The Envelope Please: Our Hall of Fame Crowdsource Ballot Results

FanGraphs readers want their Hall of Famers, and they want ’em now! That’s the take-home message from the results of our inaugural Hall of Fame Crowdsource Ballot, for which we invited registered users of our site to partake in our version of the real thing. To an even greater degree than the Baseball Writers Association of America — which over the past five years has elected 16 candidates, more than any other five-year stretch in the institution’s history, while using more slots per ballot than at any time since 1966 — our voters went deep, and they weren’t shy about honoring the ballot’s best.

A total of 1,213 users (including some of our staff) cast their electronic ballots (something the Hall of Fame currently does not yet have); they could vote for up to 10 candidates while adhering to the same December 31, 2018 deadline as the voters. Remarkably, more than three-quarters of our voters — 77.6% — used all 10 slots, well above the rate in the @NotMrTibbs Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker (55.8% of the 217 ballots as of midnight ET on Monday), and well beyond the modern BBWAA record of 51%, set in 2015. Our voters averaged a generous 9.41 votes per ballot, again ahead of both the current Tracker (8.61) and the modern BBWAA record (8.46), set last year.

Oh, you want to know who we elected? No fewer than seven of the 35 candidates received at least 75% of the vote from our crowd. Keep in mind, that’s two more than in any actual Hall of Fame class, and three more than in any class besides the 1936 inaugural one (Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner). Not only did our users anoint the three candidates who appear to be locks this year (Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and Mariano Rivera) and the man on the bubble (Mike Mussina), they waved in the slate’s two most controversial candidates, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and still had ample room to include Larry Walker as well.

Here’s the full breakdown, as well as how our results square up with those in the Tracker as it stood at midnight ET on Monday:

2019 HOF Crowdsource Vs. Tracker
Player Crowdsource Tracker Dif
Edgar Martinez 92.5% 90.8% 1.7%
Mariano Rivera 91.1% 100.0% -8.9%
Mike Mussina 89.2% 81.6% 7.6%
Barry Bonds 87.1% 70.5% 16.6%
Roger Clemens 85.7% 71.0% 14.7%
Roy Halladay 82.6% 92.6% -10.0%
Larry Walker 79.6% 65.4% 14.2%
Scott Rolen 61.1% 20.7% 40.4%
Curt Schilling 59.0% 70.5% -11.5%
Manny Ramirez 44.1% 24.9% 19.2%
Andruw Jones 43.3% 8.3% 35.0%
Todd Helton 26.5% 18.0% 8.5%
Gary Sheffield 20.8% 13.8% 7.0%
Billy Wagner 16.7% 16.6% 0.1%
Fred McGriff 16.0% 38.7% -22.7%
Sammy Sosa 12.5% 11.5% 1.0%
Andy Pettitte 12.5% 6.9% 5.6%
Jeff Kent 7.3% 17.1% -9.8%
Omar Vizquel 4.9% 37.8% -32.9%
Lance Berkman 4.4% 0.9% 3.5%
Roy Oswalt 2.3% 0.9% 1.4%
Rick Ankiel 0.5% 0.0% 0.5%
Kevin Youkilis 0.5% 0.0% 0.5%
Michael Young 0.4% 1.4% -1.0%
Miguel Tejada 0.4% 0.9% -0.5%
Placido Polanco 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Vernon Wells 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Travis Hafner 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Derek Lowe 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Darren Oliver 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Juan Pierre 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
FanGraphs crowdsource ballot based on 1,213 votes, Tracker based on 217 votes. No votes via either source: Jason Bay, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, Ted Lilly

In an electorate roughly triple the size of the actual one, and 5.6 times the number published in the Tracker, Rivera was not only not unanimous, he wasn’t even the top vote-getter. Meanwhile, Mussina outdistanced Halladay, and all seven candidates cleared the 75% bar with considerable room to spare.

As for where our voters differed most from those in the Tracker, defense carried the day, at least to a point. Rolen, who ranks third among third basemen in both fielding runs (+175) and Gold Gloves (eight), received about triple the support he’s gotten in the Tracker, and Jones, who’s tops among center fielders in fielding runs (+236) and won 10 Gold Gloves, got nearly five times as much support. On the other hand — and I swear I’m not making this up — the 11-time Gold Glove-winning Vizquel, who’s 18th in fielding runs among shortstops (+129), fell below the 5% mark. Don’t worry, we’re not going to Five Percent him off our crowdsource ballot next year. Our voters were generally much more forgiving of candidates linked to PEDs, whether they were actually suspended by MLB (Ramirez) or not (Bonds, Clemens, and Sheffield). Even Pettitte and Sosa did better with our electorate than they are in the Tracker.

Besides Vizquel, our voters were not as keen as the actual electorate on McGriff or Schilling, and to a lesser but still significant extent, the same was true for both Halladay and Rivera. None of the 217 published ballots excluded the latter (one voter kept his dissent in his pocket, so we can stop talking about it), but 108 of our voters did so.

According to FanGraphs developer Sean Dolinar, who deserves a hat-tip for building our ballot and providing me with the data, there were 660 different ballot combinations, of which 532 appeared just once. The five most frequent combinations all included the seven candidates who topped 75%, as well as Rolen — the “Big Eight,” if you will — with these variations:

Most Popular “Big Eight” Plus Combinations
Combination Total Pct
Jones, Schilling 82 6.76%
Ramirez, Schilling 65 5.36%
Jones, Ramirez 35 2.89%
Helton, Schilling 25 2.06%
Helton, Jones 22 1.81%
All of the above combinations also included votes for the “Big Eight” of Bonds, Clemens, Halladay, Martinez, Mussina, Rivera, Rolen, and Walker.

Just below that, tied at 13 ballots, was our top nine-candidate slate (Schilling plus eight) and a 10-candidate ballot that omitted Rolen but included Ramirez, Jones, and Schilling. Only one voter in the Tracker, the New York Post‘s Ken Davidoff, actually had our top combination, but six had our number two choice (you can see the other combinations in the Tracker here). While only one voter in the Tracker (Tracy Ringolsby) matched my virtual ballot, which included Helton and Wagner plus the eight, six of our voters did so.

Here’s our breakdown of ballots by the number of slots used, and how it compares to the Tracker:

Ballot Size, Crowdsource vs. Tracker
Votes Crowdsource Pct Tracker Pct
10 941 77.6% 121 55.8%
9 87 7.2% 25 11.5%
8 70 5.8% 23 10.6%
7 51 4.2% 9 4.1%
6 21 1.7% 14 6.5%
5 23 1.9% 14 6.5%
4 12 1.0% 3 1.4%
3 4 0.3% 5 2.3%
2 3 0.2% 2 0.9%
1 1 0.1% 1 0.5%

Neither the Tracker nor our crowdsource included a blank ballot, thankfully. One was submitted for realzies last year by a voter who remained anonymous, while Bill Livingston and Murray Chass did so in 2017. Speaking of what we might charitably call “former Spink Award Winners who take great joy in presenting exceedingly minimal ballots,” the Rivera-only vote of Dan Shaughnessy was matched by one voter in our crowdsource, though I don’t believe “The Shank” is a registered user here.

As for ballots that used two slots, while the Tracker contains Rivera-Halladay and Rivera-Martinez combinations, we had a Rivera-McGriff, a Rivera-Mussina, and — here’s an outlier for you — a Schilling-Walker. We had one crossover with the Tracker when it came to three-ballot combos (Halladay-Rivera-Martinez). The rest of ours all included Halladay, with Rivera-Mussina, Rivera-Helton and Schilling-Wagner combos, while those in the Tracker had Halladay-Rivera-Walker, Halladay-Rivera-Schilling, Bonds-Clemens-Rivera and Martinez-Rivera-Vizquel.

When Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson opens that envelope on MLB Network on Tuesday evening, he certainly won’t be calling out seven names. By now, most of the suspense boils down to whether Rivera will be the first unanimous selection (probably not, but it’s newsworthy until somebody dissents), and which side of the coin comes down for Mussina; Jason Sardell (@sarsdell) projected his chance of topping the 75% threshold at 63%. Whether three or four candidates are elected this year, just remember that you, the FanGraphs crowd, are the ones who really got it right.

Top 54 Prospects: Tampa Bay Rays

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Tampa Bay Rays. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

All of the numbered prospects here also appear on The Board, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. That can be found here.

Rays Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Wander Franco 17.9 R SS 2021 65
2 Brendan McKay 23.1 A+ LHP/1B 2019 60
3 Brent Honeywell 23.8 AAA RHP 2019 55
4 Vidal Brujan 21.0 A+ 2B 2021 55
5 Brandon Lowe 24.5 AAA 2B 2019 50
6 Jesus Sanchez 21.3 AA RF 2020 50
7 Ronaldo Hernandez 21.2 A C 2022 50
8 Matthew Liberatore 19.2 R LHP 2022 50
9 Nick Solak 24.0 AA 2B 2020 50
10 Shane Baz 19.6 R RHP 2022 50
11 Lucius Fox 21.6 AA SS 2021 45+
12 Nathaniel Lowe 23.5 AAA 1B 2019 45+
13 Moises Gomez 20.4 A RF 2022 45
14 Joe McCarthy 24.9 AAA LF 2019 45
15 Josh Lowe 21.0 A+ CF 2021 45
16 Taylor Walls 22.5 A SS 2020 45
17 Resly Linares 21.1 A LHP 2021 45
18 Anthony Banda 25.4 MLB LHP 2019 45
19 Nick Schnell 18.8 R CF 2022 45
20 Shane McClanahan 21.7 R LHP 2020 45
21 Tyler Frank 22.0 A- 2B 2021 45
22 Jose De Leon 26.5 MLB RHP 2019 40+
23 Drew Strotman 22.4 A RHP 2020 40+
24 Colin Poche 25.0 AAA LHP 2019 40+
25 Garrett Whitley 21.9 A CF 2021 40+
26 Tanner Dodson 21.7 A- RHP/CF 2021 40+
27 Jelfry Marte 17.8 R SS 2023 40
28 Alejandro Pie 16.4 R SS 2024 40
29 Tobias Myers 20.5 A RHP 2022 40
30 Ian Gibaut 25.2 AAA RHP 2019 40
31 Michael Perez 26.5 MLB C 2019 40
32 Joe Peguero 21.7 R RHP 2022 40
33 Nick Ciuffo 23.9 AAA C 2020 40
34 Matt Krook 24.3 AA LHP 2019 40
35 Alberto Figuereo 18.7 R 2B 2023 40
36 Ryan Boldt 24.2 AA LF 2020 40
37 Curtis Taylor 23.5 AA RHP 2020 40
38 Chris Betts 21.9 A C 2021 40
39 Abiezel Ramirez 19.0 R SS 2023 40
40 Kean Wong 23.8 AAA 2B 2019 40
41 Tristan Gray 22.8 A+ 2B 2020 40
42 Jermaine Palacios 22.5 AA SS 2020 40
43 Orlando Romero 22.3 A+ RHP 2020 40
44 Miguel Lara 21.5 R RHP 2022 40
45 Michael Mercado 19.8 A- RHP 2022 40
46 Sandy Gaston 17.1 R RHP 2023 40
47 Austin Franklin 21.3 A RHP 2021 35+
48 Ford Proctor 22.1 A- SS 2022 35+
49 Osmy Gregorio 20.7 A- SS 2022 35+
50 Taj Bradley 17.8 R RHP 2023 35+
51 Matthew Peguero 19.0 R RHP 2023 35+
52 Grant Witherspoon 22.3 R RF 2021 35+
53 Edgardo Rodriguez 18.1 R C 2023 35+
54 Victor Munoz 18.1 R RHP 2023 35+

65 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 17.9 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr S / R FV 65
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/65 60/65 30/55 60/60 45/50 60/60

Franco was identified as a top tier player in his age group as early as 12 or 13, and was seen regularly by scouts by age 14. Sometimes, precocious prospects are workout warriors or have early physical peaks, but Franco isn’t either of those. He essentially hasn’t failed on a baseball field in any meaningful way since puberty, with his success punctuated by a 2018 pro debut in which he outpaced the game’s most recent phenom, No. 1 overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., in just about every way, at the same level, at the same age. Franco signed for the largest bonus in the 2017 July 2nd class ($3.825 million) and was seen as the best player in the class by a good margin. There were some questions about his occasionally disinterested style of play as an amateur, but he likely already had a deal done and didn’t have anything to play for in later workouts. He’s literally always been the best player on any field he’s been on, usually by a lot. The raw tools are accordingly loud, and match his stats: at least a plus hit tool with explosive bat speed, elite bat and body control, and an advanced sense of the zone to go along with plus raw power, plus speed, a plus arm, and a real chance to stick at shortstop. Franco is about as close as you’ll see to a perfect prospect at this point, with questions only arising if you really nitpick — the main one being that Franco isn’t tall — but he already has huge power, so it matters less that he isn’t physically projectable. The Rays have indicated they will start Franco at Low-A in 2019 and, so long as he keeps performing, keep pushing him until he’s challenged so he can experience adversity before he reaches the big leagues. It wouldn’t surprise us to see Franco move across multiple levels, but we wouldn’t expect quite a Juan Soto-esque pace of promotion, and a 2019 MLB debut seems incredibly unlikely, given the Rays’ upper-level infield glut and the service time implications. Rays officials have likened their immediate impression of Franco, as a player and person, to Evan Longoria. Teammates respond to him, and there isn’t even a whiff of the makeup concern some scouts conjured up as an amateur. Franco seems to be the sole author of his potential at this point.

60 FV Prospects

2. Brendan McKay, LHP/1B
Drafted: 1st Round, 2017 from Louisville (TBR)
Age 23.1 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 212 Bat / Thr L / L FV 60
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/55 65/65 40/55 35/30 45/50 60/60
Fastball Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/60 50/55 50/55 55/60 91-95 / 96

McKay was a cold-weather, two-way high school prospect with average tools. As is the case with many Louisville commits, his asking price was high. He got to campus and took such an immediate step forward that he was invited to play for college Team USA after just his freshman year. His tools steadily progressed and entering his draft spring, McKay was showing effortless 65-grade raw power, and above-average raw stuff on the mound. On draft day, we think a slight majority of teams preferred McKay as a hitter (the two of us were split). But every MLB team had him as a first round talent both ways, so it seemed inevitable that he would be the rare player who would get a chance to do both in pro ball so his team could at least have time to determine which path was the right one if he couldn’t do both. That open-minded approach has driven how Tampa Bay has developed McKay. In 2018, his offense was fine — he was unlucky by advanced and TrackMan metrics — while he really broke out as a pitcher, regularly showing all the best stuff that he had only flashed in college. McKay leaned on a low-to-mid-90s fastball and didn’t have trouble navigating lineups because of his above average to plus command of the pitch. A plus-flashing curveball is his best secondary offering, but his cutter and changeup are both above-average, giving him No. 2 or 3 starter upside, and he’s not a long way off from reaching it. Shohei Ohtani’s usage is the only precedent for how McKay might be handled: a standout, playoff rotation-caliber starter and DH. Given how baseball is valuing first base/DH players, there appears to be much more value on the mound for McKay, but there’s still a real chance he turns into something like a 110 wRC+ hitter who could make a club just on the merits of his hitting and fielding ability as a first baseman, and scouts have always raved about his makeup and work ethic. The most exciting scenario would be if Tampa Bay paired him with a two-way righty (they currently have one in Tanner Dodson and are rumored to be adding a second in Matt Davidson) and pull the gambit Joe Maddon has tried before: rotating righty and lefty pitchers between the mound and a spot in the field based on the matchups. It could be an effective strategy on its own while enabling roster flexibility in other areas, and it saves matchup relievers until later in the game. Of course, nobody wants the Rays to get too cute and spoil what might just be a traditional, mid-rotation profile.

55 FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2014 from Walters State JC (TN) (TBR)
Age 23.8 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Splitter Cutter Command Sits/Tops
60/60 50/55 60/65 55/55 45/50 45/55 92-94 / 97

Honeywell felt forearm tightness while throwing live batting practice to Wilson Ramos in late February, and five days later Dr. James Andrews was reconstructing his UCL. It was the first of several season-ending injuries Rays prospects would sustain early in the year, and it delayed Honeywell’s run at a potential Rookie of the Year award. A creative sequencer, Honeywell’s deep, unique repertoire is unlike any other pitcher in the minors. Though his fastball touches 98, his stuff is so diverse that he never has to pitch off of it. He can lob his curveball in for strikes, induce weak contact early in counts by throwing a cutter when hitters are sitting fastball, and he’ll double and triple up on the changeup. What you see listed in Honeywell’s tool grades as a splitter is actually a screwball. It wobbles home in the 79-82 mph range, while his true changeup is usually a little harder than that. The screwgie is more than a gimmick and can miss bats, though it’s best in moderation because it’s a little easier to identify out of his hand, and hitters are able to recognize it after seeing it multiple times in the same at-bat. Honeywell’s delivery is pretty violent and his TJ was not his first injury, but he’s ready and has No. 2 or 3 starter stuff if it comes back after the surgery. He has been throwing off a mound since early December and should be pitching in games before April is through.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 21.0 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 155 Bat / Thr S / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/60 45/50 30/45 65/65 50/60 55/55

Five years ago, Brujan was illiterate and living in extreme poverty in the Dominican Republic. Now he’s fluent in multiple languages and has grown so much as an athlete and ballplayer that we think he’d be in the conversation for the 2019 draft’s first pick were he a college player. If you’re willing to look beyond Brujan’s diminutive stature, he leaves nothing to be desired. He is an elite athlete with acute baseball instincts, a dynamic up-the-middle defensive profile, and mature feel for the strike zone. He has always been physical enough to make quality contact and fast enough to make an impact on the bases, but really began driving the ball in 2018 as his frame started to physically mature. He slashed .313/.395/.427 at Low-A before an August promotion to Hi-A, where he slugged a shocking .582. Aside from his size, Brujan’s profile is flawless and he has a chance to be a star.

50 FV Prospects

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2015 from Maryland (TBR)
Age 24.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 55/55 45/55 50/50 40/45 45/45

Lowe (pronounced with a vowel sound like ‘plow’ or ‘allow’) was an under-the-radar, bat-first prospect at Maryland who the Rays picked in the third round. He has always been a second baseman but was never the pedigree type given his position and average at best speed, defense, and arm. He also tore his ACL as a freshman. His indicators were positive–plate discipline, contact skills, bat speed, enough power to profile–and we were high on Lowe entering the year, pegging him as a 45 FV. He went off in 2018, following a fine Double-A look in 2017 by demolishing the level in 2018, then performing even better at Triple-A, earning a big league look, where he put up almost 1.0 WAR in just 43 games. The offense has taken off even more than those highest on him internally had expected, with some chance for 50 hit and 60 game power with passable defense at second, along with versatility to play left field and possibly first base if needed. Lowe is now in the weird prospect spot where he isn’t the highly-drafted, tooled-up brand name type you typically find in the middle of a top 100, but he’s about as low risk a bat as there is with prospect eligibility, and he can also play up the middle, so his six years of control have tons of value to a small market team like the Rays.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 21.3 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 60/65 30/55 50/50 50/55 60/60

Corner bats with 30-grade plate discipline are scary, but Sanchez has the talent to override his impatience and so far he has performed in spite of it. In possession of a picturesque swing and some of the most electric bat speed in the minors, Sanchez has a .306/.347/.478 career line over four pro seasons, and he’s been young for each of the levels to which he has been assigned. As awestruck as his swing leaves onlookers, it is imperfect and causes him to drive the ball into the ground about 50% of the time. He hits it so hard that it hasn’t mattered yet, and it may not be prudent to tweak Sanchez’s swing so long as he keeps performing, but the ceiling on his power output is huge if his bat path gets dialed in. This is a pretty traditional right field profile, instability and all, and Sanchez has a chance to hit at the heart of a big league lineup. He got a taste of Double-A late last year and should return there in 2019.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Colombia (TBR)
Age 21.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 55/60 30/50 35/30 40/50 70/70

Hernandez’s career got off to a slow start in part due to his conversion (he was originally a SS/3B who the Rays asked to catch) but also due to injury, which cost him much of his first pro season. He so dominated the DSL in his second go at it that the Rays had him skip the GCL and sent him right to Princeton the following year. The last two seasons, Hernandez has slugged .500 as a young-for-the-level regular, and he was one homer off the Midwest League lead in 2018. He has above average raw power and sufficient feel to hit that he’ll get to most of it, certainly enough to profile at catcher. While Hernandez is still a below average receiver and inconsistent ball-blocker, he shows enough aptitude for both to project that he’ll be an average defender at maturity, and he has run-stopping arm strength. He’s a top 100 prospect.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from Mountain Ridge HS (AZ) (TBR)
Age 19.2 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr L / L FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/60 45/50 55/70 50/55 40/55 92-95 / 97

Oakland’s selection of Kyler Murray seems to have been the catalyst for Liberatore’s draft day slide. He was arguably the best high school pitcher in the class, evaluated heavily early on by the Giants (who picked second), before settling into the 7-13 range by June. When Murray was selected, teams picking behind Oakland suddenly had access to one more player than they had anticipated. It meant Travis Swaggerty was there for Pittsburgh at 10, which meant Grayson Rodriguez was there for Baltimore at 11, and so on. Other teams hadn’t considered the possibility that Libby would fall to them and either hadn’t done a lot of background work, or weren’t comfortable with how he might alter their bonus pool math. When Liberatore was at his best, he’d throw strikes with 93-97 for the first several innings of his starts, show you a 70 curveball, a good change, and alter the timing of his delivery to toy with hitters. He added a slider part way through his junior year and instantly had nascent feel for it. At other times, he’d sit 88-92 with scattershot command and get too cute with Johnny Cueto shenanigans. But the frame, athleticism, arm strength, and ability to spin are all ideal, and there’s immense ceiling here.

9. Nick Solak, 2B
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Louisville (NYY)
Age 24.0 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/55 50/50 30/45 60/60 45/50 50/50

Solak was a college teammate of Brendan McKay’s at Louisville, and they’ve both drawn some of the most vociferous makeup raves from scouts of any of the players in the minors. There’s a story going around scouting circles that Solak actually broke one club’s makeup algorithm, scoring higher than they thought was possible. It’s probably not surprising to hear that he’s a grinder type of player who makes the most of his sneaky-good tools. Solak has a pretty level cut, but is an opportunistic enough hitter to know how to lift mistake pitches and use his deceptively-average raw power. He’s a plus runner who projects to play an average second base and be an everyday player, but he can play almost any other position on the field if needed, with an arm that’s just a bit shy of what’s preferred for shortstop. He put up a 19 home run, 21 stolen base season in Triple-A last year and would be penciled in as a top prospect about to be handed an everyday job for almost any other club, but the Rays are insanely well stocked with middle infielders, including arguably the best in the minor leagues in Wander Franco; Vidal Brujan is also ahead of Solak on this list. The Rays like to have a versatile big league roster, but there’s likely a trade coming at some point to clear out spots, with Willy Adames, Joey Wendle, Brandon Lowe, Matt Duffy, Yandy Diaz, Daniel Robertson, and Christian Arroyo all seemingly ahead of Solak in the running for three starting spots since first base and designated hitter are also fully manned.

10. Shane Baz, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2017 from Concordia Lutheran HS (TX) (PIT)
Age 19.6 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
55/60 55/60 40/50 55/60 40/45 92-96 / 98

Other than players who qualify under outdated rules about trading recent draftees, we can’t think of a Player to be Named Later who had a stronger evaluation at the time of trade than Baz, who was part of the Chris Archer deal. The tightly-wound Baz has a repertoire tailored like Marcus Stroman’s: it’s four or five pitches, everything is hard, and his best stuff has glove-side action. Pitchers can succeed without changeups provided their breaking balls give them the tools to deal with opposite-handed hitters. Often, that’s enabled by command. Baz’s delivery is explosive but violent, and he may never have average command, let alone the command necessary to succeed without a change of pace pitch, or something to bisect the plate to his arm side. There’s a chance he’s a reliever but with three plus pitches, he could be elite in that role. If the command and/or a changeup develop, he fits in the middle of a rotation.

45+ FV Prospects

11. Lucius Fox, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Bahamas (SFG)
Age 21.6 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr S / R FV 45+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 35/40 30/40 70/70 45/50 55/55

It wasn’t that long ago that being an international amateur free agent could be more lucrative than subjecting oneself to the domestic draft. Several players with family abroad moved away and reclassified. Fox, who is of Bahamian descent, netted the most lucrative of these deals, signing with San Francisco for $6 million. The industry was surprised when the Giants immediately sent Fox, who was a tantalizing athlete but an undercooked ballplayer, to full-season ball. He didn’t play well, and was traded to Tampa Bay for Matt Moore a few minutes ahead of the 2016 trade deadline. When the Rays performed a post-swap physical on Fox, they discovered a bone bruise in his foot that would end his season, a matter the two clubs settled after the Rays initially sought further compensation. Fox repeated Low-A the following year and started to perform some with the bat. He’s hit for high averages wth no power each of the last two years, and had a strong 2018 Fall League. The lack of power might prevent Fox from being a true average or better regular, and he remains inconsistent on defense, but he’s a top of the scale athlete whose late 2018 showing could be a sign of real growth. If he comes out in 2019 and performs well, we’ll buy it.

Drafted: 13th Round, 2016 from Mississippi State (TBR)
Age 23.5 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 240 Bat / Thr L / R FV 45+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 65/65 50/60 40/35 45/50 50/50

Lowe was nearly anonymous as a prospect until 2018. He played at a high profile Atlanta-area high school (the same one as his brother Josh, who the Rays drafted in first round in 2016), played sparingly for a year at Mercer, then transferred to St. John’s River junior college in Jacksonville, FL, where he hit 17 homers, a feat that got him to Mississippi State for his junior season. He had a solid season for the Bulldogs but was a first base-only prospect with no pedigree who hit five home runs, so you can see why he lasted until the 13th round in the 2016 draft. His hitability translated well that first pro summer and in 2017, which he split across both A-Ball levels at ages 21 and 22. The missing element here is that while Lowe had plus raw power the first time we saw him at Mississippi State, he didn’t have the kind of swing or approach to get the most out of it. This untapped tool and his plate discipline are the reasons he was a 13th rounder and not a 35th rounder who went back to school for his senior year. In 2018, Lowe did a rare thing: he tried to do more damage at the plate and lift the ball a bit more, but was able to keep his contact rates the same while adding game power. Miguel Andujar did this in the Yankees farm system two years in a row and went from an untapped, toolsy prospect who was passed over in the Rule 5 Draft to a Rookie of the Year runner-up; Lowe went from the top of the ‘Others of Note’ section last year to one of the top 150 prospects in the game over a 12 month period. Lowe is a fine defender at first but the value here is all in the bat. Because he’s left-handed, the downside is a platoon option at 1B/DH, though the Rays cycle through those types very quickly. Underlying indicators and TrackMan data suggest Lowe’s very loud 2018 stats aren’t fluky and he may just be a 50 bat with advanced feel for the zone and 60 game power, which is a solid regular. He might be big league ready in the middle of 2019.

45 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Venezuela (TBR)
Age 20.4 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 60/60 35/55 55/50 45/50 55/55

Gomez was a plus-running center field prospect when he signed, but over four seasons, his body has matured in a way that is more Wily Mo Pena than Willy Taveras. He has already moved to a corner and might be limited to left field, but with that heft came power and a 2018 statistical breakout (65 extra-base hits) at Low-A Bowling Green. Gomez has below-average plate discipline, and that kind of flaw in a player near the bottom of the defensive spectrum is pretty scary, because it means both the hit and power tools need to develop into plusses for Gomez to clear the overall offensive bar at his position. There’s enough thump here for that, though we’ll have to wait and see on the bat.

Drafted: 5th Round, 2015 from Virginia (TBR)
Age 24.9 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 55/55 40/50 40/40 50/50 50/50

McCarthy might be this decade’s Nick Johnson. He has limited physical ability but exceptional secondary skills, and a concerning injury history. In college, McCarthy missed several weeks of his junior year due to back surgery, and in 2018, he had back issues again, which cost him several months. His Fall League stint ended prematurely due to a fractured hand. Amid these injuries, McCarthy has reached base at .390 career rate and climbed to Triple-A Durham. He has sufficient physical tools to hit, just not for stardom, and we expect him to be a role playing 1B/OF who yields value on par with a low-end regular, assuming he can stay healthy.

15. Josh Lowe, CF
Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Pope HS (GA) (TBR)
Age 21.0 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 60/60 30/45 60/60 45/50 60/60

Lowe was on the draft radar as a prep junior in the Atlanta area when he ran his heater up to 95 mph in a high profile playoff game 13 months before he was draft eligible. Throughout the summer, scouts realized that he was a clear top five round talent on the mound, but a truly elite prospect at the plate. Lowe flashed plus speed, a plus arm, and plus raw power from the left side, projecting as the rare big center fielder with hit and power tools. The concern was that Lowe’s uphill, aggressive, power-oriented cut would limit his contact rate; after the Rays took him in the first round, his swing plane was flatter. In 2018, Lowe’s older brother and fellow Rays farmhand, Nate, shockingly went from fringe prospect to passing his more famous sibling in prospect status. Josh hasn’t put the loft back in his game swing, so he doesn’t look much different than the No. 1 overall pick from his draft class, Phillies center fielder Mickey Moniak. Both posted solid, contact-oriented offensive seasons in the Florida State League at age 20 while playing a solid center field. The difference is that Lowe has plus raw power he could tap back into, while Moniak may eventually grow into just average raw power. Lowe is ticketed for Double-A in 2019 and has a very laid back demeanor, which can turn off some scouts, though others see it as a sign he can handle the grind of the game and break through like his older brother did last year.

16. Taylor Walls, SS
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2017 from Florida State (TBR)
Age 22.5 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr S / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/55 45/45 30/40 50/50 50/55 50/50

If you want to get a sense of the depth of the Rays middle infield, take a look at the end of the Nick Solak report (ninth on this list). It’s a testament to Walls’ breakout 2018 season that he’s even in that conversation, as many scouts thought the Rays had drastically overdrafted him in the third round out of Florida State in 2017. Walls played second base in college and had an all-fields, spray approach with little power but excellent pitch selection and plate discipline. He was getting pegged as a non-impact type, the sort of backup second baseman the likes of which teams don’t carry anymore; his best ability (pitch selection) wasn’t even a tool, and it didn’t matter much if he didn’t have any power. Most of that changed in 2018 as the Rays’ strategy of drafting players projected as second baseman and seeing if they can play shortstop worked out, with Clay Davenport’s defensive metrics grading Walls at +16 runs over 103 games, about as high of a number as you’ll see in the minor leagues. Scouts tended to agree that Walls was above average at the position, more due to angles and instincts than raw tools, and this development seemed to surprise even the Rays. Offensively, Walls started driving the ball more and doing some extra base damage when he was getting into good counts. The raw tools are still mostly average and he was 22 years old in Low-A, a function of the Rays’ middle infield depth blocking a deserved promotion, so there isn’t amazing upside here. That said, a player many scouts thought was an overdraft now looks like he has a solid shot to turn into a good utility guy or low-end regular just 18 months later.

17. Resly Linares, LHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 21.1 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 55/60 45/55 45/55 90-93 / 95

Even though Linares’ frame hasn’t filled out very much since he teenage days, his velocity has climbed. Loose and spindly, the low-slot lefty now sports a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s. Linares uses his curveball to attack both left and right-handed hitters, and his lack of changeup development to this point is the chief reason why he may project to the bullpen, where he may throw even harder and turn into something resembling Felipe Vasquez. We like lanky, athletic pitchers with feel for spin. Though there are clear things to work on, Linares is one of those. He should spend 2019 at Hi-A.

18. Anthony Banda, LHP
Drafted: 10th Round, 2012 from San Jacinto JC (TX) (MIL)
Age 25.4 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 50/50 40/45 50/55 40/45 92-95 / 97

Banda has been traded twice — Milwaukee sent him and Mitch Haniger to Arizona for Gerardo Parra in 2014, and then in 2018, Banda was part of the massive, three-team trade involving Steven Souza and Brandon Drury, among others — and finally looked like he’d get a long-term big league look in 2018. He was ten innings shy of exhausting rookie eligibility when he tore his UCL and had Tommy John in early June. It’s an awkwardly-timed surgery that might keep Banda out for all of 2019 as he recovers. He has No. 4 starter stuff when healthy, but we may not see it in the big leagues again until Banda is 26.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from Roncalli HS (IN) (TBR)
Age 18.8 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr L / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/50 55/60 25/50 60/60 40/50 60/60

Schnell was an upside, cold-weather hitter to watch in the 2018 draft class but he exceeded expectations in the spring, rising into discussions for the middle of the first round. He landed near the top of a group of top-tier toolsy outfielders, flashing plus raw power, speed, and arm strength. He also went on a tear down the stretch in the Illinois state playoffs when high-level scouts were coming in for looks, hitting homer after homer. Some scouts were still uncertain about Schnell’s ultimate upside, arguing that his style of hitting indicates a swing flaw. To possess premium bat speed and face pitching in the 80s and still hit opposite field homers indicates Schnell was late on subpar stuff, and his deep hand load (which helps create the power) means this approach and his ultimate upside might not work in pro ball. While it’s too early to pass judgment on that opinion, Schnell struggled against good pitching in his pro debut and in instructional league, often exhibiting poor timing and ending up late on good fastballs. The Rays aren’t worried — expectations for cold-weather hitters are close to nil in their pro debut, not only because of the big jump in competition but also because they’re playing the longest season of their lives. Schnell may start 2019 in extended spring training so the org can keep a close eye on his habits and challenges in a controlled environment, but his upside is still among the best in his draft class.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from USF (TBR)
Age 21.7 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 173 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/65 50/55 45/50 40/45 92-95 / 100

McClanahan was barely seen the summer before his senior year in high school, pitching in the low-to-mid-80s in the lightly-scouted southwest corner of Florida, and committed to a smaller mid-major school. In his senior spring, things starting changing; he was getting into the low-90s, but it was still raw enough and abrupt enough of a change that it made sense for McClanahan to go to school, now at South Florida. He had another velo bump early in his college career, which eventually led to Tommy John surgery. Buzz grew in scouting circles as his post-surgery stuff was elite and after his first start of 2018, a heavily-scouted matchup with North Carolina, McClanahan looked like a top five overall pick. In that game, he hit 100 mph and flashed an above average slider and changeup along with enough feel to project as a starter. From then on, things started to unravel, until the Rays popped the local kid 31st overall. McClanahan had some minor issues — a finger injury and fluctuating velo as weather and workload dictated — but more worrisome to scouts were both his maturity and how he fared when his fastball was more of a 6 than an 8, and his command was a 3 or 4 instead of a 5. Most college pitchers can succeed with 55 or 60 stuff and below average command, but McClanahan struggled and showed it on the mound. The optimistic case is that a change of scenery, coaching, and workload (with less pressure) will help tease out that top five overall pick version of McClanahan, while the pessimistic case is that what we saw down the stretch is indicative of a future as a streaky power reliever with limited feel.

21. Tyler Frank, 2B
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2018 from Florida Atlantic (TBR)
Age 22.0 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/55 45/45 30/40 50/50 45/50 45/45

Frank was first seen by most scouts as a utility player on college Team USA the summer before he was draft eligible. He didn’t stand out much there, playing all over the field and making contact, but lacking impact tools. He shined much brighter in the spring for Florida Atlantic, with just shy of a 1.000 OPS and 13 homers while playing a passable shortstop. The setting in which you scout a player can do wonders and the Team USA look didn’t give Frank much of chance to show what he could do. Scouts who saw Frank in pro ball, after the Rays popped him in the second round, see a slightly lesser version of Taylor Walls, another under-tooled Rays middle infielder with lots of feel. Frank is seen as more of a second baseman going forward and his 45 raw power, 50 speed, and 50 defense still aren’t loud, but his ability to hit, take a good at-bat, and have advanced feel for the game give Frank the look of a potential low-end regular who could move quickly through the minors.

40+ FV Prospects

22. Jose De Leon, RHP
Drafted: 24th Round, 2013 from Southern (LA)
Age 26.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/50 45/45 50/50 60/60 50/55 90-92 / 94

Acquired from Los Angeles for Logan Forsythe, De Leon has basically lost the last two years to poor arm health. He had intermittent injury issues throughout 2017 — flexor mass discomfort, a lat strain, elbow tendinitis — and needed Tommy John during 2018 Spring Training. He’s been throwing bullpens and is on track to return sometime in the middle of 2019. It’s unclear if the drop in velocity De Leon exhibited betwixt his DL stints was due to injury or if that’s just how hard he throws now. At his prospect peak in Los Angeles, when De Leon struck out no fewer than 32% of opposing hitters over a three-season stretch, he was sitting 92-94, and touching 96. Though there’s less stigma surrounding drop-and-drive deliveries now, there was concern about De Leon’s fastball being liftable even at that velocity due to it’s plane. At his more recent 89-91, it’s more worrisome. But if the velocity comes back, De Leon will have two plus pitches in his fastball and a goofy changeup, which has weird, horizontal action. He throws a ton of strikes and has two viable breaking balls. He could be a No. 3 or 4 starter if everything comes back, but is more like a No. 5 if it doesn’t.

23. Drew Strotman, RHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2017 from St. Mary’s (TBR)
Age 22.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 50/55 50/55 45/50 45/50 92-95 / 97

In many ways, the first half of Strotman’s 2018 season was just like that of Phillies righty Spencer Howard, who’s now in the overall top 100 picture because his stuff exploded late in the year. Like Howard, Strotman mostly pitched out of the bullpen at a second tier California college and only began starting full time in 2018. He was probably slightly underscouted as an amateur, and definitely underdeveloped. For a month and a half of 2018, he showed mid-rotation stuff, then blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John. He may not be back in affiliated ball until late next summer, but he was quite young for a college draftee (another trait he shares with Howard) and has more developmental wiggle room for a setback like this than most of his peers would. He’s a 2019 Arizona Fall League breakout candidate.

24. Colin Poche, LHP
Drafted: 14th Round, 2016 from Dallas Baptist (ARI)
Age 25.0 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops
65/70 50/55 50/55 90-93 / 94

It’s pretty common for pitchers to have a delivery that accentuates their stuff, and often, it’s easy to detect with the naked eye. This is not so for Poche, whose mechanical sleight of hand is not visually obvious, but whose success with what appears to be a mediocre fastball is unmatched in the minors. Poche has somehow managed to generate elite swinging strike rates with fringe fastball velocity and a spin rate that’s shy of average. Scouts and colleagues have asserted that Poche hides the ball well, only showing it to hitters when it suddenly appears out from behind his head. Poche also generates elite down-mound extension and fastball rise. His pitches not only make hitters look uncomfortable, they sometimes sneak up on the catcher, too. Essentially, Poche has an average fastball with three separate characteristics that make it play up. Big league hitters may be less vulnerable to one or more of these characteristics, but if not, Poche’s fastball is going to play like a 7 or 8, and he could be a top 50 big league reliever.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Niskayuna HS (NY) (TBR)
Age 21.9 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 55/60 30/50 60/60 40/50 55/55

The Dave Stewart Dbacks regime purportedly considered Whitley for the 2015 draft’s first pick, which seemed ill-advised given how blatantly risky both Whitley and his draft demographic were and are (raw, cold-weather prep outfielders can be Mike Trout or Anthony Hewitt). He fell to pick 13. As a pro, Whitley has become a power and patience center field prospect. He owns a 12% career walk rate and in 2017 started tapping into power thanks to a swing change. He was a candidate for a 2018 national breakout, but got hurt during spring training and missed the entire season while recovering from labrum surgery. The injury ate an important year of Whitley’s development, and also created risk that he has to move to left field if his arm strength doesn’t return (he began throwing a baseball again in late August). Just as he was starting to answer a lot of the pre-draft questions, a bunch of new ones were introduced, but we’re still enamored with Whitley’s physical gifts and upside. He’ll likely begin 2019 at Hi-A.

26. Tanner Dodson, RHP/CF
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2018 from Cal (TBR)
Age 21.7 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/45 50/50 20/40 55/55 45/50 60/60
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/65 55/60 45/50 40/45 92-96 / 98

Dodson’s father, Bo, hit .288/.397/.436 as a 10-year minor league first baseman, and may have gotten a shot had he played during an era that better appreciated his on base skills, or had he not been blocked by John Jaha in ’95 and Mo Vaughn in ’96. Tanner is a totally different baseball entity, standing apart not just from his father but from the rest of the minors, and access to such a unique skillset is partly what motivated the curious Rays to draft him in the second round in 2018. Dodson was Cal’s two-hole hitter, starting center fielder, and closer. If forced to chose a traditional developmental path, teams would have overwhelmingly preferred Dodson on the mound, where his stuff is commensurate with a typical middle reliever. But he is also a plus-running switch-hitter, with some natural lift as a right-handed hitter and good barrel control as a lefty. The Rays want to take advantage of all of Dodson’s skills and asked that he be announced on draft day as a two-way player. At Cal, Dodson would often warm up his arm in center field, sometimes very little, before coming in to pitch in save situations. In pro ball, he pitched once every seven days, would have a bullpen day at the midpoint between outings, and either DH or play CF on the other days. Developing as a two-way player is actually less labor intensive than existing as one in college, where Dodson’s schedule was more variable. Neither of Dodson’s individual roles projects to be ones of impact. On the mound, he looks like a middle reliever; with the bat, he looks like a fourth outfielder. But if he performs like a standard 40-inning reliever, like Jacob Barnes, and quintessential fourth outfielder, like Travis Jankowski, he’ll generate a combined 1.5 to 2 WAR annually.

40 FV Prospects

27. Jelfry Marte, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 17.8 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 150 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/50 40/50 20/40 60/60 50/60 60/60

Marte originally signed for $3 million with the Twins as one of the top position players in the 2017 July 2nd class. That deal was voided over concerns about Marte’s vision, but those concerns weren’t as strong as they were with the last prospect who went through a situation like this, Dominican power-hitting right fielder Wagner Mateo. Mateo signed for $3.1 million with St. Louis in 2009, and after his deal was voided, signed with Arizona for $512,000 almost a year later. Mateo played parts of four seasons before being released by Arizona, only playing 10 games in a full-season league with a career .660 OPS. Marte ended up signing with Tampa Bay less than a month after his deal was voided, this time for $820,000; Tampa Bay sees his vision as a correctable issue that’s already shown improvement, adding strength to his eyes like you would to a projectable frame. Marte has already surpassed Mateo’s performance in some ways, posting a comparable OPS in the GCL as a 17-year-old who is underdeveloped physically, switch hits, and plays a plus shortstop. One scout described teammate and fellow 17-year-old Wander Franco’s physicality as beyond his years, while Marte was so slightly built that he looked like a 14-year-old in 2018, despite being arguably the best defender in a deep system of shortstops. Marte flashes plus speed, range, hands, and arm strength and while he needs to tighten up his strike zone, he has contact skills even though the strength deficit means pitchers can throw strikes without fear of an extra base hit. Marte’s key will be continuing to add visual and physical strength to hit game — there’s clear everyday potential here if that happens.

28. Alejandro Pie, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 16.4 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 45/60 20/50 60/55 40/50 55/60

Pie, who ranked 17th on our 2018 July 2 Board, now looks like top 100 prospect Oneil Cruz did at the same age: endless limbs, uncommon athleticism and body control for his size, uncapped power projection, and much more intrigue than certainty about any aspect of the profile. It’s not even clear whether Pie is going to stay on the infield. He runs well enough that center field is a possibility if his actions don’t improve, and he has the arm to play short or third if they do. Even if Pie tumbles down the defensive spectrum, it likely means he’s grown into substantial raw power, enough to profile at any position. Our current tool grade projections indicate what we think things will look like if Pie’s frame develops in a way that allows him to stay at shortstop, but we think it’s going to take a long time before his skillset truly comes into focus.

29. Tobias Myers, RHP
Drafted: 6th Round, 2016 from Winter Haven HS (FL) (BAL)
Age 20.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 193 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 55/60 45/55 40/50 91-93 / 95

Myers was a bit under-the-radar at a central Florida high school, showing all the markers of a classically projectable and athletic pitcher. But the stuff didn’t edge past average as an amateur, so he lasted until the sixth round, where Baltimore drafted him in 2016. Tampa Bay acquired the local in the Tim Beckham 2017 trade during a breakout season in the New York-Penn League, and we anticipated a full-season breakout in 2018, but things didn’t go as planned. He didn’t get hurt or have a dip in stuff, so the No. 3 or 4 starter upside is still there. Scouts indicated that Myers’ struggles were more in the way he pitched: in the top and middle of the zone more than before, and now against better hitters.

30. Ian Gibaut, RHP
Drafted: 11th Round, 2015 from Tulane (TBR)
Age 25.2 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 250 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/60 70/70 40/45 95-97 / 98

There isn’t huge upside with Gibaut: he’s a 40 FV (middle reliever) for us now and likely won’t be more than a 45 FV (setup man) in the big leagues if things go well. That said, he has huge stuff and while it mostly fits in a one-inning stint, he’s big league ready and dominated Triple-A in a full season in 2018. Given the Rays’ glut of MLB-ready talent and propensity to lean on multi-inning types on their staff, there’s a significant barrier to a long stint on the 25-man roster for a pitcher of this type. Gibaut will get there on the strength of his stuff: sitting 95-97 mph, mixing in a 70-grade changeup and slider that flashes plus. This is a little more raw stuff than Fernando Rodney at his peak, but Gibaut is 25 and hasn’t had his command proven at the big league level yet, so there’s still some uncertainty here.

Drafted: 5th Round, 2011 from Colegio Vocacional Para Adultos HS (PR) (ARI)
Age 26.5 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/45 45/45 20/40 40/40 45/50 60/60

It’s possible Perez would have been Arizona’s best everyday option at catcher toward the end of last year, but a desperate need for pitching depth facilitated his trade to Tampa Bay for Matt Andriese. Perez is an athletic catcher with a plus arm, average receiving skills, and some feel to hit. After struggling to perform with the bat during the first several years of his career, Perez has two straight season of league-average offensive performance at Double and Triple-A. He has a pull-and-lift style of hitting, but not enough raw power to optimize that kind of approach. He’s a safe bet to be a quality backup and has a non-zero chance to hit a little more than we expect and be a low-end regular.

32. Joe Peguero, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 21.7 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
70/80 50/55 40/45 35/45 96-100 / 102

Peguero is a late-blooming power arm who took a step forward stuff-wise in 2018, but didn’t take a step forward statistically until he was put in the bullpen for the last month of the season in the short-season Appalachian League. After the full-time shift, Peguero threw 16.2 IP with 19 K and 3 BB. It’s not as simple as you may think, with most of those relief outings going multiple innings, so it seemed to be more of a mental adjustment than being better in short stints, with some sources telling us his confidence increased in that role. Peguero will turn 22 in May and has a career 6.28 ERA with no experience outside of short-season leagues, so there are some clear concerns. On the other hand, he sits 96-100 and has hit 102 mph, mixing in a curveball that’s plus at times, though he struggles to command it. His delivery is athletic and easy, and he’ll throw an occasional low-90s changeup that is usable. Peguero needed more innings at a low level of competition to build into 2019 and went to the Australian Baseball League this winter, throwing 13.1 IP with 19 K and 2 BB. At this point, Peguero is similar to a position player who converted to pitching in college and is now draft eligible with huge stuff but little polish; that guy goes roughly in the third round, which is right about where we have him pegged here, but he needs to move quickly and perform now that he’s found his role.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2013 from Lexington HS (SC) (TBR)
Age 23.9 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 55/55 40/45 20/20 50/50 70/70

Ciuffo was a first round pick out of a South Carolina high school in 2013 based on the strength of his arm and power, with his hitting and catching skills closer to average. That’s still largely the report 5.5 years later, with the gap being that Ciuffo isn’t quite offensively talented enough (a combination of plate coverage, loft and bat control) to hit for both leagues’ average contact and power. The lower offensive upside makes him more of a potential backup. He got a cup of coffee in 2018 and is currently the third catcher for the Rays, so he’ll almost certainly get more big league time when there’s a catcher injury or prolonged slump next season.

34. Matt Krook, LHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2016 from Oregon (SFG)
Age 24.3 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops
50/50 40/50 45/50 88-90 / 93

Krook has one of the best 88 mph fastballs in the minors due to its dramatic sinking movement, which makes it capable of missing bats despite below-average velocity. His arm angle and the shape of his fastball create a pitch that looks very similar to Zach Britton’s sinker, but with much less zip. Though the Giants, who traded him to Tampa as part of the Evan Longoria deal, tried to develop Krook as a starter early in his career, a combination of injury concern (bad delivery, flunked physical coming out of high school, TJ in college) and lack of control made it likely that he’d eventually move to the bullpen, and that transition — or at least, one to a role where Krook throws a number of innings typical of a reliever; he may be a candidate to ‘open’, but we don’t know for sure — is underway. Krook used to live in the low-to-mid-90s and his drop in velocity is perhaps a red flag, considering his medical history. But it plays even at this velocity, and so do his two breaking balls, which benefit from the deceptive ugliness of his delivery.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 18.7 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 145 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/55 35/45 20/40 65/65 50/55 50/50

We’re undeterred by Figuereo’s childlike measurables because, for a 5-foot-8 guy, he actually has a good frame and lots of present baseball skill that should start yielding on-field results as he gets stronger. He’s a plus athlete and runner with a high baseball IQ, switch-hits, and is going to stay on the infield. Unlike his prototypically-sized peers, whose attributes are more obvious in showcase environments, it takes longer to get a feel for and appreciate skillsets like Figuereo’s. We think it’s why skills-over-tools infielders like this tend to sneak up on us, and we’re trying to suss out this profile earlier than we have in the past. If Figeureo’s strength never materializes, he’s probably just a utility guy, at best. If it does, he could be a well-rounded every day player.

36. Ryan Boldt, LF
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Nebraska (TBR)
Age 24.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/50 50/50 30/45 55/50 50/55 50/50

A big part of why Boldt’s college performance never quite matched the power/speed hype of his high school tools was that his swing was not geared for any sort of lift. He clearly had substantial raw power, but never slugged more than his freshman year mark of .437 at Nebraska. Since college, Boldt’s swing has evolved in a way that better incorporates his lower half. It has more scoop, more ability to catch pitches in, and he’s better able to lift balls that are down. Supporting evidence can be found by observing Boldt’s batted ball profile, as his groundball rate is now close to league average instead of well above it. Though he thickened quickly in college, Boldt is still an above-average runner once he gets underway. His slow first few steps prevent him from everyday viability in center field, and Boldt saw more time in the outfield corners last year than at any other time during his career. He projects as a platoon corner outfielder, especially if last year’s swing changes were just the start of a continuous, upward trend in power output.

37. Curtis Taylor, RHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2016 from British Columbia (ARI)
Age 23.5 Height 6′ 6″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 55/60 45/50 40/45 93-97 / 98

This is another reliever who, based on usage patterns, it appears is being developed for some kind of multi-inning role, perhaps to follow the opener. Taylor was acquired from Arizona for Brad Boxberger, and after the Dbacks had taken his early-career development slowly (Taylor was a raw college arm from Canada), the Rays hit the gas pedal and quickly moved him to Montgomery in May. He thrived there, typically throwing 35 to 50 pitches once every three to five days. Most of those pitches were mid-90s fastballs that played up due to big extension, while some were above-average sliders. On paper, this reads like a standard two-pitch middle reliever, and for that reason, it’s fair to question whether Taylor’s usage might be caricaturing his velocity, and if his fastball would be this hard on back-to-back days, or if his usage were more variable. But if this is just how Tampa Bay is going to use him, then this is the stuff. Taylor threw 78 innings in 38 games. His four starts were some of his shortest outings. It’s possible Taylor’s usage has been for developmental reasons, but we tend to think he’s being prepared for a fairly distinctive role.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2015 from Wilson HS (CA) (TBR)
Age 21.9 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/45 60/60 35/50 35/30 40/50 55/55

Betts was one of the most heavily-scouting prep prospects in recent memory, maturing early as a catcher with a plus arm and plus raw power from a strong prep program in Long Beach, CA that has produced five first round picks, including Aaron Hicks. Betts looked to be a mid-first round pick in 2015 when a medical showing that he would need Tommy John surgery caused him to slip to the second round. Betts missed the summer after signing for surgery, played 39 games in 2016, then played just seven games in 2017 due to injury. 2018 was his breakout year on many fronts: he stayed healthy the whole season, caught 63 of the 72 games in which he played, and made his first appearance at a full-season level. Betts turns 22 during spring training and still has plenty to prove — some scouts doubted his ability to catch as an amateur and some still do as a pro — but the arrow is pointing up in that regard as well.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 19.0 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/50 45/55 25/45 60/60 40/50 60/60

Ramirez is still a under-the-radar as a prospect: he wasn’t a top pedigree amateur, signing for $300,000 when the Rays were in the international penalty box, and has only played in the US as a very limited participant in instructional league. He made quite an impression on the scouts who have been able to see him for his loud tools: plus batspeed, running speed, and arm strength, to go along with a chance to stick at shortstop. Ramirez has put on about 20 pounds since signing, with one scout comparing his frame and toolset to Jose Ramirez’s, though the skills and feel for the game are obviously not even close to that. He also has a good plate approach but can play out of control at times, especially at shortstop. Ramirez likely will head to GCL in 2019 at age 19.

40. Kean Wong, 2B
Drafted: 4th Round, 2013 from Waiakea HS (HI) (TBR)
Age 23.8 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/50 45/45 35/40 50/50 50/50 50/50

In his second straight year at Triple-A, Wong hit .282/.345/.406 (the highest SLG% of his career, which coincided with a modest-but-relevant 5 percentage point drop in groundball rate) and started seeing action in left field in addition to his usual time at second and third. We don’t think he plays every day, but lefty bats with that kind of positional flexibility are good role players, and Wong is ready for the big leagues right now. The infield situation in Tampa Bay is very crowded and Wong may need a change of scenery to get an opportunity.

41. Tristan Gray, 2B
Drafted: 13th Round, 2017 from Rice (PIT)
Age 22.8 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/45 50/50 40/50 50/50 45/50 50/50

Like Ford Proctor a few spots later on this list, Gray was a three-year starter at Rice as a middle infielder and likely projects as a utility guy at the next level. To contrast with Proctor, Gray was a lankier-framed prospect who has slowly filled out and added noticeable loft to his swing this year, so there’s more impact with the bat than there is with Proctor. He’s started playing some shortstop to develop that utility profile, but is a little lesser with the glove than Proctor, fitting better at second base long-term with emergency shortstop ability.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Venezuela (MIN)
Age 22.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 145 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/50 45/45 30/40 50/50 45/50 55/55

Then with Minnesota, Palacios got red hot during the early part of 2017 and looked like he might be turning a corner. Teams saw him as a multi-positional infielder with good feel for contact, but were forced to revisit that evaluation when Palacios had a long stretch during which he was also hitting for power. He was promoted, his performance regressed, and he was traded to Tampa Bay for Jake Odorizzi just before the 2018 season. It seems as though the upper levels of the minors have begun to take advantage of Palacios’ epicurean pitch selection, as his numbers continued to decline in 2018. His tools still indicate a utility and pinch-hitting role is possible, but Palacios hasn’t hit for a year and a half now, so we’re less confident he gets there.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Venezuela (TBR)
Age 22.3 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 211 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/60 40/45 35/40 92-95 / 97

Tampa Bay’s usage of Romero suggests they may be developing him with a multi-inning role in mind, as 17 of his 26 appearances in 2018 were of the multi-inning variety. Visually though, he looks like a two-pitch, single-inning reliever, though potentially a very good one, as he’ll flash the occasional 70-grade curveball. A well below average athlete and strike-thrower, there’s skepticism that Romero will improve his command deficiencies, but his stuff is very good. He struggled with a late-season promotion to Hi-A and should return there in 2019. He could move quickly if the command suddenly clicks, but we don’t think it will.

44. Miguel Lara, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 21.5 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
65/65 45/50 50/60 30/40 92-96 / 99

Lara’s delivery evokes a Tesla Coil; mid-90s lightning shoots out of this seemingly unstable thing, a delivery unlike any other in baseball. So funky and violent is Lara’s cross-body, side-arm style of throwing that it’s rare for any two consecutive deliveries of his to look even kind of the same. He only projects in relief, and a lack of control may eventually be his complete undoing as a prospect, but Lara also has a premium three-pitch mix on par with modern high-leverage relievers. His arm slot alone makes him a tough at-bat for righties and his changeup stifles lefties. He may have three functionally plus pitches at peak and be a dynamic bullpen stopper, or he may have strike-throwing issues that make him unrosterable. This is one of the more volatile relief prospects in the minors.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Westview HS (CA) (TBR)
Age 19.8 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/50 45/55 45/50 45/55 89-93 / 94

As the 2017 draft approached, it seemed like there was a strong possibility that Mercado would matriculate to Stanford. It was unclear if circumstances would align in such a way that he’d find a home; it would take a team that had a strong evaluation of Mercado (some teams were more apt to project on his fastball than others), a pick near where his talent level made sense, and the pool space to coax him away from college. It turned out the Rays were that team, and Mercado signed for $2.1 million, about $400,000 over slot, as a second rounder. After a year and a half of pro ball, Mercado’s stuff is basically the same. His fastball resides in the low-90s and he’ll show you an above-average curveball and changeup once in a while. He has better command than is usual for a pitcher of this age and size, so he comfortably projects as a starter, likely of the No. 4 or 5 variety.

46. Sandy Gaston, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Cuba (TBR)
Age 17.1 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/70 45/55 45/50 30/45 93-96 / 100

Gaston was a 15-year-old Cuban defector and right around his 16th birthday, he hit 100 mph on some guns in short stints working out for teams. That nearly unprecedented velocity for his age obviously garnered a lot of attention in the scouting community, though he was, as you’d guess, still very raw and often had 20 control when he was scraping triple digits. Gaston also isn’t classically projectable in that his velocity is already at the top of the scale and he has a maturely-built frame at 6-foot, but he did some arm slot and arm action tinkering over the last few years that has affected his control and command. So while Gaston may get stronger as he physically matures, what’s more important is the projection of his feel for pitching, which appears to be more natural at a three-quarters arm slot (more mid-90s velocity), where his arm action is also more naturally online than the higher slot where he was throwing harder and wilder. Gaston’s best pitching performance was as the main event on the mound at the Victor Victor Mesa workout in Marlins Park where the better version of his arm slot, arm action, and control was first seen by a large scouting audience. His best off-speed pitch is a solid average curveball and he also has a changeup that flashes average, so the full stuff package, beyond just the fastball, is also top of the scale elite, but Gaston is also hard to project given the varied looks he’s given scouts over the last year.

35+ FV Prospects

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2016 from Paxton HS (FL) (TBR)
Age 21.3 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

After a breakout 2017, Franklin took his fastball/curveball combination to Bowling Green and made 15 mostly unremarkable starts there before tearing his UCL. He had Tommy John near the end of July. We likely won’t see Franklin again until late next year, and he might end up throwing the bulk of his innings during instructs or Fall League. The time off means missed reps with a third pitch, and a greater likelihood that Franklin ends up in relief, which was already a possibility given his delivery and limited control.

48. Ford Proctor, SS
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2018 from Rice (TBR)
Age 22.1 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+

Proctor started nearly every game in his three year career at Rice at shortstop (alongside Tristan Gray, a fellow Ray after a trade from Pittsburgh) and the steady performer peaked in his draft year. He’s a decent shortstop with a chance to stick, but like many players in the Rays system, he’s on the spectrum between lock-down shortstop and second base-only. Proctor is near the bottom of the middle infielders on the list for now because the tools aren’t impact (below average raw power, average speed, solid average arm), and the questions around his defense are more on range and explosiveness than hands or instincts. He’s a flatter-planned, all-fields approach type who projects as a utilityman if the bat plays as expected, but one scout pointed out that this was almost exactly the report on Taylor Walls a year ago, and foresees a similar rise for Proctor in 2019.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (SEA)
Age 20.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Gregorio came over to Tampa Bay from Seattle as the player to be named later in the deal that saw the Mariners acquire Mike Marjama (who is now retired) and Ryan Garton (who has made 13 MLB appearance in a year-plus with Seattle, mostly pitching in Triple-A) in exchange for Luis Rengifo and Anthony Misiewicz. The trade looked bad in hindsight with Rengifo’s (now with the Angels) emergence early in 2018 but looks even worse now with Gregorio’s continued improvement for the Rays. Gregorio has put on considerable strength since the trade but is still an average runner and is showing plus raw power. The power is starting to show up in games and exit velocities, and the strength has helped him add bat control, which assists with both contact and game power. Gregorio may fit best at third base longterm, but he has above average range for the position and a plus arm, so Tampa Bay will give him a chance to develop as a shortstop, as is their tendency. He looks ticketed for Low-A for his age 20/21 season and is a prime example of what can happen when a skinny but projectable athlete grows into some man strength.

50. Taj Bradley, RHP
Drafted: 5th Round, 2018 from Redan HS (GA) (TBR)
Age 17.8 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Bradley popped a bit in the spring at his Atlanta-area high school when his velo took a step forward and he was sitting in the low-90s. That’s not super surprising since Bradley has a clean arm action and some projection to his frame, but the change in perception was mostly because he was the youngest prep prospect in the country — he’ll be 17 even during spring training, younger than many top prospects for the 2019 MLB Draft. Bradley still needs to clean up his delivery some, throw his changeup more often, and fine-tune his command, but his fastball/curveball combo both project for above average, so there’s clearly something to work with here.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 19.0 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Peguero was the MVP of the 2018 DSL champion Rays. He’s already 19 (on the older end of the spectrum for prospects in the DSL) but is otherwise a well-rounded prospect. He has a good build and is a good athlete, with good stuff (91-94, up to 96 with a 2400 spin rate on the breaking ball), and on-mound poise. We have him evaluated the way we would an older high school arm who could go anywhere from the third to fifth round in the draft.

Drafted: 4th Round, 2018 from Tulane (TBR)
Age 22.3 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+

Witherspoon benefitted from a big draft spring for Tulane, jumping from two campaigns with a .700-something OPS to a 1.023 OPS and 33 extra base hits in 58 games. The upside here still isn’t huge, with all five tools right around average, but Witherspoon has the feel to hit and defend such that he could be a good platoon outfielder who can play all three spots and get a bulk of the at-bats. The realistic outcome if the bat plays and the 22-year-old moves relatively quickly through the minors is a 450 plate appearance outfielder with fringy offense who plays above average corner defense.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Venezuela (TBR)
Age 18.1 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 207 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

It’s not abundantly clear whether or not Rodriguez will be able to catch as, at age 18, he’s already a pretty big, long-levered kid who was initially unsure if he even wanted to try it. But Rodriguez can really hit. He has excellent timing, bat control, and feel for all-fields contact, and he can open up and get his barrel on pitches inside. He might end up at first base or in an outfield corner, but he might hit enough to profile at those spots and if he can catch, his ceiling is sizable.

54. Victor Munoz, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (TBR)
Age 18.1 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Munoz signed for $442,000 in the 2017 July 2nd period as a second-tier projection arm in the class and he’s already showing some progress just over a year after signing. He’s 6-foot-4, 170 pounds, with an easy delivery and was already touching 95 mph this summer in the DSL, showing starter traits and spinning a solid average curveball at times. Munoz is roughly the same age and competition level as Taj Bradley, who is a few spots ahead of Munoz on the list. Munoz may have a hair more upside due to projection but Bradley has been seen a lot by scouts over the past year while Munoz was very lightly seen, so we’re in a bit of wait-and-see mode here.

Other Prospects of Note

Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category.

Young Positional Prospects
Tony Pena, LF
Daiwer Castellanos, CF
Stir Candelario, RF
Aldenis Sanchez, CF
Carlos Vargas, 1B
Kaleo Johnson, 3B

Pena is raw for a 21-year-old but he crushed the Appy League and has plus power, and notably high exit velos. Castellanos, 18, is a spark plug outfielder with plus speed and good feel for the strike zone. There’s risk he’s a fourth outfielder or a Gregor Blanco type of everyday player, but this kind of profile tends to overperform. Candelario, also 18, has a traditional right field profile, including a 70 arm and big pull power. Sanchez is 20 and spent 2018 in the GCL. He’s a rangy, athletic 6-foot-2 and runs well. He could be an above-average defensive center fielder at peak. Vargas, 19, was acquired in the first Mariners Mallex Smith trade. He was a DSL shortstop at the time but he’s filled out to the point where he’ll probably need to move to first base. He has 70 raw power projection but needs to hit a ton to profile. Johnson was a 32nd round pick this summer from Montana State Billings and impressed some pro scouts after signing as a lottery ticket type with plus raw power that showed up in games (and in exit velos) with some chance to stick at third base.

Young Latin American Pitchers
Wikelman Ramirez, RHP
Angel Felipe, RHP
Franklin Dacosta, LHP
Carlos Garcia, RHP
Rodolfo Sanchez, RHP

Ramirez, 18, only threw eight GCL innings due to injury, and he recently had TJ. When healthy, he looked like a potential No. 4 or 5 starter thanks to a low-90s sinker, plus changeup, and average breaking ball. Felipe has been a slow mover and spent the first four years of his career in rookie ball. That’s typically not a great sign, but he throws really hard (up to 100 mph) and is 6-foot-6, so maybe the rest comes later. He’s 21. Dacosta, 18, has a vertical arm slot that should enable him to run four seamers (up to 94) past hitters at the letters, and his curveball has vertical action that will compliment that pitching approach. Garcia was also a little old for the DSL but he throws a heavy, mid-90s fastball and is an interesting relief prospect. Sanchez, 19, is an athletic 5-foot-10 and has a fast arm. He’s been up to 95 and can spin a breaking ball. Most of these guys profile as relievers, save for Ramirez who would have been on the main section of the list if not for his surgery.

Utility Types
Gionti Turner, 2B
Zach Rutherford, SS
Daury Del Rosario, SS

Turner was acquired from Cleveland this offseason for Chih-Wei Hu; a full report is available here. Rutherford is totally competent at just about everything but lacks a carrying tool. He performed at Low-A last year but college bats should do that. Del Rosario signed for $600,000 in July. He’s a switch-hitter who probably fits better at second or third in the long run, and he has fringy bat speed but a track record of hitting.

Catcher Depth
Roberto Alvarez, C
David Rodriguez, C
Rene Pinto, C

Alvarez, 19, had a growth spurt and exceeded expectations in the Appy league as a 19-year-old. He has 50 raw power, a 45 arm, and is a good receiver. He was the last cut from the main section of the list and we think he gets there next spring. Rodriguez is a glove-first catcher with some pop who could be a second or third catcher. Pinto is a bat-first catcher whose glove has started to come along. If viable back there, he could be a backup.

Pitchability Guys
Riley O’Brien, RHP
Rollie Lacy, RHP
Jose Mujica, RHP
Simon Rosenblum-Larson, RHP
Blake Bivens, RHP
Luis Moncada, LHP
Alan Strong, RHP
Josh Fleming, LHP
Joe Ryan, RHP
Tommy Romero, RHP

O’Brien, whose grandfather played for the Pirates in the ’50s, might break out next year. He’s a well-made 6-foot-4 righty who was a 2017 eighth rounder out of Idaho. He pitched well out of Bowling Green’s bullpen early in 2018, was moved to the rotation, kept pitching well, and was promoted to Charlotte. He could end up with a plus fastball and curveball combo. Lacy as been traded twice in the last year. He’s a strike-throwing changeup specialist who projects as a sport starter. Bivens, Moncada, and Strong all have low-90s fastballs with average secondary stuff and command. Rosenblum-Larson sits 90-94 mph with a mid-80s slider from a low slot that reminds some of Steven Cishek, and he went to Harvard, so you’ll never stop hearing about that if Rosenblum-Larson makes the big leagues. Fleming pounds the zone with three solid average pitches from the left side. Romero has some projection left and a deceptive fastball that could help him become one of the 2nd-to-6th inning sort of pitchers that Tampa Bay used this season. Ryan has an ultra-loose arm, which is the reason scouts are projecting more stuff to come from his 88-93 mph heater and average secondary stuff.

Potential Relievers
Michael Plassmeyer, LHP
Travis Ott, LHP
Jhonleider Salinas, RHP
Brandon Koch, RHP
Nick Sprengel, LHP

Plassmeyer was Seattle’s 2018 fourth rounder, who they traded to Tampa in the Mike Zunino deal. He’s an athletic, low-slot lefty with average stuff that plays because he has great command. Ott, too, has average stuff that plays up because he has low-slot funk. He has lefty specialist projection. Salinas was acquired from Cleveland for Brandon Guyer. He’s a monster 6-foot-7 with premium arm strength and middling secondary stuff. Koch is yet another Rays arm who had surgery in June. He’s a quintessential two-pitch power relief prospect with a mid-90s fastball and slider. Sprengel looked like a second rounder (low-90s sinker, above average slider, starter look) as an underclassman at San Diego but developed concerning strike-throwing issues as a junior. He’ll be interesting if his feel for pitching can bounce back.

System Overview

The Rays have made some fascinating decisions in the past few years in an effort to make their small market payroll work without a new stadium on the horizon. They seem to be shooting for an 85-win baseline with a sustainable payroll every year (an accomplishment on its own), and then will either look to use pieces from the major league roster to stock the system if things play out worse than hoped (the Chris Archer deal), or consolidate pieces and make a run if the stars align. This mean trading a lot of assets (first or second-year arbitration eligible starters) most clubs would want to hold on to for multiple upper level minor leaguers of comparable upside (think the Steven Souza deal). Currently, the club appears to be considering some consolidation moves given its glut of MLB-ready talent, particularly in the middle infield, though the tight competitive window in the AL East may be more attractive when the Red Sox lose a few core players over the next few seasons (or the Yankees keep humming and the Blue Jays surge, and it never gets particularly attractive).

On the acquisition front, the Rays’ fortunes in the draft have improved since a particularly poor run a few years back, which many thought was more bad luck than a terrible process, while the international department is in the top tier in baseball. This has been helped by the emergence of Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan, Jesus Sanchez, and Ronaldo Hernandez in the last 12 months, but there are prospects all over the list, largely without big bonuses, who follow a similar distribution as those on the lists of other top international programs.

Similar to the Yankees, the Rays are in the midst of a 40-man crunch that won’t let up anytime soon, with some trades, such as the Genesis Cabrera and Justin Williams for Tommy Pham deal, influenced by trying to clear 40-man spots with young players that aren’t 25-man quality yet. It’s unusual to see a small market team give up first-year arb players for prospects, while also giving up prospects near the majors in return for big leaguers, but such is the situation the Rays have found themselves in.

Effectively Wild Episode 1325: Book Learning

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Willians Astudillo and the Sonny Gray trade, then (19:11) bring on Padres podcaster David Marver to talk about the Padres supposedly opening their books, what information the team actually revealed, the ways in which that information may be incomplete or misleading, why Padres ownership hasn’t spent more, San Diego as an underrated downtrodden sports town, the Padres’ top-ranked farm system and future, year one of the Eric Hosmer experience, and more.

Audio intro: The Rock*A*Teens, "Count in Odd Numbers"
Audio interstitial: Joel Plaskett, "Forever in Debt"
Audio outro: Juliana Hatfield, "Paid to Lie"

Link to article about Astudillo getting drafted
Link to Jeff’s post about Gray
Link to article about Padres’ finances
Link to article on 20th anniversary of “The Pitch”
Link to Gwyntelligence Podcast
Link to Great American Dream Podcast
Link to preorder The MVP Machine

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Sonny Gray Is Now the Reds’ Problem to Solve

In 2016, the Reds’ rotation ranked last in the majors in WAR. The next year, they improved, sliding all the way up to 29th. This past season, they wound up in 26th, and over the combined three-year sample, we find the Reds in 30th place out of 30 teams, nearly a full six WAR behind the next-worst White Sox. It hasn’t been for lack of talent; it’s been for lack of execution, for lack of development. The Reds, at some point, decided they weren’t going to take it anymore. Earlier in this offseason, the rotation added Alex Wood. Earlier in this offseason, the rotation added Tanner Roark. And now we have a holiday three-team exchange, bringing just another starting arm to Cincinnati.



  • GET:
  • LOSE:
    • Sonny Gray
    • Reiver Sanmartin


  • GET:
    • Shed Long
  • LOSE:
    • Josh Stowers

Wood is going into his contract season. The same is true of Roark. The same is also true of outfield acquisition Yasiel Puig. The same is true of Matt Kemp. The same was true of Gray, but as a part of this trade, Gray and the Reds have agreed on a three-year extension, beginning in 2020 and worth $30.5 million. There’s a $12-million club option for 2023, and there are various salary escalators involved. The Reds are paying a high price here, but at least they’re doing it for a long-term player. And from the Yankees’ perspective, they knew it was going to get here eventually. Playing in New York, Gray just couldn’t succeed. Now it’s the Reds’ turn to work with the same puzzle pieces.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 1/21/19

Sunday Notes: Blue Jays Prospect Chavez Young is a Bahamian On the Rise

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Chavez Young came out of nowhere to become one of the hottest prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. But he is following an atypical path. The 21-year-old outfielder grew up in the Bahamas before moving stateside as a teen, and going on to be selected in the 39th round of the 2016 draft out of Faith Baptist Christian Academy, in Ludowici, Georgia.

Since that time he’s become a shooting star. Playing for the Lansing Lugnuts in the Low-A Midwest League this past season, Young stroked 50 extra-base hits, stole 44 bases, and slashed a rock-solid .285/.363/.445.

How did a player with his kind of talent last until the 1,182nd pick of the draft?

“I wasn’t a person to go to All-American Games, Perfect Game, or showcases like that,” Young told me late in the 2018 season. “Growing up, we didn’t have money enough for me to get that kind of exposure. It was just, ‘If a scout sees me, a scout sees me.’ The Blue Jays scout, Mike Tidick came from something like three hours away. He heard about me (in 2014) and decided to see where I was at.”

Tidick received the tip from Gene Reynolds, who now runs Georgia Premier Academy but at the time was coaching Young at Faith Baptist Christian School in Brandon, Florida.

“Gene knew I was with the Blue Jays,” explained Tidick, who resides in Statesboro, Georgia. “He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you take a ride down here and I’ll work these guys out for you.’ I did, and was like, ‘Whoa, OK.’ This kid was running around with his hair on fire. He had tools. He was playing center field. He was a switch-hitter who could run. There was a lot to like. I followed him all that spring.”

Other teams weren’t onto the young Bahamian until much later. It wasn’t until he moved to Georgia for his senior year — he was in Florida for two years — that his name was garnering any appreciable attention. Young eventually ended up talking to “10 or 12 different scouts,” with most of those conversations coming closer to the draft.

It’s still somewhat of a mystery how he ended up lasting until the 39th round. Young had college plans, but it’s not as though he had Kyler Murray-type leverage. Regardless of where he went, inking him to a contract wasn’t going to break anyone’s bank.

“We didn’t know what to expect with him — the draft is hard to predict — but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d have been gone by the fifth round,” Tidick told me. “He’s a good story so far, and I have no doubt that he’s going to continue to keep doing what he’s doing. His makeup and work ethic are off the charts, and he’s got a chip on his shoulder because of when he got drafted. He wants to prove something.”

The chip on the youngster’s shoulder may be sturdy, but it isn’t engrained with anger. Having spent his formative years in a country where track and field is king — Young excelled in both the 400 and the 800 meters — and baseball almost an afterthought, he’s mostly just happy to be getting an opportunity.

“I picture it as, ‘It was a blessing to be drafted,’” said Young, who according to Tidick was planning to attend Polk State College if he didn’t sign professionally. “A lot of kids in the world want to play professional baseball. I got picked up by the Blue Jays. I’m grateful to be able to play the game I love, and want to make my family proud.”


Will Benson hasn’t lacked for opportunities. Athletically gifted, he grew up in Atlanta excelling on both the hardwood and the diamond. Academically, he would have matriculated from the prestigious Westminster School to Duke University had he not signed with the Cleveland Indians after being taken 14th overall in the 2016 draft.

He recognizes that many others — particularly young African-Americans — don’t have the same opportunities he’s had. That’s particularly true when it comes to his chosen sport.

“A lot of guys I knew growing up were good at baseball, but they didn’t stick with baseball,” Benson told me last summer. “They chose football instead. Going back and talking to them, one thing they’ve told me about not continuing to play baseball is that they couldn’t afford to pay for it. It costs $300 for a bat. It costs thousands of dollars to go to tournaments. There are lessons — batting lessons, pitching lessons — and people don’t have the funds to pay for all of that. Baseball is an expensive sport. It’s a sport that a lot of people in the African-American community look at like, ‘OK, I can go out and play football and all my equipment is paid for. I can get a full scholarship. Basketball is kind of the same thing. All you really need is sneakers and a basketball. It would be great to get the best athletes out there on a baseball field, but for a lot of families the economics make that almost impossible.”

Benson went from playing on almost-exclusively-African-American teams from ages 7-12 to an Atlanta public schools system “where baseball isn’t really heavy.” He had the wherewithal to get into “the high-level travel circuit at East Cobb, but you don’t really see too many black guys there.”

The same is true for professional baseball, most notably MLB. On opening day last year, African-American players made up just 8.4% of big-league rosters. In the early 1980s, that number was a little over 18%. The downturn obviously isn’t good for the game. As the 20-year-old Indians prospect put it, “People want to see the best out there, and the more people we can get into baseball, the better it’s going to be.”



Otto Knabe went 2 for 2 against King Bader.

Kitty Bransfield went 2 for 7 against King Cole.

Queenie O’Rourke went 3 for 4 against King Brady.

Chief Wilson went 3 for 12 against King Lear.

Johnny Temple went 5 for 11 against Nellie King.


Joy In Tigertown, by Mickey Lolich (with Tom Gage), contains an interesting what-could-have-been-trade story. According to the former pitcher, his longtime team was intent on trading Jim Bunning following the 1963 season. They ultimately did, and it turned out to be a disastrous deal. Detroit swapped Bunning to the Phillies in exchange for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton.

That less-then-dynamic duo wasn’t who the Tigers were originally targeting. Per Lolich, the Detroit front office was looking to acquire Felipe Alou from the Giants, only to have San Francisco trade him to the Milwaukee Braves instead. A few days later, Bunning went to Philadelphia for what turned out to be pennies on the dollar. Alou went on to have several stellar seasons with the Braves.

Which beings us to Felipe Alou’s autobiography, which he co-wrote with Peter Kerasotis. Chapter One of Alou: My Baseball Journey begins with the sentence: “My last name is not Alou.”

The native of Santo Domingo explained that when he began his professional career in 1956, “the Latin tradition of placing the mother’s maiden name after the family name wasn’t well known.” As a result, he received a uniform with ‘F. Alou’ on the back. The son of Jose Rojas didn’t yet know enough English to explain the error.

Ozzie Virgil became the first Dominican-born player to reach the big leagues when he debuted with the New York Giants in September 1956. Alou debuted with Giants — newly relocated to San Francisco — in June 1958.



Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Hiroshi Gondo, and Haruo Wakimura have been elected to the Japanese Hall of Fame. Tatsunami played 22 seasons as an infielder with the Chunichi Dragons. Gondo played just five seasons — he was a 30-game winner in two of them — also with Chunichi. He later managed the Yokohama BayStars. Wakimura is a former chairman of the Japan High School Baseball Federation.

Craig Breslow has been hired by the Chicago Cubs as their new Director of Strategic Initiatives for Baseball Operations. The 38-year-old veteran of 12 MLB seasons will reportedly, “help to evaluate and implement data-based processes… (and) support the organization’s pitching infrastructure.”

The Tampa Bay Rays announced several promotions within their baseball operations department on Friday. Notable among them were Cole Figueroa to Assistant Director, Hitting Development, and Jeremy Sowers to Coordinator, Major League Operations. On the coaching front, Brady North will join the staff of the club’s Gulf Coast League affiliate. The 27-year-old Cumberland University graduate had been the director of hitting and mental performance at Top Level Athletes, in Orlando.

Jason Bourgeois is joining the coaching ranks. An outfielder for six teams from 2008-20015, the 37-year-old Bourgeois will be on the coaching staff of the Dodgers’ Midwest League affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons.

Wayne Randazzo, who had been serving as a pregame and postgame host, will join Howie Rose in the New York Mets radio booth this coming season. Randazzo replaces Josh Lewin, who will now be a part of the San Diego Padres broadcast team.

Anders Jorstad been hired by the Lynchburg Hillcats as a Broadcast and Media Relations Assistant. A 2018 graduate of Hofstra University, Jorstad will join Max Gun, a 2015 graduate of Michigan State University, in the radio booth. The Hillcats are the High-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.


Eli Grba died earlier this week at age 84. The former big-leaguer had an unremarkable career on the mound — 28 wins over parts of five seasons — but he does hold a unique set of distinctions. In December 1960, Grba became the first player ever chosen in an expansion draft. By dint of that occurrence, he also became the first player in Los Angeles Angels franchise history. A third first followed, four months later. In April 1960, the then-26-year-old right-hander starter and won the first game in Angels history.

While Grba is otherwise a footnote, two other players the Angels acquired in the 1960 expansion draft went on to have standout careers.

Jim Fregosi, who was just 18 years old when he was selected from the Red Sox organization, went on to play 18 big-league seasons and made six All-Star teams as a shortstop. Dean Chance, selected from the Orioles organization as a 19-year-old, went on to pitch 11 seasons, make two All-Star teams, and win a Cy Young award.


Steve Pearce wasn’t a free agent for long this offseason. Only weeks removed from being named World Series MVP, the 35-year-old journeyman re-upped with the Red Sox on November 16. Others haven’t been so fortunate. For the second winter in a row, the free agency process has moved along like molasses. Pearce is sympathetic to what many members of his baseball brethren are going through.

“It’s not fun when the market moves this slow,” said Pearce, who has signed multiple free agent contracts over the years. “I know that a lot of players are frustrated right now. I’m glad I had the opportunity to sign fast so I don’t have to go through what they’re going through. You get to this point and think that it’s going to be an easy process, but it’s not.”



Former Pawtucket Red Sox broadcaster — and all-around good guy — Steve Hyder is in serious need of a life-saving kidney transplant. Kevin McNamara has the story at The Providence Journal.

Matt Shephard used to call games in his backyard; now he’s the TV voice of the Tigers. Anthony Fenech gave us the particulars at The Detroit Free Press.

At The Athletic, Kaitlyn McGrath told us about how new Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann wants to give his pitchers the data he wishes he’d had.

Over at ESPN Seattle, Shannon Drayer wrote about how additions to the minor league staff continues the Mariners’ technology focus.

Tuffy Rhodes and Masahiro Doi have the credentials, but are yet to be — and perhaps never will be — voted into the Japanese Hall of Fame. Jim Allen wrote about that curious issue at


Jackie Robinson had 1,518 hits, a 132 adjusted OPS, and was worth 57.2 WAR. He was an All-Star six times. Larry Doby had 1,515 hits, a 136 adjusted OPS, and was worth 51.1 WAR. He was an All-Star seven times.

Josh Gibson, who some feel is the greatest catcher in baseball history, died on this date in 1947. The Negro League legend was just 35 years old. Fifty years later, on January 20, 1997, Curt Flood died at age 59. Every free agent who signs a contract owes a debt of gratitude to the seven-time Gold Glove outfielder.

Tony Lazzeri had 7,315 plate appearances and 1,840 hits. Dick Allen had 7,315 plate appearances and 1,848 hits. Lazzeri had 178 home runs and a 121 adjusted OPS. Allen had 351 home runs and a 156 adjusted OPS. Lazzeri is in the Hall of Fame. Allen isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Andruw Jones had 3,690 total bases, a 111 adjusted OPS, 10 Gold Gloves, and was worth 66.9 WAR. He received 7.3% support in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot. Dwight Evans had 4,230 total bases, a 127 adjusted OPS, eight Gold Gloves, and was worth 65.1 WAR. He topped out at 10.4% before falling off the ballot after his third year.

Scott Rolen had 2,077 hits, 316 home runs, seven All-Star berths, and was worth 69.9 WAR. Graig Nettles had 2,225 hits, 390 home runs, six All-Star berths, and was worth 65.7 WAR. Nettles topped out at 8.3% in his four years on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Reggie Jackson had 563 home runs and a 139 adjusted OPS. David Ortiz had 541 home runs and a 141 adjusted OPS. Jackson had 18 home runs and an .885 OPS in the postseason. Ortiz had 17 home runs and a .947 OPS in the postseason.

Kirby Puckett played 1,783 games and had a 124 adjusted OPS. Bill Madlock played 1,806 games and had a 123 adjusted OPS. Puckett played 24 post-season games and batted .309 with an .897 OPS. Madlock played 17 post-season games and batted .308 with an .898 OPS.

John Olerud had 500 doubles and a 129 adjusted OPS. Goose Goslin had 500 doubles and a 128 adjusted OPS.

In 1996, Mariano Rivera fanned a career-high 130 batters in 107-and-two-thirds innings. In 1999, Billy Wagner fanned a career-high 124 batters in 74-and-two-thirds innings.

A total of 247 players made their big-league debuts in 2018. Per our friends at B-Ref, there have now been 19,420 players in MLB history.

Effectively Wild Episode 1324: The Salary Trap

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Willians Astudillo’s final winter league stats, the retirement of Ricky Romero, the upside of a slow market, and the anticlimax of a big free-agent signing, then (11:25) bring on Baseball Prospectus director of editorial content Patrick Dubuque to talk about why we know how much players make, how knowing players’ financial information but not owners’ affects the way we talk about baseball, whether opportunity cost still matters, whether casual fans will ever sympathize with players over owners, how to analyze transactions without fixating on salary, talking about money vs. talking about games, finishing Baseball Prospectus 2019, how the Annual has evolved over time, why we still want the paperbound Annual in the digital age, and more.

Audio intro: Prince, "Money Don’t Matter 2 Night"
Audio interstitial: Built to Spill, "Pat"
Audio outro: Sonic Youth, "That’s All I Know (Right Now)"

Link to Patrick’s article
Link to preorder Baseball Prospectus 2019
Link to preorder The MVP Machine

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Effectively Wild Episode 1323: Bed God

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the Yankees signing Adam Ottavino and the Angels signing Cody Allen, super-pens vs. improvised pens, and Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Trout, then (15:19) bring on Baseball Prospectus writer Sung Min Kim to talk about how the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) has increased its popularity among young people and women, why its in-game experience is so scintillating, how it differs in style and quality from MLB, following two brands of baseball in dramatically different time zones, Korean nicknames for MLB players, players who might make the leap from KBO to MLB, and more.

Audio intro: Dave Rawlings Machine, "Bells of Harlem"
Audio interstitial: Atlas Sound, "Mona Lisa"
Audio outro: The Inbreds, "Oliver"

Link to Sung Min’s KBO primer
Link to Sung Min’s article on KBO’s popularity
Link to preorder The MVP Machine

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FanGraphs Audio: Craig Edwards Notes Several Coincidences

Episode 850

FanGraphs writer Craig Edwards joins the program to discuss this offseason’s chilly free agent market, what Yasmani Grandal’s deal may signal about the state of labor going forward, the decoupling of winning and profit in baseball, and what (apart from a strike) we might write about in the event of a labor stoppage.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @megrowler on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximate 47 min play time.)

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Let’s Fix MLB’s Salary Arbitration System: The Arbitrators

In the last installment of this series, we explored the issues posed by the form the arbitration system takes, as well as the constraints a requirement to make an either/or decision when assessing player and team salary figures puts on arbitrators. Today we’ll take a look at the arbitrators themselves, and how they go about their work. To begin, we know that salary arbitrators are typically labor lawyers.

Salary arbitration cases are presented before a panel of three arbitrators, all of whom are among the top labor arbitrators in the country. Why labor? Because the relationship between the Players Association and the Clubs is grounded in labor law and governed by a collective bargaining agreement. When not hearing salary arbitration cases over the first three weeks of February, the panel arbitrators are presiding over arbitrations in the service industry, the building trades and in various other private and public unionized sectors.

Against that backdrop, it makes some sense that the information that helps determine the outcome of an arbitration hearing is typically more in line with “baseball card” statistics than advanced metrics. Lawyers aren’t supposed to be baseball experts, right?

Hitters are typically evaluated using batting average, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases and plate appearances. There are some positional adjustments, but typically the added defensive value of a shortstop relative to a first baseman is not as important in arbitration hearings as it is on the free agent market. Hitters also can receive larger arbitration awards if they have unique accomplishments, such as winning an MVP award. Pitchers typically are evaluated using innings pitched and earned run average. Starting pitchers are rewarded for wins, and relievers are rewarded for saves and holds. Unique accomplishments, such as Cy Young Awards, matter for pitchers as well.

At the same time, however, it’s unfair – and inaccurate – to say that home runs and runs batted in are all that’s presented in an arbitration. As Jeff Passan relates:

The arguments throughout a case run the gamut. Arbitrators have long rewarded home runs and saves, so they are featured prominently among the players with them, like Oakland’s Khris Davis, who could seek a raise from $10.5 million into the $18 million range. At the same time, the arbitration system is not the antediluvian, abacus-using Luddite-fest it has been portrayed as. The wins above replacement metric is used extensively. So are fielding independent pitching for starters and leverage index for relievers. Statcast data is not allowed in cases, mainly because the league has a far greater plethora of it than the union; and in 2016, when the CBA was signed, the accuracy of spin-rate and launch-angle metrics so vital to modern baseball was not tested out over a large enough sample to warrant their inclusion.

So advanced metrics are making their way into hearing rooms, but are they swaying case outcomes? It doesn’t seem so. MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration model, which is based on those “baseball card” numbers, remains remarkably accurate – suggesting that advanced metrics, to the extent they’re used, aren’t yet carrying as much weight as they perhaps should. Read the rest of this entry »