Less-Heralded Hitting Prospects I Like in 2024

Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Hey there, and welcome to the last edition of my data-driven look at some mid-tier hitting prospects I like more than the industry consensus. It feels weird, almost funereal, to start this article by mentioning that the series is ending, but that’s just how it is. This will be the fourth installment of my variably named Prospect Week contribution. In it, I use data and a big pinch of intuition to point out some hitters who I think have a good chance of sticking in the majors, even if they’re not your average Top 100 type.

In the past, I’ve done acceptably well at this; I don’t think it’d be fair to say that I’m great at it, but I’ve come up with my fair share of interesting players using this process. In looking through my past lists, I feel good about the process that led me to some guys you’ve heard of (Miguel Vargas and Ezequiel Tovar are probably my biggest hits so far, but I’ve also gotten some role players, and both Gabriel Moreno and Alejandro Kirk performed incredibly well by my model, though I didn’t end up including them in a list thanks to their pedigree) and plenty you haven’t.

What’s so hard about this project? The obvious thing is that my methods are archaic. I’m using some sorting techniques that are still reasonably current. K-nearest neighbors and multiple binary logistic regressions are still my two favorite techniques, and I think they both still do what I want them to. These approaches aren’t state of the art in statistical analysis, but they’re not particularly far from it, especially when you take into account that I’m a baseball writer instead of a data scientist. Read the rest of this entry »

How To Say You’re Rebuilding Without Saying You’re Rebuilding: A Guide for General Managers

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I’m so glad you’re here. If you’re reading this, you’re a general manager who has finally accepted the simple truth: Your team is a mess, and it’s time to rebuild. That’s a hard pill for anyone to swallow. It’s much easier to live in denial and hurl insults at Dan Szymborski when the ZiPS projections come out. I’m proud of you. An exciting but tenuous path lies before you. Ownership won’t be spending any more money to prop open the contention window. Now that you’ve come to terms with that reality, it’s time to get your fans on board too, and you must do so without making them so angry that they demand a new GM. Fans are a tricky species. They care very much, which is often inconvenient.

The first rule of rebuilding: Never use the word “rebuilding.” People can’t handle it. They’ll gnash their teeth. They’ll rend their garments. They’ll buy every convenience store in the state out of poster board and Sharpies, and spend weeks coming up with devastatingly clever ways to say that you don’t deserve to be gainfully employed. “Rebuilding” is what you do after a tornado destroys your entire town. Nobody wants to think of their beloved baseball team as a patch of land that used to be a house but is now just one wall and a bathtub.

Let’s practice. What’s the word that you’re never, ever allowed to utter? Say it with me…

Okay, see, you immediately failed the test. You should not have said it with me. Rebuilding is what Batman does after Ra’s al Ghul burns his mansion to the ground. It’s painstaking, brick-by-brick work. Sure, you might end up with a Batcave, but there’s all that manual labor that comes first. Read the rest of this entry »

Not All Steep Swings Are Created Equal

Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

There is no baseball topic that gets me more excited than swing diversity. A player’s swing is like a fingerprint: No two are the same. But even similar swings can yield extremely different results. There are many ways to compare swings, but because Vertical Bat Angle (VBA), the angle of the bat at contact relative to the ground, is the most accessible (thanks, SwingGraphs), it’s been my go-to proxy for the last year or so. Of course, you can always use your eyes to visually analyze swings, but having the data to confirm it helps inform the evaluation.

Lately, my video evaluations have focused on hitters with steep VBAs, and even among this group there is a ton of swing diversity. Some take golf-like swings to get to their steep planes and others employ one of my favorite styles: the chicken-wing swing.

Intuitively, it makes sense that hitters with steeps paths are more prone to whiffs than those who have flatter swings. Even so, some of the game’s best contact hitters have swings as steep as some of those who are the most whiff prone. Luis Arraez, for example, has a swing that is just as steep as J.D. Martinez’s, at least according to VBA. Without the data to confirm, it’s hard to know if the same holds true for Attack Angle (AA), the angle of the bat’s path at impact.

To show you exactly what I mean, I’ll compare pairs of hitters with nearly identical average VBAs, but different offensive profiles. A few weeks ago, Davy Andrews wrote about Edouard Julien and the bizarre nature of his platoon splits (and a tune to go along with it). His entire offensive profile drastically changes depending on if he’s facing a lefty or righty. It’s fascinating. After I read the piece, I was immediately curious as to how those trends might relate to Julien’s swing path. At 40 degrees, Julien has one of the steepest VBAs in the majors. It’s almost a perfect diagonal. Here are a few slow motion swings that showcase that:

No matter how high or low the pitch is, Julien manages to get his bat on a diagonal, which last year helped him run an xwOBACON of .443, well above average. His diagonal angle also allows him to crush fastballs. He had a .408 wOBA against heaters but struggled mightily (.287 wOBA) vs. breaking balls. Production against different pitch types is where you tend to see some deviation between hitters with similar VBAs. Like Julien, Freddie Freeman is also a lefty batter with a steep VBA (41.7 degrees), yet despite their similar angles, Julien ran a 44.3% whiff rate against breaking pitches, while Freeman’s whiff rate vs. breaking balls was 27.7%. There are swing components other than VBA that contribute to how such divergence can happen. But before getting to that, let’s check out some of Freeman’s swings from 2023:

Man, Freeman is smooth. Because both he and Julien set up with high hands, they can create a steep path at different pitch heights. This setup allows them to drop their barrel easily and rely on changing posture to adjust to locations. How they do it, though, is where their swings differ. Julien uses more aggressive movements to get to different pitch heights, while Freeman shifts his shoulder plane and avoids more drastic body adjustments. His chicken-wing style is a bit more handsy and less reliant on changing his eye level, and as a result, he has excellent plate coverage. His contact rates on pitches at the top, bottom, and outer thirds of the zone outpace Julien by about eight percentage points in each location.

Two other factors, which are not publicly available, also likely contribute to Freeman’s superior plate coverage: Horizontal Bat Angle (HBA), the horizontal angle of the bat at impact, and bat speed. Freeman, who we’ve already established has a steep VBA on average, appears to be better at altering his swing speeds when necessary, which lets him manipulate his bat angle to cover pitches throughout the zone. You can see this in the third video above, on the changeup breaking down and away from him.

Freeman’s approach also helps him produce against lefties (career 120 wRC+), which is something he has improved upon as he has gotten older (139 wRC+ over the last three seasons). Meanwhile, Julien’s daddy-hack approach sometimes limits his ability to alter his swing speeds and angles, which can often lead to poorly timed swings or mishits and explains why he is prone to hitting groundballs (50.2% last year) despite his steep swing. These issues are more apparent when he faces lefties (22 wRC+, 80% groundball rate), though as Davy pointed out in his Julien piece, he has made only 48 plate appearances against lefties in the big leagues — an incredibly small sample size.

That brings us to the next hitter, Tim Anderson. Even with his steep 39.5-degree VBA, Anderson had a groundball rate above 60% last year. A batter’s contact point has to be extremely deep to pull that off. Here are some swings from him to illustrate that:

Most hitters would struggle to put the ball in play after letting it travel this deep, but TA’s steep barrel and feel for contact in the zone allowed him to pound the ball into the ground over and over and over again last season. The sweeping breaking ball from Rich Hill is the exact type of pitch Anderson would have elevated in years past. Typically, having a steep bat path against an opposite-handed breaking ball is a perfect recipe for an ideal launch angle distribution, but if you’re making deep contact, this is all you can get out of the swing.

Chas McCormick was the anti-Anderson last season, when he mostly refused to hit the ball on the ground against opposite-handed pitching. He can do this because of how he marries his steep, 38.2-degree VBA with ideal contact points. In 2023, he had a 25.6 GB% against left-handed pitchers. That was the third lowest in baseball behind Jorge Soler and Mookie Betts. Unsurprisingly, by wRC+, they were three of the six most productive right-handed hitters against lefties last year. Here are a few swings from McCormick vs. lefties that show his ability to elevate no matter the zone or pitch:

Even on the well-executed curveball from MacKenzie Gore, McCormick’s barrel was on an upward slope at contact because he connected with the pitch out in front of the zone. This is the type of pitch that Anderson would have pounded into the ground despite the similar steepness at contact, because he would’ve let the pitch get deeper before swinging.

McCormick’s closed stride puts him in a great position to elevate any pitch in the middle of the plate, even if it makes it more difficult for him to square up inside pitches in the top half of the zone. That said, as you can see in the video of his swing against Cole Ragans, he can still get to up-and-in pitches when he holds his posture. The main takeaway is that no matter the zone, his barrel is working on an upward slope through contact, which allows him to do more damage.

Although their swings are similarly steep, these four hitters have different swing types that generate different results. VBA is a great tool to use, but it only tells one part of the story.

Picks to Click: Who We Expect to Make the 2025 Top 100


It’s common for our readers to ask which of the players who aren’t on this year’s Top 100 might grace next year’s edition. Who has a chance to really break out? This is the piece for those readers, our “Picks to Click,” the gut-feel guys we think can make the 2025 Top 100.

This is the seventh year we’ve conducted this exercise at FanGraphs, and there are some rules. First, none of the players you see below will have ever been graded as a 50 FV or better prospect in any of our write-ups or rankings. Second, we can’t pick players who we’ve picked in prior years, but the other writers can. For instance, Eric picked Cristhian Vaquero last year, but he didn’t make the Top 100. Eric can’t select him again, but Tess could if she wanted (she didn’t). Read the rest of this entry »

Phillies Take the Walt Whit-Man Bridge

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies have the most stable roster in the major leagues. Not the best, the most stable. All five rotation spots are spoken for, the bullpen is pretty well settled, and at least eight of their nine starting lineup spots have strong incumbents, all of them under team control through at least 2025. Four of them are under team control through 2027.

This is a team that loves to throw around big money in free agency, but after re-signing Aaron Nola in November, and with an extension for Zack Wheeler looking likely, there isn’t really anyone obvious for the Phillies to spend that money on. So, after shoring up some Quad-A rotation depth with split contracts for Kolby Allard and Spencer Turnbull, the Dave Dombrowski-Sam Fuld duumvirate has turned its quartet of eyes to Whit Merrifield. The former Royals and Blue Jays speedster will make $8 million guaranteed, with an $8 million club option for 2025.

Sorry, this is first reference, and I forgot to use his full name: Whitley David Merrifield, Whose 11th-Inning Walk-off Single Led South Carolina to Its First College World Series Title in 2010. It’s a mouthful. (At the risk of overdoing the Gamecock baseball trivia up top, Merrifield just missed overlapping with Bryce Harper’s older brother Bryan, who pitched for Carolina the year after Merrifield got drafted.) Read the rest of this entry »

Eric Kubota Ruminates on Two-Plus Decades as the A’s Scouting Director

Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Kubota is the longest tenured scouting director in MLB, having been promoted to his current position by the Oakland Athletics in 2002. The University of California, Berkeley alum has been with the organization even longer than that; Kubota began working with the A’s in 1984 while still a student. He went on to join the baseball operations department in 1989, serving as assistant scouting director, Pacific Rim coordinator, and then supervisor of international scouting prior to taking the lead role in draft decisions.

His first draft is his most famous — perhaps you’ve heard of Moneyball — but it is by no means Kubota’s only memorable draft, nor his most impactful. Moreover, he has seen a lot change over his time in the industry. That comes with the territory when your scouting experience runs over three decades deep.


David Laurila: Looking back, something that stands out from the interview we did in 2009 was you saying, “The more you know about scouting, the more you know about the draft, and the more you know about prospects, the more you find out that there is more to learn.” All these years later, is there still more to learn?

Eric Kubota: “There is, and I feel even stronger about that now. The more I’ve gone through this, the more I realize how hard it is to try to predict the future on these kids, and the more I realize the need for as much information we can get to make informed decisions.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Top Red Sox Prospect Roman Anthony Adjusted To Power Up

Roman Anthony arguably has the highest upside in the Boston Red Sox system. Three months shy of his 20th birthday, the left-handed-hitting outfielder is No. 14 on our recently-released Top 100, and in the words of Eric Longenhagen, he “has the offensive foundation (plate discipline and contact) to be a top five prospect if he can more readily get to his power in games.”

Getting to more of his in-game power was an organizationally-driven goal throughout a first full professional season that saw the 2022 second-rounder begin in Low-A Salem and finish in Double-A Portland. Progress was made. Of the 14 home runs Anthony swatted over 491 plate appearances, all but one came from mid-June onward. Learning to lift was the key and, according to the youngster that came not from an overhaul of his mechanics, but rather from subtle adjustments.

“At the beginning of the year, I was pulling it on the ground a little more than I would like to,” acknowledged Anthony, who was 200-plus plate appearances into the season when he went yard for a second time. “But I worked with my hitting coaches and eventually it clicked. It was really just minor tweaks. It’s not as though I was redoing my swing, or anything like that. I still have pretty much the same swing I’ve always had.”

According to Red Sox farm director Brian Abraham, Anthony’s adjustments were crafted primarily in a batting cage with simple, yet creative, drill work. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 2126: Season Preview Series: Cardinals and Guardians

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about Rob Manfred’s announcement that he’ll step down as commissioner after his current term. Then they preview the 2024 St. Louis Cardinals (26:01) with The Athletic’s Katie Woo and the 2024 Cleveland Guardians (1:09:24) with MLB.com’s Mandy Bell, plus a postscript (1:44:43).

Audio intro: Alex Ferrin, “Effectively Wild Theme
Audio interstitial 1: Andy Ellison, “Effectively Wild Theme
Audio interstitial 2: Justin Peters, “Effectively Wild Theme
Audio outro: Ian H., “Effectively Wild Theme

Link to Drellich on Manfred 1
Link to Drellich on Manfred 2
Link to Drellich on Manfred 3
Link to Cardinals offseason tracker
Link to Cardinals depth chart
Link to Mozeliak on Ks
Link to Katie’s Athletic archive
Link to Guardians offseason tracker
Link to Guardians depth chart
Link to eclipse opener news
Link to Mandy on the eclipse
Link to Ben on the 2017 eclipse
Link to Langs on Vogt
Link to payrolls page
Link to Mandy’s MLB.com archive
Link to article on Cavnar
Link to Ben on ex-player GMs
Link to Toronto Fogo page
Link to Toronto Fogo article
Link to article on Escobar

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Updating the 2024 Draft Rankings

Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman/USA TODAY NETWORK

Today is the start of the 2024 NCAA Division I baseball season, and to celebrate, I’ve updated my rankings for this draft class. Thirty fresh scouting reports, along with tool grades and assessments of the players’ physical attributes, are available on The Board. As they do every year, these rankings will grow and change between now and the draft. Let’s review the draft order before I talk a little bit about the class: Read the rest of this entry »

Elbow Injuries to Bradish and Means Deal Blow to Orioles

Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

It happens every spring. Pitchers and catchers report to camp and begin working out… and getting hurt. Sometimes they find out they’re already seriously injured, and sometimes the injury is just one that becomes public knowledge as spring training gets underway. The last scenario appears to be the case for the Orioles’ Kyle Bradish, who will start the season on the injured list due to a sprain of his right ulnar collateral ligament that he suffered in January. He’s not Baltimore’s only starter who’s down, either; John Means is behind schedule because his offseason throwing program was delayed in the wake of the elbow soreness that knocked him off the postseason roster.

On the strength of an effective sinker and a couple of nasty breaking pitches, Bradish broke out in 2023, emerging as the staff ace in his second major league season and helping the Orioles surprise the baseball world by winning an AL-best 101 games, their highest total since 1979. Batters slugged just .165 against his curve and .272 against his slider. Both pitches generated whiff rates above 35% and graded among the best pitches of their kind in the majors; the curve was worth 15 runs above average, which ranked third, while his slider (14 runs) ranked 11th. The 26-year-old righty finished third in the AL with a 2.83 ERA in 168.2 innings, accompanying that with a 3.27 FIP (fifth in the league) and 3.8 WAR (eighth, as well as third with 4.9 bWAR). Bradish finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting behind Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray, and Kevin Gausman.

Bradish earned the start in the Division Series opener against the Rangers, and acquitted himself well by striking out nine while allowing just two runs. Even so, he departed with two outs in the fifth inning, down 2-1. The Orioles lost that game, 3-2, and were swept by the eventual World Series winners.

Just as Bradish began his throwing program in January, he experienced irritation in his elbow. According to general manager Mike Elias, after being diagnosed with a UCL sprain, Bradish received an injection of platelet-rich plasma in an effort to stimulate enough healing to avoid Tommy John surgery. One can understand why the Orioles kept a lid on this development during the winter, as it could have affected their leverage in trade and free agent discussions. The timeline does suggest they were aware of Bradish’s issue by the time they acquired Corbin Burnes from the Brewers in exchange for DL Hall, Joey Ortiz and a Competitive Balance Round A pick at the beginning of February.

Unfortunately, the Orioles are well acquainted with the UCL sprain/PRP sequence, having gone through it late last season with closer Félix Bautista, who was sidelined in late August and wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery in October. There’s no indication yet that Bradish’s sprain is as severe as that of Bautista, though even The Mountain’s injury offered hope of rehabbing without surgery. According to Elias, Bradish is scheduled to begin a throwing program on Friday, and he’s still hopeful that the pitcher will avoid surgery and be part of this year’s team. Per MLB.com’s Jake Reel:

“Everything is pointed in the right direction and going well right now at this time. But I’m not at a point where I want to start putting a timeline on when we’re going to see him in Major League action,” Elias said. “Right now, we’re prepping him for a lot of action in 2024, and we’re getting him ready for that as expeditiously and responsibly as possible, but there’s going to be some time involved.”

More via the Baltimore Sun’s Jacob Calvin Meyer:

“Pitching is a dangerous business nowadays,” Elias said. “You never like to hear anybody have elbow or shoulder or wrist injuries or what have you. There are a lot of people who have [PRP injections] and never get surgery, and rest and other treatments do the trick. So, hopefully, that’s where we’re at with this one.”

As for Means, the former All-Star and rotation stalwart underwent Tommy John surgery on April 27, 2022, and returned to the majors last September, making four starts totaling 23.2 innings, with a 2.66 ERA but just an 11.4% strikeout rate and a 5.24 FIP. Just when it looked he might be fit to make a postseason start, the Orioles shut him down due to elbow soreness. He began his offseason throwing routine a month later than usual, hence Elias’ statement that he’s a month behind the team’s healthy starters. Elias acknowledged that a spot on the Opening Day roster for Means would be unlikely.

With those two pitchers out, Baltimore’s rotation to start the season will most likely include righties Burnes, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, and Tyler Wells, and lefty Cole Irvin. The 29-year-old Burnes is coming off an underwhelming season by his standards, with a 3.39 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and 3.4 WAR — all of it respectable but far removed from his dominant 2021 campaign, for which he won the NL Cy Young. The most concerning thing is that his strikeout rate has dropped by about five percentage points in each of his past two seasons, falling from 35.6% in 2021 to 30.5% and then 25.5%; meanwhile, his walk rate has climbed. He still projects to be one of the game’s 10 most valuable starters, and instead of being nickeled and dimed by the Brewers, he’s got a massive free agent contract on the other side of this season if he pitches well.

The 24-year-old Rodriguez is coming off an impressive turnaround in the middle of his rookie season. Cuffed for a 7.35 ERA and 5.91 FIP in 10 starts totaling 45.2 innings in April and May, he did Cy Young-caliber work upon returning from Triple-A Norfolk, abandoning his cutter and posting a 2.58 ERA and 2.76 FIP with a 24% strikeout rate in 13 starts (76.2 innings). The 28-year-old Kremer improved in-season as well, following a 4.78 ERA and 4.92 FIP first half with a 3.25 ERA and 3.98 FIP the rest of the way, while also shaving his home run rate from 1.84 per nine to 0.84. Like Bradish, both pitchers logged their highest innings totals in their professional careers (163.1 for Rodriguez, 172.2 for Kremer).

The same is true for the 29-year-old Wells, who spent the first four months of the 2023 season in the rotation, putting up a 3.80 ERA, albeit with 1.98 homers per nine and a 5.14 FIP. He had already set a career high in innings when the Orioles optioned him, first to Double-A Bowie and then Norfolk. He returned to the O’s in late September as a reliever, and he trimmed those numbers a bit, finishing with a 3.64 ERA and 4.98 FIP in 118.2 innings; in fact, in 13.1 relief innings between the regular season and postseason, he didn’t allow a run and yielded just one hit and one walk while striking out 11. He was expected to compete with the 30-year-old Irvin for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring, but for the moment it appears there’s room for both. Irvin split last year between the rotation and bullpen, making 12 appearances in each capacity and totaling 77.1 innings, with a 4.42 ERA and 4.43 FIP.

Should the Orioles need to dip any further into their depth, 29-year-old lefty Bruce Zimmerman and prospects Cade Povich, a lefty, and Chayce McDermott, a righty, appear to be next in line in some order or another. Zimmerman made a combined 26 starts for the Orioles in 2021 and ’22 but was rocked for a 5.54 ERA and 5.74 FIP in the process. He spent most of last year at Norfolk, where he put up a 4.42 ERA and 3.25 FIP; amid being optioned the maximum of five times, he made seven appearances for the Orioles, all in relief, for a total of 13.1 innings.

Povich and McDermott both split last season between Bowie and Norfolk. Povich, a 2021 third-round pick who rated as a 45 FV prospect as of last year’s midseason update, is a pitchability type with a low-90s fastball and a cutter that’s become a swing-and-miss weapon. He struck out an impressive 31.1% of hitters last year but put up a 5.04 ERA and 4.21 FIP in 126.2 innings. McDermott, a 2021 fourth-round pick acquired from the Astros in the Trey Mancini trade, rated as a 40 FV prospect in the aforementioned update. Wiry and long-levered at 6-foot-3, 197 pounds, McDermott throws a 93-95 mph fastball with two breaking pitches that are at least above average and a cutter, which he added last year. Command issues, though, may limit him to a bullpen role; he walked 13.8% last year while striking out 30.9%, accompanied by a 3.10 ERA and 3.67 FIP in 119 innings.

The Orioles could dip into the trade or free agent market for reinforcements, but at this juncture, it seems unlikely that they’d sign either Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell, or revisit trade talks for Dylan Cease. According to the New York Post’s Jon Heyman, the prospects dealt to the Brewers for Burnes were the ones Baltimore offered the White Sox. Lefty Hyun Jin Ryu and righties Mike Clevinger, Michael Lorenzen, and Zack Greinke are the top unsigned free agents in terms of their 2024 projections, though they are hardly the only options.

So long as the O’s retain the hope of a Bradish return this season, odds are they won’t go overboard with an immediate impact move. The most likely scenario is that they’ll push through with their in-house options with an eye toward a midseason addition if they’re in contention again — which is expected to be the case given their 53.2% playoff odds at this writing. Still, this injury is a downer for taking one of the game’s recent breakouts out of circulation. We can only hope it’s not for the whole season.