keyboard_arrow_uptop

As you probably know by now, Thursday is dynasty day in our positional coverage. In addition to the top 50 rankings by Bret Sayre and the supplemental pieces by Wilson Karaman, J.J. Jansons and I are taking turns giving you a head-to-head comparison of two closely ranked up-and-comers. Today it’s a showdown between a pair of 20-year-olds who haven’t reached Double-A yet.

Batting Average
Franklin Barreto batted .302 in 2015, an impressive number considering he jumped from the Northwest League to the Cal League and began the year by hitting .171 in April. Barreto’s 18.4 percent strikeout rate was the lowest of his minor league career, utilizing quick wrists, an efficient swing, and excellent barrel control to consistently put wood on ball even as his approach remained overly aggressive. After hitting .268 in his first full-season league games, Jorge Mateo was promoted to High-A and showed well in a 21 game sample, riding a .409 BABIP to a .321 batting average. His wheels are likely going to lead to inflated BABIPs throughout his minor-league career, so don’t read too much into that .321 mark. The average (.268) and balls-in-play (.338) numbers he posted in the Sally are more indicative of what to eventually expect in a best-case scenario. Our prospect team threw a potential 50 grade on Mateo’s hit tool, but there’s work to do to get there, and even so, it’s a full grade behind Barreto’s projection. Advantage: Barreto

On-Base Percentage
Barreto’s 4.1 percent walk rate was a bottom-10 mark in the Cal League. Given the natural bat-to-ball skill, I expect more advanced pitching will be reluctant to throw around the plate until Barreto shows some willingness to keep his bat on his shoulder. Mateo walked in 8.6 percent of his 2015 plate appearances across two levels, despite multiple reports that he lacks pitch recognition. Unlike with Barreto, I expect upper-level pitchers to challenge Mateo in the zone and make him hit his way on, for fear of his speed turning a walk into a double (or triple). I lean Barreto here because the mild difference in approach doesn’t fully compensate for the batting-average differential or the manner in which I expect each to be pitched going forward. Advantage: Barreto

Home Runs
Barreto is small, sure, but so is Dustin Pedroia and he has four seasons of 15 or more home runs on his resume. Apply the usual Cal League/Stockton caveats to Barreto’s 13 home runs in 2015 but don’t disregard his homer totals based on his size. There’s pop in there. Barreto has the swing plane and bat speed to reach the mid-teens, even if his future home park isn’t exactly inviting. Mateo hit two home runs last season, bringing his minor league career total all the way up to ten. There is some physical projection left, but he’d have to exceed the most optimistic scenario to catch Barreto. Advantage: Barreto

Runs/RBI
Forecasting contextual stats for 20-year-olds who haven’t played above High-A is my favorite part of this exercise. It’s easy to assume that Mateo’s speed will land him in a leadoff role, but if his bat doesn’t develop, the opportunity alone won’t necessarily translate to runs. Billy Hamilton hit leadoff for the Reds the majority of his rookie season and managed only 72 runs because he couldn’t get on base 30 percent of the time. On its own, speed isn’t enough to pile up runs, no matter the lineup placement. Barreto is probably a two-hole hitter if his development goes as expected, with a bottom third assignment in play if he doesn’t adjust to advanced pitching. That would probably look something like current A’s shortstop Marcus Semien, who took two-thirds of his at-bats from the eighth and ninth spots in the order, finishing with 65 runs and 45 RBI. Advantage: ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Stolen Bases
There aren’t many true 80-grade tools in baseball. Mateo possesses one of them. He led the minor leagues with 82 steals in 117 games last season, including 10 games with three of more. It’s easy for this top-of-the-scale speed to prey on Class-A batteries but don’t discount the raw total too much. Mateo has the foot speed to lead the majors in swipes one day. Barreto can run a little too but this isn’t a fair fight. Advantage: Mateo

Injury Risk
Mateo played in only 15 games in 2014, missing most of the Gulf Coast League season after breaking his wrist on a hit-by-pitch. Nothing about his 2015 performance suggests there are lingering effects of that injury. Barreto took a ball off his wrist in the field in mid-July and missed a month-and-a-half, returning in time to play in Stockton’s final few games. He also played in the Venezuelan winter league and while the results there weren’t any good, I haven’t seen any reports that the struggles are injury related. I don’t think either player comes with long-term concerns given the nature and severity of the injuries but in the interest of handing out a trophy, I’ll give it to the guy whose DL stint was longer ago. Advantage: Mateo

Upside
To suggest Barreto is done developing would be silly, but we do have a better idea of who he can be than most players with his combination of youth and (in)experience. Barreto’s value is largely tied to his general excellence rather than one carrying tool or the need to project skill growth. This doesn’t mean Barreto comes devoid of risk but it does mean that his eventual fantast impact is more of the steady contributor variety than early round stud type. Mateo is on the other end of the spectrum, with his value still largely reliant on raw tools and the hope that they will evolve as he climbs the ladder. If they do, he’s a potential first round draft pick who can nearly win a category on his own and not kill you elsewhere. If they don’t, his tenure as a relevant mixed-league player will be short. Advantage: Mateo

Estimated Time of Impact
Even though Mateo is a developmental step behind Barreto, I like his chances of contributing sooner in fantasy. In cases such as this one where both players are still two or more years from reaching the big leagues, I almost always side with the loudest tool. I think Barreto’s balanced profile will likely take a year or two to be impactful, while Mateo’s speed can be a game-changer as soon as he’s offered semi-regular playing time. I hate to keep invoking Billy Hamilton, but Hamilton’s recent history illustrates how low the bar is for Mateo to have a fantasy impact, even if he can’t hit. Hamilton stole 57 bases in 2015 while hitting an awful .226 and making marginal contributions elsewhere, yet managed to return $21 in mixed leagues. I don’t mean to suggest that Mateo can or will steal a base every other game or even hit .226 immediately upon entering the league. As a shortstop, he won’t have to in order to provide some value. His speed provides a baseline that Barreto will be hard-pressed to match early in his career. Advantage: Mateo

Overall
The tradeoff between perceived stability and a prodigious skill accompanied by significant risk is one of the most difficult choices dynasty leaguers face. I wouldn’t blame anyone for preferring Barreto, a player who offers potential five category production that could sum up to a core building block, even if it’s not a foundational one. My choice, however, is Mateo. These players are both far enough away that there is risk with each and while there is definitively more with Mateo, the potential payoff is a top-of-the-position player who provides a massive tally in fantasy’s scarcest category. And the winner is… Mateo

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
bulls2327
2/11
Great write up and comp as always. but I've gotta say, this assessment is out of sorts for me. Essentially you're saying you know what Barreto will be. A guy how will hit, hit often, get on base, hit hard (HR), add some steals (my eyes lit up at the thought of all those things together in one player) and yet because you know how fast mateo is, but rather have nothing else to go on other than "he might be amazing because he is fast" he wins the overall comp? I just disagree here, and not a little either.
Behemoth
2/12
"Hamilton stole 57 bases in 2015 while hitting an awful .226 and making marginal contributions elsewhere, yet managed to return $21 in mixed leagues." pretty much explains it. I can't see Barreto putting up much more than that value. Mateo could reasonably hit a lot more than .226, and contribute more in runs/RBI than Hamilton. Some evaluators have also suggested there may be more power to come.
jarretthaines
2/11
Mateo has doubled Barreto's walk rate, but still loses out in OBP? jeez