#5 – Conor Gillaspie, 3B, San Francisco
Nominally, Gillaspie joins Team Joy Squad because, despite being considered only a marginal prospect, he was the only batter in the Arizona Fall League to match his strikeout total with his home run total (recording five of each). What that means, specifically, is that he was first overall on the SCOUT leaderboard — that is, the method this author devised for attempting to say something about a player’s performance in the absence of large samples. So, effectively, Gillaspie’s success would be my success; his failure, my conspicuous failure. Gillaspie was 19th on John Sickels’ top-20 Giant prospect list in 2010; he (i.e. Gillaspie) doesn’t appear to’ve made the 2011 version. Still, he’s only struck out in 14.2% of his minor league at-bats and has walked in 8.9% of plate appearances. Really, the thing that he hasn’t shown is power. But, at only 23, it’s entirely possible that his power could arrive — and that his AFL performance is an indication of that.
#4 – Edinson Volquez, RHP, Cincinnati
Up to the point that he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in August 2009, Volquez had done some pretty excellent things already in the majors, both in the traditional sense (going 17-6 in 2008) and from what we might call a sabermetric perspective (posting a pitching line of 9.46 K/9, 4.27 BB/9, and 46.3 GB% — good for a 3.88 xFIP and 4.2 WAR in 196.0 IP — that same season). For a pitcher who’d already had control issues, Tommy John — which generally affects control the most — didn’t bode well. And it’s true: in his first eight starts back after rehabbing, Volquez had 36 strikeouts but 27 walks (6.9 BB/9) in 35.0 innings. That prompted the Reds to send Volquez down to Low A Dayton, where he (i.e. Volquez) worked on some mechanical issues. Upon returning, Volquez was ridiculous in his last four games: 27.2 IP, 31 K, 8 BB, 54.1 GB%, 2.69 xFIP. The caveat is that two of those teams were Houston and Pittsburgh. But Team Joy Squad prefers to look less at that and more at a changeup that breaks four inches lower than league average and gets whiffs 24.4% of the time it’s thrown (relative to the league average of 12.63% and Tim Lincecum’s 26.7% last season).
(See video of the changepiece here.)
#3 – Zack MacPhee, 2B, Arizona State
#2 – Chris Balcom-Miller, RHP, Boston
I am chagrined zero percent when I quote the following from this year’s Second Opinion — a passage that I have also written out in winding script and sent to Master Balcom-Miller himself via post.
Balcom-Miller’s a player to be genuinely excited about, as he’s demonstrated the potential to grade out above average in the three major components that a pitcher can control — i.e. strikeouts, walks, and home-run prevention. His [ZiPS Major League Equivalency) for his 100 or so innings with High-A Asheville come out like this: 6.52 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 0.72 HR/9. Sites StatCorner and First Inning both have the righty’s ground-ball rate at around 60% — a number that makes sense with scouting reports of his fastball, which features heavy sink. He was traded at the end of last August to Boston in exchange for reliever Manny Delcarmen, a deal that the Red Sox almost definitely won. He may not make the Majors this year, but he’s likely to succeed once he does.
#1 – Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado
It’s legitimately startling to me that Blackmon doesn’t receive more attention. Despite perhaps being a touch old for Double-A last season (he turned 24 on July 1st, which technically made it his age-23 season), he’s a player who offers almost everything: plate discipline (8.4 BB% and 12.8 K% in 2010), a bit of power, good speed, the ability to play center — and, plus, he has an excellent, athletic frame. He was particularly impressive in the Arizona Fall Leaugue, where he hit three homers while striking out just six times in 86 PA — good for second overall on the SCOUT leaderboard. Spring has brought more of the same, too: in 35 ABs, Blackmon’s got 5 K, 5 BB, and a HR. In terms of his future, I’ve noted in these pages that I think he’s a better player than Brandon Belt (by which I suppose I mean he’ll out-WAR Belt on his career). All that — combined with the relatively low expectations for him generally — are what conspire to make Blackmon the Captain of Team Joy Squad.
Team Joy Squad 2011 (Complete!)
C Chris Iannetta, C, COL 1B Gaby Sanchez, 1B, FLA 2B Zack MacPhee, 2B, ASU 3B Conor Gillaspie, 3B, SF SS Zelous Wheeler, SS, MIL LF Brian Cavazos-Galvez, OF, LAD CF Charlie Blackmon, OF, COL RF Jason Heyward, OF, ATL DH Juan Francisco, "3B", CIN B Eric Farris, UTIF, MIL B Brent Morel, UTIF, CHA B Mitch Moreland, 1B, TEX B Cameron Maybin, OF, SD B Robinson Chirinos, C, TB SP Chris Balcom-Miller, RHP, BOS SP Edinson Volquez, RHP, CIN SP Bud Norris, RHP, HOU SP Ivan Nova, RHP, NYA SP Yunesky Maya, RHP, WAS P Aroldis Chapman, LHP, CIN P Craig Kimbrel, RHP, ATL P Tim Collins, LHP, KC P Manny Parra, LHP, MIL P Felipe Paulino, RHP, COL P Jordan Zimmermann, WAS
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.