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Friday, March 28, 2014

Prospecting Reds Hitters with Oliver

Update: Pitching prospect profiles are here.

I freely admit that I don't follow the minor leagues as well as I perhaps should.  Here's an initial attempt to rectify that.  Below, and in a subsequent post, I'm reporting Oliver projections for each of the Reds Top-40 prospects.  This post features hitters, and the next post will feature pitchers.

Caveat: No matter what the system, projection systems are NOT the ideal method to evaluate minor league players.  Scouting-based approaches work better, period.  But I can't scout.  And blending Oliver with top prospect lists was something that I took to doing when I was into fantasy baseball a few years ago.  If nothing else, it's place to start when trying learn players.  Keep in mind that all numbers below are projections for what the player would do in the major leagues.  In most cases, that's not relevant to what they'll do in the minors this season.  But it gives you an idea of how well they have developed to this point.

We'll go in descending order of 2014 age:

Age-25 Players

As you'd expect with a prospect list, starting oldest and moving to youngest will not start you with your organization's best prospects; most of the good players have already graduated by the time they are 25.  On the plus side, it makes the projections more useful, because these guys are at an age where they are approaching as good as they will get.  Usually.

Neftali Soto was taken out of his Puerto Rican high school in 2007, the same draft that netted the Reds Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, and Zack Cozart (for a fun example of why I shouldn't express opinions, check out my draft-day thoughts on Zack Cozart in that link!).  He's just never developed any kind of plate discipline, and that probably limits his ability to put his power to good effect.  He might make a good power-hitting reserve, but he's not a starter.

I was surprised that Ryan LaMarre was already this old.  But college picks don't have a lot of time to make adjustments.  He projects as a terrible hitter right now, but his fielding numbers are superb.  The Reds are in a 40-man roster pinch right now, and it wouldn't be surprising to see LaMarre sent through waivers.  I'm sort of hopeful they can hang onto him, because you can do worse things with your 5th outfielder than to have an elite defensive player.

Age-24 Players

H-Rod was recently released, and Chris Buckley's kid, Sean, missed most of last season, and things aren't looking great for him.  Ryan Wright didn't hit for the first time in his career last year in Bakersfield, but he still looks like a great fielder.  He'll need to rediscover himself in AA this year if he's going to contribute to the Reds, because time's running out.

Age-23 Players

Here's an age where we start to see a lot of good players making their big league debuts.  Not coincidentally, Billy Hamilton is set to be the Reds' starting center fielder, and Oliver is quite bullish on him: replacement-level (or maybe even sub-replacement?) hitting, but amazing value on bases and in the field gets him to an average overall player.  Can you imagine how good he could be if he could just get his OBP to league average (~0.315)?  I get giddy just thinking about it.

Tucker Barnhart is also on the cusp.  Given that he's already on the 40-man roster, it sounds like he might get the nod for opening day if Devin Mesoraco's injury sends him to the DL.  I've been following him as a Redleg Nation spotlight player, and it's exciting to see him getting close--and with a quality projection, no less.  Barnhart is an elite defensive catcher.  If he can hit at all, he can be a quality backup in the near future.

I don't know much about the other two guys on this list: Seth Mejias-Brean and Juan Silva.  Marc Hulet had Mejias-Brean as his sleeper pick for 2013, and he delivered:
The Sleeper: Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B: One of my favorite sleeper picks from last off-season, Mejias-Brean hit more than .300 for the second straight season while showing intriguing gap power. He doesn’t possess eye-popping power but he does enough things well that he could eventually find himself starting at the hot corner at the big league level and the Reds’ current third baseman Todd Frazier is by no means irreplaceable.
Both Mejias-Brean and Silva are projected to be solid hitters in the big leagues right now, and offer solid fielding at their positions.  I'm keen to see what they do in AA this year; if nothing else, they seem like good depth and bench fodder.  The prospect guys don't seem tremendously impressed with either.

Age-22 Players

Junior Arias has a good baseball name.  He also plays an elite defensive position well, and had a nice first half of the hear that flashed both speed (40 SB's) and power (10 HR's) while repeating Dayton.  He struggled in Bakersfield, though, and will probably start there again.  Kyle Waldrop showed power last year at Bakersfield (21 HR), but not much else (0.304 OBP).

Age-21 Players

Reds #1 pick last year, Phillip Ervin, was terrific when he was healthy last season.  He's already showing a darn impressive projection that suggests he could hack it in the majors right now.  Now, I don't believe that--seems like a selection bias issue with MLE's to me.  But given the Reds' rather light outfield talent right now, I certainly wouldn't mind if they tried to fast-track him a bit if they feel he can handle it.  A 0.330 wOBA would rank fourth among Oliver's projected Reds players right now.  Frazier is #3.

As for Yorman Rodriguez, I'm surprised that he projects so poorly.  He put together a pretty solid season last year across A+ and AA-ball, despite being young for his level.  Oliver thinks I'm reading too much into that.  Or, he thinks that legitimate prospects should be wOBAing more than 0.330 each level.  I dunno.  The prospect people still like him, so I'm going to remain cautiously optimistic on him.  I'd sure like to see a little better contact rate than the 27% he posted last season, and the negative fielding projection surprises me given his toolsy reputation.

Age-20 Players

Jesse Winker had an outstanding season at Dayton last season, which came on the heels of a spectacular half-year in Billings the year before.  Scouts apparently like the hit tool a lot.  He's showing great walk rates, good contact rates, nice pop...he just looks really good thus far.  His fielding apparently will limit him to LF, but I have no problem with modest power, high on-base outfielders in corner slots as long as they are solid enough in the field.  There's even talk that he could skip Bakersfield and go straight to AA Pensacola this season.  As with Ervin, the Reds need help in the outfield.  If Winker can develop quickly, that'd sure help.  Also, he seems like a good guy.

Jose Ortiz also got an impressive projection.  That's about where Brayan Pena shows up in projections, and Ortiz hasn't played higher than rookie ball yet.  I think that's probably a bit of a ridiculous projection, but Ortiz had a very solid season in Billings last year, with good power and decent on-base skills.  He'll be one I watch in Dayton this year.

Age-19 Players

Neither Thompson or Franklin were ranked highly on any of the lists last season, and neither projects very well in Oliver.  And that's expected, because they're still teenagers!

Methodology discussion (for those who enjoy the esotericals):
I'm using Oliver for two reasons.  First, the translations across levels of the minor leagues were a major emphasis during the development of Oliver, and it therefore has a reputation (at least) as one of the better systems for for looking at how young players will perform as they transition into the major leagues.  Second, and more importantly, it's the only system that publishes projections for just about every player in organized baseball! That makes it about the only choice when you're going deep into an organization's prospects.

Also, I opted to use Chris St. John's consensus Reds prospect list because he already did the work.  His approach did end up giving more collective weight to the Red Reporter lists than any other source, which...  look, I love the guys at Red Reporter.  They're great, and they frankly do great work keeping an eye on the prospects.  But my feeling is that it would have been more appropriate to just give RR one vote, not four. :)  In any case, the point was not so much to worry about whether Dude A is ranked 5th or 7th, but rather to get a general feel for the top prospects in the Reds' system.

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