Dear Fangraphs community,
This will be the last post I write for Fangraphs. I am stepping aside to let someone else have the same wonderful exposure I was given, where you readers are hungry for information and willing to debate. I’ve enjoyed the feedback and getting to meet and talk to a great many new people, both in baseball and in the blogosphere. I hope you as the recipients have gotten at least a bit of the same enjoyment out of the content I have written over the past seven months.
When I took this job at the beginning of the offseason, I saw it as a unique opportunity to see a ton of players and become better as a scout, and I feel I have accomplished that. I have a lot of ideas and research interests that spawned out of this experience, and some that have been waiting a few years for my full attention. With all my time going into doing the best I could for this space, many of my other projects have been put on the back burner, and now it’s time I branch out in the interest of some new endeavors.
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Heading into the season, there were a lot of question marks about the Dodgers rotation, but so far, the team’s struggling offense and bullpen have received a big boost from a pitching staff led by Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda; their starters currently rank fifth in WAR. Ross Stripling has been a nice early surprise for the team, and while Alex Wood’s ERA remains too high, his underlying metrics suggest that he still can help the team. Scott Kazmir’s struggles are perhaps most worrisome, but if he can stop giving up home runs, he should be serviceable as well.
And if any of the big leaguers falter, there is help on the way. In the minors, Jose De Leon made his first start of the 2016 season on Tuesday, the delay being partly due to a minor ankle injury and also the product of an effort to keep his innings low in the early going. When de Leon’s debut came the day before Julio Urias’ most recent start, I decided to watch both via MILB.tv.
As Susan Slusser with the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday, Sean Manaea will be called up to start Friday’s game in Oakland against Mike Fiers and the Houston Astros. Manaea made a decent case for making the rotation out of spring training, tallying 16 strikeouts in 14.1 innings, but the seven walks allowed over the same period gave the A’s enough reason to start him in Triple-A Nashville.
Across three starts in Nashville, he has been lights out on the mound. Only three runs have crossed the plate against him in 18 innings pitched, while 21 batters have struck out and just four have reached via free passes. That level of performance was enough for Oakland to feel comfortable bringing him up to the majors in lieu of a fourth appearance for the Sounds. But what can we expect from him out of this start, and (presumably) those going forward in an A’s uniform?
The Nationals have an extremely interesting system, highlighted by a handful of consensus big-upside prospects in Lucas Giolito, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, and Reynaldo Lopez. Though it doesn’t have the name recognition throughout that some of the top-rated teams have, this is one of the more exciting organizations to cover as a prospector (prospectator?). The Auburn and Hagerstown affiliates may end up being the most exciting groups to watch by mid-season.
In general, the Nationals seem to have found a niche bringing in a ton of underrated hit-tool-heavy guys that are hitting their stride at the same time. Expect a lot of turnover with this list by next year, as the top guys are due for full-time gigs in Washington, and the upside prospects start to separate themselves a bit more. If you could criticize any part of the system, there are a few less high-upside arms in the lower minors than many teams like to stockpile. In terms of total value, however, this group doesn’t have a problem stacking up against the rest of the league.
Following the top four are a sizable number of 50+ prospects who provide the big-league club with sufficient low-cost resources to hold them over until their talented crop of players in the lower levels have time to sort themselves out. Though I find myself lower on a few popular prospects like Pedro Severino, Juan Soto and Rafael Bautista, I am equally more enthusiastic than most on less established players like Telmito Agustin, Kelvin Gutierrez and Taylor Hearn.
The top of the Blue Jays system saw an almost complete overhaul with the trades and promotions of the past year. It obviously has been for the best, as many of the organization’s first-year contributors played well last season — even if the minor leagues appear a little barren at a quick glance. Fortunately, the system remains filled with a lot of upside at the lower levels, and recent drafts have only helped to strengthen that depth, even if it is of the higher risk variety.
Anthony Alford is the only impact bat I see, with a few potentially useful position players in above the 45+ future-value line. Rowdy Tellez and Richard Urena both have upside with the bats, but each has enough question marks to keep them from being reliable prospects to project at the big-league level. I still like Max Pentecost’s chances of becoming an average producer, though that possibility is very dependent on his ability to return to health.
The pitching side is a bit stronger at the moment, headlined by Conner Greene and Sean Reid-Foley. I like both of their chances of remaining starters and being solid contributors, and there are a slew of lower-level hurlers with interesting qualities that could jump up this list by next year.
The strength of this system may be in the 40+ FV players and those who are just off the list. That group is filled with tremendous raw athletes, bounceback candidates and recent draftees with moderate upsides. While those kinds of profiles are risky for counting on any one prospect, the sheer volume of guys they have in those categories bodes well for a couple of them putting things together and moving toward higher end of the list.
The Rangers have assembled a pretty amazing collection of talent, one that enabled them to participate actively in the trade market last season without mortgaging their long-term success. They have an impressive mix of offense and defense among their higher-end prospects, though the hitters in this system, particularly, give them one of the best offensive pipelines in the league. Not only have they continued to be aggressive on the international market, but they are making solid picks in the draft and seem to have figured something out as an organization when it comes to bringing athletic hitters along.
You’ll see mostly familiar names at the top of the list, though Joey Gallo’s ongoing contact issues keep him from appearing ahead of some of the Rangers’ more well-rounded prospects like Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara. I’m really expecting big things out of Brinson’s bat, as his combination of present ability and future development is unparalleled by most minor-league hitters in the game. Luis Ortiz is a bit of an enigma for me, because projecting his stuff makes him look like a rotation front-man, but projecting his body may have him resembling a front man from a different discipline.
Perhaps the two biggest surprises are at number seven and eight, with Ronald Guzman and Ariel Jurado appearing higher than elsewhere. Jurado’s presence is mostly a function of my grouping prospects by likely outcome rather than ceiling, since his floor seems to be as a big-league starter. Guzman, however, is a hit-first first baseman who hasn’t shown enough power to be a legitimate future big leaguer, but I like enough about his swing and expected physical development to see more than just good upside.
It’s an exciting time to be a Rangers fan, since their somewhat surprising run at the postseason makes them more fun to watch in the immediate future, while their vast array of quality prospects gives them plenty of ammunition to supplement the team. Should they need more reinforcements beyond promoting their higher-level guys, they have enough quality depth to swing another big trade this season.
The Rays system has considerable upside and depth throughout its minor-league levels. Reviewing the organization, I was particularly struck with how many pitchers I liked, including many whom I figured wouldn’t be able to stick as starting pitchers but would be very viable members of the bullpen. Indeed, most of their near-ready starting options are already in the majors or well on their way to becoming relievers. Blake Snell and Brent Honeywell give them a lot of upside while the club waits for some of their lower-level pitchers to develop.
Though I find that I’m less sold on many of the more popular bats, or at least those who are closer to the big leagues, there are a ton of options both as future regulars and as valuable role players who can succeed in situational exposure. Luckily, the Rays have been awesome at maximizing those types of assets, so even if more hitting prospects flame out, they have a strong pipeline to supplement the core at the major-league level.
On that note, I really like Kevin Padlo and Adrian Rondon as prospects who will take at least a few years to make it to the parent club. You’ll see I’m much less optimistic on Richie Shaffer and Casey Gillaspie despite their solid years in 2015. Shaffer’s power probably gets him a shot in the big leagues soon, but his lack of overall value makes him a fringe option in my opinion. Gillaspie could just be a case of hand-eye coordination and raw strength making up for unathletic moves, but I need to see him face better pitching before trusting his results more than what I see him doing with the bat, and he too has limited value elsewhere in his profile.
The Cardinals certainly have tons of mid-level depth. If history continues to repeat itself, that means at least two above-average position players and a high-upside pitcher or two will pop up from the low minors this year, replenishing the lack of “impact” players at the high levels. They continue to target hitters with upside in the hit-tool department, trusting them to develop power or complement it with defensive or base-running value. On the pitching side, it’s like a broken record for a lot of the newer pitchers in the low levels: (Pitcher Name) came in throwing in the high-80s, and now comfortably sits in the low- to mid-90s with more physical projection left to realize.
No one will be excited by the prospects coming up through this system, but you’d be mistaken if you underestimate the player development model they have created in recent years. I had trouble putting a lot of the prospects I like in this system into the 50+ group for various reasons, but the Cardinals have one of the highest numbers of players just outside that line that could step forward this year with the right adjustments.
There are a number of players whom I rank lower than most in this organization, but in all honesty, there’s so much clustering in the middle of the list that it’s just semantics arguing over most of them. Feel free, anyway. Darren Seferina is my top pick for the Cardinals’ patented out-of-nowhere starting position player, with excellent hitting ability and base-running potential to go with potential above-average defense at second base. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the boo birds gathering forces in the darkest corners of the internet as you read this.
The Mariners organization won’t be confused for having one of the top farm systems in baseball, but the developments of the past year help bring some legitimate optimism for its future contributions to the big-league product. A number of low- and medium-level trades have bolstered the middle of the pack, with guys like Boog Powell and Nick Wells providing some high-floor, moderate-upside additions to a prospect pool that has seen better years.
On top of that, and maybe most excitingly, the 2015 draft class is already proving to be a kickstart for the organization. Though it’s way too early to anoint a lot of their fresh faces as sure big leaguers, it’s hard to have a better start than what they have put together so far. Drew Jackson and Braden Bishop were both known as excellent defenders, but it was their hitting performances that were the story of the post-draft months. Nick Neidert and Andrew Moore lead a list of 2015 draftees who are quality contenders for at least upper-minors success as pitchers, and both have a reasonable chance of eventually being starters for a major-league team.
The very recent success of the prospect class couldn’t come at a better time, when less recent high draft picks like Alex Jackson and Austin Wilson have seen their stocks plummet in a very short time. Jackson is particularly troubling for me: although you can still see similarities to the hitter he was before being in conversation for a first-overall pick, nearly everything has gone south for him statistically and physically. Though the player development and scouting staffs still have their work cut out for them, new management under Jerry Dipoto promises to at least add some fresh voices to the fold. If you buy into momentum, they have plenty of it heading into the 2016 season and this June’s draft.
I’d say there are some surprises in the rankings here, but if you’ve been following the Giants’ player development successes the last few years, everything’s a surprise. They have found a niche that they have doubled down on in recent years of acquiring guys who are baseball players first and toolsy showcase darlings second, if at all. It’s hard to argue with anything they’ve done for a while now, as they continue to be a consistent winner despite changing expectations every season.
This system is really exciting for how many of the under-the-radar players I think can actually end up being solid major leaguers. Having Christian Arroyo as your top prospect isn’t exciting, but it becomes all the more gratifying if and when he becomes a major contributor to the parent club in a couple years. The same goes with a lot of the lesser-known pitchers who don’t have big velocity, yet are mowing right through the minor leagues on the way to a shot at cracking the Giants’ rotation. For evaluation’s sake, I really am intrigued by their collection of guys, both because of the collective thought that obviously went into its formation, and because I do genuinely like a good number of their chances going forward.