Making sense of the rookie projections for the prospects featured on this year’s BP 101 isn’t as straight-forward a task as the raw numbers indicate. There’s interplay here – interplay! – with opportunity. While a handful of these guys project to log significant billable hours in The Show, the outlook for even those prospects currently installed in the high minors is extremely context-dependent. Given the depth chart uncertainties and shorter (relative) professional track records, PECOTA tends to skew conservative by trade in its handling of younger players.
This is an important disclaimer that bears remembrance, and we can extrapolate out the track-record issue when talking about what happens when you stumble across the projections for some of the assorted A-ball teenagers milling about on the back half of this year’s list.
There are six position players expected to log a majority of their time in the majors, with more than 450 plate appearances apiece to wade through. That’s an encouraging step forward from projection to practice for this year’s list, as last year’s incarnation of the 101 featured just two such hitters. The system is certainly not shy in assigning Great Things to our top two hitting prospects, Dansby Swanson of the Braves and Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox.
Swanson’s glove projects to save nearly nine runs at shortstop, a figure that would’ve rated fourth at the game’s most important defensive position last year. Combined with a borderline unfair tally of 47,000 Hairs Above Average, it drives a 3.3 WARP season in spite of modest offensive efforts that tick just north of league average for his first full season against big-league pitching.
Benintendi, meanwhile, has broken the system’s typical will to tamp down excitement for younger men. His steady rise through the minor-league ranks, followed by a smashing 114-at-bat debut in Boston, has forced abject optimism on our computers. His .273/.338/.464 line rates as the second-best expected TAv, while his nearly 18 runs saved in left field is head-and-shoulders above the second-best mark at the position, a 10.5-run total belonging to Yoenis Cespedes. The combination works out to a 4.3 expected WARP that is tops not just among prospects on this list, but among all big-league left fielders. Take that, The Five Teams Who Could Have Drafted Andrew Benintendi In 2015 But Did Not.
Young sluggers Aaron Judge and Hunter Renfroe each see a full allotment of 154 games according to our depth chart expectations, and while the latter is expected to see more time on the pine, both have 20-homer seasons foretold among similar-looking 200-ish total-base outputs. Judge is the true three-outcome champion, pacing all prospects in strikeout, walk, and homer expectations. The system has nice things to say about Pirates first baseman Josh Bell’s contact skills, as it projects just a 16.2 percent whiff rate that would place him in roughly the 70th percentile. Our final full-timer, Manuel Margot of the Padres, finds ways to contribute with his glove (nine fielding runs above average) and legs (list-high 20 stolen bases) to offset a tough triple-slash line and produce positive net value.
Phillies shortstop of the future J.P. Crawford and Orioles catching prospect Chance Sisco both caught our robot’s eye as two of the most volatile prospects on the list, with both earning top-of-the-scale “breakout” and “collapse” rate probabilities. Sisco certainly makes sense, as a 21-year-old backstop who is still more athlete than polished receiver can develop in any number of directions that may or may not take him out from behind the dish. When a player of his ilk hits .320 at Double-A it tends to engender optimism from human and computer alike. When that player puts up some of the worst defensive numbers at the position in Double-A, well, the computer tends to react the same, except opposite.
Crawford, for his part, also struggled according to our defensive metrics, and the bat looked overmatched at times as well. That’s probably because he played the entire year as a 21-year-old and was overmatched at times. The extreme age-to-league outliers like Crawford are as much a problem for artificial intelligence to peg down as they sometimes can be for scouts.
Elsewhere, the system also knows a good hit tool when it sees one: Raimel Tapia of the Rockies leads the projections in both BABIP (.330) and batting average (.284). On the flip side, Mariners outfielder Tyler O’Neill’s whiff rate north of 33 percent is an indication of some serious skepticism, though his 14 homers in 250 plate appearances suggest that strikeouts may very well be damned.
Poor Trent Clark of the Brewers must have jacked up a couple laptops or an iPad or something along the way, as PECOTA is unimpressed with his first-round pedigree and hamstring injury-related struggles in full-season ball. He’s projected for the worst base-running effort of any prospect on the 101, which is proof that computers can be manipulated by real-life outcomes.
Finally, I’d just like to point out that Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna’s player comps are Mike Trout, Carlos Correa, and Jurickson Profar. That is, of course, both wildly unfair and a testament to the kind of talent level we’re talking about here. At no. 32 he’s already the recipient of a highly aggressive ranking this year, and he’s as good a bet as anyone in the 101 to launch into top-10 standing by this time next year. Benintendi’s top player comp, meanwhile: teammate Mookie Betts [insert 11 fire emojis].
Another year, another version of PECOTA that doesn’t project a single shutout for an arm on the 101. This world we live in … it can get you down, from time to time.
From a sheer opportunity standpoint, nobody on the list gets more of it or, arguably, does more with it, than Robert Gsellman. Penciled in as the Mets’ fifth starter, the formerly-anonymous 13th rounder projects to log nearly 150 innings and do so with sound proficiency: less than a hit an inning, a pace-setting walk rate, and the seventh-best DRA of the lot. There’s some hedging within those projections, as PECOTA remains skeptical of Gsellman’s pedigree to the point where it pegs him with the highest potential collapse rate of any pitcher on the list.
All told there are five hurlers whom PECOTA projects to clear triple-digit innings in The Show, and that number includes our top prospect of all, Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes. If whiffs are your thing, Reyes is your man: his 9.5 whiffs per nine trails only Jose De Leon of the Rays among 101ers, and his expected tally comes in nearly 100 more innings. If it weren’t for the trade earlier this offseason that send De Leon from Los Angeles to Tampa Bay, the NL could have boasted a clean sweep of the top five in projected strikeout rate, as Thomas Szapucki, Josh Hader, and Tyler Glasnow all stand to sit down at least a batter an inning in PECOTA’s world.
If you prefer democratic ground balls and merciful efficiency, little-known Adonis Medina of the Phillies brought those traits in spades in his stateside debut last year. His 64.7 percent ground-ball rate—the second-best mark on the list—jibes well with real, actual scouting reports that suggest a filthy sinkerballer in the making.
Broadly speaking, PECOTA does not seem a big fan of unbridled velocity, as it has slapped a whole bunch of the harder throwers on the list with digital “bad command” tags. Michael Kopech and his 105 mph fastball does not impress our computer, as the system foresees a second-worst rate of nearly six walks per nine to go along with a hit an inning. Other notable flamethrowers whose profiles suggest especially dodgy control: Albert Abreu, Alec Hansen, Sandy Alcantara, and Franklyn Kilome.
Finally, if you’re looking for a pitcher to believe in, PECOTA appears to take Astros right-hander David Paulino’s growth and development very seriously. Paulino leads the field with an outsized 30-percent breakout rate, and backs it up with a relatively modest single-digit collapse rate to boot. Paulino’s whiff and walk rates both project well, particularly for a pitcher who has logged so few professional innings on account of injuries and suspension. The system does see some hittability in his profile, and his DRA struggles to clip five runs as a result, but the underlying assumptions here are the good kind.