KATOH Projects: Chicago Cubs Prospects

Yesterday, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the Chicago Cubs. In this companion piece, I look at that same Chicago farm system through the lens of my KATOH projection system. There’s way more to prospect evaluation than just the stats, so if you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read Dan’s piece in addition to this one. KATOH has no idea how hard a pitcher throws, how good a hitter’s bat speed is, or what a player’s makeup is like. So it’s liable to miss big on players whose tools don’t line up with their performances. However, when paired with more scouting-based analyses, KATOH’s objectivity can be useful in identifying talented players who might be overlooked by the industry consensus or highly-touted prospects who might be over-hyped.

Below, I’ve grouped prospects into three groups: those who are forecast for two or more wins through their age-28 seasons, those who receive a projection of at between 1.0 and 2.0 WAR though their age-28 seasons, and then any residual players who received Future Value (FV) grades of 45 or higher from Dan. Note that I generated forecasts only for players who accrued at least 200 plate appearances or batters faced last season. Also note that the projections for players over a relatively small sample are less reliable, especially when those samples came in the low minors.

1. Albert Almora, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 12.7 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 3.3 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 50 FV

After a down 2014 campaign, Almora re-established his prospect status with a strong showing in Double-A last year. The toolsy outfielder made loads of contact, and paired it with a respectable amount of power and speed. The end result was a .272/.327/.400 triple slash, which was eons better than his .234/.250/.335 showing from his pit-stop at the same level last year.

2. Billy McKinney, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 11.2 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 2.7 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

McKinney hit an excellent .300/.371/.454 between High-A and Double-A despite playing the entire season as a 20-year-old. He substantially cut down on his strikeout rate from 2014, which was previously his biggest flaw. McKinney is far from the toolsiest prospect on this list, but his age-relative performance was nothing short of excellent last year.

3. Willson Contreras, C (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 10.1 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 0.1 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 50 FV

After an underwhelming performance in High-A last year, Contreras nearly slashed his strikeout rate in half after a promotion to Double-A. He struck out nearly as often as he walked and hit for decent power, all while starting 75 games at catcher. It’s hard to quibble with a catcher who hits .333/.413/.478 in Double-A, though he doesn’t have a long track record of offensive success.

4. Jeimer Candelario, 3B (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 6.4 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 0.8 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45+ FV

Candelario broke out in a big way last year by slashing .277/.339/.431 as a 21-year-old between High-A and Double-A. Candelario hits for a good deal of power and makes a good amount of contact, which are the hallmarks of a good hitting prospect. Time will tell if he’ll build on his 2015 performance or regress back to his 2014 self.

5. Gleyber Torres, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 6.3 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 3.0 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 60 FV

After a strong showing in Rookie Ball in 2014, the Cubs pushed Torres to full-season ball last year, and he didn’t disappoint. He hit .293/.353/.386 with 22 steals as a shortstop in Low-A, which earned him a brief cameo in High-A. Torres’ distance from the majors and high-ish strikeout rate make him a bit risky, but there’s tons to like.

6. Eloy Jimenez, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 6.1 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): N/A
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

Jimenez hit a strong .284/.328/.418 in short-season A-Ball last year at the tender age of 18. He didn’t stand out in any one area statistically, but he hit for a respectable amount of power for someone his age — and his 6-foot-4 frame suggests more power may be on the way. It will be interesting to see how he fares in full-season ball next year, as he could easily grade out much better with a strong season.

7. Taylor Davis, C (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 3.3 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): N/A
Dan’s Grade: Unranked

Davis hit a solid .311/.361/.483 in the minors last year, with most of his games coming at the Triple-A level. Davis makes a lot of contact, and complements it with a healthy dose of power. All and all, he has a compelling offensive package. What really sets Davis apart, though, is that he plays catcher, where the bar for offense is comically low. Taylor’s already 26, so there’s probably not a lot of upside here, but there’s little reason to think Davis could’t fill in as a backup catcher very soon. Davis is also notable in that he signed as an undrafted free agent way back in 2011, and was therefore treated like an organizational catcher up until recently.

8. Victor Caratini, C (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 3.2 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 2.6 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 40 FV

Caratini is a former second-round pick who’s held his own in A-Ball each of the last two years. He doesn’t stand out in any one area offensively, and is already 22, but gets a boost for being a catcher. He still needs to prove himself in the upper levels, but has shown promise offensively.

9. Chesny Young, 2B (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 2.8 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): N/A
Dan’s Grade: 40 FV

Young is a very peculiar player. A former 14th-round pick, hit .317/.391/.381 between two levels of A-Ball last year in his first season as a pro. He struck out in less than 9% of his plate appearances and posted an ISO of just .064. Young is a slap-hitting second baseman, which automatically makes him a fringy prospect. But he makes tons of contact, draws walks and runs well. Though, people made the same arguments about a guy named Jackie Rexrode many, many moons ago.

10. Jason Vosler, 3B (Profile)

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 2.1 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): N/A
Dan’s Grade: Unranked (Cistulli’s Guy)

As a 16th-round pick, Vosler looked like a non-prospect heading into the year. He didn’t look much different in July following a .235/.285/.341 showing in Low-A. But then he took off in High-A by hitting .244/.389/.441 in 157 PAs. It remains to be seen if Vosler continues to rake in 2016, but his late-season surge was enough to catch KATOH’s eye. If his late-season performance is any indication, Vosler could soon add his name to the long list of exciting Cubs prospects.

*****

1-2 WAR Players

Cubs Prospects Foretasted for 1-2 WAR thru 28
Rank Name Position WAR thru 28 Dan’s FV
11 Trevor Clifton  RHP 1.9 40
12 Mark Zagunis OF 1.7 50
13 Christian Villanueva 3B 1.6 45
14 Oscar De La Cruz  RHP 1.5 50
15 Dallas Beeler  RHP 1.5 Unranked
16 Jen-Ho Tseng RHP 1.5 40
17 Ryan Williams  RHP 1.3 45+
18 Charcer Burks OF 1.2 Unranked
19 Bijan Rademacher OF 1.1 35
20 Jeremy Null RHP 1.0  Unranked
21 Ian Happ OF 1.0  55
22 Paul Blackburn RHP 1.0  40
23 Erick Leal RHP 1.0  Unranked

Ian Happ was more good than great in his pro debut — especially in the contact department — but I wouldn’t read much into under 300 plate appearances at the very start of a guy’s career. Oscar De La Cruz pitched very well in short-season A-Ball, but KATOH doesn’t like that he already turns 21 in a few weeks. However, KATOH doesn’t know that he’s a very “young” 21 since he played shortstop up until 2013.

Mark Zagunis mashed .271/.406/.412 in High-A last year, and hit similarly well in his debut season in 2014. KATOH is lukewarm on him since most of his success stems from his sky-high walk rate. Even so, he’s shown a decent combination of contact and power.

Ryan Williams dominated in Low-A and Double-A, but gets dinged for already being 24. Christian Villanueva hit for good power in Triple-A last year, but struggled to get on base. Although he was a 12th round pick, Trevor Clifton struck out a good amount of batters in Low-A last season.

*****
Others

Duane Underwood, RHP

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 0.8 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 1.0 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

Underwood underwhelmed in High-A last year, although an elbow injury may help explain some of his struggles. Thanks to a strikeout rate under 17%, he ended the year with a 4.16 FIP in 14 starts. It’s notable that he’s vastly outperformed his peripherals in each of the last two seasons, but I’m hesitant to declare any of that was Underwood’s doing.

Dylan Cease, RHP

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): N/A
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): N/A
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

Cease tossed just 24 innings after Tommy John surgery, which wasn’t enough to generate a KATOH forecast. Still, his 25% strikeout rate hints that there’s something there. His 16% walk rate is a bit of an eyesore, though.

Dan Vogelbach, 1B

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 0.7 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 1.5 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

Vogelbach slashed .272/.403/.425 in Double-A last year, and hit similarly well in years past. However, the way he achieved those numbers turns KATOH off. Much of Vogelbach’s success was derived from his elevated walk rate, which isn’t overly predictive of future big league success. His 19% strikeout rate also represents a red flag. Vogelbach has crushed minor league pitching, but KATOH doesn’t think he’ll hit enough in the majors to succeed as a first baseman. Though, as Dan noted, injuries prevented him from using his lower half last year. That likely helps explain his unspectacular offensive numbers.

Jake Stinnett, RHP

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 0.3 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): N/A
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

Stinnett had a mediocre year as a 23-year-old in Low-A, which is why KATOH is way down on him. However, KATOH is blind to the fact that Stinnett has only been pitching since 2013, so his age doesn’t tell the full story. Both his strikeout rate and walk rate were underwhelming, resulting in a 4.46 ERA and 4.20 FIP. But looking at Stinnett’s full season loops in some terrible performances early on, and overlooks his 5.7 K/BB over his final seven starts. There’s way more to Stinnett than his 2015 stat line.

Carl “CJ” Edwards, RHP

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 0.9 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 2.4 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

Edwards moved to the bullpen in 2015, and had a good deal of success in his new role. In 55 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, he posted a 3.27 FIP and 32% strikeout rate, which earned him a September cameo in Chicago. Edwards turns 25 in September, which hurts his projection a bit, but he looks like a good bet to succeed in the bullpen.

Pierce Johnson, RHP

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 0.9 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 1.1 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

For the second year in a row, Johnson posted a stellar ERA with less-than-stellar peripherals at Double-A. Johnson hasn’t been terrible, but he turns 25 in May. That makes him rather old to just now be figuring out Double-A.

Rob Zastryzny, LHP

KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 0.7 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 1.2 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

After a decent showing in High-A in 2014, the wheels fell off of the wagon for Zastryzny last year. The end result was a 6.23 ERA and a 5.03 FIP. It’s easy to see why KATOH doesn’t like him.

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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