Ruddy Giron: Possible Sleeper in the Padres System by Chris Mitchell February 29, 2016 A month ago, I put out the most recent version of KATOH’s top-100 prospect list. The top of the list looked like this: JP Crawford Jose Peraza Orlando Arcia Corey Seager Ozhaino Albies Julio Urias Max Kepler Ruddy Giron Seven of those eight players are consensus top prospects. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America ranked each of the first seven in their top 100s this winter, while six of those seven — excluding Peraza — cracked Keith Law’s list. Crawford, Arcia, Seager, Albies and Urias didn’t just make those lists, but ranked very close to the top. And then, ranked eighth overall, is a prospect excluded from all the industry’s most notable top-100 lists: Ruddy Giron. Who? Giron is a 19-year-old shortstop in the Padres organization who played at the Low-A level last year. He hit a solid .285/.335/.407 in 96 games and also kicked in 15 steals. Aside from his age, nothing about Giron’s batting line jumps off of the page. But the sum of the parts paints an encouraging picture. Giron was born in 1997. Take a second to let that sink in. Of the 170 players who logged at least 350 plate appearances in Low-A last year, Giron was the second youngest. Only Ozhaino Albies of the Braves was younger, and only by three days. Very few players are assigned to full-season ball before their 19th birthdays. On top of his notable youth, Giron plays shortstop, which is arguably the most premium defensive position on the diamond. And on top of that, Giron held his own on the offensive side of things. He posted a respectable .122 ISO, which was a direct result of his nine homers. Here’s one of those nine. Here’s another. He also struck out in a reasonable 16% of his plate appearances, and was active in the base paths. All of these factors are positives in KATOH’s eyes, and taken together, they yield a very favorable projection. I’ve talked exclusively about Giron’s full-season stats thus far, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t get more granular than that. Some very stark trends took place over the course of his season. His performance trended very heavily in the wrong direction. He hit .231/.273/.300 over his last 62 games, including a .203/.263/.232 showing over his last 19. Giron’s vanishing power had a lot to do with that drop-off. It isn’t immediately clear what this trend might tell us about Giron’s future performance. Giron’s late season slump could be a serious warning sign. Or perhaps he wore down in the second half of his first full season of baseball. It could also be that his hits just so happened to be clumped in the season’s first half. Either way, it’s at least somewhat troubling that his most recent chunk of plate appearances were downright terrible. Speaking of terrible plate appearances, Giron’s 2015 came on the heels of an atrocious 48 games in Rookie Ball in 2014. “Atrocious” might even understate Giron’s performance. After signing for a $600,000 bonus out of the Dominican, he hit a weak .168/.205/.222. The biggest culprits for his struggles were a complete lack of pop and a strikeout rate of 21%. On the one hand, Giron’s pre-2015 track record makes his recent performance somewhat suspicious. We all know the risks of looking for breakouts in small sample sizes, and Giron’s 419 plate appearances from last year certainly qualifies as a small sample. Regression to the mean suggests his true talent is somewhere between his 2014 and 2015 performances. But then again, players break out from time to time, especially in their teenage years. Furthermore, the fact that the Padres sent Giron to full-season ball last year implies they knew something that didn’t show up in his 2014 stat line. Not only was Giron coming off of a poor showing in Rookie Ball, but as an 18-year-old, he was crazy young for a full-season assignment. Giron’s age and 2014 stats make his full-season assignment seem recklessly aggressive, but his performance suggests he was at the appropriate level. Giron’s 2015 numbers make KATOH drool, but it’s fair to question KATOH’s reliability in this case. KATOH is built using historical data points, and 18-year-old shortstops who can hold their own in full-season ball are a rarity. It’s possible my model might not be perfectly calibrated to assess the riskiness of a player like Giron, especially considering he’s so far from the major leagues. Even the best statistical models are prone to error when given inputs dissimilar to the ones one which they were built. As an alternative to his KATOH projections, let’s pull up some comps. These will allow us to zero in on a few players whose stat lines most resembled Giron’s. This might be better than relying on macro trends. In the chart below, you’ll find the Mahalanobis Distance comps for Giron’s Low-A season and every Low-A season since 1990 in which a hitter recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Ruddy Giron’s Mahalanobis Comps Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR 1 Jason Hardtke 9.3 0.0 2 Brent Butler 8.7 0.0 3 Felipe Lopez 9.1 8.3 4 Alex Gonzalez 11.0 8.3 5 Joaquin Arias 9.9 1.7 6 D’Angelo Jimenez 10.6 7.7 7 Miguel Cabrera 10.1 38.8 8 Jose Castillo 12.5 0.1 9 Jimmy Rollins 13.3 25.6 10 Benji Gil 8.1 2.8 Right now you’re probably thinking, “Miguel Cabrera? C’mon.” I’m right there with you. Personally, I don’t think there’s even a remote possibility that Giron’s career even approaches Cabrera’s. He’s five inches shorter and doesn’t have anywhere near the power potential. But Cabrera’s case helps illustrate the breakout potential of an 18-year-old shortstop (yes, Miggy was once a shortstop) who holds his own in full-season ball. Even if the numbers are underwhelming, the fact that he didn’t embarrass himself tells you something. Felipe Lopez, Alex Gonzalez and D’Angelo Jimenez also broke out shortly after their Giron-like seasons, and feel like more realistic comps for Giron. All were quality everyday players who put up multiple 2+ WAR seasons. That’s roughly a 55 on the 20-80 scale. Jimmy Rollins is the pie-in-the-sky, yet quasi-reasonable comp. Giron’s cracked a few Padres-specific prospect lists this winter, but hasn’t ranked very highly. Baseball Prospectus ranked him fifth in the Padres organization, as did Keith Law. Baseball America put him fourth. MLB.com put him eighth. He’s certainly on the prospect radar, but most see him as an somewhat intriguing low-minors guy, rather than a top prospect. The fifth-best prospect in a below-average farm system generally isn’t particularly noteworthy. You might think I’m giving too much thought to a fringy prospect with fewer than 100 games in full-season ball. There’s a decent chance that I am. This article might look silly six years from now after Giron’s gone the route of Jason Hardtke, Brent Butler, Benji Gil or some other player you’ve barely heard of. But my math tells me there’s a strong possibility that Giron has a very bright future ahead of him. And after exploring that possibility a bit further, it doesn’t seem particularly far-fetched. Even with his late-season struggles, Giron did a fine job against much older competition in the Midwest League last year; and historical players who were similarly good in Low-A often succeed in the majors. The data are on Giron’s side, and I’m eager to see how he fares in 2016. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found his way onto some top-100 lists next winter.