KATOH Projects: Cincinnati Reds Prospects

Previous editions: Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL.

Last week, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the Cincinnati Reds. In this companion piece, I look at that same Cincinnati farm system through the lens of my recently refined 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 first six major-league seasons, those who receive a projection between 1.0 and 2.0 WAR though their first six 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. Jose Peraza, 2B (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 14.9 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

Peraza burst onto the prospect scene in 2014, when he hit .339/.364/.441 between High-A and Double-A. His high BABIP came back to earth a bit in Triple-A last year, but was still roughly a league-average hitter. His .293/.316/. 378 showing wasn’t bad at all for a 21-year-old. Peraza is an interesting prospect due to the outlier-ness of many of his attributes. For example, both of the following sentences are accurate. One: he’s a 70-grade runner who makes tons of contact, is a strong defender up the middle, succeeded in Double-A as a 20-year-old, and held his own as a 21-year-old in Triple-A. And two: he’s a second baseman with minimal power who never walks and has been traded twice in the past seven months. There are clearly pros and cons to Peraza’s profile, but when fed into KATOH, they yield a very favorable projection. I’m always skeptical of the projections for outlier cases like Peraza, so let’s turn to the Mahalanobis comps for more clarity.

But first, a quick programming note: I tweaked my Mahalanobis code to consider the comps’ projected WAR according to KATOH. Previously, I simply listed players who were “most similar,” which isn’t always the same thing as  “most likely to be as good.” I think this new version does a good job of identifying players who fall into (or close to) both categories, though I will certainly continue to play around with it. “KATOH Proj. WAR” refers to that player’s KATOH forecast for the similar season, while “Actual WAR” refers to the WAR he actually accumulated over the projected time period.

Jose Peraza’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name KATOH Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Alcides Escobar 7.6 10.4
2 Omar Infante 13.2 6.5
3 Neifi Perez 4.9 2.0
4 Jimmy Rollins 12.0 25.6
5 Joe Thurston 8.5 0.0
6 Joaquin Arias 3.8 1.4
7 Adam Kennedy 6.6 14.7
8 Manny Alexander 5.7 0.9
9 Rey Sanchez 2.6 3.6
10 Jose Ortiz 7.7 0.3

2. Jesse Winker, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 5.9 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 60 FV

Winker boasts an impressive combination of power and walks, which has helped establish him as one of the top offensive prospects in the baseball over the past couple of years. Unlike many high-power, high-walk players, Winker doesn’t strike out a ton, which bodes well for his transition to the big leagues. Winkler’s hit excellently in the minors, and given his skill set and proximity to the majors, there’s little reason to suspect he won’t carry it over to the majors in the near future.

Jesse Winker’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name KATOH Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Brian Giles 3.6 14.4
2 Dan Peltier 3.8 0.0
3 Alex Romero 6.2 0.0
4 John Barnes 5.5 0.3
5 Terrence Long 4.9 5.1
6 Jacob Cruz 4.8 1.2
7 Omar Ramirez 5.5 0.0
8 Jermaine Dye 6.6 11.2
9 Sean Henry 2.8 0.0
10 Mike Restovich 4.0 0.3

3. Cody Reed, LHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 3.8 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

Reed posted an impressive 24% strikeout rate between High-A and Double-A last year on his way to a 2.93 FIP. This included a 2.24 showing in eight starts after he came over from the Royals in the Johnny Cueto deal. Reed turns 23 in April, so he hasn’t exactly been young for his levels. But his excellent numbers along with his height (6-foot-5) yields one of KATOH’s top pitcher projections.

In generating Reed’s comps, I only considered pitchers who cracked Baseball America’s top-100 list either before or after the season in question. This is intended to act as a proxy for “stuff.”

Cody Reed’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name KATOH Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Matt Morris 4.0 20.7
2 Mark Hutton 3.3 0.8
3 Chad Hutchinson 3.2 0.0
4 Nate Cornejo 3.4 1.8
5 Justin Thompson 3.8 11.2
6 Wade Davis 1.7 8.7
7 Jason Schmidt 5.4 12.9
8 Bobby Jones 5.2 11.1
9 Marc Barcelo 3.6 0.0
10 Colby Lewis 4.6 0.2

4. Robert Stephenson, RHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.8 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

Stephenson had a very rough go of it in 2014. He coughed up 18 homers and walked 12% of batters faced in Double-A on his way to a 4.58 FIP. He got his act together last year, however, and wound up with a 25% strikeout rate and 3.82 FIP in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A. Stephenson has always had very good stuff, but his on-field performance underwhelmed since he advanced past A-Ball. He’s finally started to perform over the last half-season or so, and KATOH’s starting to notice.

In generating Stephenson’s comps, I only considered pitchers who cracked Baseball America’s top-100 list either before or after the season in question. This is intended to act as a proxy for “stuff.”

Robert Stephenson’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name KATOH Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Anibal Sanchez 3.0 11.8
2 Jordan Zimmermann 3.2 17.6
3 Adam Johnson 3.4 0.0
4 Marc Barcelo 3.6 0.0
5 Paul Spoljaric 2.3 1.6
6 Wascar Serrano 2.8 0.2
7 Angel Guzman 4.2 0.9
8 Jesus Colome 1.7 0.5
9 Chan Ho Park 2.5 16.3
10 John Wasdin 3.3 2.5

5. John Lamb, LHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.6 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45+ FV

Lamb was another player who came over in the Johnny Cueto deal. He was one of the top prospects in the Royals organization a few years ago, but wasn’t quite the same pitcher after he underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2011. Lamb redeemed himself last year, though, with a 3.35 FIP in Triple-A and an acceptable 4.16 showing in 10 starts in Cincinnati. Lamb’s 25 now, and much of his prospect shine has worn off. Nonetheless, his 2015 performance suggests he could help out Cincinnati as soon as 2016, even if only as a lefty reliever.

6. Rookie Davis, RHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.3 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

Davis showed glimpses of promise in 2013 and 2014, but he really put himself on the map last year. He opened the year at High-A, where he pitched to a dazzling 2.22 FIP in 19 starts. His performance tailed off a bit following an August promotion to Double-A. But even so, a 3.21 FIP by a 22-year-old in Double-A is nothing to sneeze at. It’s worth noting that Davis has drastically underperformed his FIP in each of the last two years, although I’m hesitant to draw any conclusions based on that discrepancy.

7. Scott Schebler, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.1 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45+ FV

A former 26th-round pick, Schebler began grabbing people’s attention when he belted 55 homers between 2013 and 2014. He came back to earth in 2015 by hitting an unremarkable .241/.322/.410. in Triple-A, but still played semi-regularly for the Dodgers as a September callup. Now that he’s no longer putting up crooked power numbers, Schelber doesn’t stand out in any one particular area, but his 2014 was recent enough that one could imagine his power returning.

8. Alex Blandino, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.1 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

The Reds’ 2014 first-round pick is steadily climbing the minor league ladder. He split 2014 between Rookie Ball and Low-A, and spent 2015 at the High-A and Double-A levels. On the plus side, Blandino is a shortstop with a 132 wRC+ to his name. However, most of that performance came against younger competition. He’s also had some issues keeping his strikeout rate under control, which suggests he may not keep up the pace at the higher levels. Even so, KATOH sees some potential that scouts see.

9. Zack Weiss, RHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.0 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

Weiss has put up outrageous numbers the past two seasons. The catch is that he’s worked exclusively as a reliever. The second catch is that he’s already 23. Naturally, KATOH doesn’t see much upside from the 23-year-old reliever, but seeing how he dominated in Double-A, Weiss feels like a good bet to provide some amount of value going forward.

*****

1-2 WAR Prospects
Rank Name Position KATOH WAR Dan’s FV
10 Phillip Ervin OF 1.6 45+
11 Juan Perez SS 1.6 Unranked
12 Ramon Cabrera C 1.6 Unranked
13 Tyler Stephenson C 1.3 50
14 Tyler Mahle P 1.3 45+
15 Yorman Rodriguez OF 1.2 45
16 Tony Renda 2B 1.2 Unranked
17 Jon Moscot P 1.2 40
18 Jake Cave OF 1.2 40+
19 Chad Wallach 1B 1.1 Unranked
20 Narciso Crook OF 1.0 Unranked
21 Keury Mella RHP 1.0 50
22 Kyle Waldrop OF 1.0 45

As last year’s 11th-overall pick, Tyler Stephenson appears to be the most promising prospect in this tranche. His strikeout and power numbers from his pro debut were underwhelming, but as a catcher, he doesn’t need to hit a ton. Keury Mella pitched well in A-Ball, but his numbers were more good than great, especially for a guy who turned 22 in-season. KATOH will believe a bit more if he continues to miss bats at Double-A. Phillip Ervin’s 14 homers and 34 steals from last season jump off the page, but his age relative to level and somewhat high strikeout rates give KATOH pause. Tyler Mahle had a strong age-20 season in Low-A. KATOH’s almost never high on pitchers in the low minors, but will surely warm up to Mahle if he continues to succeed at the higher levels.

Juan Perez is a shortstop who made it to the Triple-A level as a 23-year-old. Although he’s a poor hitter, he posted double-digit homers and steals as recently as 2014. Ramon Cabrera has no power to speak of, but makes tons of contact and plays catcher. He also managed a 137 wRC+ in a September callup for what that’s worth. Tony Renda is the second base version of Ramon Cabrera. Chad Wallach is a 24-year-old A-Ball catcher, but is only a year removed from a .321/.430/.476 showing in the Sally League. Narciso Crook didn’t embarrass himself as a 19-year-old in full-season ball last year.

*****

Remaining 45 FV or Higher Prospects

Amir Garrett, LHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 0.9 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

Garrett pitched very well in High-A last season, turning in 2.44 ERA, 2.90 FIP and 23% strikeout rate across 26 starts. KATOH likes that he did those things, but doesn’t like that he did them as a 23-year-old who was drafted out of high school. However, KATOH doesn’t know that Garrett’s a multi-sport athlete who’s still learning how to pitch after spending his first couple of pro baseball years playing basketball at St. John’s. You should ignore his statistical projection.

Nick Travieso, RHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 0.7 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

Travieso spent all of last season at the High-A level, where his performance was just alright. His 19% strikeout rate and 8% walk rate were both a stone’s throw from league average, and at 21, he wasn’t particularly young for his level. His 2014 campaign in Low-A was a similar story. Travieso’s stuff suggests mid-rotation upside, but his performance has lagged behind thus far.

Blake Trahan, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 0.2 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 50 FV

Trahan had a very unusual pro debut last year. The third-rounder kicked things off with a .312/.400/.403 showing in Rookie Ball, which was highlighted by lots of walks, very few strikeouts and very little power. He then capped things off with a terrible 11 games in High-A. Although he fared well in the Pioneer League, KATOH dings him for his age (21-year-old in Rookie Ball), height (5-foot-9) and lack of power. Full season ball should provide us with a better sense of what the future holds for he under-sized third rounder.

Remaining 45 FV Prospects
Name Position KATOH WAR Dan’s FV
Sal Romano P 0.9 45
Eric Jagielo 3B 0.7 45
Gavin Lavalley 3B 0.7 45
Wyatt Strahan P 0.4 45

Sal Romano pitched well in High-A, but gets dinged for his underwhelming strikeout numbers and poor performance in Double-A. Eric Jagielo hit a solid .284/.347/.495 in Double-A last year, but a lot of that was fueled by his .342 BABIP, while his 23% strikeout rate is cause for concern. He’s also nearly 24, which is old even for a college bat. Gavin LaValley held his own as a 20-year-old in A-Ball, but underwhelmed in the power and strikeout rate departments. Wyatt Strahan pitched well in Low-A last year, but did so with an unremarkable strikeout rate as a 22-year-old facing mostly younger competition.

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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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Joshua Choudhury
Member
Joshua Choudhury

Hey Chris–I love KATOH, I think it’s asking an extremely interesting question, and I think the improvements you’ve made this year make it even better.

That said, I think Peraza is a case where using WAR as the dependent variable for your model probably overstates the prospect’s value by quite a bit. Alcides Escobar and Jimmy Rollins, for instance, both augmented their WAR totals pretty significantly via their ability to be credible MLB shortstops, and both the Dodgers and Braves seemed to see Peraza as a second baseman.

I understand why you use WAR as the dependent variable, but I can’t help but think it’s injecting a ton of noise into your model rather than just trying to project players’ hitting ability. Peraza is a nice prospect, and he has a very high floor, but I think comping him to MiLB shortstops based on a positional fixed effect might not be accurate.

Of course, maybe he’ll go all Rollins on the world and make me look silly next year. 🙂