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Picks to Click: Who We Expect to Make the 2020 Top 100

When publishing our lists — in particular, the top 100 — we’re frequently asked who, among the players excluded from this year’s version, might have the best chance of appearing on next year’s version. Whose stock are we buying? This post represents our best attempt to answer all of those questions at once.

This is the second year that we’re doing this, and we have some new rules. First, none of the players you see below will have ever been a 50 FV or better in any of our write-ups or rankings. So while we think Austin Hays might have a bounce back year and be a 50 FV again, we’re not allowed to include him here; you already know about him. We also forbid ourselves from using players who were on last year’s inaugural list. (We were right about 18 of the 63 players last year, a 29% hit rate, though we have no idea if that’s good or not, as it was our first time engaging in the exercise.) At the end of the piece, we have a list of potential high-leverage relievers who might debut this year. They’re unlikely to ever be a 50 FV or better because of their role, but they often have a sizable impact on competitive clubs, and readers seemed to like that we had that category last year.

We’ve separated this year’s players into groups or “types” to make it a little more digestible, and to give you some idea of the demographics we think pop-up guys come from, which could help you identify some of your own with THE BOARD. For players who we’ve already covered this offseason, we included a link to the team lists, where you can find a full scouting report. We touch briefly on the rest of the names in this post. Here are our picks to click:

Teenage Pitchers
Torres was young for his draft class, is a plus athlete, throws really hard, and had surprisingly sharp slider command all last summer. White looked excellent in the fall when the Rangers finally allowed their high school draftees to throw. He sat 92-94, and his changeup and breaking ball were both above-average. Pardinho and Woods Richardson are the two advanced guys in this group. Thomas is the most raw but, for a someone who hasn’t been pitching for very long, he’s already come a long way very quickly.

Eric Pardinho, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (full report)
Lenny Torres, Jr., RHP, Cleveland Indians
Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP, New York Mets (full report)
Adam Kloffenstein, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (full report)
Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (full report)
Owen White, RHP, Texas Rangers
Mason Denaburg, RHP, Washington Nationals (full report)
Tahnaj Thomas, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (full report)

The “This is What They Look Like” Group
If you like big, well-made athletes, this list is for you. Rodriguez was physically mature compared to his DSL peers and also seems like a mature person. The Mariners have indicated they’re going to send him right to Low-A this year. He could be a middle-of-the-order, corner outfield power bat. Luciano was the Giants’ big 2018 July 2 signee. He already has huge raw power and looks better at short than he did as an amateur. Canario has elite bat speed. Adams was signed away from college football but is more instinctive than most two-sport athletes. Most of the stuff he needs to work on is related to getting to his power.

Julio Rodriguez, RF, Seattle Mariners
Marco Luciano, SS, San Francisco Giants
Alexander Canario, RF, San Francisco Giants
Jordyn Adams, CF, Los Angeles Angels
Jordan Groshans, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays (full report)
Jhon Torres, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (full report)
Shervyen Newton, SS, New York Mets (full report)
Kevin Alcantara, CF, New York Yankees (full report)
Freudis Nova, SS, Houston Astros
Brice Turang, SS, Milwaukee Brewers (full report)
Connor Scott, CF, Miami Marlins (full report)

Advanced Young Bats with Defensive Value
This is the group that produces the likes of Vidal Brujan and Luis Urias. Edwards is a high-effort gamer with 70 speed and feel for line drive contact. Marcano isn’t as stocky and strong as X, but he too has innate feel for contact, and could be a plus middle infield defender. Perez has great all-fields contact ability and might be on an Andres Gimenez-style fast track, where he reaches Double-A at age 19 or 20. Ruiz is the worst defender on this list, but he has all-fields raw power and feel for contact. He draws Alfonso Soriano comps. Palacios is the only college prospect listed here. He had three times as many walks as strikeouts at Towson last year. Rosario controls the zone well, is fast, and is a plus defender in center field.

Xavier Edwards, SS, San Diego Padres
Antoni Flores, SS, Boston Red Sox (full report)
Jose Devers, SS, Miami Marlins (full report)
Tucupita Marcano, SS, San Diego Padres
Wenceel Perez, SS, Detroit Tigers
Esteury Ruiz, 2B, San Diego Padres
Richard Palacios, SS, Cleveland Indians
Antonio Cabello, CF, New York Yankees (full report)
Cole Roederer, LF, Chicago Cubs (full report)
Jeisson Rosario, CF, San Diego Padres
Luis Garcia, SS, Philadelphia Phillies (full report)
Simon Muzziotti, CF, Philadelphia Phillies (full report)

Corner Power Bats
Nevin will probably end up as a contact-over-power first baseman, but he might also end up with a 70 bat. He looked great against Fall League pitching despite having played very little as a pro due to injury. Lavigne had a lot of pre-draft helium and kept hitting after he signed. He has all-fields power. Apostel saw reps at first during instructs but has a good shot to stay at third. He has excellent timing and explosive hands.

Grant Lavigne, 1B, Colorado Rockies
Sherten Apostel, 3B, Texas Rangers
Triston Casas, 1B, Boston Red Sox (full report)
Dylan Carlson, RF, St. Louis Cardinals (full report)
Moises Gomez, RF, Tampa Bay Rays (full report)
Elehuris Montero, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals (full report)
Nathaniel Lowe, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays (full report)
Tyler Nevin, 1B, Colorado Rockies

College-aged Pitchers
It’s hard to imagine any of these guys rocketing into the top 50 overall. Rather, we would anticipate that they end up in the 60-100 range on next year’s list. Gilbert was a workhorse at Stetson and his velo may spike with reshaped usage. Singer should move quickly because of how advanced his command is. Lynch’s pre-draft velocity bump held throughout the summer, and he has command of several solid secondaries. Abreu spent several years in rookie ball and then had a breakout 2018, forcing Houston to 40-man him to protect him from the Rule 5. He’ll tie Dustin May for the second-highest breaking ball spin rate on THE BOARD when the Houston list goes up. We’re intrigued by what Dodgers player dev will do with an athlete like Gray. Phillips throws a ton of strikes and has a good four-pitch mix.

Logan Gilbert, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Zac Lowther, LHP, Baltimore Orioles (full report)
Brady Singer, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Bryan Abreu, RHP, Houston Astros
Daniel Lynch, LHP, Kansas City Royals
Wil Crowe, RHP, Washington Nationals (full report)
Josiah Gray, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jordan Holloway, RHP, Miami Marlins (full report)
Tyler Phillips, RHP, Texas Rangers

Bounce Back Candidates
The Dodgers have a strong track record of taking severely injured college arms who return with better stuff after a long period of inactivity. That could be Grove, their 2018 second rounder, who missed most of his sophomore and junior seasons at West Virginia. McCarthy was also hurt during his junior season and it may have obscured his true abilities. Burger is coming back from multiple Achilles ruptures, but was a strong college performer with power before his tire blew.

Michael Grove, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jake McCarthy, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Jake Burger, 3B, Chicago White Sox
Thomas Szapucki, LHP, New York Mets (full report)

Catchers
We’re very excited about the current crop of minor league catchers. Naylor is athletic enough that he’s likely to improve as a defender and he has rare power for the position.

Ivan Herrera, C, St. Louis Cardinals (full report)
Bo Naylor, C, Cleveland Indians
Payton Henry, C, Milwaukee Brewers (full report)

Potentially Dominant Relievers
These names lean “multi-inning” rather than “closer.” Gonsolin was a two-way player in college who has been the beneficiary of sound pitch design. He started last year but was up to 100 mph out of the bullpen the year before. He now throws a four seamer rather than a sinker and he developed a nasty splitter in 2017. He also has two good breaking balls. He has starter stuff but may break in as a reliever this year.

Trent Thornton, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (full report)
Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP, Boston Red Sox (full report)
Dakota Hudson, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (full report)
Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (full report)
Colin Poche, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays (full report)
Trevor Stephan, RHP, New York Yankees (full report)
Vladimir Gutierrez, RHP, Cincinnati Reds (full report)
Dakota Mekkes, RHP, Chicago Cubs (full report)
Tony Gonsolin, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Mauricio Llovera, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (full report)


Transaction Roundup: On Pitching Moves Most(ly) Minor

Last week brought with it a flurry of relatively minor pitching deals — the sort that weren’t enough to divert the industry from the apparently never-ending saga of bigger stars left unsigned, and which are fairly typical of this time of year. Here they are:

  • The Orioles signed 31-year-old Nate Karns to a one-year deal worth $800,000, with an additional $200,000 possible in incentives.
  • Cleveland signed 32-year-old Alex Wilson to a minor league deal that could be worth $1.25 million in guaranteed money and an additional $750,000 in incentives should Wilson make the squad out of spring training.
  • The Diamondbacks signed 36-year-old Ricky Nolasco and 33-year-old Marc Rzepczynski to minor league deals and invited both to join big league spring training. Rzepczynski’s deal could be worth $1.5 million guaranteed if he makes the team, with $500,000 in incentives besides. The terms of Nolasco’s deal have not yet been reported.
  • Lastly, the Royals inked 33-year-old Homer Bailey to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training; they did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Bailey’s probably the best-known of the names on that list, but I also think he’s among the least likely to accomplish much in 2019. You may recall that, earlier this winter, Bailey played the part of “salary offset” in the deal that sent Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Alex Wood to Cincinnati. So underwhelming was his 2018 — in which he allowed 23 home runs in just over 106 innings pitched — that even the Dodgers’ brass, who stash spare pitchers in their overcoats when they’re just going around the corner for a gallon of milk, released Bailey immediately upon his arrival in Los Angeles. He was in blue and white for less than 20 minutes. In Kansas City, he’ll join Brad Keller and Jakob Junis in the Royals’ rotation and work to find a second wind.

Nate Karns — another 30-something with success in his past and a terrible team in his present — has always been a little bit interesting for his ability to keep the ball on the ground with a four-pitch mix that features a two-seamer, a curveball, a change-up, and a heavy sinking fastball. The big question at the moment is how he’ll recover from the thoracic outlet surgery that ended his 2017 season near the end of May of that year, and kept him off the field for the entirety of 2018. Before the injury, Karns was carrying a terrific 50% groundball rate and 27% strikeout rate for the Royals — both improvements on his already-solid 2016 for the Mariners and in line with his 27 and 23% strikeout rates during his heyday with the Rays in 2014-15.

Karns going to Baltimore, which is under new management, is probably good news for everybody involved. Karns, obviously, would like the opportunity to prove that he is healthy and can return to being the quality big-league starter he has already been at various points throughout his career. The Orioles would like that too — Karns has one year of arbitration left, and the Orioles will still need rotation help in 2020. Alternatively, depending on the state of the trade market next summer or the summer thereafter, Karns could be traded to a contender in exchange for some area of need for Baltimore. That, too, would presumably be welcome news for Karns.

I already wrote a little bit about Cleveland’s bullpen situation in my writeup of the Óliver Pérez deal last month, so I won’t say much more about the Wilson deal except what I said then:

Pérez is a good pitcher and Cleveland needs a few of those. He had a terrific season in 2018 and there is reason to believe, despite his 16 seasons in the major leagues, that he has more left in the tank. He’ll be best served if the front office goes out and gets more arms to take some of the strain off of, say, him and Brad Hand, but if he pitches like he did last year, he’ll be useful anyway.

Alex Wilson, apparently, is one of the arms destined to take the strain off of Óliver Pérez and Brad Hand. He was remarkably consistent for the Tigers during his last four years in Detroit, posting a 3.20 ERA and a 2.77 K/BB ratio over 264.2 innings pitched. Importantly, too, he’s demonstrated an ability to throw in different roles: over the course of his career, he’s pitched 50.1 innings in the sixth, 84.1 in the seventh, 97 in the 8th, and 54.1 in the ninth or later. The question, then, is whether the Tigers’ decision to non-tender him this winter was due to some concern about his future not visible to external observers or simply a consequence of the cost-cutting ethos that seems to have overtaken Detroit. I suspect it’s the latter, and like this pickup for Cleveland.

As for Rzepczynski and Nolasco, it’s hard to get too worked up about those deals either way. The Diamondbacks’ bullpen wasn’t outright terrible last year, though it certainly had room for improvement with a 4.08 collective FIP, and Rzepczynski is second bit of the two-part bullpen improvement plan that started with Arizona signing Greg Holland. He got beat up pretty badly between Seattle, Cleveland, and Triple-A last year (an 8.25 ERA in 12 minor-league innings!), so I’m not sure how well that’ll work out, but given his past success against lefties (he’s held them to a .227/.296/.305 career line), it’s worth a shot. Nolasco, too, had some good years for the Twins once upon a dream, but didn’t pitch in the majors last year and will struggle to win a rotation spot this year. These are the kinds of deals you make at the end of the winter, when spring seems close at hand and the snow just days away from melting.


The Royals Make a Bad Bullpen Better

Late Wednesday afternoon, word broke that the Royals were “closing in” on a one-year contract with 30-year-old reliever Brad Boxberger. Jon Heyman reported the deal will be for $2.2 million guaranteed, plus $1 million in incentives. Boxberger wasn’t one of our Top 50 Free Agents here at FanGraphs, so we don’t have a crowdsourced contract prediction on record, but his deal strikes me as right around what you’d expect given recent reliever deals (a rejuvenated Óliver Pérez, for example, just signed for $2.5 million, albeit with an option for 2020) and the fact that the Diamondbacks chose to non-tender Boxberger last fall rather than pay the $4.9 million he was expected to get in arbitration.

Boxberger was an All-Star as recently as 2015, when he saved 41 games and posted a 27% strikeout rate for the Rays. But he struggled badly in 2016 and ended the year with a 17% walk rate and an ugly 4.81 ERA. 2017 was a bit of an improvement on both fronts (the walk rate was back down to 9%, and the ERA to 3.38), but Boxberberg’s 2018 campaign in Arizona saw the seesaw dip back yet again, with a 4.39 ERA and 14% free pass rate. The difference between those two bad 2018 numbers, and his two good ones — a 30 percent strikeout rate and 32 saves — is probably what led Arizona to cut ties with their closer last fall. Arbitrators like save totals perhaps more than they should, and with Boxberger’s season having trended in the wrong direction (compare a first-half ERA of 3.06 to a second-half mark of 7.00), Arizona was clearly ready to move on.

How you feel about Boxberger’s ability to return to form in 2019 depends a great deal on whether you believe he can recover some fastball velocity, or offset the loss with an adjustment to his off-speed offerings. With the exception of a slider that he throws fairly infrequently (just 3% of the time in 2018), Boxberger is basically a two-pitch guy: he’s got a four-seam fastball that he throws up and away to lefties and down and away to righties, and a changeup, which he throws down and away from lefties and just plain down to righties. Unfortunately for the reliever, a slight decrease in fastball velocity (from 94 mph just three years ago to 92 mph last year) without an attendant decrease in changeup velocity has left the pitches too easy for batters to distinguish from each other, and last year saw Boxberger generate fewer swings on pitches outside the zone (28%) than ever before. When he was humming in 2015, that figure was 34%.

Still, if Boxberger is able to get some mustard back on his fastball or otherwise distinguish it more meaningfully from his changeup, there’s little reason to think he can’t put up strikeout numbers that more closely resemble last year’s impressive mark while simultaneously reducing his walk rate to a more reasonable level. If he can, it’ll be a boon for a Kansas City bullpen that was, to put it mildly, atrocious last year. Their collective FIP of 4.85 was, by a fair margin, the worst in the game (the runner-up Mets posted a 4.61 FIP; the 24-point gap between the two teams is the same as the difference between the Mets and the seventh-worst Reds). Their 5.04 ERA was second-worst. They struck out a league-low 7.31 batters per nine innings, and walked 4.15 (sixth-worst). Kelvin Herrera was pretty good for a little while there, but then he got traded. Brad Keller was ok, too. The rest of the Kansas City ‘pen was pretty awful. By WAR, only six teams in the last twenty years have been worse:

Worst Bullpens by WAR, 1999-2018
Team Team Relief WAR
2013 Astros -5.2
2016 Reds -3.8
2010 Diamondbacks -3.3
2007 Devil Rays -3.1
2002 Devil Rays -2.6
1999 Royals -2.4
2018 Royals -2.2

In signing Boxberger, the Royals have taken a positive step toward correcting their biggest weakness. According to Baseball-Reference, Kansas City has acquired nine players since November 1, excluding Boxberger. Five are position players. The other four are relievers. Of those four, just one — Jason Adam, signed as a free agent in mid-December — threw any major league relief innings at all in 2018. Another, Michael Ynoa, had some modest success for the White Sox in 2016 and 2017 but was released in March of 2018 and did not pitch in affiliated ball last season. Andrés Machado was last seen posting a 22.09 ERA for the 2017 Royals, and barely counts as an acquisition; he was non-tendered on November 30th and re-signed to a minor-league deal on December 3. Winston Abreu is 41 and last pitched in the majors in 2009, when he threw 3.2 innings for Tampa Bay and 2.1 Cleveland. I wish them all well, but All-Star arms they are not. Boxberger was, and at least could be again.

Even if the Royals had signed Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino, Jeurys Familia, David Robertson, and Craig Kimbrel this offseason, they likely wouldn’t have a winning team in 2019. As things stand, our depth charts have them besting only the Orioles in total roster WAR. There is, clearly, a lot of room to grow their win total without threatening Cleveland or even the Twins for the AL Central crown. But what we can say at this point is this: the 2018 Royals had one of the very worst bullpens of the last 20 years, and yesterday they went out and did something about it, despite having no real expectation of winning anything at all in 2019. I still think they could stand to bring on a few more relief pitchers, but in this era in which 30 teams seem to be in competition for the 2022 World Series but only ten or so are in competition for the one this October, there’s at least some consolation in what they did yesterday.


Whit Merrifield and Royals Seek Safety

There aren’t many candidates for best player on the Kansas City Royals. Salvador Perez is a holdover from the team’s run to consecutive World Series’, including one title. Adalberto Mondesi has just 500 plate appearances across three seasons, but he showed considerable promise last season with 14 homers, 32 steals, and a 114 wRC+ in just half a season. The third candidate, and the subject of this post, is Whit Merrifield. The Royals second baseman has been the club’s best player over the past two seasons by putting eight wins, with the only other players above four (Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer) not even on the team a season ago. Merrifield was a late bloomer, not playing a full season until he was 29 years old in 2017, and that makes him an unusual contract extension candidate, but he and the Royals reached a reasonable deal to buy out his remaining arbitration years.

At first glance, the terms of the deal look incredibly slight for Merrifield, getting just $16.25 million guaranteed with $2 million in performance bonuses, per Jon Morosi. With a second straight slow winter for free agents and Manny Machado and Bryce Harper unable to get the long-term deals they desire so far, seeing an All-Star second baseman coming off a very good season settle for such a small guarantee screams out as another piece of evidence of owners getting the better of players. However, that’s not really the case here due to Merrifield’s age and service time.

Merrifield got a late start to his major league career due to a slow crawl up the minors. He was solid in his first full minor league season, posting an average line in High-A back in 2011, and when he repeated the league in 2012, he was roughly the same player and then struggled in a brief promotion to Double-A. The next season he was the same roughly average player at Double-A. He then tore through Double-A in 2014 and held his own in Triple-A, getting to the cusp of the majors, but he took a step back the following season back in Triple-A, entering the 2016 campaign at 27 years old without a callup.

Finally making the big leagues, Merrifield proved to be an above-average player thanks to decent defense, great baserunning, and a roughly average bat. He broke out last season, increasing his walk rate, posting slightly-below-average power numbers with a great BABIP on his way to a 120 wRC+. His 45 steals in 55 tries plus good running -numbers on balls in play added another seven runs above average, resulting in a five-win season. His projections next season are closer to three wins, but there is little doubt that Merrifield is a good, solid player who will help the Royals win more games than they would have without him.

Unfortunately for Merrifield, he enters the 2019 season with just two-and-a-half seasons in the bigs. He’s not yet eligible for arbitration, and he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season. Players with Merrifield’s service time and good track records in the big leagues are often approached about contract extensions. They are looking at one more season at the league-minimum salary, and teams take advantage of that lack of security by offering players millions of dollars. In exchange for that security, teams generally insist on a year or two of the player’s free agent seasons at a discounted rate. Those seasons often become massive bargains as players push out their free agent seasons and teams don’t have to pay for any of the player’s decline seasons. Whit Merrifield presents an interesting case.

When Merrifield hits free agency for the first time, he will be 34 years old. While the Royals certainly like Merrifield for his on-field contributions now, he’s not likely to be the same player at 34 that he is right now. Those free agent years might not be particularly valuable for the Royals, which lessens the club’s interest in guaranteeing money for those years. They might be interested in an option year, but that makes less sense for Merrifield. Security makes sense for Merrifield as opposed to playing out this season and then going to arbitration, where he might get around $4 million if he puts together a solid campaign. If he keeps playing well, he might get $6 million or $7 million in 2021, and then $10 million or $12 million in 2022. Going year-to-year in arbitration probably gets him around $20 million or so if he keeps playing well.

In the end, Merrifield gets his security and the Royals take a 20% discount on the likely outcome. This deal is reminiscent of the one the Twins signed Brian Dozier to four years ago. That contract paid Dozier $20 million over four seasons. Value-wise, Dozier had similar numbers to Merrifield with 7.4 WAR over the previous two years and a 4.5 WAR season just prior to signing the extension. Because Dozier had numbers that pay in arbitration, namely homers, he was likely to receive more money in arbitration than Merrifield. Dozier was also two years younger, making a decline less likely. It was important to Dozier at that time to be able to hit free agency now as opposed to a few years from now. A disappointing 2018 season meant just a one-year deal for Dozier, although if he had kept playing at his 2014-2017 level, he would have been able to cash in on free agency, even in this slow market.

Merrifield’s contract is just an update of the Dozier contract, where teams get some cost certainty and a discount in the arbitration years while the player gets security and doesn’t give up any free agent seasons. These contracts don’t happen often because there is little incentive for the team compared to most of the guarantees they offer to players before they hit arbitration. If the players want security, the cost is generally a free agent year or two. Merrifield’s late age compared to his service time peers created an opportunity for the Royals and their second baseman to reach a deal, and given these factors, it is a pretty reasonable one for both sides.


2019 ZiPS Projections – Kansas City Royals

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for more than half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Kansas City Royals.

Batters

The Royals have an extremely bifurcated offense, with three players projected to be solidly above league-average in Adalberto Mondesi, Salvador Perez, and Whit Merrifield, and a fairly large gulf before the next tier of KC hitters. If the Royals were really going the full rebuild route, you’d see Perez and Merrifield — entering their age-29 and -30 seasons respectively — on other teams’ lists, but the Royals seem content to go the “sorta” rebuild route.

Given how thin their talent is, it’s hard to see them having much success going this route and as such, Perez and Merrifield are likely to be either in their declines or in other organizations by the time the performance matters. Winning 72 games instead of 64 in 2019 isn’t going to jumpstart anything.

I’m sure there will be some gnashed teeth about O’Hearn’s projection, given that he hit .262/.353/.597 in the majors in 170 plate appearances in 2018. He also had a .713 OPS in 406 PA in the Pacific Coast League, which is abysmal for an offensive prospect.

Pitchers

This group won’t be as bad as some people think in 2019, and it wouldn’t take a lot of breaks for the team to achieve their pointless Quest for 75 Wins, which is a little like bragging to your drinking buddies that you can deadlift 125 pounds. Danny Duffy isn’t a lost cause and Brad Keller was good enough in 2018 that it couldn’t all have been a fluke. ZiPS absolutely loves Richard Lovelady, but the rest of the bullpen is a big digital yawn. The Trevor Oaks projection isn’t exactly impressive, but I can’t remember the last time ZiPS didn’t actually hate a pitcher with as low a strikeout rate as he is projected to have.

Bench and Prospects

Troubling and not seen in full here is that ZiPS simply projects very few of the hitting prospects in the upper levels of the organization as good bets to be relevant by the time the Royals are good again. It’s essentially Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez. Khalil Lee and Emmanuel Rivera are the only two other offensive prospects on this list for whom ZiPS gives even an over/under of three WAR over their major league careers. Now, it’s not quite as bad as that considering a couple of the names I’m not yet projecting are Seuly Matias and Nick Pratto, but it’s certainly less than ideal for a team that really ought to be 2 1/2 years into a rebuild by now.

One pedantic note for 2019: for the WAR graphic, I’m using FanGraphs’ depth chart playing time, not the playing time ZiPS spits out, so there will be occasional differences in WAR totals.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here at site.

Batters – Counting Stats
Player B Age PO G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Whit Merrifield R 30 2B 153 614 81 172 36 4 13 61 44 108 35 9
Adalberto Mondesi B 23 SS 118 437 62 114 22 6 18 58 20 118 39 7
Salvador Perez R 29 C 136 513 55 130 26 1 24 77 18 104 1 1
Nicky Lopez L 24 SS 127 511 60 133 15 5 6 40 43 61 12 6
Billy Hamilton R 28 CF 139 500 74 121 18 7 4 27 42 117 45 10
Alex Gordon L 35 LF 128 443 50 102 19 1 11 44 47 120 9 2
Xavier Fernandez R 23 C 88 318 34 79 17 1 6 30 18 56 3 3
Jorge Soler R 27 RF 90 307 38 76 15 0 13 37 40 107 3 1
Meibrys Viloria L 22 C 113 409 41 91 19 1 7 38 27 104 2 2
Emmanuel Rivera R 23 3B 120 466 50 120 23 5 7 49 23 92 3 6
Ryan O’Hearn L 25 1B 144 509 64 115 29 3 20 67 57 152 2 0
Jecksson Flores R 25 2B 126 460 47 110 22 3 5 37 22 92 16 6
Cheslor Cuthbert R 26 3B 109 377 41 91 18 1 11 40 30 84 1 1
Brian Goodwin L 28 CF 107 340 41 76 17 1 11 40 30 112 9 3
Cam Gallagher R 26 C 97 329 33 74 14 0 5 31 24 54 1 0
Donnie Dewees L 25 CF 132 518 54 119 22 7 7 45 30 111 15 6
Frank Schwindel R 27 1B 136 524 58 134 32 1 17 65 19 92 1 2
Jorge Bonifacio R 26 RF 110 401 51 93 19 2 12 43 38 124 1 1
Brett Phillips L 25 RF 124 439 52 88 15 6 12 46 43 186 10 3
Kelvin Gutierrez R 24 3B 118 460 48 107 16 5 7 39 28 125 12 4
Chris Owings R 27 SS 125 419 49 101 23 4 7 40 24 104 15 5
Kort Peterson L 25 RF 101 365 41 82 19 3 9 39 20 129 7 4
Nick Dini R 25 C 90 317 33 73 14 0 6 28 13 68 6 1
Bubba Starling R 26 CF 86 306 32 61 16 1 7 27 20 106 5 3
Hunter Dozier R 27 3B 135 499 58 113 29 2 15 51 41 160 4 3
Khalil Lee L 21 CF 113 426 51 90 19 4 10 43 46 164 14 13
Erick Mejia B 24 2B 134 530 57 123 22 6 5 42 35 128 22 12
Alex Liddi R 30 1B 107 406 48 89 19 3 17 53 25 146 5 2
Blake Perkins R 22 CF 131 514 63 104 21 2 5 33 64 162 20 11
Chris Owings R 27 RF 123 412 48 99 22 4 7 39 24 103 14 4
Brewer Hicklen R 23 LF 100 384 43 79 16 2 11 39 20 150 21 7
Corey Toups R 26 3B 103 374 42 76 17 2 7 31 33 140 12 3
Humberto Arteaga R 25 3B 125 465 41 108 15 2 4 32 16 88 5 6
Jack Lopez R 26 2B 110 399 38 86 11 2 7 30 15 113 11 6
Taylor Featherston R 29 2B 108 337 36 64 12 3 7 31 23 129 8 2
Ramon Torres B 26 2B 113 431 44 103 17 2 4 31 20 69 10 6
Sebastian Rivero R 20 C 76 287 27 62 12 0 5 24 11 77 0 1
Samir Duenez L 23 1B 112 429 49 98 20 2 12 50 32 113 6 1
Anderson Miller L 25 LF 115 437 43 97 18 3 8 39 27 120 9 5
MJ Melendez L 20 C 106 410 41 76 17 4 13 46 32 184 4 7
Parker Morin L 27 C 58 179 16 35 7 1 2 13 9 49 1 0
D.J. Burt R 23 2B 113 434 47 92 15 5 3 32 43 121 21 11
Terrance Gore R 28 CF 94 216 24 43 3 1 0 9 16 61 26 5
Nick Heath L 25 CF 84 303 30 59 8 2 2 18 27 112 22 9
Manny Olloque R 23 3B 92 332 32 69 14 2 6 30 15 121 4 4
Elier Hernandez R 24 RF 126 481 43 103 23 3 4 38 21 132 6 7

Batters – Rate Stats
Player BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP RC/27 Def WAR No. 1 Comp
Whit Merrifield .280 .331 .415 105 .135 .323 5.5 6 3.4 Gene Alley
Adalberto Mondesi .261 .295 .462 105 .201 .319 5.6 2 2.7 Cristian Guzman
Salvador Perez .253 .289 .448 100 .195 .275 4.7 6 2.6 Ramon Hernandez
Nicky Lopez .260 .321 .344 85 .084 .286 4.0 4 1.5 Jeff Huson
Billy Hamilton .242 .300 .330 75 .088 .309 4.1 9 1.4 Freddy Guzman
Alex Gordon .230 .317 .352 85 .122 .292 4.0 10 1.1 Derek Bell
Xavier Fernandez .248 .291 .365 80 .116 .285 3.7 2 0.6 Richard Suomi
Jorge Soler .248 .340 .423 110 .176 .337 5.2 -5 0.6 Jeremy Giambi
Meibrys Viloria .222 .277 .325 66 .103 .282 3.1 6 0.5 John Mizerock
Emmanuel Rivera .258 .296 .373 84 .116 .308 3.8 2 0.5 Greg LaRocca
Ryan O’Hearn .226 .307 .413 97 .187 .282 4.5 -2 0.4 Eric Valent
Jecksson Flores .239 .279 .333 68 .093 .289 3.4 7 0.4 Kenny Perez
Cheslor Cuthbert .241 .299 .382 87 .141 .284 4.0 -3 0.3 Bobby Holley
Brian Goodwin .224 .288 .376 82 .153 .300 3.9 -1 0.3 Orsino Hill
Cam Gallagher .225 .279 .313 64 .088 .256 3.1 4 0.3 Drew Butera
Donnie Dewees .230 .276 .340 69 .110 .280 3.3 5 0.2 Joe Mathis
Frank Schwindel .256 .286 .418 91 .162 .282 4.3 1 0.1 Leo Hernandez
Jorge Bonifacio .232 .302 .379 87 .147 .306 4.0 0 0.1 Bill McCarthy
Brett Phillips .200 .275 .344 70 .144 .315 3.3 10 0.1 Brad Snyder
Kelvin Gutierrez .233 .279 .335 69 .102 .305 3.4 4 0.0 Edwin Rodriguez
Chris Owings .241 .283 .365 78 .124 .305 3.8 -5 -0.1 Thomas Manzella
Kort Peterson .225 .285 .367 79 .142 .322 3.6 3 -0.1 Brian Brady
Nick Dini .230 .274 .331 67 .101 .276 3.3 -2 -0.1 Omir Santos
Bubba Starling .199 .255 .327 59 .127 .280 2.8 4 -0.2 John Giudice
Hunter Dozier .226 .285 .383 83 .156 .302 3.8 -7 -0.2 Rey Palacios
Khalil Lee .211 .298 .345 78 .134 .317 3.2 -4 -0.3 Mel Hall
Erick Mejia .232 .281 .325 67 .092 .297 3.2 2 -0.4 Ramon Caraballo
Alex Liddi .219 .267 .406 82 .187 .296 3.8 0 -0.4 John Cotton
Blake Perkins .202 .294 .280 60 .078 .285 2.7 3 -0.6 Tony Miller
Chris Owings .240 .283 .364 78 .124 .305 3.8 -1 -0.6 Drew Anderson
Brewer Hicklen .206 .261 .344 66 .138 .305 3.2 3 -0.6 Wilkin Ramirez
Corey Toups .203 .275 .316 63 .112 .304 3.1 -2 -0.6 Sean Berry
Humberto Arteaga .232 .259 .299 54 .067 .279 2.6 9 -0.6 Jim Scranton
Jack Lopez .216 .250 .306 53 .090 .283 2.6 5 -0.7 Wade Robinson
Taylor Featherston .190 .251 .306 53 .116 .284 2.7 2 -0.7 Chris Petersen
Ramon Torres .239 .273 .316 63 .077 .277 3.0 1 -0.7 Dave Myers
Sebastian Rivero .216 .245 .310 52 .094 .278 2.5 -1 -0.7 Kurt Brown
Samir Duenez .228 .281 .368 78 .140 .283 3.7 -1 -0.8 Alex Hernandez
Anderson Miller .222 .269 .332 65 .110 .288 3.1 4 -0.9 Jonathan Johnson
MJ Melendez .185 .249 .341 61 .156 .296 2.6 -3 -0.9 Brandon Yarbrough
Parker Morin .196 .240 .279 43 .084 .258 2.3 -3 -1.0 Dave Ullery
D.J. Burt .212 .284 .290 60 .078 .287 2.8 -2 -1.1 Adam Davis
Terrance Gore .199 .264 .222 37 .023 .277 2.7 -4 -1.1 Craig Griffey
Nick Heath .195 .261 .254 44 .059 .302 2.4 0 -1.2 Jeff Conger
Manny Olloque .208 .245 .316 54 .108 .307 2.5 -2 -1.3 Mario Ramirez
Elier Hernandez .214 .254 .299 53 .085 .287 2.4 2 -2.1 Rick Bernardo

Pitchers – Counting Stats
Player T Age W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO
Jake Junis R 26 10 10 4.37 29 28 164.7 172 80 26 38 143
Brad Keller R 23 9 9 4.20 43 24 156.3 168 73 15 46 97
Danny Duffy L 30 10 9 4.37 26 26 148.3 151 72 19 51 129
Trevor Oaks R 26 9 9 4.41 25 24 136.7 158 67 13 38 72
Ben Lively R 27 7 8 4.35 25 21 120.0 128 58 14 38 88
Richard Lovelady L 23 4 3 3.52 54 0 71.7 68 28 4 26 59
Jesse Hahn R 29 5 5 4.52 18 17 87.7 92 44 8 38 60
Glenn Sparkman R 27 6 7 4.79 29 19 118.3 139 63 17 27 70
Sam McWilliams R 23 6 8 4.74 23 20 108.3 123 57 12 42 71
Arnaldo Hernandez R 23 7 8 4.95 26 22 120.0 137 66 16 41 69
Nate Karns R 31 3 3 4.57 14 12 69.0 69 35 10 29 65
Jonathan Dziedzic L 28 7 8 4.98 22 22 115.7 132 64 14 44 66
Jason Hammel R 36 7 9 4.83 30 20 123.0 140 66 18 35 91
Heath Fillmyer R 25 6 8 5.09 28 26 138.0 152 78 18 58 85
Brian Flynn L 29 4 4 4.19 42 1 68.7 72 32 6 27 44
Pedro Fernandez R 25 4 4 4.52 33 4 65.7 70 33 6 29 41
Ian Kennedy R 34 7 9 4.99 24 24 128.0 132 71 24 44 106
Jake Kalish L 27 4 5 4.93 30 11 95.0 108 52 12 31 57
Gabe Speier L 24 1 1 4.39 45 1 65.7 71 32 4 28 37
Jake Newberry R 24 4 4 4.33 56 0 62.3 63 30 6 29 46
Tim Hill L 29 2 2 4.33 57 0 54.0 55 26 6 21 45
Wily Peralta R 30 4 5 4.82 40 11 89.7 96 48 11 44 75
Jason Adam R 27 3 3 4.35 46 0 51.7 47 25 7 27 56
Kevin McCarthy R 27 4 5 4.56 64 0 73.0 81 37 9 24 44
Foster Griffin L 23 9 12 5.31 27 26 142.3 168 84 22 52 84
Eric Skoglund L 26 4 6 5.24 21 20 99.7 114 58 17 30 68
Josh Staumont R 25 5 7 5.18 35 14 92.0 84 53 9 80 97
Kyle Zimmer R 27 1 1 4.94 11 4 31.0 32 17 4 16 27
Kevin Lenik R 27 1 1 4.66 31 0 46.3 47 24 4 26 36
Sam Selman L 28 3 3 4.73 37 0 45.7 40 24 4 38 49
Jorge Lopez R 26 6 8 5.11 37 13 98.7 107 56 14 42 77
Scott Barlow R 25 5 8 5.31 25 25 120.3 124 71 20 68 118
Seth Maness R 30 2 2 4.64 33 0 42.7 51 22 6 8 23
Enny Romero L 28 2 3 4.91 44 0 44.0 45 24 6 22 41
Conner Greene R 24 5 6 5.40 36 15 95.0 100 57 6 80 61
Zach Lovvorn R 25 6 9 5.50 27 22 126.0 153 77 17 50 62
Walker Sheller R 24 3 4 5.01 40 0 55.7 63 31 6 25 30
Scott Blewett R 23 6 8 5.55 25 25 136.3 161 84 19 58 73
Michael Ynoa R 27 1 1 5.13 27 0 33.3 34 19 3 22 25
Grant Gavin R 23 1 2 5.05 36 0 51.7 52 29 6 32 46
Yunior Marte R 24 4 4 5.01 42 0 73.7 75 41 8 44 58
Brandon Maurer R 28 4 4 4.91 60 0 58.7 62 32 7 28 49
Blaine Boyer R 37 2 2 5.18 35 0 41.7 47 24 5 18 27
Chris Ellis R 26 4 7 5.62 20 15 81.7 92 51 14 41 64
Burch Smith R 29 3 4 5.58 32 7 69.3 74 43 11 38 60
Kyle Lohse R 40 5 9 5.62 23 18 112.0 132 70 21 35 67
Andres Machado R 26 4 6 5.82 33 13 85.0 100 55 14 40 56
Ofreidy Gomez R 23 6 10 5.82 27 21 123.7 148 80 18 65 67
Gerson Garabito R 23 5 8 6.12 24 24 114.7 131 78 19 72 70

Pitchers – Rate Stats
Player TBF K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA+ ERA- FIP WAR No. 1 Comp
Jake Junis 704 7.82 2.08 1.42 .301 98 102 4.38 2.0 Ed Lynch
Brad Keller 675 5.58 2.65 0.86 .299 99 101 4.14 1.9 Lindy McDaniel
Danny Duffy 642 7.83 3.09 1.15 .302 98 102 4.23 1.8 Kent Mercker
Trevor Oaks 602 4.74 2.50 0.86 .307 94 106 4.32 1.4 Jack Russell
Ben Lively 524 6.60 2.85 1.05 .302 96 104 4.33 1.3 Howie Fox
Richard Lovelady 308 7.41 3.27 0.50 .298 122 82 3.48 1.1 Pat Clements
Jesse Hahn 390 6.16 3.90 0.82 .300 95 105 4.40 0.9 Don Schwall
Glenn Sparkman 517 5.32 2.05 1.29 .307 90 111 4.67 0.9 John Doherty
Sam McWilliams 488 5.90 3.49 1.00 .312 88 114 4.64 0.8 Mark Cahill
Arnaldo Hernandez 535 5.18 3.08 1.20 .301 87 115 4.93 0.7 Michael Macdonald
Nate Karns 302 8.48 3.78 1.30 .301 94 106 4.50 0.7 Ryan Glynn
Jonathan Dziedzic 519 5.14 3.42 1.09 .303 86 116 4.88 0.7 Jimmy Anderson
Jason Hammel 540 6.66 2.56 1.32 .312 86 116 4.55 0.6 Mickey Weston
Heath Fillmyer 620 5.54 3.78 1.17 .296 85 118 5.03 0.6 Steve Falteisek
Brian Flynn 302 5.77 3.54 0.79 .297 103 97 4.32 0.6 Tom Burgmeier
Pedro Fernandez 295 5.62 3.97 0.82 .298 95 105 4.60 0.5 Jim McDonald
Ian Kennedy 556 7.45 3.09 1.69 .286 83 120 5.08 0.5 Dennis Springer
Jake Kalish 422 5.40 2.94 1.14 .304 87 115 4.76 0.5 Pat Clements
Gabe Speier 295 5.07 3.84 0.55 .302 98 102 4.28 0.4 Mike Cosgrove
Jake Newberry 277 6.64 4.19 0.87 .295 99 101 4.47 0.4 Hal Reniff
Tim Hill 237 7.50 3.50 1.00 .302 99 101 4.26 0.4 Todd Rizzo
Wily Peralta 405 7.53 4.42 1.10 .313 86 116 4.64 0.3 Blue Moon Odom
Jason Adam 230 9.75 4.70 1.22 .294 99 101 4.54 0.3 Bryce Florie
Kevin McCarthy 321 5.42 2.96 1.11 .299 94 106 4.66 0.3 Lew Burdette
Foster Griffin 643 5.31 3.29 1.39 .306 81 123 5.24 0.3 Jason Dickson
Eric Skoglund 441 6.14 2.71 1.54 .303 82 122 5.09 0.3 Eric Knott
Josh Staumont 440 9.49 7.83 0.88 .302 83 121 5.12 0.2 Chad Reineke
Kyle Zimmer 141 7.84 4.65 1.16 .304 87 115 4.83 0.1 Lou Kretlow
Kevin Lenik 211 6.99 5.05 0.78 .303 92 108 4.60 0.1 Ken Wright
Sam Selman 215 9.66 7.49 0.79 .298 91 110 4.84 0.1 Mike Kinnunen
Jorge Lopez 443 7.02 3.83 1.28 .305 82 123 4.86 0.1 Tim Crabtree
Scott Barlow 552 8.83 5.09 1.50 .307 79 127 5.22 0.1 Elvin Nina
Seth Maness 184 4.85 1.69 1.27 .308 90 111 4.53 0.1 Tony Arnold
Enny Romero 197 8.39 4.50 1.23 .307 88 114 4.63 0.0 Joey Long
Conner Greene 463 5.78 7.58 0.57 .303 80 126 5.40 0.0 Walt Masterson
Zach Lovvorn 577 4.43 3.57 1.21 .308 78 128 5.28 0.0 Mark Cahill
Walker Sheller 253 4.85 4.04 0.97 .302 86 117 4.98 -0.1 Bob Miller
Scott Blewett 625 4.82 3.83 1.25 .304 78 129 5.34 -0.1 Frank Castillo
Michael Ynoa 157 6.75 5.94 0.81 .301 84 119 5.16 -0.1 Ken Wright
Grant Gavin 238 8.01 5.57 1.05 .305 85 117 4.91 -0.1 Pete Sikaras
Yunior Marte 338 7.09 5.38 0.98 .299 86 116 4.94 -0.1 Joe Hudson
Brandon Maurer 264 7.52 4.30 1.07 .309 85 118 4.56 -0.1 Jose Segura
Blaine Boyer 188 5.83 3.89 1.08 .307 83 121 4.78 -0.1 Bob Scanlan
Chris Ellis 379 7.05 4.52 1.54 .308 76 132 5.57 -0.1 Mark Woodyard
Burch Smith 318 7.79 4.93 1.43 .306 75 134 5.26 -0.3 Marty McLeary
Kyle Lohse 498 5.38 2.81 1.69 .299 74 135 5.44 -0.4 Ed Riley
Andres Machado 393 5.93 4.24 1.48 .309 74 135 5.56 -0.4 Mark Woodyard
Ofreidy Gomez 582 4.88 4.73 1.31 .307 74 135 5.73 -0.5 Clint Sodowsky
Gerson Garabito 545 5.49 5.65 1.49 .297 70 142 6.15 -0.8 Jake Robbins

Disclaimer: ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2019. ZiPS is projecting equivalent production — a .240 ZiPS projection may end up being .280 in AAA or .300 in AA, for example. Whether or not a player will play is one of many non-statistical factors one has to take into account when predicting the future.

Players are listed with their most recent teams, unless I have made a mistake. This is very possible, as a lot of minor-league signings go generally unreported in the offseason.

ZiPS’ projections are based on the American League having a 4.29 ERA and the National League having a 4.15 ERA.

Players who are expected to be out due to injury are still projected. More information is always better than less information, and a computer isn’t the tool that should project the injury status of, for example, a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery.

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR — which is to say, WAR values as calculated by me, Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in full release of ZiPS. Finally, I will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on a depth chart to produce projected team WAR.


FanGraphs Q&A and Sunday Notes: The Best Quotes of 2018

In 2018, I once again had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of people within baseball. Many of their words were shared in my Sunday Notes column, while others came courtesy of the FanGraphs Q&A series, the Learning and Developing a Pitch series, the Manager’s Perspective series, and a smattering of feature stories. Here is a selection of the best quotes from this year’s conversations.

———

“My slider will come out and it will be spinning, spinning, spinning, and then as soon as it catches, it picks up speed and shoots the other way. Whoosh! It’s like when you bowl. You throw the ball, and then as soon as it catches, it shoots with more speed and power. Right? “ — Sergio Romo, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher, January 2018

“One of the biggest lessons we learn is that iron sharpens iron. That is 100% how we try to do things with the Rockies — hiring people that are smarter than we are, and more skilled, and have different skills that can complement, and train people to be better at their jobs than I am at my job. That’s how you advance an organization.” — Jeff Bridich, Colorado Rockies GM, January 2018

“We could split hairs and say, ‘Hey, you’re playing in front of a thousand drunk Australians instead of 40,000 drunk Bostonians, and you’re living with a host family instead of at a five-star hotel.’ But The Show is The Show, and in Australia the ABL is The Show.” — Lars Anderson, baseball nomad, January 2018

“Baseball is heaven. Until our closer blows the game.” — Michael Hill, Miami Marlins president of baseball operations, January 2018 Read the rest of this entry »


The Least Consequential Pitch of 2018

You may have heard of a statistic called “championship win probability added” (cWPA), which measures the extent to which any given baseball play contributes to a team’s chances of winning a championship. It’s a neat little statistic that can be used to write articles like this one, which identified Hal Smith’s three-run home run for Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series as the biggest baseball play of all time. Joe Carter, Kirk Gibson, and Sid Bream also made it onto that list. cWPA is the type of statistic that conjures up, merely by its reference, vivid images of confetti-filled ballparks, raucous crowds, and men made high by glorious deeds. This article is about whatever the opposite of that is. Today, I’d like to take you on a journey to find the least consequential pitch of 2018.

How would someone even go about identifying the least consequential pitch of 2018? I’m sure there are a lot of answers to that question, some of which you will no doubt point out in the comments, but here’s mine: The least consequential pitch of 2018 is the pitch that least affected the outcome of the least important game of the season. A pitch that swung a late-season game between two eliminated clubs, however inconsequential that game might be to you, me, and Bobby McGee, cannot be the least consequential pitch of 2018 because, well, players on eliminated teams are players too, and a tree that falls amidst a Royals-Orioles game still falls for those players and for those fans. No, this pitch should be so inconsequential that even players with nothing left to play for decline to grasp at it for a taste of something once lost.

The first step is to find all the games played late in the season between teams that had by that point been eliminated from playoff contention. But this by itself is not enough of a standard, because teams like the Diamondbacks, while out of contention on the final day of the season, had as recently as September 1 had playoff odds of 37.4% (and higher before that). The sheen of consequence for Arizona was too bright to include the Diamondbacks. No, the game we are searching for should have been between teams that had been out of contention for a long time, ideally effectively since the beginning of the season. It should have been played between teams that had so long ago last tasted the sweet elixir of a playoff race that all the little things players do to keep themselves motivated during a long season had fallen aside. I present to you the playoff odds of the White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Marlins, Reds, and Padres, plotted over the course of the season, with the Red Sox’s odds thrown in there just for comparison’s sake:

I suspect some of you will note at this point that there’s a reasonable case to be made that a game between two teams who have locked up a playoff spot for most of the season (like, say, the Red Sox) deserves to be considered alongside games between bad ones as the least consequential game of 2018, as it is equally irrelevant to the outcome of the season. But any game between two contending teams is consequential insofar as it can be used to glean information about the nature of the playoffs to come, and brings with each pitch an injury risk to players who might determine the course of a seasons’ future. No game featuring the 2018 Red Sox could be considered the least consequential of 2018. The champions were playing. No, the game we want is one played, as late in the season as possible, between the six teams who never really sniffed contention at all in 2018.

Unfortunately for us, none of the final series of the 2018 campaign featured any of these six teams playing against each other. But the second-to-last series did. September 25-26 witnessed a two game set between the Reds (who entered 66-92) and Royals (54-102), in Cincinnati. The first game was a relatively taut affair won by the Royals 4-3 with a ninth-inning run; that game was too tense to work for our purposes. The second game, however, saw the Royals win 6-1. This game, I think, is a strong contender for the least consequential of 2018. You may disagree. But I’d argue that it was. All that was at stake — and it was a relatively low stake at that — was the Reds’ position in the 2019 draft order, and the 2018 Reds were not sufficiently bad that a win or a loss was the difference between the first, second, or third picks, where order really matters. I think, after some consideration, we have found our game:

But what of the least consequential pitch of that least consequential game? This one’s easier. The Royals scored in the first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings; the Reds scored in the first. That means the top of the ninth inning, in which the Royals had a chance to add on a seventh run before the Reds got one last chance at a comeback, was clearly the least consequential of the game. Winning by six isn’t that much different than winning by seven; I hope we can agree on that. So the pitch we’re looking for is in the top of the ninth. And the least consequential pitch of the top of the ninth inning was the one that ended it — a sinker from Jared Hughes to Adalberto Mondesi that changed the outcome of a meaningless game not at all; after all, with two outs, the chances of adding on a meaningless run in a meaningless inning in a meaningless game were very small, and even if such a run had been added, the chances of it then mattering later, when the Reds had said their piece, were smaller still. Here it is:

What I love about this pitch, and why I wanted to write about it today, is how much everyone involved seems to care about it. There is, of course, a good case to be made that it is the least consequential pitch of a season of tens of thousands of pitches. The pitch didn’t matter. The game didn’t matter. The season didn’t matter. And yet there was Adalberto Mondesi, sprinting down to first, trying just as hard as he could to make it to first base in time, and there was Joey Votto, stretching his legs out to beat him. The pitch didn’t matter, when you think about it. But when you don’t think too hard about it, it’s just another opportunity to do well however you can. And that’s something. Life, too, doesn’t really matter one little bit, when held up to even the slightest scrutiny. But of course, it still does.


2018 Rule 5 Draft Scouting Reports

The major-league phase of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft began with its annual roll call of clubs confirming the number of players currently on their 40-man rosters and ended with a total of 14 players being added to new big-league clubs. Dan Szymborski offered ZiPS projections here for the players taken earlier today. Below are brief scouting reports on the players selected, with some notes provided by Kiley McDaniel.

But, first: Our annual refresher on the Rule 5 Draft’s complex rules. Players who signed their first pro contract at age 18 or younger are eligible for selection after five years of minor-league service if their parent club has not yet added them to the team’s 40-man roster. For players who signed at age 19 or older, the timeline is four years. Teams with the worst win/loss record from the previous season pick first, and those that select a player must not only (a) pay said player’s former club $100,000, but also (b) keep the player on their 25-man active roster throughout the entirety of the following season (with a couple of exceptions, mostly involving the disabled list). If a selected player doesn’t make his new team’s active roster, he is offered back to his former team for half of the initial fee. After the player’s first year on the roster, he can be optioned back to the minor leagues.

These rules typically limit the talent pool to middle-relief prospects or position players with one-dimensional skillsets, though sometimes it involves more talented prospects who aren’t remotely ready for the majors. This creates an environment where selections are made based more on fit and team need than just talent, but teams find solid big-league role players in the Rule 5 every year and occasionally scoop up an eventual star. Let’s dive into the scouting reports on this year’s group.

First Round

1. Baltimore Orioles
Richie Martin, SS (from A’s) – Martin was a 2015 first rounder out of the University of Florida, drafted as an athletic shortstop with some pop who was still raw as a baseball player. Martin had really struggled to hit in pro ball until 2018, when he repeated Double-A and slashed .300/.368/.439.

He has average raw power but hits the ball on the ground too often to get to any of it in games. Houston has been adept at altering their players’ swings, so perhaps the new Orioles regime can coax more in-game pop from Martin, who is a perfectly fine defensive shortstop. He should compete with incumbent Orioles Breyvic Valera and Jonathan Villar, as well as fellow Rule 5 acquisition Drew Jackson, for middle infield playing time. But unless there’s a significant swing change here, Martin really only projects as a middle infield utility man.

2. Kansas City Royals
Sam McWilliams, RHP (from Rays) – McWilliams was an overslot eighth rounder in 2014 and was traded from Philadelphia to Arizona for Jeremy Hellickson in the fall of 2015. He was then sent from Arizona to Tampa Bay as one of the players to be named later in the three-team trade that sent Steven Souza to Arizona. McWilliams is pretty raw for a 23-year-old. He spent two years in the Midwest League and posted a 5.02 ERA at Double-A when the Rays pushed him there after the trade.

He has a big fastball, sitting mostly 93-94 but topping out at 97. He’ll flash an occasional plus slider but it’s a rather inconsistent pitch. The industry thought McWilliams had a chance to grow into a backend rotation arm because his stuff is quite good, but he has a much better chance of sticking as a reliever right now.

3. Chicago White Sox (Traded to Rangers)
Jordan Romano, RHP (from Blue Jays) – Romano is a 25-year-old righty who spent 2018 at Double-A. He’s a strike-throwing righty with a fastball in the 91-93 range and he has an average slider and changeup, both of which reside in the 80-84 range. His command is advanced enough that both of his secondaries play up a little bit. He likely profiles as a fifth starter or rotation depth, but the Rangers current pitching situation is quite precarious and Romano may just end up sticking around to eat innings with the hope that he sticks as a backend starter or swingman when they’re competitive once again.

4. Miami Marlins
Riley Ferrell, RHP (from Astros)- Ferrell was a dominant college closer at TCU and was consistently 93-97 with a plus slider there. He continued to pitch well in pro ball until a shoulder aneurysm derailed his 2016 season. Ferrell needed surgery that transplanted a vein from his groin into his shoulder in order to repair it, and the industry worried at the time that the injury threatened his career. His stuff is back and Ferrell is at least a big league ready middle reliever with a chance to be a set-up man.

5. Detroit Tigers
Reed Garrett, RHP (from Rangers)
Garrett’s velo spiked when he moved to the bullpen in 2017 and he now sits in the mid-90s, touches 99 and has two good breaking balls, including a curveball that has a plus-plus spin rate. He also has an average changeup. He’s a fair bet to carve out a bullpen role on a rebuilding Tigers team.

6. San Diego Padres
No Pick (full 40-man)

7. Cincinnati Reds
Connor Joe, 3B (from Dodgers) – The Reds will be Joe’s fourth team in two years as he has been shuttled around from Pittsburgh (which drafted him) to Atlanta (for Sean Rodriguez) to the Dodgers (for cash) during that time. Now 26, Joe spent 2018 split between Double and Triple-A. He’s a swing changer who began lifting the ball more once he joined Los Angeles. Joe is limited on defense to first and third base, and he’s not very good at third. He has seen a little bit of time in the outfield corners and realistically projects as a four-corners bench bat who provides patience and newfound in-game pop.

8. Texas Rangers (Traded to Royals)
Chris Ellis, RHP (from Cardinals)- Ellis, 26, spent 2018 split between Double and Triple-A. One could argue he has simply been lost amid St. Louis’ surfeit of upper-level pitching but his stuff — a low-90s sinker up to 94 and an average slider — did not compel us to include him in our Cardinals farm system write up. The Royals took Brad Keller, who has a similar kind of repertoire but better pure stuff, and got more out of him than I anticipated, so perhaps that will happen with Ellis.

9. San Francisco Giants
Travis Bergen, LHP (from Blue Jays)- Bergen looked like a lefty specialist in college but the Blue Jays have normalized the way he strides toward home, and his delivery has become more platoon-neutral in pro ball. He has a fringy, low-90s fastball but has two good secondaries in his upper-70s curveball and tumbling mid-80s change. So long as he pitches heavily off of those two offerings, he could lock down a bullpen role.

10. Toronto Blue Jays
Elvis Luciano, RHP (from Royals)- Luciano turns 19 in February and was the youngest player selected in the Rule 5 by a pretty wide margin. He was acquired by Kansas City in the trade that sent Jon Jay to Arizona. Though he’ll touch 96, Luciano’s fastball sits in the 90-94 range and he has scattershot command of it, especially late in starts. His frame is less projectable than the typical teenager so there may not be much more velo coming as he ages, but he has arm strength and an above-average breaking ball, so there’s a chance he makes the Jays roster in a relief role. He has no. 4 starter upside if his below-average changeup and command progress. If he makes the opening day roster, he’ll be the first player born in the 2000s to play in the big leagues.

11. New York Mets
Kyle Dowdy, RHP (from Indians)
Dowdy’s nomadic college career took him from Hawaii to Orange Coast College and finally to Houston, where he redshirted for a year due to injury. He was drafted by Detroit and then included as a throw-in in the Leonys Martin trade to Cleveland. He’s a reliever with a four-pitch mix headlined by an above-average curveball that pairs pretty well with a fastball that lives in the top part of the strike zone but doesn’t really spin. He also has a mid-80s slider and changeup that are fringy and exist to give hitters a little different look. He could stick in the Mets bullpen.

12. Minnesota Twins
No Pick (full 40-man)

13. Philadelphia Phillies (Traded to Orioles)
Drew Jackson, SS (from Dodgers)- Jackson is a plus runner with a plus-plus arm and average defensive hands and actions at shortstop. He’s not a great hitter but the Dodgers were at least able to cleanse Jackson of the Stanford swing and incorporate more lift into his cut. He had a 55% ground ball rate with Seattle in 2016 but that mark was 40% with Los Angeles last year. He also started seeing reps in center field last season. He projects as a multi-positional utility man.

14. Los Angeles Angels
No Pick (team passed)

15. Arizona Diamondbacks
Nick Green, RHP (from Yankees)- Green has the highest present ranking on The Board as a 45 FV, and we think he’s a near-ready backend starter. Arizona lacks pitching depth, so Green has a pretty solid chance to make the club out of spring training. He induces a lot of ground balls (65% GB% in 2018) with a low-90s sinker and also has a plus curveball.

16. Washington Nationals
No Pick (team passed)

17. Pittsburgh Pirates
No Pick (team passed)

18. St. Louis Cardinals
No Pick (full 40-man)

19. Seattle Mariners
Brandon Brennan, RHP (from Rockies)- Brennan is a 27-year-old reliever with a mid-90s sinker that will touch 97. He has an average slider that relies heavily on it’s velocity more than movement to be effective. The real bat-misser here is the changeup, which has more than 10 mph of separation from Brennan’s fastball and dying fade.

20. Atlanta Braves
No Pick (team passed)

21. Tampa Bay Rays
No Pick (full 40-man)

22. Colorado Rockies
No Pick (team passed)

23. Cleveland Indians
No Pick (team passed)

24. Los Angeles Dodgers
No Pick (full 40-man)

25. Chicago Cubs
No Pick (team passed)

26. Milwaukee Brewers
No Pick (team passed)

27. Oakland Athletics
No Pick (team passed)

28. New York Yankees
No Pick (full 40-man)

29. Houston Astros
No Pick (team passed)

30. Boston Red Sox
No Pick (team passed)

Second Round

San Francisco Giants
Drew Ferguson, OF- Ferguson is a hitterish tweener outfielder with a good combination of bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline. He has a very short, compact stroke that enables him to punch lines drives to his pull side and he’s tough to beat with velocity. Ferguson doesn’t really run well enough to play center field and lacks the power for a corner, so his likely ceiling is that of a bench outfielder.


Royals Get Slightly More Interesting

Billy Hamilton does several things really well. Since the start of the 2014 season, Hamilton has stolen 264 bases, which is the most in baseball. During that time, he’s been worth 51 runs above average on the bases, which is also the best in baseball by a considerable margin. He’s been worth 55 runs above average on defense, which is sixth in the entire sport. Unfortunately, he’s also been a terrible hitter, with an anemic .244/.297/.332 line over the last five seasons. Of the 164 players with at least 2000 plate appearances over that span, Hamilton’s 69 wRC+ comes in dead last. The Reds no longer wished to deal with a player who, despite doing several things really well, is generally below average, particularly as Hamilton’s salary was set to rise in arbitration, so they did not tender him a contract. Hamilton has found a new home in Kansas City.

According to Buster Olney, the Royals and the speedy center fielder have agreed to a deal that will pay Hamilton $5.25 million, plus an additional one million dollars in potential incentives. MLB Trade Rumors projected Hamilton would receive $5.9 million in arbitration, so this deal falls a little short of that estimate.

For the Reds, the move opens up some options in a crowded part of their roster. With a full infield of Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, the surprising Jose Peraza, and Eugenio Suarez, the team didn’t have room for top prospect Nick Senzel. The third base prospect was tried out in the middle infield last season, but he seems likely to take on a new project in center field next year.

Given the terms of Hamilton’s deal with Kansas City, there wasn’t likely a robust trade market for him. In Kansas City, he should get the opportunity to show off his great defensive skills and base running for a team not likely to win a lot of games next year. The Royals still seem to be committed to Brett Phillips, part of the return for Mike Moustakas last season in a deadline deal with the Brewers. That means that Phillips will likely move to right field, and with Alex Gordon in left field, the team should have very good outfield defense, though perhaps not quite on the level of the Boston Red Sox.

Despite his flaws, Billy Hamilton is one of the more exciting players in baseball, and it is good for the sport that he appears to have found a full-time home for next season.


FanGraphs Audio Presents: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Ep. 5

UMP: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Episode 5
This is the fifth episode of a weekly program co-hosted by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel about player evaluation in all its forms. The show, which is available through the normal FanGraphs Audio feed, has a working name but barely. The show is not all prospect stuff, but there is plenty of that, as the hosts are Prospect Men. Below are some timestamps to make listening and navigation easier.

0:23 – What games Eric and Kiley have seen lately: Arizona Fall League and the Diamond Club showcase for Florida high school prospects, featuring a Tyler Callihan update.

2:19 – TOPIC ONE: Yahoo’s Jeff Passan joins us to talk about the Astros cheating scandal and its many facets.

7:15 – Eric reviews the Chinese phone the Astros were using, which should be called the fruit calorie counting machine.

14:50 – Jeff inquires about the status of Kiley’s backyard and dog while Eric reveals how revealing he currently is.

23:08 – We lose Jeff due to technology, and he returns via a time jump, feat. flight attendant announcements.

24:30 – Jeff reveals who is more petty than him, but only by a small margin.

25:23 – Jeff’s antisocial plane tips.

26:54 – A mini topic about Manny Machado’s playoff behavior affecting his free agent market.

29:00 – A mini topic about the Luke Heimlich/Dayton Moore connection living on.

32:48 – TOPIC TWO: How we would put together a scouting department in today’s baseball.

33:56 – Options for structuring the pro scouting department.

34:50 – The biggest factor we don’t have access to: minor league TrackMan.

36:25 – Pros and cons of the different pro scouting department structures.

38:12 – How Eric would structure his pro department.

38:58 – Something to keep in mind in terms of allocating scout days on the amateur side.

40:15 – Kiley jumps in to ask about DSL coverage.

41:39 – Introducing the concept of dynamic pro coverage.

44:00 – Kiley jumps in again to clarify the pyramid of scout experience/assignments.

46:05 – What sorts of scouts can beat the TrackMan data at projecting prospects in the upper levels?

49:10 – When are the robots coming for us?

52:20 – The structural question the guys aren’t sure about

55:46 – TOPIC THREE: The saga of Barbecue Yee with Jake Mintz of Cespedes Family BBQ

56:16 – Jake makes the worst pun in the history of the podcast.

1:00:53 – Jake and Kiley laugh uncontrollably for the first time.

1:03:40 – Is varsity baseball a constitutionally protected right? You heard me right.

1:07:50 – Jake’s first great free idea for the Yee family.

1:16:26 – Jake’s second great free idea for the Yee family.

1:20:09 – The best outtakes portion we’ve ever had.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @kileymcd or @longenhagen on Twitter or at prospects@fangraphs.com.

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

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 22 min play time.)

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