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Rated Rookies: Late April

Declarative baseball statements on April 24 surely don’t have much of a track record, but let me be clear: this is not, and will not be, the Year of the Rookie. To pretend as though 2013 will hold a candle to 2012 in terms of on-field rookie impact would be a lie. But, our series forges on regardless, and in even in down rookie seasons like this one, there are still phenoms (Jose Fernandez) and there are still great stories (Jim Henderson). Though neither of those solid April performers cracked today’s list.

One thing we have noticed is very strange: the American League offers nothing to chew on. This list contains four names and all are National Leaguers, and frankly, the NL would offer at least 8 rookies before we’d be forced to consider a player from the AL. So, it’s a promise, this list is not biased in favor of the Senior Circuit. It’s just that we’re not yet too excited about Pedro Florimon or T.J. McFarland (your current AL ROY race). Onto this week’s edition…

1. Matt Adams, 1B/PH, St. Louis Cardinals

The key I see from Adams this season is the ability to make adjustments in the middle of an at-bat. Adams has a SwStr% more than five percent above league average, but the bulk of these are occurring early in an at-bat, and oftentimes we’ll see Adams adjust against the same pitch a few pitches later. Let’s track three great examples with the help of the Brooks Baseball Pitch F/X tool.
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Rated Rookies: Week One

One of the great subplots of every Major League season is the rookies that come up and show a glimpse of baseball’s future. It’s what had us enthralled by Jackie Bradley Jr. all spring, what has us dutifully analyzing Julio Teheran appearances, and what has us so eagerly waiting for Jurickson Profar and Wil Myers. This season, we will track rookies, both the prospects and suspects, as they make adjustments to playing in the bigs. This bi-weekly list will highlight rookies who have accomplished the most in 2013, regardless of future projection (though that will always be discussed). These are the players whose week one performances deserve recognition.

1. Dan Straily, RH SP, Athletics

If we’ve learned anything from Yu Darvish this season, it’s that success pitching against the Astros is not exactly analogous to pitching against baseball’s other 29 teams. The Athletics know this, why is probably why just one day after an 11 strikeout, 0 walk performance (a start worth an unofficial 0.6 WAR by our metrics), the A’s were comfortable sending Straily back to Triple-A. As sixth starters go, Straily is an excellent one, with a fastball at 90-93 mph, 83-86 mph slider, and 82-85 mph change (let’s agree to ignore that low 70s curveball, please). He showed great command against the Astros, the best he’s had in all 8 starts at the Major League level.

But, I don’t want to get too wrapped up in Straily’s success. The Astros, as we’re finding out, are a historically swing-and-miss team. All 11 of Straily’s strikeouts were of the swinging variety, and amazingly, nine were against left-handed hitters. Brett Wallace and Rick Ankiel struck out a combined 6 times, all on Straily fastballs. While Baseball America’s scouting report of him, as the A’s #6 prospect, reads “[His] slider and change up are his two best offerings and account for the bulk of his strikeouts,” that wasn’t true against Houston. Eight of the 11 strikeouts were from the fastball, and a remarkable number of them looked like this to Jason Castro — right down the heart of the plate. If you want to see why we simply can’t get too excited about Straily yet, consider the caliber of competition:

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Florida Marlins Farm System Discussion

It’s no secret that success for an organization like the Florida Marlins must begin with a healthy scouting department. This has long been a team that has either used prospects (or homegrown regulars) to acquire greater talent, and filled their 25-man roster with Marlins draftees. Even with the team’s busy November — acquiring Omar Infante, John Buck, Javier Vazquez — this payroll will always be one that demands a foundation of youthful stars.

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San Diego Padres Farm System

The two homegrown members of this year’s stable San Diego Padres rotation, Mat Latos and Wade LeBlanc, are a perfect illustration for the organization’s domestic scouting strategy. No team seems so dogmatic in the belief system that a team should build its farm system by spending big on boom-or-bust high school talent, and create organizational depth with slot-signing collegiate talent. In the 2006 draft, LeBlanc was chosen 272 places ahead of Latos in the draft. But when push came to shove, Latos’ bonus of $1.25 million more than doubled LeBlanc’s (590K), and in this instance, the Padres hit with both. Latos is the star for which they invested, and LeBlanc the dependable asset they believed he was. When scouting strategies reap their rewards, they do so in a big way.

LeBlanc and Latos also make for happier examples than using, say, the team’s first pick in 2004. Or 2007. Or 2008. You see how dangerous a trap negativity can be? Ultimately, this is a farm system that is decidedly mediocre, certainly salvaged by the last regime’s (impressive) insistence on establishing the Padres as players in the international scouting market. While Latos and LeBlanc might leave San Diego to say its method is tried and true, it also feels a bit aged and stubborn. Modernization is necessary, while proper development of the team’s in-house talent could leave this new front office with plenty of talent.

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New York Mets Prospects: Top Tier

One inevitability of a newer, smarter front office is that the June Amateur Draft becomes a more valued commodity. The assumption bodes well for the Mets, who recently have either given draft picks away or spent them on relievers. With Sandy Alderson and company moving in to run things, I have a feeling this team will retain its draft picks, look to add more where they can, and draft a good blend of upside, cost and ready-made talent. And if Alderson can merely maintain the dedication to scouting and development internationally of his predecessor, things will improve here.

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Detroit Tigers Prospects: System Depth

This is an article providing detail on the prospects in the Detroit farm system that were not ranked among the top 10 by Marc Hulet.

We are seeing some consistency with the organizations at the back end of Marc Hulet’s farm system rankings: prospect depth is a problem for this group. However, the reason it’s clear that Detroit is the best organization we’ve written up yet — and, in my opinion, perhaps better than a few in front of it — is that I see three players that had good arguments for the top 10, and a couple others that are solid prospects.

While David Chadd’s early-round strategy leaves his team strong in the top tier, the team needs influences (like Eddie Bane) to help change the reliever-heavy strategy that Chadd has employed in the middle rounds. There are a lot of pitchers in this system that did well enough at big-time college programs, but just seem like longshots to ever contribute beyond a fifth starter role in a big league rotation. Depth in the middle relief department is nice, but it should play a smaller part in roster construction than it seems to in Detroit.

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Detroit Tigers Prospects: Top Tier

This is an article providing detail on the top tiered Detroit Tigers prospects. It is meant as an introductory to fans that don’t follow the farm system, and focuses on the potential WAR they could ultimately contribute as Major Leaguers.

One staple of the David Chadd era as Tigers scouting director has been big, hard-throwing pitchers. It’s no secret in the industry that Chadd uses every chance he can — and almost every dollar — to get guys like Scott Green, Casey Crosby, Jacob Turner, guys with big traditional pitching frames with already-present big league velocity. In many cases, like with Rick Porcello or Andrew Miller, it was Chadd paying top dollar for talent when other teams were scared off by bonus demands. So, in one sense, the guy loves big pitchers.

But, as he proved this year, the trend isn’t refined to hurlers, though he hasn’t had an elite offensive prospect in his system since Cameron Maybin. Chadd believes that first rounders are a bargain at any price, so if he has to break a record to get forty-fourth overall pick Nick Castellanos signed for top five money, he’ll do it if the talent is there. In 2009, he didn’t have a hitter in the first round that appealed like Castellanos, but the team went big dollars on sixth rounder Daniel Fields. And because of it, for the first time since a time I can’t remember, the Tigers have two must-follow offensive prospects. Trust that Chadd has the top-end pitchers, too, and you see an organization healthy at the top.

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Houston Astros Farm System Depth

Depth is still a developing concept for this Houston Astros farm system. It’s hard to have a failure at the top of the 2006 draft and a calculated decision to pass on the 2007 draft (costing them Derek Dietrich, Brett Eibner and Chad Bettis) and maintain organizational depth. But it’s coming, and after one more Bobby Heck draft in 2011, they should be able to make their way up Hulet’s farm system rankings next season. I have faith in Heck, though he needs to exhibit better drafting from rounds 3 to eight or so.

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Houston Astros Must-Follow Prospects

Going to alter the format of this a little bit. Since I have argued that prospects should be evaluated in the context of the WAR they might produce, my Must-Follow Prospect articles for each team will evaluate those players in that context. I think this will help blend the statistical coverage into the scouting opinion that has me choose which players to focus on.

Cynically, it’s hard for me to see more than one must-follow prospect in the Astros farm system. This is an organization that didn’t value the draft prior to 2010, failing to sign numerous players that went on to be drafted highly elsewhere, and then put together a 2010 draft that I don’t think valued upside properly. The team is starting to build a nice bit of pitching depth, and should one day be able to field an above-average rotation. But for spots on a down-the-line depth chart to be depended on acquired talent from outside the organization is damning.

Jordan Lyles, the team’s top prospect by a country mile, is the only prospect in the organization who Astros fans can have reasonable expectations that he’ll exceed four wins above replacement. It was a benefit to the fan base that Lyles struggled by traditional numbers in a six-start trial at Triple-A, because before then, his manager was talking about a potential September call-up. The team correctly resisted that urge, and they must do the same out of Spring Training to ensure the pitcher is around in 2017. It might only be until then, said without snark, that the team is contending again.

After the jump, a look at Lyles in the context of the statistics that will be used to determine his worth.

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Chicago White Sox Farm System Depth

You have seen a detailed report on the must-follow prospects in the White Sox system, and Marc Hulet’s ranking of the top 10 guys in the system. This is a list of the other guys, who you haven’t read about today, that the die-hard fans will know and want mentioned.

Given the White Sox International Scouting Department problems, and the issues they had with bad drafting for a few years, the lack of depth in this system should not be a huge surprise. The farm system hasn’t been a commodity as valued in a Kenny Williams-run organization as his competitors. It’s a tool to use in trades, and at some point, that philosophy is going to thin things out until your scouting director can replenish them. We are, at least, a year away from this happening for the White Sox.

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