Within the daunting task of trying to narrow down the entire prospect landscape into a list of fifty players, there are often debates that form within the umbrella of the overall list discussion. Occasionally planned, the best debates form organically, arising from a split decision that can result in a spirited (read: heated) discussion process. It’s part of what makes this process so interesting and fun. You’re never quite sure where or why the debates are going to pop up until they do.
In this case, we had Royals shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi and Yankees outfield prospect Aaron Judge next to each other on one of the early iterations of our list, and the question arose whether or not we had them in the correct order. The members of that particular discussion group were split on the matter, and thus the entire team was consulted.
The debate centered on the value of their respective skill sets, ceilings, and floors and how that should ultimately be factored into the ranking process. Below is a peek behind the curtain of that debate, with the conversation taken verbatim from the e-mail discussion we had as a team. –Jeff Moore
Jeff Moore: We don't need to debate whether or not we think Mondesi will hit or how much Judge will strike out. We know about those concerns. Let's discuss the how those concerns are factored into the ranking process. We were split pretty evenly in our discussions between these two spots, so there's no right or wrong on who should be ranked higher, but it is an interesting dichotomy. We're talking about one spot but one spot matters.
Al Skorupa: Mondesi for me. It’s as easy as 60 OFP being greater than 55 OFP. Mondesi has a chance to be a first division SS, which is a no brainer over a guy in Judge, who I like but don’t love. Giving more thought to it though, the scarcity of power hitting in baseball right now is a factor I have to consider. Even if they were the same role though (say I believed judge was a role six right fielder), I'd have to take the shortstop. It’s just harder to find that guy and the replacement level is much lower.
Brandon Decker: The scarcity of a dual threat shortstop is what ultimately leads me to preferring Mondesi. The ceiling is a lesser threshold for shortstops, so even if Mondesi's bat doesn't play up to its potential, the defense and position scarcity make him more desirable. If two guys were both role 6, and one a SS and the other a corner OF, I'd almost always go shortstop. Just a personal feeling on the importance and lack of elite potential shortstops.
Wilson Karaman: The question is in the "chance" though, right? The 60 grade is a lot more theoretical for Mondesi than the 55 is for Judge. There's a lot to be said in the value of a relatively finished product, especially if we're considering present asset value. That's the issue with this kind of contrast, and it's taken to its extreme with a player like Mondesi whose risk factor is inherently through the roof. That Mondesi is in the top 20 as a 19-year-old is testament enough to how highly we're valuing the potential here. But putting him above a guy like Judge – especially given Judge's increasingly valuable carrying tool (right-handed power) – is an awfully big bet on projection over polish.
Tucker Blair: I don't view Mondesi as having more “chance” with his game. He's a plus shortstop, so right away he provides value to a club. The timetable to the majors for Mondesi is a lot shorter than many realize. He's in Double-A, and the Royals have pushed him extremely aggressively, but he's handled it. He has insane raw tools, with a quick, loose swing and when he barrels the ball it jumps off the bat. He’s got plus speed too. He really could become an all-around talent and is beginning to show more flashes of it. He displayed those flashes at the end of last year with Wilmington. He's a special talent that is handling an extremely aggressive assignment, where most players would be hitting under the Mendoza Line.
With Judge, the hit tool is a pretty big factor in his overall value. If he doesn't hit, his best tool will not manifest to the extent that it could. That being said I don't think his hit tool is so bad that it’s not going to let the profile play, but a few scouts I've talked with believe so.
It wouldn't shock me if both Judge and Mondesi are playing in the big leagues next season at this time, so realistically they are not all that far off in terms of projection and polish. It's just a very different scope for each player, and it's also important to remember that a player can learn on the fly in the bigs. In fact, I'm a proponent of that to an extent (not always the best case, but it can be at times).
Jeff Moore: You’re right that both could be in the big leagues by next season, but that doesn’t mean that Mondesi will be anywhere near his ceiling by next season. If he’s in the majors by this time next year, he’ll be in over his head and likely one of the least effective offensive players in all of baseball. That said, he’ll still provide value thanks to the aforementioned defense and speed, both of which are bordering on elite.
And while players can certainly learn on the fly in the big leagues, it takes considerably longer and doesn’t always happen. There’s also a quicksand effect that can happen where they never learn to adjust or fix their flaws once they are exploited in the big leagues. It’s not a death sentence for a player, but it does create an unnecessary uphill battle.
The question at hand though, is the “chance,” as in the chance that they reach their ceilings. Mondesi’s ceiling is as an elite, up-the-middle two-way threat, and I won’t argue that that’s out of reach for him. But his proximity to the majors does not make him any closer to reaching that ceiling. It makes him closer to reaching the majors. He’s handling Double-A admirably for a teenager, but that doesn’t make him any closer to his ceiling than a teenager in Low-A ball. It just means he’s closer to playing in the spotlight. Whether the needed development happens in the minors or the big leagues, it still has to happen for him to reach said ceiling.
They may get to the majors in similar time, but I don’t think you can make an argument that Mondesi is as close to being a finished product as Judge is, regardless of how aggressive the Royals want to be with his promotion schedule.
Tucker Blair: I disagree. I think the ceiling is at a lesser threshold for a shortstop. If Mondesi is a role 6 or 7 shortstop, he's going to be an All-Star caliber player even if he only hits 80% of his offensive ceiling. I see Mondesi actually having less risk than he is being pegged with, because the defensive value and positional value are so much higher. Even if he isn't as much of a finished product as Judge, his value is higher for me because of his potential to be an elite up the middle talent, and one that is already playing with one phase of this potential (defense). There is more lenience with the bat (and aggressiveness) with Mondesi because the Royals know what he can do defensively. Also, I don't think it's unrealistic for Mondesi to continue his quick progression straight into next season. Everyone was very against his assignment to Double-A this year, but the reports (and numbers) have been much better than any of us would have anticipated.
Al Skorupa: Exactly. For me Mondesi has less risk as well in this sense. He's a surefire shortstop who will add something with the bat — and if he hits like projected to he's a beast. Judge has to really rake to be a role 6 right fielder. Mondesi's downside is probably still as valuable as what I project Judge to be (with the caveat I'm the low man on him).
I think back to when we polled front office members on which shortstop they would take. They choose Lindor because it's so hard to find a surefire shortstop who can do something at the plate for you. Mondesi has a chance to be that guy and he's already in Double-A.
Mark Anderson: There are so many complicating factors that make this debate intriguing, not least of which is absolutely the concept that the game is changing and what both players bring to the table are becoming increasingly more difficult to find, and therefore increasingly more valuable. Even if the hit tool plays down to a below-average level and the power doesn't play to obscene heights, Judge is still going to be a valuable commodity in today's game, simply because that type of power is becoming more infrequent. Similarly, it's getting tougher and tougher to find dual threat shortstops, and Mondesi looks like that type of guy even if the offensive ceiling doesn't max out. Personally, while I'm an absolute sucker for big raw power, even when it doesn't fully manifest in game situations, I like more well-rounded players, even when they carry elevated risk. If Mondesi's game comes up short, he's still a first-division guy for me on the glove and wheels alone. I'm not comfortable saying the same about Judge.
Jeff Moore: Let’s not forget that Aaron Judge is a plus right-fielder with a plus (and potentially a plus-plus arm) who is currently handling center field admirably in Triple-A. Sure, it’s not up-the-middle shortstop value, but he’s not a bat only guy. He’s going to bring some significant defensive value as well.
Chris Mellen: If we're saying Judge is going to bring "significant value" defensively in comparison to other right fielders, I can buy that, but in comparison to the position players on the diamond I would say the defensive contribution of a right fielder is on the minimal side. Really, if he can make the throw to third, cut a ball off to his right, and catch a fly ball you are pretty much good to go for being passable at the position. Compared to a shortstop, a right fielder could go a week's worth of games before getting challenged defensively like a shortstop does multiple times a night.
I see Judge as a bat first player because a team isn't going to fall back on his defense for a reason to keep him in the lineup, and ultimately on the roster. His fate as a long-term regular rests with the bat playing to fruition year in and year out (with reasonable variation in his performance). If you believe that Judge can be that guy long-term (and I'm not talking just having a good season or two before fading away), then I can see the argument, but at 19 years old Mondesi has the better chance of sticking on a major league roster for 5-7 years given his defensive ability, even if that ends up as not being able to cut it as a regular for two-to-three years, and then sliding into a utility role for the remainder of his career.
It’s not an easy task to compare two players whose skill sets are as universally different as Mondesi and Judge. Ultimately, the lists here at Baseball Prospectus have historically favored two things – up-the-middle athletes and high-ceiling players, and that hasn’t changed. Both of those factors favor Mondesi, as did the majority of the team. Both players are excellent prospects and wouldn’t be where they are on our list if they weren’t, but the potential for the high-ceiling impact talent of Mondesi to provide more value than the power of Judge won out in our rankings.
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