Which young hitters does PECOTA see as having breakout potential in 2017?
“Breakout” can mean different things to different people. It can mean a prospect or untested young big leaguer establishing himself as a valuable regular. It can mean a relative unknown becoming an impact player. It can mean a well-known star making the leap to full-blown superstar, perhaps even following up a “breakout” one year with an even bigger “breakout” the next. Your own definition may vary, but in PECOTA’s case “breakout” is all about out-performing track records.
The Situation: Through Sunday, Pittsburgh’s right field triumvirate was collectively slashing .259/.313/.349, a relatively paltry line relative to the league average of .268/.337/.428. Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, Polanco has been assaulting International League pitching all season to the tune of a .945 OPS. As a member of the 40-man roster, Polanco has been the most logical answer for the team’s offensive woes in right field, but Pirates officials have cited developmental reasons for his continued stay in Triple-A. Accusations of service-time manipulation have been bandied about in light of the team’s less-than-stellar start to the season, and given the timeframe of the call up, more allegations are likely forthcoming.
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Oscar Taveras and Marcus Stroman earn their diplomas, but Gregory Polanco is still waiting.
The Graduates: Oscar Taveras (2), Marcus Stroman (15)
It only took a year longer than many thought, but Taveras has finally taken his rightful place in the Cardinals’ outfield and lineup. With the ankle injury finally in the rearview mirror, the stud prospect is ready to start hitting for average and power immediately at the major league level. If reading about Taveras is your thing (and frankly, that’s all of us), he got the full Call-Up treatment on Saturday by Jason Parks, with fantasy analysis from yours truly. Stroman, on the other hand, is getting his second shot this season, but this time in the role he was born to play: starting pitcher. In his starting debut, Stroman went six innings while striking out six and allowing five base runners. He should stick and although the performance may be up and down, he’ll be worth owning in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixed.
The Super Two cutoff isn't yet upon us, so Gregory Polanco retains his spot atop the list.
We’re rolling with a slightly different format this week, so instead of an introduction, we’re actually going to talk about those who graduated from last week’s list. Do you like this? RT for yes, fav for no.
The Graduates: Jaime Garcia (14), Derek Norris (15), Rafael Montero (19), Jennry Mejia (22)
We finally had some graduates this past week, clearing a few spots on the list for new names. Garcia looked pretty sharp (other than a few long balls) against the Braves, and I remain optimistic about him from a skill (not health) standpoint. Norris finally goes off the list as he started five games last week, with four of them coming against right-handed pitching. If he’s still unowned in your league, please rectify this immediately. Montero made his debut against the Yankees on Wednesday and looked good enough that Mike Gianella and I picked him up for our LABR team. That fact alone should cause you to sell him before he spontaneously combusts (yes, we’ve gone through more pitchers than Spinal Tap has drummers). And finally, Mejia seemed like the best option the Mets had to close games, and he’s doing just that—causing him to fall off the list for positive reasons.
Notes on prospects who stood out this weekend, plus an obligatory Gregory Polanco update.
Friday, May 16
Miles Head, 1B, A’s (Midland, AA): 3-4, R, HR. Head is struggling once again, now in his third go-round in Double-A. It was already a tough profile as a right-handed-hitting first baseman, but Head’s power outage is enough to diminish his status as a prospect. For what it’s worth, Head also homered again on Sunday.
Jurickson Profar makes his first appearance, but Gregory Polanco remains at the top.
The worst thing for a player who is performing at a high level in the minor leagues is to have a player (or players) ahead of him who is also getting the job done. This goes triple for position players, as a starting pitching prospect will force his way in there if his performance dictates that he deserves a job. If you look at the top names on this list (specifically the first five prospects), part of the reason why they are so prominently ranked is that they are significantly better from a talent perspective than what is ahead of them on the depth chart. Those five players, who are potentially going to be phased out, are (roughly) Travis Snider, Jon Jay, Luis Valbuena, Marc Krauss, and Cody Asche. Those are not impediments, they are placeholders.
The waters get much more murky when you have a player like Alexander Guerrero, who from a talent and performance standpoint should probably get a shot at major league playing time, but is behind Dee Gordon on the depth chart. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge obstacle, but Gordon (and his .385 on-base percentage) has been one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball this season. So while Guerrero ends up in the Honorable Mention section again because he would likely get the call in the event of a Gordon injury, that’s a much less likely outcome than a near replacement player playing like a near replacement level player.
Talking about today's most topical 21-year-old, 22-year-old, and 23-year-old: Bryce Harper, Gregory Polanco, and Kolten Wong.
Thoughts on three young National Leaguers in the news today, plus a bonus item about the Blue Jays:
Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco Promotion Watch
As Daniel Rathmanpointed out in today’s What You Need to Know, the Pirates—whose shutout loss to St. Louis on Sunday dropped them to 10-16 and (now) nine games back in the NL Central—aren’t hitting. A big part of Pittsburgh’s problems at the plate has been the team’s lack of production from right field, where Travis Snider, trade chipJose Tabata, and Josh Harrison (for one plate appearance) have combined for a .221/.289/.279 triple-slash line. As Dan also observed, the Pirates’ top healthy prospect, Gregory Polanco, plays right field for Triple-A Indianapolis, where he’s hitting .400/.460/.644. It doesn’t take Branch Rickey to connect the dots and conclude that the team’s greatest minor-league strength could be the solution to one of its major-league weaknesses.
We’ll keep the introduction short this week, but it’s the perfect time to touch on a very important topic, both when trying to predict which prospects will have both 2014 and long-term value.
Minor league statistics are deceiving. That’s not to say they can’t be informative, because they do tell the story of what has actually happened in professional games, but they don’t come close to explaining the whole picture. Take Eddie Butler for example—he’s been pitching well in Triple-A, but with the lowest strikeout rate of his minor league career. You could read this as a bad sign when you’re flipping through his Baseball Reference page, but the reality is that the stuff is still just as good as 2013 (if not better), and the Rockies are asking him to pitch to contact more.
Notes on prospects who stood out on Thursday, including Tigers infielder Eugenio Suarez and Mets lefty Steven Matz.
Hitter of the Night: Eugenio Suarez, SS, Tigers (Erie, AA): 2-5, 2 R, 2 HR, K.
We were hoping to see more from Suarez’s bat in a return trip to Double-A, and while he’s still hitting just .250 and doesn’t walk much, his pair of home runs on Thursday gives him five, halfway to his previous career high.
Pitcher of the Night: Steven Matz, LHP, Mets (St. Lucie, A+): 5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 0 R, BB, 6 K.
Matz used a fastball that sat 93-94 and a good changeup to carve through Palm Beach hitters on Thursday. He mixed in a hard curveball to keep hitters from both sides of the plate honest.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco and Reds righty Ben Lively.
Hitter of the Night: Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates (Indianapolis, AAA): 3-5, 3 R, HR, 2 K.
Polanco is perhaps the best candidate currently in the minors for a contract extension without ever having played a major-league game, due to his talent level but also his proximity to the majors and the Pirates’ blatant need for him right now. Instead, we’ll just have to sit through Travis Snider and Jose Tabata while the Pirates second-best outfielder (yes, he may already be better than Starling Marte) tears up Triple-A.
Pitcher of the Night: Ben Lively, RHP, Reds (Bakersfield, A+): 6 IP, H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K.
Lively has done nothing but miss bats since being selected in the fourth round last season, and Tuesday night’s outing was his second straight 10-strikeout performance. His delivery has some effort to it, but if he can maintain that throughout his outings, he’ll be able to remain a starter.
Javier Baez retains the top spot, but there's a new hot prospect ranked second.
Yes, there was no Stash List for the past two weeks, but that was all part of the plan. Any changes would be extremely minimal, as no one wants more overreaction to small sample sizes and there was never going to be much roster movement. Of course, then the Astros go and call up George Springer, and now everyone is eyeing the prospects on their benches and asking “why not me?”
Well, realistically, not for a while. The most impactful area of this column for the first two months of the season deals with prospects, and if you haven’t read Zachary Levine’s analysis on service time, it’s extremely important for stashers like you and me. We all know about Super Two, approximately when the deadline is and why teams do it. But it’s often forgotten that there are some big prospects who come up in the second half of April, once their teams have ensured that they don’t lose a full year of control.