Addison Reed is joined by the cast of Real Genius, who collectively probably have a higher upside than Chicago's actual system.
Prospect #1: C Chris Knight Background with Player: Video analysis. Who: Catcher Chris Knight, the former top pick in the draft who many consider the best prospect in recent memory, has let his off-field issues and indiscretions affect his on-field focus. As a result, his overall production hasn’t lived up to his enormous ceiling. His raw tools are so electric that boredom has become an intrinsic byproduct; the developmental staff takes the brunt of Knight’s ennui, which usually forces the former prodigy to seek attention through histrionics. When he’s on point, there isn’t a prospect that can match his combination of tools and feel for the game.
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Professor Jerry Hathaway, director of player development and de facto mentor to the future star, has been adamant that Chris Knight won’t graduate to the majors until he finishes what he started in the minors. Knight lacks the motivation to achieve for the reductive sake of achievement, so the extra pressure being applied to the promising backstop will either propel the prospect to the heights his tools suggest are possible, or the immature talent will withdraw from the forced responsibility, and instead choose to live in the frenzied moments of his own arrested development.
Things you didn't know about Francisco Lindor: he can fly, heal the sick, and turn rocks into seven-layer cake.
Prospect #1: SS Francisco Lindor Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources. Who: Selected eighth overall in the 2011 draft, Lindor had enough heat on his name after pre-draft workouts that some in the industry thought Seattle would pop the young Puerto Rican with the second-overall pick. I’ve seen a lot of quality up-the-middle talent since I started down this prospect evaluation road, and rarely will a 17-year-old (now 18) shortstop showcase the type of skills to make you feel confident in their future major-league success. After watching Lindor in the Fall Instructional League, I have very little doubt that he will develop into a very good major leaguer, one that can play a premium defensive position while providing above-average offensive production. At the plate, Lindor can track balls from release point to target like a ten-year veteran, showing advanced recognition skills and an approach that should put him in favorable hitting environments. His hands and hips work very well, showing fluidity when they fire, and bringing his bat head into the zone quickly and efficiently. He shows contact ability and he drives through the ball with excellent extension; it’s easy to project a plus hit tool and at least solid-average power at maturity. In the field, Lindor is as precocious and instinctual as positional prince Jurickson Profar, showing easy actions, a very strong arm, and a preternatural feel for his craft. I’m slobbering all over Lindor without apology. I put a note in his locker after class. I hope he checks the box marked “yes.”
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Lindor was a young high school draftee, turning 18-years-old after the 2011 season had already ended, so that youth will ride sidesaddle in the developmental process, both as a positive and negative. The downside to youth is inexperience, and all the praise that Lindor receives for this tools and his polish can’t change the reality of his limited existence. It’s likely that Lindor moves to full-season ball at some point in 2012, and the jump will represent the biggest challenge so far in Lindor’s brief career. Development is about failure and adjustment, and given the level of competition Lindor is likely to face, I think he could initially struggle, at least until he makes the necessary adjustments. This is a player that needs to see sharp breaking balls, that needs to see above-average velocity, that needs to face sequences and situations that you just can’t simulate with the same intensity on a practice field. Failure can be a good thing for young players, even if the exposure to failure is short-lived, as it most likely will be in the case of Lindor. I think he has a chance to be a star, and to be honest, I think he makes the necessary adjustments very quickly and emerges as a top tier prospect in the game before the year is out.
Why the next big step for baseball teams might not be learning something new, but making better use of the information they already have.
“The management and analysis of data, whether it be scouting reports, statistics, medical information or video, is a critical component of our operation. We look forward to developing a customized program that utilizes the most advanced and efficient technology available in the marketplace today to facilitate quicker, easier and more accurate access to all the sources of information we use to make baseball decisions.”—Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, January 2012
“[Statistical analysis] helps but doesn’t tell the whole story of the game. There is a lot of gut feeling you got to make. If you have a stat and see a flashing number and you see that this guy is doing very good against this other guy, you can use that in a game during a key situation. Yes. But we cannot just depend on stats alone. You got to depend on many other things… I don’t like to become a fantasy manager. The goal for a good manager is to have players who are able to manage themselves on the field.”—Unsuccessful Cubs managerial candidate Sandy Alomar Jr., November 2011
Genuflect, genuflect, genuflect to Mike Trout and his supernatural powers.
Prospect #1: OF Mike Trout Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources. Who: It’s a little cheap to include Trout in these rankings; after all, he belongs at the major league level in 2012 and already accrued 40 games there in 2011. But this is my series and I can do what I want, and what I want to do is wax poetic about Mike Trout. The 20-year-old prospect is not a mystery to man; he has been on the prospect landscape since a breakout debut campaign in 2009 put him on the map and an even greater sophomore season peeled back the layers of his superiority and left the baseball world with a top tier talent. Trout can do just about everything on a baseball field, with elite speed, a near-elite hit tool, plus power potential, a plus-plus glove, and enough arm to grade around average. That’s a legit five-tool talent, and while we are being honest here, if given a choice of any prospect in baseball to build a team around, I’d take Trout over Harper, I’d take Trout over Moore, and I’d take Trout over Profar. I’ve only seen the kid play five times in two years, but each time his performance triggered an internal existential debate: Is Mike Trout the archetype of the modern player? Is Mike Trout a baseball deity?
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Trout’s physical skills are straight out of your favorite fables, but he’s only 20 and those post-biblical skills aren’t refined. As a right-handed hitter, Trout struggled with his first-taste of major league quality stuff, especially arm-side stuff on the inner half of the plate, be it sharp fastballs, benders with depth, or sequencing that kept him guessing on both. I fully expect to see more struggles of this variety in 2012, as Trout should pound lefties and remain inconsistent against the arm-side. To his benefit, Trout has lightning-fast hands and strong wrists which give him good bat control and contact ability. With those attributes, his contact rates should climb in 2012, but negotiating the difficulties associated with electric arm-side stuff is something you can only overcome through exposure, and setbacks are intrinsic to that process. In the end, Trout could be a perennial MVP candidate as a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder that is going to hit over .300, reach base at a high clip, slug 20 homers and a ton of doubles, steal bases, and change the fortunes of the Angels franchise more than their recent free agent additions. The Church of Trout starts here.
The Rangers have a burgeoning farm system, but what could be some stumbling blocks for their top prospects?
Prospect #1: SS JuricksonProfar Background with Player: My eyes Who: This highly-touted prospect comes from Curacao. Many saw the former Little League World Series star as a pitcher because of his already promising fastball and ability to spin what projected to be a quality breaking ball. Signed as a position player for a bonus of $1.55 million in 2009, Profar exploded in his full-season debut in 2011, showing an advanced feel for all aspects of the game and emerging as a premier prospect in all of baseball.
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Not that Profar is all polish and no projection, but unlike most teenaged prospects, the gap between his representational present and his abstract future isn’t as wide. As such, Profar isn’t going to continue his physical tool-based ascent at the same accelerated pace. That isn’t to say his status isn’t legit; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Profar is a rare breed of prospect, one that combines all the physical characteristics of a future first-division major-league starter, with the intense desire to not only reach those heights, but to ultimately eclipse them. This might seem like an odd thing to criticize, but the intense desire to be the best might end up being a hindrance in the short term, even if the #want makes him a better player in the long term.
The Athletics have recently padded their farm through several trades, but will their prospects pan out?
Prospect #1:RHP A.J. Cole Background with Player: Industry Sources Who: He’s a prototypical starter drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by the Washington Nationals. Cole was traded to the Athletics in the Gio Gonzalez deal, and has everything you want in a future major-league starter: size, stuff, and feel for the mound. In his full-season debut in 2011, Cole showed off his combination of polish and power, striking out 108 Sally League hitters while walking only 24.
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: As with any young pitcher climbing the ladder, each step will bring new challenges and adjustments. In 2012, Cole will need to continue his sharp command while focusing more attention on the development of his changeup. With good arm action and precocious command, Cole isn’t likely to fall apart by throwing more changeups. But the changeup is a feel pitch, and it takes time to gain command of the nuances of its utility and execution.
Projecting prospects is a tricky business, so will our prospect guru backtrack on what he has said about players in the past?
Who: Cheslor Cuthbert (Royals) Background with Player: My own eyes Documented Observations and Prognostications: I remember the first time I saw Cuthbert: He was standing at the hot corner on a hot afternoon in March 2010, his long, flowing hair intertwined with the shadows on the field, smiling as he used the leather attached to his left hand to fan his greatness toward all eyes cast upon him. Okay, I just made that up. But I did enjoy Cuthbert when I first saw him take grounders, even though his hair wasn’t long and flowing, and I didn’t see any shadows on the field, and I’m not sure Cuthbert was smiling.
Heading into the 2011 season, Cuthbert so impressed me that I took to Baseball Prospectus and professed my love for his present and future.
Is our prospect guru going to jump off the bandwagon on some of his top prospects of 2011?
Who: Christian Bethancourt (Braves) Background with Player: My own eyes; information from industry sources Documented Observations and Prognostications: For nearly two years, I’ve been waxing hyperbolic on Bethancourt’s skill set, at times saying he might be the best catching prospect in the minors. On a raw tool front, I have put Bethancourt’s arm strength and release from behind the plate as 80-grade attributes, as I’ve clocked pop times under 1.8 and others (sources) have clocked him even faster (1.65). In fact, 80-grade might not do his raw arm strength justice; if you can’t tell, his arm is insanely strong.
At the plate, the Panamanian catcher has crazy pop, using his raw strength and fast hands to spray balls to all fields. While his batting-practice displays can slick your hair up Teddy-boy style, the translation to game action has been slow. While he’s immature with the total skill package, the promise is overwhelming. I absolutely love Bethancourt, and I think he is going to be a star.
Before diving into his prognostications, our resident prospect guru begins an open dialogue about prospect evaluation.
As November ages into December, the baseball season continues its transition from full throttle to dead air before thrusting forward again with the push of free agency, the Winter Meetings, and the countdown to report dates for pitchers and catchers. As many in the industry work to contextualize the previous campaign (while simultaneously setting up sales pitches for the eventualities of tomorrow), I find myself already bored with the conjecture and rumor of the winter. What shall I do until my eyes can once again open and focus on live play? Oh, how I already long for thee.
In the coming months, I plan on revisiting a series I started last offseason, where I take the top five prospects in each system and explore the weaknesses in their skill set that could lead to setbacks or stumbles in the 2012 season. We in the prospect prognostication field tend to paint pretty pictures of young talent, choosing to package the dream instead of the reality. Not that hope requires a big marketing push, but focusing on the conceptual world of peak potential is so much easier and palatable than focusing on the negatives.
Setting Aroldis Chapman to the side, what about the Reds' best four prospects could keep them from attaining greatness?
The face of the Reds’ system is half-man, half-radar gun. That paints an interesting mental image of Aroldis Chapman, but it's an accurate description: the Cuban southpaw with the slingshot for an arm routinely hits triple digits on the gun, often running his heat north of 104 mph, which is just stupid velocity. The sex appeal of his fastball aside, I don’t want to spend too much time focusing on Aroldis Chapman, at least as far as this exercise goes; while technically still a rookie, instructions to keep a spot on the 25-man roster set aside for Chapman are already tattooed on the collective forehead of the front office. Unless his arm detaches from his body and lands in the dugout during a pitch, Chapman is going to be the most feared reliever in baseball at worst, and a top-of-the-rotation starter at best. For this particular article, let’s just move away from the sure thing, and give the next four prospects in the Reds' system a piece of the sidewalk, and detail what could go wrong in the upcoming season.
Prospect #1: Devin Mesoraco
Who: He's a former first-round pick who finally started to turn his raw tools into game production, hitting a combined .302/.377/.587 over three levels. Armed with above-average raw power, Mesoraco projects to hit 15-20 home runs at the major-league level, with enough behind the plate to stick at the position.