You’ve probably read Joe Sheehan’s nifty explanations of his AL and NL All-Star ballots. In summary, Joe’s theory is that you don’t fritter away an All-Star spot on a player who’s had a hot two months preceded by season upon season of mediocrity. Instead, you give the spot to a proven, top-tier performer who, ideally, is also enjoying a strong first half. I couldn’t agree more with that philosophy.
Today, I’m going to begin extending Joe’s balloting hermeneutics to the minor leagues. By that I mean I’m going to name my personal level-by-level minor league All-Stars. In the very low minors, where I’m beginning this series, it’s difficult to distinguish fluke performance from genuine skills growth–the track record either isn’t substantial or isn’t there at all. It’s when I get to the upper levels of the minors that I’ll get to wield my variant of Joe’s philosophy. By way of example, I’m not going to hand out any spots to the Hiram Bocachicas of the world. Irrespective of his merits, he’s not a highly valuable prospect by any standard. What I’m going to do is give spots to those who are not only performing well in the early months of the 2004 season, but also are doing so in tandem with legitimate prospect status.
You’ll recall that last week I took a gander at the top five most underrated hitting prospects in the game. This time, it’s the pitchers. I believe I amply qualified myself last week, but I’ll say again that calling anything “overrated” or “underrated” is horribly, terribly, awfully subjective and assumes I have some sort of internal, ruthlessly accurate method of reading the hype tea leaves. I don’t, but I can juggle.
Once again, the criteria are that a player didn’t appear anywhere on BP’s Top 50 Prospect List and has reached at least the High-A level this season. If nothing else, you can dance to it…
Whenever words like “overrated” or “underrated” are introduced into an argument, objectivity generally takes a holiday. Gauging the amount of hype a certain player is receiving and determining whether it’s tantamount to his abilities is by nature largely an exercise in opinion. Now that we’re all aware that I’m aware that I’m wallowing in subjectivity, I’m going to wallow in subjectivity.
Below is a list of my top five underrated position prospects. The criteria are that the player is toiling in at least High-A this season (meaning the California, Carolina and Florida State leagues or higher) and did not appear in any iterations of our Top 50 Prospect List.
Let’s light this candle…
Tools Vs. Performance – MWF, 8:00
It’s not often you find a good tools-versus-performance debate among the fraternity paddle crowd (i.e., college draftees)–usually this forms the parameters of the prep-collegiate arguments that have become old hat by now–but there’s one to be found this year in Seth Smith against Dustin Pedroia. Smith, an outfielder for Ole Miss, went at number 50 to the Rockies, while Pedroia, Arizona State’s starting shortstop, was the Red Sox’s first pick at number 65.
I am puzzled by your suggestion that Steve Finley is now a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. The defensive metrics were unanimous about his 2003 defensive year. He was the worst everyday center fielder in the league, not that this is really surprising because he is the oldest. Is there something I’ve missed? Finley’s defensive decline is very important when combined with his offensive decline. He really doesn’t deserve an everyday job now. His hitting is not good enough to carry his D. Terrero deserves the job.
Thanks for the feedback. In point of fact, I didn’t say Finley was a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. I did say that he has a “good glove.” That, in my mind, isn’t tantamount to being the best. Finley’s last three seasonal Prospectus Fielding Runs ratings go -3, 5, 3. While he did have a sub-par year in the field last season, I’m not ready to call him Lonnie Smith just yet. Yes, he’s old, but there’s still only one year of data to support the idea that he’s not longer a capable glove man. According to Finley’s Davenport Translations, he’s 11 runs above average for his career as a center fielder.
As for the assertion that Finley was the worst defensive center fielder in the league last season, it simply doesn’t square with statistical realities. For instance, in the NL alone, Preston Wilson, Marlon Byrd, Juan Pierre, Craig Biggio, Scott Podsednik and Marquis Grissom all fared worse than Finley in terms of Fielding Runs. Additionally, non-qualifiers like Reggie Taylor and Ken Griffey Jr. also graded out below Finley with the glove.
And Finley doesn’t deserve an everyday job? I know quite a few teams that would go a week in burlap underwear for a shot at a center fielder who’s hitting .291/.359/.551 and in the final year of his contract. Sure he’s old and helped notably by his home park, but Finley remains a quality player, and it won’t surprise me if a contender scoops him up this summer.
Adam Dunn is O.P.T. draw 162 walks on the season, which would be the fourth-highest total of all-time.
Dunn, who’s abusing the ball to the tune of .271/.457/.564 and is tied for third in the NL with a .348 EqA, has often been criticized for being too patient at the plate. It’s possible there’s merit to that idea, but he’s knocking the snot out of the ball and he has more unintentional/quasi-unintentional walks than Barry Bonds. If he keeps this up, comparisons to a mid-’90s Frank Thomas won’t be off base.
For years now, the words “Cardinals” and “promising prospects” have seemed as incongruous and unrelated as “concept album” and “enjoyable listening experience.” On a system-wide level, that’s still the case; the Cards remain saddled with one of the weaker stables of minor league talent in baseball. That said, they are cobbling together a promising corps of young starters. In no particular order, let’s take a look at a few of them:
It wasn’t so long ago that the Indians, almost by acclimation, were deemed to have the best farm system in the game. That’s a fleeting honor by nature, as great systems are generally loaded with talent in the high minors–talent that isn’t long for the farm. Indeed, mashers like Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner are now plying their trade in Cleveland. Brandon Phillips exhausted his prospect status and the patience of his handlers, but he’s renaissancing in Buffalo this season. The gaggle of high-ceiling arms once in the system is now splitting time between major league duty and the injury docket.
All that said, replenishment is in the offing. The Indians’ High-A Carolina League affiliate in Kinston has been far and away the most dominant team in the minors thus far. At 27-9 (a tidy .750 winning percentage, which translates to 108 wins over a 144-game schedule), the Kinston Indians are playing Chet to the rest of the ‘Lina League’s Gary and Wyatt. All without the transmogrification-cum-comeuppance in the end.
Unless you’re the Giants, success isn’t reducible to one player, but in Kinston’s case it may be reducible to three. So ready yourselves for the “Kinston Trio.”
CF – Steve Finley, Age: 39 (.265/.333/.561/.291 EqA)
A .330-ish OBP will pass muster at an up-the-middle position, but throw in excellent power and a good glove, and you’re in All-Star territory. Part of his power is certainly BOB-fueled illusion, but Finley is still a highly useful player, even at 39.
Runner-up: Marquis Grissom and Craig Biggio are both having remarkable seasons at the plate, but major regression is likely. And Biggio’s defense in center drops his stock quite a bit. If Grissom hits .357 for the whole season, I’ll deep fry my elbows.
Jimy Williams’ deployment of Astro relievers has been
a source of consternation for many of us here at BP.
Not long ago, he declared that he would begin using
his closer and best reliever, Octavio
Dotel, to protect four-run, ninth-inning
leads from time to time. Suffice it to day, that’s
about as efficient as your garden-variety
doobage-addled record store clerk. Calling on your
closer to protect three-run leads in the ninth is a
bad idea, so clearly what’s being referred to as a
“Jimy Save” runs even further afoul of common sense.
As Joe Sheehan observed in a recent group e-mail, this
practice reached its nadir last week when Williams,
unwilling to go to Dotel, who’d worked the three
previous days (twice logging eminently undemanding and
wasteful Jimy Saves), saw inferior relievers fritter
away a ninth-inning lead to the Braves and eventually
lose it in the 10th. Thanks to the Jimy Save, the
Astros’ best reliever was a feckless observer to the
conflagration unfolding on the field.
All of this leads me to wonder just how poorly
Williams has managed the Houston bullpen.
The calendar has flipped, we’ve all celebrated that strange Mexican holiday by cramming fruit in our beers, and power bills around the country are preparing for the arduous climb that will face them in the coming months. Clearly, it’s time to prematurely hand out (a split infinitive… for the people!) awards for the 2004 season. Here’s my hardware for the season’s first checkpoint. For my criteria, I’m using the dread “If the season ended today…” qualifier that leads to so much analytical white noise. Five months from now, these picks may be as relevant as Justin Guarini circa 2007, but, nevertheless, here they are…
I posited that this might be the profile of the “Hidden Hitter”–one who, like Ordonez, wields the lumber with impunity in the majors despite an underwhelming record of performance coming up through the minors. This idea applies really only to power production, and the metrics I focused on were primarily SLG, ISO (Isolated Slugging Percentage, or SLG minus AVG) and XB% (extra-base hits expressed as a percentage of overall hits).
To test this further, I picked the brains of my BP label mates to come up with a laundry list of hitters who meet this profile. By no means is this an exhaustive litany of said prototype, but it will provide a deeper look into whether the Hidden Hitter profile is worth our time.
I\’ve a long-running fascination with Magglio Ordonez.
As observed in his player comment in BP \’04, Magglio\’s consistent excellence since 1999 has been uncanny. As early as it is this season, he\’s once again putting up standard-issue Magglio rate stats: .291/.356/.582. But what engages me beyond his recent history is the seeming discontinuity between Ordonez\’s minor league and major league numbers. Check out these career rate stats:
He was, in some senses, a \”Hidden Hitter\”–one whose statistical bestowals on the farm didn\’t portend the greatness to come. Or did they?
Can they keep it up?
At this writing, the Dodgers, at 12-6, are tied with the Red Sox for the second-best record in baseball. To be sure, it\’s terribly early, but it does make me wonder how likely the Dodgers are to continue playing well. They were already contenders in the relatively lusterless NL West, but most observers had L.A. tabbed for third place or worse.
One tiresome and mundane quip columnists and pundits often trot out when this issue is foregrounded every couple of years is that Major League Baseball needs to be more like the NFL. I take this to mean crappier uniforms, roughly 12 minutes of action per game, a less meaningful regular season and inscrutable financial schema. But what the talking heads really mean is more competitive balance. Smarter people than I have cut this argument to ribbons, but I would like to point out that what passes for noble egalitarianism in the NFL is really just structural distinction. By that I mean, the NFL has a players union that’s weaker than sun-toasted Bud Light, and they play 16-game schedule, from which they award 12 playoff spots. MLB, of course, plays a 162-game slate, which much more ruthlessly divides wheat and chaff, and doles out only eight playoff spots. With those differences in mind, let’s see how the MLB would’ve fared over the last five seasons–the reputed dark age of competitive balance–had they been playing by the NFL’s rules.
Washington, D.C. officials have unveiled a plan to provide the Expos with a $340-million, baseball-only stadium entirely at the expense of taxpayers. That D.C. so gleefully welcomed MLB to the public trough and that the Expos will eventually land within the Beltway is about as surprising as when Detective O’McBrubakerohannally, who just mentioned to his partner and to regular viewers of “Badge of Dignity” that he’s two weeks from his pension, takes a fatal bullet on that routine summons-service detail.