Sixto Sanchez is a fast-rising prospect with a big fastball.
This past Thursday, I saw one of 2017’s breakout candidates for the first time: Philadelphia Phillies right-handed pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez. Sanchez was even better than advertised, and I think it’s safe to say he’s breaking out. Sanchez mixed in all kinds of fastballs from 92 up to a comfortable 98, and featured a promising slider and change. The command profile was unusually advanced for an 18-year-old making his second start in A-ball, especially one that was a late pitching convert. He worked unusually fast, and he got off the mound to cover first as fast as any pitcher I’ve ever seen. He wasn’t perfect—the command wasn’t always there—and normal caveats about tiny righties who have two starts above the complex leagues absolutely apply. But you’re probably going to be hearing us all talk about Sixto Sanchez in hushed tones for awhile.
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Building off of last week's aggressive assignments, a look at who could have been challenged a bit more.
Last week, I looked at six top prospects that were assigned aggressively and why that might have been so. This week, let’s look at some assignments going the other way: prospects who were given assignments a level below what might’ve been expected to begin the season.
Where a prospect is placed can tell you a lot about what the organization thinks of them...and can be misleading.
Minor league opening day is upon us. With it, we get the first hard information on what teams really think of their own prospects: their level assignments. There are always a handful of notable prospects given curious assignments for one reason or another, and this week I’m delving into six of the most aggressive prospect assignments of 2017.
Not a prospect, but not a post-hype sleeper? We've found you a home.
As prospect writers, once a player gets 130 at-bats, 50 innings, or 45 pre-September active roster days, he more or less ceases to exist to us. Those numbers are completely arbitrary and capricious. They’re the standards for Rookie of the Year eligibility, and they sort of make sense for that award. For simplicity and ease, we use them too, and most of the time they work.
Javier Baez is as good as we thought he might be, just...completely differently.
Great players comes in all shapes, with all kinds of skills, and so do great prospects. Yet there’s some great players or even good players that were great prospects that projected to hold totally different skills than the ones they ultimately ended up with. What happens when you successfully project how good a prospect will become as a major-league player, but totally miss on what kind of player he will become?
Spring Training might not provide meaningful statistics, but that doesn't mean it is useless.
Broadly speaking, spring training performance doesn’t matter much. Maybe in some perfect world we’d have decent measurements and be able to glean things from them, but in this world, they’re compiled over relatively small samples with highly variant levels of competition and run environments. The results of fifty plate appearances against MLB pitching don’t matter much, so why would fifty plate appearances against a mixture of MLB guys pitching at eighty-five percent and MiLB guys of greatly varying talent? The simple answer is that it doesn’t. For awhile, sabermetric pioneer John Dewan hypothesized that batters slugging more than two hundred points higher than their career norms in spring were primed to break out—Jose Bautista was the poster boy for this theory—but more recent research has not agreed with Dewan’s specific premise, including some of Dewan’s own more recent writings. The more complex answer is that under very limited circumstances it can matter a little. David Rosenheck has noted that using certain rate metrics that stabilize in a small number of plate appearances slightly improved ZIPS projections, especially for rookies, and Neil Paine found similar with offensive MARCEL projections, though the results only moved with very extreme spring performances.
For the next two weeks, baseball will turn its eyes from meaningless exhibition games to...well, whatever the World Baseball Classic is to you. At the very least, it’s a chance to watch a lot of accumulated baseball talent, much of it from leagues that you might not get to see much, from the American minors to Cuba’s Serie Nacional and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. With the start of play on this side of the Pacific finally upon us, I’m going to take a look at three interesting prospects (or young not-fully-established players), a key storyline (or two or three), and one interesting non-prospect to watch for in each of the four pools.
Christian Bethancourt is an anomaly in today's game. Who might follow in his footsteps?
Christian Bethancourt made his 2017 Cactus League debut yesterday, going one inning and allowing no hits and no runs, while touching 96 mph. Well, that was his pitching debut; on Monday he made his hitting debut, starting at DH and going 0-for-1 with a walk. Welcome to the brave new world where the Padres are preparing the same player to be their backup catcher, fifth outfielder, and a key middle reliever, all at the same time.
Once upon a time, in the Atlanta system, Bethancourt was a good catching prospect. He ranked as high as 87th on our top 101 prospect list before 2014, always hitting a little and flashing a rocket arm that caused scouts to project him as a high-end major league defender. It turned out that defensive projection missed that Bethancourt is a poor pitch framer, aggregating -7.3 FRAA in about a full season’s worth of playing time over the past three seasons between Atlanta and San Diego. He’s also hit a meager .223/.253/.318 in that time span, and while he’s only 25 and catcher development can be weird, conventionally speaking Christian Bethancourt is perilously close to being no more than fringe backup. Except he still has that rocket arm...
After beating Dellin Betances in arbitration the Yankees added to the drama by going public with criticism of the star reliever.
The arbitration process sucks. It sucks for the team. It sucks for the player. The player, his agent, and key front office personnel go into a room where their lawyers and contractors argue why the player is worse or better than he initially appears. At the end of the day, three professional arbitrators who don’t necessarily have intimate knowledge of MLB player value decide between the player’s submitted salary number and the team's submitted salary number.
These decisions are almost always fitted on a player’s service time, past salary, and the closest comps based on antiquated box score-level stats like wins, saves, batting average, home runs, and RBI, as those stats are generally what the arbitrators understand. The process has been around long enough that there are almost always comparables. Because of this, groups like the Pace Law baseball arbitration team are able to project arbitration awards with stunning accuracy without even being in the room, and an annual national law school arbitration competition occurs with MLB’s system as the model. Often, this is all about a couple hundred-thousand dollars, a pittance in the overall budget of MLB teams.
The Yankees reached arbitration settlements with six of the players they tendered. The seventh was Dellin Betances, one of the best relievers in baseball, entering arbitration for the first time. The Yankees offered $3 million and Betances countered at $5 million. The Yankees are a "file-and-trial" team, which means once the arbitration numbers are officially exchanged they will no longer negotiate a one-year deal.
Economist Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors went a step beyond looking at cases individually and fitted a statistical model to project arbitration salaries across the league, since the comparables are so stable. Swartz’s model for relievers is pretty clear: saves get paid and holds don’t. Swartz also found that the arbitration panel hews so closely to past precedents that a player is unlikely to get more than $1 million beyond the previously highest-paid player for his role and service time, no matter how much better he was than that past comparable. Swartz’s model is generally well-regarded and projected Betances’ median arbitration award at $3.4 million for 2017, far closer to the team filing than the player filing. It’s no surprise that the Yankees won the case, no matter how unfairly light that $3 million number may seem at first glance.
I suspect nothing further would’ve happened here except perhaps a generic disappointment quote from Betances, but then Yankees president Randy Levine went to the media. You certainly wouldn’t be reading about it here on BP—across town, Wilmer Flores’ arbitration victory over the Mets floated through the papers as a couple of sentences in a pre-spring training slice of life story, garnering no major regional or national attention.
Why Levine chose to go after Betances in the media after winning is a question only Levine himself can answer. Arbitration proceedings are often rancorous. It often puts the team in a position where it has to trash its own player for financial advantage, pointing out things like how slow he is to the plate. Occasionally these things boil over; Jerry Blevins’ arbitration win over the Nationals in 2015 was reportedly a factor in his trade a few weeks later to the Mets. This proceeding was apparently particularly bad, but again, the Yankees won.