Last Thursday, I wrote a piece for this site that discussed, in varying detail—but with humor that consistently graded out at 30—the best rest-of-season (ROS) PECOTA projections for players who had both (a) already exhausted their rookie eligibility during the 2015 campaign and (b) been ranked somewhere on BP's Preseason Top 101 list. After the piece was published, a commenter asked me why I’d chosen to impose the second constraint. The best answer I could come up with at the time was that some limitation was needed (this is a large rookie class, and I can’t write 10,000 words before lunch) and that constraining discussion to the preseason’s top prospects seemed as good a standard as any.
In the harsh light of day, I like that answer less and less. Sometimes players surprise you, jumping from anonymity to success without the intermediate weight of high expectations, and their successes are every bit as worthy of celebration and discussion as those of the prospects. In fact, if you’re the underdog type, you may view them as even more worthy of celebration. In any event, the purpose of this piece is to celebrate 2015’s unheralded rookies.
Because I still can’t write 10,000 words before lunch, I’ve limited discussion here to the ten position players with the highest ROS PECOTA projections for 2015 who were (a) rookie-eligible before this season, (b) have since exceeded 130 at-bats in 2015, thereby exhausting that same eligibility, and (c) were not featured on last week’s list.* As before, I will try to provide brief and enlivening commentary on each player’s projection. Let’s begin.
As a group, this year’s top 10 unheralded young hitters are projected to produce 9.1 WARP over the rest of the season, the greatest share of which is expected come by way of a young man playing for a young manager on a young team in Florida:
.246/.325/.441, 9 HR, 28 R, 207 PAs
10.2 VORP, 1.3 WARP
One of my favorite storylines of the season so far is the continued relevance of the Tampa Bay Rays, who many wrote off for dead after an offseason in which they lost Joe Maddon, Andrew Friedman, and a plethora of key players. This year’s Rays, led by rookie manager Kevin Cash, have gotten solid offensive performances out of every position on the diamond, and will begin their second half campaign just 3.5 games out of first place. Souza’s been right in the thick of things, putting up a .211/.302/.412 line that’s produced 15 home runs and 1.0 WARP to this point. PECOTA likes him to pick up the pace as the calendar keeps turning, and finish with a cool 2.3 WARP in his rookie campaign.
.244/.288/.446, 16 HR, 42 R, 361 PAs
11.1 VORP, 1.2 WARP
I feel sort of guilty about including Tomas on a list of rookies, as he’s had five years’ experience in the Cuban Serie Nacional, but strictly speaking, he is a rookie. New Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart initially had visions of playing Tomas at third base, but those dreams disappeared in short order when Stewart was faced with the prospect of actually watching Tomas play third base. He’s in right field now, where he’s put up a .301/.337/.426 line over his first 288 plate appearances in the Show. If that’s anywhere close to his true talent level—and PECOTA evidently doesn’t think it is, save the power—then the Diamondbacks won’t care where they have to play him.
.265/.319/.419, 6 HR, 28 R, 236 PAs
9.9 VORP, 1.1 WARP
In 2003, when Devon Travis was 12 years old, he was the star of the East Boynton Beach (Florida) Little League All-Stars, who stampeded through the US bracket of that year’s Little League World Series before eventually falling in the championship game to Tokyo’s Musashi-Fuchu All-Stars. That was the last year, to date, in which the Little League US champion and the eventual big-league World Series champion (the Florida Marlins) hailed from the same state, and Travis now plays in Canada. I’m not sure that those two facts are related, but I’m also not sure that they’re not. In his rookie campaign for the Blue Jays, Travis has put up an excellent .299/.357/.485 line, which PECOTA has very little faith he’ll be able to replicate going forward. Still, his projected line isn’t bad and, if added to his current totals, would put him at 2.7 WARP for the season.
.269/.321/.387, 4 HR, 28 R, 256 PAs
8.8 VORP, 1.1 WARP
Duffy, who is apparently nicknamed “Duffman,” has managed to produce an extraordinary 2.6 WARP thus far in 2015 on the back of a .297/.339/.457 line produced mostly as an excellent third baseman. PECOTA isn’t convinced that that production is real—which is a trend with this list for obvious reasons—but nonetheless likes him to produce another win or so before all is said and done, which would be just fine for the Giants going forward. Another thing about Duffy, before we move on: his four triples this season not only match his minor-league totals from each of the previous two seasons, they put him in fourth place in the National League in that category. Take that for what it’s worth, which is not much.
.253/.317/.324, 1 HR, 27 R, 212 PAs
4.5 VORP, 0.8 WARP
The other Oakland BB. Like so many players on this list, Burns has put up truly excellent numbers this season (.307/.344/.399) that PECOTA doesn’t really believe, in light of prior performance (and, in Burns’ case, his age), but which it nonetheless takes into account and produces cautiously positive projections. In Burns’ case, his minor-league numbers were excellent right up until 2014 season, when they cratered somewhat before, obviously, rebounding this year in the majors. It’s possible there’s some of that 2014 lingering in the numbers. In any event, Burns has already made it to the big leagues from the 32nd round, which means that the 1.4 WARP PECOTA expects him to ends up with is gravy.
(6) Nick Ahmed, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
.238/.281/.344, 3 HR, 23 R, 224 PAs
1.9 VORP, 0.8 WARP
Yet another Diamondback, but this one is different. Unlike most of those that’ve come before him on this list, PECOTA thinks Ahmed’s currently line (.231/.295/.347) is right around where he’ll end up when it’s all over and done with. It does think his fielding will come back to earth somewhat, in response to last season’s disastrous -2.3 FRAA score, and this difference accounts for the gap between his WARP produced so far (1.5) and that which the system projects for essentially the same offensive line going forward.
(7) Mark Canha, LF, Oakland Athletics
.245/.317/.389, 6 HR, 24 R, 226 PAs
5.6 VORP, 0.7 WARP
Canha is 26 years old, and of Portuguese descent, both of which distinguish him from his fellow rookies on this list. Were it not for Billy Beane’s 2014-15 Retool the Roster Extravaganza, the world might not even know his name. Canha has stepped neatly into the Brandon Moss-shaped hole on Oakland’s roster, producing a respectable .239/.300/.399 line in the process. PECOTA thinks the power is going to come down a bit, but that everything else will jump slightly. Moss, meanwhile, is hitting .220/.296/.427 in Cleveland, but making $6.5 million, which is almost entirely the reason he’s not in Oakland any more.
.245/.284/.431, 8 HR, 24 R, 220 PAs
5.2 VORP, 0.6 WARP
One of the obvious elements of St. Louis’s success over the last decade has been their ability to—seemingly out of nowhere—produce players who can step in and fill holes on their roster. Randal Grichuk is one of those wall-plasters. Playing at all three outfield positions, Grichuk has put up a .274/.323/.538 line that PECOTA thinks is a bit above his talent level, but which I am convinced is somewhat less than St. Louis will get out of him until they inevitably sell him off at precisely the right time.
.250/.300/.421, 7 HR, 22 R, 200 PAs
5.0 VORP, 0.5 WARP
Hello, round-numbered projections. Kang was Pittsburgh’s big offseason acquisition, intended originally to play shortstop, but eventually ending up mostly at third base, and now likely headed back to short with the recent acquisition of Aramis Ramirez. After a weak April, Kang put up a strong May, followed it up with a rough June, and is now having an excellent July. PECOTA isn’t really sure what to make of him, which is entirely fair given that there’s such little precedent for a player moving from the Korean Baseball Organization to the majors. Because it is designed to err on the side of caution, PECOTA predicts regression for Kang, but recent scouting reports may give a clearer picture of what’s happening here.
.251/.283/.386, 4 HR, 19R, 181 PAs
1.7 VORP, 0.4 WARP
This series started in sunny Florida, and ends in pleasant, young-people-attracting Minnesota. On a surprising Twins team—and yes, they are surprising—one of the most startling features has been Rosario, who’s been quietly solid (.272/.297/.399) on a team that suddenly has quite a bit of star power and a 26.2 percent chance to make the playoffs at the break. PECOTA expects Rosario to regress a little bit from that level of performance, but even his projected line will be perfectly acceptable for a first try around the league. The far bigger concern will be that the Twins, themselves, will regress, which I think is likely.
Missing the Cut: Preston Tucker (0.3 ROS WARP), Delino DeShields (0.3), Joey Butler (0.2), Justin Bour (0.2), Ben Paulsen (0.2), J.T. Realmuto (0.2), James McCann (0.1), Alex Guerrero (0.1), Clint Robinson (0.1), Carlos Sanchez (0.0), Corey Spangenberg (-0.1), Odubel Herrera (-0.2).
* * *
Somewhat to my surprise, this crop of candidates is projected for more WARP (9.1) than the more heralded group of 14 players I considered last week (9.0). I’m going to chalk that up to teams’ tendency to call-up their best prospects earlier than their less glamorous farmhands; the latter category of players will never be given the benefit of the doubt and therefore will only be called up when it’s manifestly clear that they’re ready. In any event, this group of rookies is more than holding their own, and seems likely to continue to do so going forward. The world isn’t built on superstars alone.
*A player can exhaust their eligibility in one of two ways: by exceeding 130 at bats, or by exceeding 25 days on a major-league roster before September 1st. Because no readily available database for player service time exists, I have dispensed with this second constraint for the purposes of this piece, meaning that it is possible that some players still rookie-eligible by virtue of their number of at bats, but ineligible by virtue of their service time, have been excluded. Separately, and as before, I have excluded pitchers from this discussion because PECOTA does not yet (but will soon) include a DRA component, which we at BP believe it should. I’m sorry if, for whatever reason, these constraints mean that your favorite player has been left out. Que sera, sera.