Projecting the Prospects in the Aroldis Chapman Deal

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the Chapman blockbuster by now. Yesterday, lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen gave his take on the prospects involved. Below, I outline what my newly revamped KATOH projection system thinks about the youngsters headed to the Yankees. I also go on to compare that group to the group the Yankees sent to Cincinnati last December in exchange for Chapman’s services.

Note that I’ve included two types of KATOH projection. KATOH denotes the newest iteration of my projection system, outlined yesterday. KATOH+ denotes a version of that same thing which also accounts for Baseball America’s prospect rankings.


Gleyber Torres, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 5.6 WAR
KATOH+ Projection: 7.1 WAR

Although he’s just 19, Torres has been one of the more productive hitters in High-A this year. The Venezuelan shortstop is slashing .275/.359/.433 on the year, with an impressive nine homers and 19 steals. In addition to his offensive exploits, Torres plays an uber-premium position and plays it well.

Torres has been holding his own against older pitchers since he debuted in 2014 as a 17-year-old in Rookie ball, but it wasn’t until this year that he hit for more than a modicum of power. By adding power to his game, Torres has advanced his prospect status from promising teenager to shortstop of the future. The one fly in the ointment is Torres’ semi-high strikeout rate. Given everything else he has going for him, however, that’s a minor concern. My KATOH+ model rates him as the 27th-best prospect in baseball, which is mighty impressive considering he has nary an at-bat above A-ball.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis below is separate from KATOH, which 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 are mostly just there for fun.

Gleyber Torres’ Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Mah Dist Name KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 1.0 Brent Butler 4.7 0.0
2 2.3 D’Angelo Jimenez 5.4 7.7
3 2.4 Joaquin Arias 5.1 1.0
4 2.4 Edgardo Alfonzo 8.0 23.5
5 2.5 Pedro Castellano 4.5 0.0
6 2.8 Aaron Ledesma 3.8 2.5
7 3.0 Robert Valido 4.3 0.0
8 3.2 Joe Thurston 6.0 0.2
9 3.4 Jose Castillo 3.8 0.1
10 3.4 Victor Rodriguez 3.7 0.0


Billy McKinney, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 1.7 WAR
KATOH+ Projection: 1.3 WAR

McKinney had a strong 2015 campaign as a 20-year-old between High-A and Double-A but has been very underwhelming so far this season. Though he’s spent more than a full season at Double-A, he’s yet to master the level, and has actually performed notably worse this year relative to last year.

McKinney has never been much of a power hitter, but he appeared to have developed some doubles power last season while still maintaining a stellar batting average. This year, however, he’s put up a paltry .070 ISO. Meanwhile his strikeout rate has crept up towards 20%.

Although he played center field in the not-too-distant past, he’s been used exclusively in the outfield corners this season. Worse yet, Clay Davenport’s defensive metrics peg him as a below-average right fielder. That’s no bueno for a guy with such minimal power.

Billy McKinney’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Mah Dist Name KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 0.96 Chris Magruder 1.2 0.8
2 1.22 Brad Wilkerson 1.5 13.1
3 1.27 Jaisen Randolph 1.8 0.0
4 1.59 Darren Burton 0.8 0.0
5 1.83 Duane Singleton 1.2 0.0
6 2.03 Jon Hamilton 0.5 0.0
7 2.19 Buck McNabb 1.3 0.0
8 2.20 Mike Basse 0.8 0.0
9 2.24 Chin-Feng Chen 0.7 0.0
10 2.26 Sergio Cairo 1.0 0.0


Rashad Crawford, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 0.3 WAR
KATOH+ Projection: 0.2 WAR

Going by the stats, Crawford doesn’t look like much of a prospect. He strikes out too much for someone with such little power, and despite his speed, isn’t well-regarded by the defensive metrics in center field. Eric noted yesterday that Crawford possesses “raw but explosive tools,” so there’s perhaps some update there. But Eric agrees with KATOH’s sentiment that Crawford is likely a high-minors player.


OK, so that’s obviously quite a haul for three months of a reliever. It’s a bigger haul than we typically see in deals like this. It also happens to be significantly more than the Yankees paid for Chapman’s services a mere seven months ago. Rookie Davis and Eric Jagielo were fringy prospects to begin with, and both have taken a step backward this year. Tony Renda looks kind of interesting due to his contact and speed, but he’s also 5-foot-8 and 25 years old — and appears to have been moved from second base to left field. The chart below compares the returns (ignoring the Adam Warren and Caleb Cotham pieces of the deals).


The bar on the right is like half the size of the one on the left! But before you go berating the Cubs and the Reds and/or erecting a statue of Brian Cashman, keep in mind that this isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Although he’s the same pitcher with more or less the same skill set, Chapman’s trade value is not the same as it was seven months ago.

Back in December, Chapman was fresh off of his ugly domestic-violence incident, which added a bunch of risk to his profile. First, there was the question of whether (and how long) he’d be suspended under MLB’s domestic-violence policy. Beyond that, there was the obvious PR risk associated with acquiring a player who had so recently done something so grotesque. Beyond that, there were suddenly serious issues about Chapman’s character. This time around, Chapman has no looming suspension attached to him, and (rightly or wrongly) the PR and character concerns may not loom as large in teams’ minds. The Yankees sold an asset less risky than the one they bought.

It’s also worth noting that, while the Yankees clearly bought and sold Chapman at the right time, their financial muscle perhaps played a role in their ability to do so. As a small-market team in rebuild mode, the Reds may have been under pressure to get Chapman’s salary off the books before the season. The Yankees, on the other hand, had the leverage to hold onto him until they got the offer they wanted. Luckily for them, there was a team who hasn’t won in over 100 years that desperately wanted an elite lefty reliever for the stretch run.

Comparing the Reds’ prospect haul to the Yankees’ isn’t completely fair to the teams involved, as the circumstances surrounding the two trades were very different. But holding these two deals side by side, it seems the Yankees may have pulled off the baseball equivalent of the One Red Paperclip Project. In seven months time, they turned four spare parts into an exciting young shortstop and other spare parts.

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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Wow, look at those comparisons, only one sort of valuable guy in there. Hopefully he doesn’t end up like any of them!