
 
mymrbig

Ouch to the top of the 2008 draft class. Alvarez, Hosmer, Skipworth, and Alonso were #2, #3, #6, and #7 overall. Lots of teams looking at Matusz, G. Beckham, and Smoak and starting to wonder "What if?".

I know it is way to early to give up on these guys, but the difference between what Hosmer and Skipworth have done so far and what Matusz, Posey, G. Beckham, and Smoak have done so far is pretty monumental.

Jul 09, 2009 11:40 AM
rating: 2
 
mikecalc

Of the position players, I wonder how much struggles on defense can sink offense. Seems like a large number of the disappointments (except for Beltre) either started way to the right on the defensive spectrum, or are struggling at their positions (struggling at C, struggling at 3B, etc.).

Jul 09, 2009 15:02 PM
rating: 0
 
Dan

How concerned are you about Trevor Cahill's awful peripherals? I know he's only 21, but his K, BB, and HR rates are all poor.

He's already nearing 100 IP; will the A's shut him down or move him to the bullpen at some point in the second half?

Jul 09, 2009 16:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Ira

Main's problems actually underscore the incredible depth of pitching in the Rangers system. Beyond Holland and Feliz, we also see Tommy Hunter in the Rangers Rotation, plus Kasey Kiker, Blake Beavan, Martin Perez, Robbie Ross, Wilmer Font, Wilfredo Boscan, Omar Poveda, Joe Wieland, even Richard Bleier has put himself back on the map after some initial struggles after being promoted to the Cal league.

on the horizon, Check out a kid named Miguel de Los Santos, a 20 year old lefty in the Dominican Summer League who has 46 strikeouts in 19 and a third innings. Though he's walked 12 and hit 3, he's allowed a whopping 2 hits. that's an opposing batting average of .031 and an opposing OBP of .215

Jul 09, 2009 21:45 PM
rating: 0
 
Rowen Bell

Those are some sick numbers -- but, isn't 20 a little old to be in the DSL?

Jul 10, 2009 09:06 AM
rating: 0
 
Ira

with those numbers, quite obviously. but he might have like visa issues or something weird like that. I don't know.

Jul 10, 2009 10:48 AM
rating: -1
 
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