Major League Baseball is loaded with talented outfielders in their early 20s right now. The deep rookie class of 2009, featuring the likes of (among others) Dexter Fowler, Fernando Martinez, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen and Colby Rasmus, will only add to the riches in the future.
And the pipeline isn’t close to drying up.
The next wave features some of the best overall players in Minor League Baseball, from Dominic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies to Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves.
Fans in Florida, in particular, are in for a treat. Two of the most promising outfield prospects in the minors, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ Desmond Jennings and Florida Marlins‘ Mike Stanton, are off to exceptional starts and continue to move up top prospect lists.
Jennings and Stanton were prominently ranked by most publications going into the season. Due to strong spring performances and matching scouting reports, each player has a realistic chance to rank even higher-perhaps in the Top 10-in 2010.
Jennings originally committed to play football at the University of Alabama. Due to personal troubles, though, he never stepped foot on campus; he ended up at Itawamba Community College. After his short juco stint, Tampa Bay selected him in the 10th round of the 2006 draft. The speedy center fielder then burst onto the prospect scene with a fine 2007 performance in the South Atlantic League, hitting .315/.401/.465 with a 10.4 BB%, 852 OPS and circuit-high 45 steals for the league-champion Columbus Catfish.
Jennings was slowed down by injuries during a nightmare 2008, however. Back issues relegated him to extended spring training, costing him the first two months. After reporting to the Florida State League in late spring, he injured his shoulder and was lost for good 24 games in. Despite his injury problems, scouts were so impressed with his tools and advanced hitting approach that he remained a top-80 prospect. He turned heads during his limited action in the Arizona Fall League, where, according to scouts, he “stood out like a sore thumb” on a tools level.
Jennings has stayed healthy so far in ’09, a plus in itself. Although many within the industry expected him to repeat High-A because of his limited game action last year, the Rays aggressively promoted him to Double-A Montgomery following a nice showing in spring training. In addition to staying on the field, he’s risen to the challenge.
Jennings is raking to the tune of a .355/.420/.569 line and .453 wOBA in 226 plate appearances; MinorLeagueSplits.com has his current neutral major league equivalent line at .295/.345/.454. The 22-year-old, one of the fastest runners in the minors, has also swiped 17 bases in 21 chances. And with six homers so far, he’s on pace to set a personal best; some scouts think he could eventually grow into some legitimate power.
If hitting for power never becomes part of his skill set, though, Jennings still projects to be an above-average leadoff hitter who offers plus defense at a premium position. If the scouting reports are accurate, the runs he’ll save with his glove alone will make him a valuable commodity.
“Jennings is a special athlete who knows what he’s doing out there,” says Hank Sargent, a former National Crosschecker with the Los Angeles Angels who now works as an agent at Jet Sports Management. “Even if the power doesn’t come, he’s going to be a great table-setter for that offense. And that’s what they need him to be.”
Jennings has little left to prove at Montgomery (see chart below), so expect him to jump a level come mid-summer. And if he keeps producing, the organization may have to make a decision on their outfield status for 2010: Carl Crawford, a tremendous left-field asset when factoring in defense, is due to make $11.25M if his option is picked up, recently promoted Matt Joyce has produced at Triple-A, and Fernando Perez will return from injury. Plus, incumbent center fielder B.J. Upton is expected to get expensive going year-to-year until free agency.
Jennings will likely begin next year at Durham, but he’s getting real close to being major league-ready. Regardless of how the situation unfolds, the Rays once again have excellent outfield depth.
Like Jennings, Stanton excelled at multiple sports growing up. A standout baseball, basketball and football player at California powerhouse Sherman Oaks High, he had plenty of options for continuing his athletic career after graduation, including a scholarship offer to play football at the University of Southern California. Pete Carroll even made a personal visit to Sherman Oaks, urging Stanton to come play tight end for the perennial national title contender. Luckily for the Marlins, he declined the offer to instead pursue a career in professional baseball.
Since Stanton never had a down season, he didn’t attend many national showcases and, though scouts loved his tools, was considered a raw baseball player. But Florida, impressed with his athleticism and power potential, selected him with its second pick in the ’07 draft.
Stanton, whom the Marlins refused to part with in a potential Manny Ramirez trade last July, is now widely considered one of the top power-hitting prospects in the game. He made his case by tearing up the Sally League in his first full campaign in ’08, hitting .293/.381/.611 with a circuit-leading 39 home runs, .318 Isolated Power, 993 OPS and .429 wOBA. Although his power display created quite a buzz, he struggled to make consistent contact; he struck out in 32.7 percent of his plate appearances (153/540). Aside from concerns about his strikeout rate, though, it was an exceptional debut for the 19-year-old outfielder.
“There’s some crudeness to his game,” says Sargent. “But the leverage he generates in his swing is extraordinary. When he puts the barrel on the ball, it jumps off his bat faster than nearly any player in the minors. The strikeouts last year were alarming-though he’s shown improvements in his approach this year-but you have to remember, he’s still raw. That was the first year of his life in which baseball was his primary focus.”
Stanton has continued to perform after his promotion to the pitcher-friendly FSL this spring, improving his status as an elite prospect. He’s hitting .295/.388/.578 with 12 homers and a .431 wOBA in 201 plate appearances for the Jupiter Hammerheads; his MLE line falls at .228/.295/.414. Most encouraging, he’s cut down on his strikeouts while displaying better strike zone awareness; his 25.4% strikeout rate is still high, but it’s been decreasing each month while his walk rate has improved. As he jumps to the higher levels and faces more advanced pitching, cutting down on the misses is critical.
Stanton ranks first in the FSL in homers and IsoP (.283), second in OPS (966), slugging percentage and wOBA, and 10th in BB%. Due to his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame and production at such a young age, scouts have frequently compared him to Hall of Famer Dave Winfield; PECOTA listed Aramis Ramirez, Manny Ramirez and Danny Tartabull among comparables for him in BP ’09, forecasting a .220/.301/.405 MLB line.
“Stanton’s improving, and he wants it,” says Sargent. “He works as hard as anyone. With more at-bats under his belt, the trend should continue. Winfield went right from college to the majors, but the comparisons are fairly accurate. Had he gone to USC, Stanton would be the equivalent of Stephen Strasburg in his draft class a year from now. Head and shoulders above the rest. That’s how good he is.”
Considering his age and limited experience, the Marlins may take a conservative approach to handling Stanton. But, with his incredible first two months, he’s done plenty at Jupiter to merit a promotion.
Stanton, who played first base throughout most of high school, has made continuous improvements in his outfield routes. According to Sargent, he profiles as an above-average corner outfielder. “His value will come from the bat, but his defense will be more than enough. He’s just a special athlete.”
Jennings and Stanton are different types of players. Outside of the football, prospect and state ties, they don’t have much in common.
Stanton, however, has the higher upside. Before it’s all said and done, he could wind up as the top minor league prospect in ’10. And his ceiling is up near a star, MVP-caliber level, as his power potential is that rare; it’s like watching the 1999 Home Run Derby at Fenway Park when he takes BP.
Because he’s more raw and isn’t as good defensively, though, Stanton comes with more risk.
“Stanton has some areas where he needs to improve in regards to pitch recognition,” says Sargent. “But he could develop into a star if he can continue to refine his skills.”
Jennings, on the other hand, has a much higher floor and is closer to the majors. Even if he really struggles offensively at the highest level (which is unlikely), he’ll stay employed as a useful fourth outfielder who offers speed and excellent defense. Based on his numbers and what the scouts are saying, though, there’s a great chance that he’ll become a leadoff fixture for Tampa Bay if he can stay healthy.
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That said, it's strange that, in going to one quoted source, that source had substantive information about Stanton, but nothing of value to add to the conversation (in terms of what Tyler employed in his piece) on Jennings; getting quotes is great if it adds instead of merely echoes, and we get to see the up- and downside of utilizing them here.
In my opinion, the entries for Week 3 are of a far higher quality than they were for Week 2, and my enthusiasm for the competition is correspondingly much higher.
In other words: Cool that you have a source, weird that in what appears to be an objective piece, your source is paid by players to say good things about them.
I'm not sure exactly when he started at Jet Sports Management, to be honest, but he has been working at the agency as essentially an amateur scout. JSM was founded by B.B. Abbot a few years back. Abbot grew up with Chipper Jones down in Florida, and I believe they played baseball together at the Bolles School. B.B. and Chipper stayed close friends. When Jones' agent died-I believe in the same plane crash that took former U.S. Open winner Payne Stewart's life--around 10 years ago, he needed someone to negotiate a contract with the Atlanta Braves. He called on his friend Abbot, who was another kind of attorney at the time.
Chipper is the agency's biggest client, of course, but their business model is to now go offer young talented players who are highly south after before each draft. It's a competitive business with so many agents "running" after high school kids to be their "advisors." In order to differentiate from a Boras Corporation, or any of the really big agencies, they offer more one-on-one attention and guidance to their clients. I am not sure if you've ever read License to Deal, written by ESPN columnist Jerry Crasnick, but it's a similar model to Sosnick-Cobb, the agency featured in the book.
Jet does not represent Jennings or Stanton. Hank reps several clients who play in the Sally, FSL, and Southern Leagues, however, so he gets to see a lot of games in person. But his primary focus is scouting amateurs so that the agency has kids who they advise for each upcoming draft. The agency's bigger clients are Jones, Brian McCann, Jonathan Broxton, Rays prospect Wade Davis, Jeff Mathis and Mat Gamel.
Chipper pays the bills, but long term they hope to continue to grow as an agency. And, if only a small percentage of the rest of their minor league prospects work out and start making money, they will continue to prosper financially. The tricky part, as touched upon in Crasnick's book, is that players often jump ship (right when the player's start making real money) to the bigger agencies that have more experience handling arbitration and contract negotiations. The other "runners" are vultures, and the agency business is just extremely cut throat; I almost wrote my topic on this for this week.
My personal connection to Sargent is that Jet represents my cousin, whose currently a prospect in the minors and was sought after by a lot of agencies during his senior year of high school in 2008. Hank is kind enough to take time from his busy schedule whenever I have a question about a prospect or a baseball-related issue. He is a nice guy with an abundance of baseball knowledge from his years working with the Angels and several other organizations before that.
The writing was a bit choppy at times ("Jennings" started 8 out of 9 paragraphs at one point) but not enough to make me stop reading.
I enjoyed that Tyler put each player in the context of his potential major league team, although I would have liked to see more objective comparisons between each prospect and MLB comps -- maybe find some players who had similar minor league stats as well as skills?
"Had he gone to USC, Stanton would be the equivalent of Stephen Strasburg in his draft class a year from now. Head and shoulders above the rest. That's how good he is."
I think that these types of quotes from someone who has seen the kid play can add valuable context to the numbers you see.
If this were Baseball America Idol, thumbs up. BP is different, and, while there's overlap in readership, I don't subscribe to get to read this sort of article.
I understand everyone can have different reasons for their votes. Mine is pretty simple: "Did I like it?" with a side of "Did it relate to the theme?" Insofar as I read Baseball Prospectus, I want to read about baseball, and anything under that (admittedly wide) umbrella I consider fair game. If Tyler had penned an analysis of the 2009 Atlanta Chili Cook-Off, I'd agree with your reticence in granting him the thumbs-up.
Otherwise, I remain flummoxed. It was an article about minor leaguers...which you enjoyed...on a week when minor leaguers was an appropriate topic choice. What's not to like?
Veering Off The Main Gist, Feel Free to Ignore:
Perhaps I'm just getting annoyed by the number of comments I see that in some cases betray a misunderstanding of what BP is all about (and in other cases a certain odd arrogance). There have been a flood of comments of the form: "This is more of an [.....] article," with the blankety-blank replaced by ESPN, Baseball Weekly, Baseball America, CBS Sportsline, etc. And I'm thinking, "And...?"
It would be better to simply comment on your issues with the article rather than throw a name out there as an explain-all which ultimately explains little.
Is there a requisite minimum level of inaccessibility for Baseball Prospectus articles? Given the fine work in particular of Carroll, Goldman, and Sheehan, I'd certainly hope not. Perhaps some readers are bothered if a contestant doesn't name-check a certain number of heavy-duty acronyms or sabermetric deities. Will this contest be somehow considered a failure if the ultimate victor couldn't tell a spreadsheet from a bedsheet?
The simple answer is no, though that person would have a deservedly and decidedly uphill climb. So be it, then.
I think when people use a "This is more of a [...] article", they're trying to describe the kind of mood or feeling they get when they read that piece. Yet, there's a lot of double-dipping going on where BP's articles are being posted over at ESPN or CNNSI and in effect, changing those cultures. Meanwhile I see in this competition reference to sites like Fangraphs which I am barely familiar with and Tango which I hadn't heard about before this competition.
Personally, I think it is a good thing if research is collaborative. Yet these days, perhaps because of the popularity of Moneyball suggesting teams looking at market inefficiencies, to teams like the Red Sox, Mariners, Pirates joining the A's in hiring sabremetricians, there's much more money involved than used to be. Sabremetrics might not be mainstream, but it is becoming important and something teams and individuals are paying for.
So I don't really know what BP really is, and though I have hunches on what it should/could be, I also realize BP is a company that, yes, is comprised of fans... but fans who want to make money. So my best criteria is I'll look for authors with original, well-presented/researched ideas who I enjoy reading and respond to paying customers like myself. I also know that criteria won't work for everyone (and most likely, not for many others).
If I use a blankety-blank, usually I am referring to the general depth of research those sites undertake, if those authors "write in a vacuum" ignoring their previous comments on the subject and how well they respond to readers without a rewording of a "because I said so" statement. I do read ESPN and CNNSI so it's not like I find everything there a pile of bunk (or I wouldn't go there), but I can use that to describe my feelings when I read an article posted for this contest.
Oh and I'll also say this. I'm not real big on prospects really and I wasn't much of a Baseball America fan when I came across it in the past, though it might've changed over the last few years. But I do like Kevin's Future Shocks even though they're not lathered in stats because they contain analysis. If Kevin includes scouting opinion, he frames and presents it well. I may wonder why that A's prospect Ynoa has so much hype without being in a single box score, but Kevin does a good job talking about why.
So, to echo another commentator, I don't care that much if something sounds like it should be at another site or not since there's so much double-dipping, but I will use a site if it's a good descriptive term. In the end, just because it seems to be a different flavor though, doesn't mean I won't want to read it here.
Read the work of the three BP Idols judges. How many mentions of R-squared do you see? If you have Lexis/Nexis, search on "Kevin Goldstein" and "multicollinearity"; let me know what turns up.
I can't recall Kevin citing anything more exotic than standard slash statistics. Christina will reference advanced measures on occasion to support a point, but I've never confused her articles with an Econometrics lecture. Will Carroll, I surmise from his comments as a judge, would rather stick a fork in his eye than re-open his high school statistics text book. Maybe we should send the three of them home?
OK, I'm done now. If BP ever initiates "BP Angry-Incoherent Rant-Idol", I'm entering. And dominating.
Thumbs up (if java and iPods were compatible)
I'm liking Tyler's articles a little more each week â€“ overall informative and well told. There is nothing ground breaking here, but as a Jennings owner in Scoresheet, I was happy to read these details.
To be critical, however, he almost lost me in the first paragraphâ€¦ "will only add to the riches in the future" was a little corny and difficult to figure what was meant.
The pretty bar graphs did not impress me. That was a big production over very little. And, why were those three stats chosen to define the minor leaguers' potential?
It would be better to give the source of your MLE. As I showed in my first article, different methods can produced widely varied results.
Jupiter is a very tough hitter's park, HR factor of 0.71, team HR factor 0.84.
.250 .298 .451 Davenport Regular
.315 .438 .690 Davenport Peak
.317 .398 .685 Oliver Normal Season
.271 .338 .535 Oliver In Season Projection
Stanton had an excellent two months in a very tough hitters park, and he's only 19! Combined with previous seasons, rgressed to an average Class-A player, etc, and he looks a lot like Craig Wilson 270 BA, 30-35 HRs, 50 BB, 170 K
I always thought Jeff's MLE calculator at minorleaguesplits was way to pessimistic. You can see my Oliver Normal Season is very good match for Clay Davenport's Peak Projection. That's what Clay and I say that Stanton's 201 PA's this year translate to. My full blown projection, using multiple seasons, puts Stanton at 271/338/535
I liked the graphs, mainly because they did a good job of supplying the necessary context for the players' hitting stats. I rarely see references to league averages when reading minor league players' stats, and I think including them is a big plus.
I agree with the point about the quote from the scout/agent, a quick parenthetical aside explaining his connection, or lack thereof, to the player would have been helpful.
This relates to my only peeve about BP Idol- we really don't have contestants who are true rookies or "amateur" writers. It's as if virtually all the contestants have has some professional experience in baseball writing prior to the competition. That's like allowing broadway singers only American Idol (which they don't allow).
As far as contacts go, all it takes is a phone call. Teams like the publicity. I've done it myself when I made public access nonprofit shows and arranged an interview with jack perconte about his baseball academy and larry homes when he was gl of the white sox.
To reiterate the point, using charts to display small amounts of information is distracting -- this is better served by tables.