Two bright, young players are struggling. Should we worry about each one to an equal extent?
Last weekend the Twins and Orioles met in Baltimore for a three-game set. Of the various subplots to come from the series—including the O's losing two more one-run games—the one with the most long-term impact could be the continued struggles of Manny Machado and Aaron Hicks, two young, gifted players with the potential to have long, glamorous careers but who are currently playing below their expectations.
Although technically no longer a rookie, Machado remains the youngest everyday player in the American League. His play last season—as a 20-year-old inserted into a postseason race—obscured this fact, save for a rough postseason. However, Machado's 6-for-30 start to the new year is bringing it back into focus. He's almost unfathomably young and that makes him a difficult player to evaluate during times of extreme play. Think of it as the Mike Trout corollary: highly skilled youth are capable of what their numbers say they are until they aren't.
Why are shortstops so bad this year, and does it mean anything for the future?
We know that positional strength comes and goes in cycles, like most other things in life. The early and mid-90s were great for first basemen and elite starting pitchers, the late 90s and early aughts for shortstops. The time since then has mostly been dominated by Albert Pujols, but it’s been pretty excellent for outfielders and second basemen, too. We can debate those classifications, I suppose, but you get the idea.
Over the last few years, though, I’d argue that the fates have shaken things out more or less evenly. In 2010, the MLB top 20 position players by WARP included at least one of every position but catcher (Joe Mauer came in at 22); in 2011, the top 12 had one at every position. The top 20 for 2012 includes 11 outfielders, three third basemen, three catchers, two second basemen, and, shockingly, just one first baseman. I’m pretty sure that each of the last three seasons has been branded the Year of the Pitcher at one point or another, but I’m not sure that’s totally justified, either; there are great pitchers, of course, but not so many or so dominant that they seem to dominate the sport.
The Rangers and Giants will probably both be playoff teams, but two other virtual locks for October, the Yankees and Nationals, made them look bad last night.
The Monday Takeaway
According to the playoff odds as of Tuesday morning, the Rangers are virtually certain to (99.5 percent) be dancing in October, and the Giants have more than a puncher’s chance (58.4 percent). Twelve hours earlier, the Yankees and Nationals, respectively, made them look like bona fide pretenders.
In the Bronx, Ryan Dempster retired the first six Yankees he faced, allowing the Rangers offense to build a 2-0 lead. Then, someone moved batting practice to the bottom of the third inning, and Nick Swisher highlighted the five-run session with a four-run missile into the second deck. The grand slam was Swisher’s 200th career home run, but it had nothing on this 441-foot, sixth-inning blast off the bat of Eric Chavez. And, as if those two bombs weren’t enough, Derek Lowe—fresh off the scrap heap and straight into mop-up duty—needed only 44 pitches to cruise through four innings and earn his first save since 2001. A game Texas led 2-0 ended 8-2 the other way, and the Yankees surged a half-game ahead in the race for the American League’s number-one seed.
Manny Machado has welcomed himself to the majors with huge offensive performances.
The Weekend Takeaway
Since 1970, only four players have kicked off their major-league careers by collecting at least one extra-base hit in each of their first four games. But before you start racking your brains for the answers to that bit of trivia, here’s a hint: Had I asked you the question in March, the only answer would have been Jason Bay.
During the past five months, three rookies have broken into a group that once was as exclusive as the 700-home run club. Between 1918 and Opening Day this year, only three players—Enos Slaughter (1938), Coco Laboy (1969), and Bay (2003)—accomplished the aforementioned feat. Yoenis Cespedes joined them in April. Will Middlebrooks, the only one since Slaughter to do it in five straight, got his membership card in May. And now, those five will have to make room for Manny Machado.
Jason tries his hand at his own top prospect list, with rankings and commentary.
It’s not that I’m against prospect rankings; it’s just that they’re not my bag. I stand in awe of those who excel at the process of these classifications, as it takes a balanced approach, one measured against the overall subjectivity of the operation. You have to look at the tools and projection, but you also have to respect and appreciate game production, with each prognosticator assigning their own weight to each variable. National writers like Kevin Goldstein, Keith Law, and Jim Callis have established their bones in this particular brand of prognostication, and I always look forward to their lists.
Last week, a Twitter question coerced me to suggest that Jurickson Profar is the top prospect in the minors, a comment that soon prompted a series of follow-up questions about the prospects who would round out my top five. I never intended to execute a formal ranking, mostly because I like to assign tools and projection more weight than I probably should, and once I fall in love with a prospect, I’m hitched for the long haul. I’m a hypocrite: I try to be as objective as possible when scouting a player, but I struggle to remove the thorns of love when it comes to ranking players against each other. Francisco Lindor was going to be in my top 10 regardless of what he did on the field in 2012. I really like Francisco Lindor, and it’s my article, and that’s my approach. Admittedly, it’s not the best approach. But I’m honest about my intentions, and I did try my best to make this more than just a prospect popularity context. As requested, here are the top 10 players in the minors, with detailed write-ups of the top five.
People don't think much can go wrong with Dylan Bundy, but how about the rest of the top Orioles prospects?
Prospect #1: RHP Dylan Bundy Background with Player: Industry sources Who: The fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bundy was seen by many, including Kevin Goldstein, as the best player available in the entire class, which, if you haven’t noticed, has a chance of being historically incredibl. Bundy is the rare high school draftee that arrives on the scene with a combination of now stuff and slick polish. The 19-year-old native of Oklahoma has elite upside, with all the characteristics necessary to profile as an ace. His body is strong and mature, and his delivery is clean and repeatable. His fastball can work comfortably in the mid-90s and has touched triple digits. It’s a lively offering that Bundy shows preternatural command over, not only in the ability to locate the pitch but to change speeds and vary the movement (2/4/cut). The curveball projects to be a plus offering, and those who have seen it in person rave about its shape. High school arms don’t usually enter professional ball with plus changeups for a reason, but Bundy already has a changeup that grades out at that level, and some think it could be a 7 pitch at maturity. It’s very uncommon to find a pitcher with this combination of stuff, polish, and pitchability, and barring an unforeseen injury, Bundy looks like a future ace at the major league level. How many arms can boast that ceiling? This is a special arm.
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: We don’t know yet. Not passing the buck, but we haven’t been given a long enough look so far in 2012; Bundy is pitching with too much efficiency and having too much success, and the sample size is too small to really get a good picture of what (if any) holes exist in the skill set. It’s hard to breakdown how he will use pitch sequence multiple times through an order, or how he will respond when he doesn’t have his best stuff, or how he will respond to failure because he’s only thrown 13 innings and has crushed the competition like a major leaguer on a rehab assignment. In those 13 innings, Bundy has dropped 21 hitters on strikes, walked one, and has allowed a grand total of zero hits. The reality is that Bundy might not face a serious test until he reaches Double-A, and even then the test might be an easy one for him to pass. I’m not trying to overhype just to overhype, but there are some people in the industry who think Bundy has the necessary ingredients to pitch at the major league level this season. I can appreciate the excitement, but the developmental process is more than just finding success at your particular minor league assignment, and Bundy still has a lot to learn as a pitcher and as a person. This is going to be fun to watch over the season, and, with more looks and more innings, we will be able to paint a better picture.
Of the notable prospects who didn't start the year in the majors, who got jumped ahead and who got left behind?
With Opening Day upon us, roster decisions have been made, and while most players continue to take the standard route up the minor league ladder, there are plenty of prospects either making a double jump, or being left behind to repeat a level. Last week's player of the year watch had three teenagers-- Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and Seattle righty Taijuan Walker--who are all beginning the year in Double-A; here are ten more players beginning the year somewhere other than where many expected.