The Consensus Top Prospect KATOH Hates

On Tuesday, I published KATOH’s 2017 top-100 list. Naturally, a lot of good players missed the cut. But one omission seemed particularly egregious, relative to the industry consensus. KATOH’s disdain for this player has elicited a few comments in recent months.

From this week’s top-100:

From our Rockies list in November:

From KATOH’s mid-season list in July:

And a Twitter response to that same July post:

Given the industry consensus on Brendan Rodgers, these questions are justified. Most in the game agree that he’s one of the very best prospects in baseball. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, MLB Pipeline and John Sickels all ranked him in their respective top 20s. MLB Pipeline was most optimistic, ranking him sixth overall. Our very own Eric Longenhagen gave him a 60 FV grade, which also likely equates to a top-20 ranking.

It isn’t hard to understand the source of all this love. Rodgers was the third-overall pick in the draft less than two years ago, and he hit .281/.342/.480 as a 19-year-old shortstop in Low-A last year. On top of that, his physical tools have elicited glowing scouting reports. Here’s an excerpt from Eric Longenhagen’s writeup.

Though he doesn’t have any elite tools, Rodgers’ hit/power combination and potential to play the end-all-be-all of defensive positions makes him not only the best prospect in this system but one of the better ones in all of baseball. He has plus bat speed, barrel control, a casual but effective weight transfer, strong wrists and a bat path conducive both to contact and power… He’s a potential star.

Yet for all of Rodgers’ merits, KATOH isn’t buying it. He didn’t even make the cut in the KATOH+ version, which accounts for his No. 16 ranking on Baseball America’s list. Even the scouting-infused model projects him for just 3.4 WAR over his first six big-league seasons: Essentially, it sees him as a future bench player. Here’s his likelihood of outcomes distribution, per KATOH+.

I’m here to unpack why KATOH is so down on Mr. Rodgers.

Rodgers’ 2016 performance looks great on the surface. After all, very few teenage shortstops put up OPSs north of .800 in full-season ball. But it’s important to note that Rodgers’ performance took place in Low-A Asheville, which is a very hitting-friendly environment, especially for right-handed hitters. According to StatCorner, the home-run park factor for righties there is 210. 210! The park factor for doubles and triples is only slightly less extreme, at 167. By comparison, the site has Coors Field’s factors ranging from 108 to 132 by these same metrics. As a result, KATOH dings his power output quite a bit due to his hitting environment.

Rodgers’ home-road splits from last year support KATOH’s fears. He hit a robust .319/.378/.600 at home, but a puny .247/.310/.372 on the road.

To further illustrate Asheville’s inflationary powers, here’s the complete list of right-handed hitters who played back-to-back seasons (200-plus plate appearances) for Colorado’s Low-A and High-A affiliates since 2013. Almost all of their wOBAs and ISOs plummeted after they left Asheville’s friendly confines for the more pitcher-friendly Modesto. Some even experienced a three-digit (!) drop in wOBA.

Right-Handed Prospects Leaving Asheville, 2013-Present
Name Asheville ISO Modesto ISO Chng in ISO Asheville wOBA Modesto wOBA Chng in wOBA
Shane Hoelscher .201 .152 -.049 .432 .337 -.095
Rosell Herrera .172 .091 -.081 .426 .289 -.137
Mike Benjamin .225 .189 -.036 .423 .331 -.092
Francisco Sosa .215 .161 -.054 .421 .305 -.116
Steven Graeter .215 .069 -.146 .395 .270 -.125
Correlle Prime .228 .135 -.093 .381 .286 -.095
Drew Weeks .155 .113 -.042 .366 .284 -.082
Wes Rogers .119 .105 -.014 .348 .322 -.026
Wilfredo Rodriguez .089 .075 -.014 .348 .245 -.103
Matt Wessinger .119 .081 -.038 .346 .261 -.085
Josh Fuentes .131 .172 .041 .325 .353 .028
Juan Ciriaco .075 .081 .006 .314 .298 -.016
Luis Jean .053 .045 -.008 .304 .274 -.030
Average .154 .113 -.041 .371 .297 -.075

Here are the wOBAs for those players, submitted in graph form:

Aside from his suspect power numbers, Rodgers’ success came with a 20% strikeout rate. That may not seem all that bad, and it isn’t necessarily all that bad. But consider that hitters’ strikeout rates tend to increase as they climb the minor-league ladder. This suggests he may struggle to make contact at the upper levels. Ideally, you’d like to see a prospect make a bit more contact than that at the lower levels, particularly if his power output isn’t anything special.

Let’s set his hitting aside for a moment. After all, a shortstop doesn’t necessarily need to hit all that much to provide value as an everyday player. But Rodgers’ defensive and baserunning numbers haven’t matched up with the scouting reports, either. Eric Longenhagen rated him as a 50 runner, and predicted he’d be an average defender at short in the big leagues. Yet Rodgers stole a measly six bases last year, and Clay Davenport’s numbers saw him as merely an average defensive shortstop compared to his Low-A peers. Simply put, KATOH doesn’t see the same type of baserunning value and defensive prowess the scouts see.

None of this is to say that Brendan Rodgers isn’t a good prospect. Many, many intelligent people have watched him play and came away thinking he has star potential. It would be idiotic for me, or anyone else, to blindly defer to my dumb computer over them. Nevertheless, I think KATOH’s concerns are reasonable. Rodgers’ pro numbers have been more good than great, despite the fact that he played all of last year in a bandbox against weak competition. That’s a lot to swallow for a guy who’s supposedly an elite prospect.

Rodgers could easily break out in a big way in 2017 and make this entire article look stupid. He certainly wouldn’t be the first toolsy high-school draftee to piece it all together a couple of years after he was drafted, nor would he be the first player to make me look stupid. But here in March 2017, KATOH is very skeptical of Rodgers and it doesn’t think his top-20 rankings are justified. A few years from now, we’ll know if it was right.

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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Good stuff