I’ll be honest: three months ago, I had never heard of Andrew Toles. I first became aware of the 24-year-old’s existence back in July when I was finalizing my latest KATOH model, and Toles projected favorably. Even then, I didn’t give him much thought. Sure, his performance was encouraging, but he was hardly the only obscure player with a great projection. While I’d contend that all prospects of this ilk deserve more attention, most of Toles’ success had come below the Triple-A level. KATOH is built for the long game, and relatively few A-ballers have an immediate big-league impact.
Toles had an immediate big-league impact. He started hitting as soon as the Dodgers promoted him to the majors in July and he hasn’t stopped since. He ended the year with a .314/.365/.505 batting line in 48 games and played his way into near-regular playing time against right-handed pitchers. His .385 BABIP suggests luck played a role, but at the very least, he showed he belongs on a big-league roster.
Toles’ minor-league numbers from this year strongly resemble what he did in LA. In fact, they were a bit better. Between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, he slashed .331/.374/.511. Toles made a reasonable amount of contact, showed a healthy amount of power and was active on the bases — all while playing mostly center field. From AbBall to the majors, it’s hard to poke holes in what Toles has done this year.
Toles’ 2016 campaign has been remarkable, but it’s even more remarkable given what preceded it. The Georgia native sat out the entire 2015 season after the Rays released him from his minor-league contract for disciplinary reasons. Toles wasn’t a top prospect prior to his release, either. He was coming off of a poor season in A-ball that was shortened both by injury and suspension. Kiley McDaniel ranked him the No. 31 prospect in the Rays’ system two years ago.
31. Andrew Toles, CF Video: Toles has a checkered past: he was kicked off the team at Tennessee after his freshman year, had lots of makeup whispers around him in his draft year out of Chipola JC (he was a 3rd rounder), then was put on the temporarily inactive by the Rays for two months in the middle of the 2014 season. No one is talking about what the reason was, but the whispers point to problems in his personal life. Toles returned from suspension in August and, while getting back in shape in the GCL, injured his wrist; Rays officials say he looked back to normal physically in instructs. On the field, Toles is electric, with 70 speed, good feel for contact and a true center field fit. He still swings at too many pitches outside the zone, so if he can clean that up and trust his speed to get him on base, he could be an everyday player.
Kiley’s words hinted at the makeup concerns that ultimately lead to Toles’ release. But they also hinted at an upside that’s come to fruition this year. Double-plus runners who can also hit are rare birds, and at long last, Toles appears to be capitalizing on his physical tools.
KATOH pegs Toles for 5.8 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method and 5.0 WAR by KATOH+, which integrates Baseball America’s rankings. Both projections put him safely among baseball’s top-100 prospects (50th and 68th, respectively). To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Toles’ first six seasons in the major leagues. This can be interpreted as what Toles might be expected to produce starting next season.
To put some faces to Toles’ statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the Dodgers’ secret weapon. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Toles’ performance this year and every High-A, Double-A and Triple-A season since 1991 in which an outfielder recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.
Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.
|Rank||Player||Mah Dist||KATOH+ Proj. WAR||Actual WAR|
Seemingly out of nowhere, Toles has emerged as a key piece for one of the very best teams in baseball. Two years ago, he was a struggling hitter in A-ball. Last year, he was out of baseball completely. Today, he’s starting a playoff game, and all recent evidence suggests he’s up to the task.