Over the course of the last year, I’ve published projections for a boatload of prospects at this site. Now that the 2017 season is winding down, I thought it might make sense to review how KATOH has performed with specific players. For this particular post, I’d like to look at some instances where KATOH’s forecasts have looked prescient.
Allow me to point out immediately that none of this is conclusive: we’re only a year (or less) into the big-league careers of the players included here. Labeling a six-year projection as definitively “right” or “wrong” following a single season is obviously premature. That said, we undoubtedly have a much clearer picture of these players’ futures than we did six months ago.
This analysis compares each player’s industry-wide consensus to his stats-only KATOH projection — which does not consider a player’s ranking on prospect lists. Stats-only is KATOH’s purest form and also the version that disagrees most fervently with the establishment.
Writing this article was a lot of fun. Like everyone else, I enjoy saying “I told you so” when I’m right. But I also acknowledge that I’m often wrong. So as much as I’d like to tout these cherry-picked success stories and move on to current projections, I feel I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t write another article pointing out KATOH’s misses. Stay tuned.
Prospects KATOH Liked
Here are the players on whom KATOH has typically been more bullish than other outlets. Players are listed in general order of “success” in 2017.
As you’re probably aware, Hoskins had a pretty good summer. But before he was hitting homers at a ridiculous clip, Hoskins was an unheralded first-base prospect who had never cracked a major publication’s top-100 list. KATOH was all over him, though, due to his impressive minor-league numbers. My system ranked him No. 54 in the preseason and No. 14 when he was called up. He also cracked the All-KATOH Team in the preseason. The best minor-league hitters often succeed in the majors as well. As obvious as that sounds, the case of Rhys Hoskins shows that we sometimes overthink these things.
Olson’s Triple-A numbers weren’t particularly flashy, especially for a first baseman. But KATOH still ranked him No. 73 in the preseason and No. 43 at midseason due to his youth and to the strong home-run totals numbers he’d produced in a park that suppresses them. By and large, Olson’s story is similar to Hoskins’: he was a very good hitter in the high minors who has carried it over to the majors. It’s as simple as that. I’m not exactly doing rocket science here.
Although he never made any traditional prospect lists, Faria was always one of KATOH’s guys. He always turned in excellent strikeout rates as a starting pitcher in Tampa’s system, despite facing significantly older competition. He cracked the All-KATOH Team over the winter and ranked 70th at midseason. He graduated to the majors this this summer and pitched to a 3.32 ERA out of Tampa’s rotation. He was one of the most effective rookie pitchers.
Today, Vlad Jr. unanimously ranks among the very best prospects in baseball. Eric Longenhagen, Keith Law, Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus have all placed him among their top 13, with BA ranking him No. 2 overall. But a year ago, Vlad the younger wasn’t as widely renowned. No major outlet had him ranked above 20th, while Baseball Prospectus excluded him from their top 101 entirely. KATOH, on the other hand, ranked him third following his tremendous offensive performance as a 17-year-old third baseman in the Appalachian League. KATOH was all-in on Vlad Jr. before it was cool.
KATOH doesn’t usually fall for minor leaguers who strike out often, but Chapman was an exception. He made up for the Ks by hitting for power, drawing walks, and playing top-notch defense at third. He continued to do all of those things in his first exposure to the big leagues, resulting in a healthy 2.5 WAR in roughly a half-season. As a defensive stud with big power, the 24-year-old appears to have a bright future ahead of him. KATOH had him No. 15 in the preseason and No. 22 at midseason. No major outlet had him in their top 80 last winter.
Green is another All-KATOH Team alumnus who was omitted from prospect lists but immediately found success in the big leagues. He was lights-out as a Triple-A starter in 2016 and has been similarly dominant out of the bullpen this year. The 26-year-old has pitched to a sub-2.00 ERA this year and has established himself as one of baseball’s premier relievers.
Urias has been a mainstay on KATOH’s radar since 2014, including a No. 48 ranking this past preseason. Now that he’s succeeded in Double-A, non-KATOH entities have started to buy in. After missing the cut in the preseason, Urias ranked No. 37 on Baseball America’s mid-season list. Urias’s contact ability, defensive skills, and youth make him an exciting prospect.
Tucker was a highly regarded prospect last winter, but no outlet loved him quite as much as KATOH did. Others ranked him anywhere from 19th to 63rd, while KATOH placed him at 11th overall. After hitting 12 homers in the previous two seasons combined, Tucker belted 25 this year. Tucker is now a consensus top-15 prospect, but KATOH already had him there a year ago. Though the power hadn’t come yet, Tucker’s contact skills, speed, youth, and 6-foot-4 frame were enough for KATOH.
Haniger was omitted from all top-100 lists, but ranked 81st on KATOH’s preseason list. Despite missing time with injury, he recorded roughly 2.5 WAR in less than 400 plate appearances. Haniger got there by hitting for power, getting on base at a decent clip, and playing good defense in right field — more or less exactly what he did in the minors. Haniger’s another example of a good minor leaguer immediately becoming a good major leaguer.
Gamel has quietly put up a solid, two-ish-win season as a rookie in Seattle. Over the winter, he ranked No. 41 and cracked the All-KATOH Team. He was absent from traditional lists, however. Gamel is one of those players who’s pretty much average across the board. He makes good contact, has a touch of power, and runs well; he doesn’t stand out in any one particular area, however. He’s an outfield tweener who lacks a standout tool, which might explain why he was never seen as much of a prospect. But taken altogether, his broad array of skills caught KATOH’s eye and have made him a useful player this year.
After spending 2015 and 2016 tugging at KATOH’s heartstrings with his Triple-A performance, Barnes finally got meaningful playing time this year. He wound up recording over two wins in 250 plate appearances as LA’s backup catcher/second baseman. And that doesn’t even include his pitch-framing performance. KATOH ranked him No. 96 in the preseason, while all major outlets omitted him from their top-100s.
A year ago, Delmonico was widely seen as a very failed prospect. Nobody was talking about him at all, and he was entirely absent from some White Sox lists. But he’d sneakily put up a .279/.347/.490 season in the high minors in 2016. Consequently, he ranked No. 92 on KATOH’s preseason list and was KATOH’s top-rated Rule 5-eligible player. Delmonico has been surprisingly productive for the White Sox, accruing 1.0 WAR in limited time. Literally any team could have had that 1.0 WAR for essentially nothing in last winter’s Rule 5.
Despite a strong Triple-A campaign last year, Nimmo’s exclusion from top-100 lists made him eligible for the All-KATOH Team. KATOH ranked him No. 21 in the preseason. Nimmo hasn’t exactly taken the big leagues by storm, but he’s quietly produced over a win in about 200 plate appearances. A 125 wRC+ hitter with good outfield defense is quite valuable. Though it feels like he’s been around forever, Nimmo’s still only 24.
For years, Hernandez has shown a tantalizing combination of power and speed in the minors, averaging 23 homers and 35 steals since 2013. On the downside, he struck out a ton. Hernandez improved his strikeout numbers substantially in 2016, which prompted KATOH to place him 75th on the preseason top-100 list and 96th at midseason. As you probably guessed, he was nowhere to be found on traditional lists. Hernandez hasn’t been in the majors for very long but has popped eight homers in 83 plate appearances with Toronto.
Lively was omitted from all top-100 lists entering the season and absent from the top of Phillies lists, as well. KATOH found him intriguing, though, ranking him among the top right-handed pitchers who received less than a 40 FV from Eric. Lively hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but has recorded nearly 1.0 WAR in a half-season in the Phillies’ rotation. KATOH’s six-year projection of 2.2 WAR was optimistic relative to the consensus, and Lively’s already nearly halfway there.
Wilmer Font opened 2016 as a 26-year-old indy-ball pitcher. Now, he’s pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In between, Font pitched decently in Toronto’s system, prompting KATOH to rank him among the top minor-league free-agent pitchers. Font’s been knocked around in three relief appearances in LA, but he dominated the PCL by striking out a jaw-dropping 32% of batters as a starter. Font had a remarkable year and ultimately earned a role on the deepest pitching staff in baseball. Minor-league free agents aren’t prospects, but KATOH saw a glimmer of talent in Font that others seemingly didn’t.
Adams was another minor-league free agent whose solid 2016 performance caught KATOH’s eye. The Braves inked him to a minor-league deal, and he wound up recording over 100 plate appearances of above-average production with the Braves, many as a pinch-hitter. Given how few minor-league free agents amount to anything at all, I’m counting this one as a win.
Ramos is another minor-league free agent whom KATOH identified. Despite sitting out the season’s first two months with a sports hernia, Ramos hit a loud .351/.396/.546 with the Dodgers’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. On a less stacked team, Ramos would probably have a big-league role right now. Again, this feels like a win by the standards of minor-league free agents.
Prospects KATOH Disliked
Here are the players for whom KATOH exhibited less optimism than the industry.
Nobody ranked Swanson outside of their top-four prospect last year, with some placing him as high as No. 2 overall. KATOH, on the other hand, ranked him a conservative 17th. While KATOH liked Swanson’s youth and defense, his unremarkable combination of contact and power at Double-A gave the forecast system pause. Swanson fell flat on his face this year, posting a 53 wRC+ before Atlanta finally demoted him in late July. Swanson still looks like a promising young player, but the praise he received last winter appears to have been premature.
Gsellman was also a regular on top-100 lists, with Baseball Prospectus ranking him as high as 17th. Gsellman’s prospect rankings had everything to do with the improvement of his stuff: his fastball ticked up to 94 mph and he added a good slider over the course of 2016. But KATOH remained bearish due to his mediocre minor-league track record. The 2017 iteration of Robert Gsellman looked a lot like previous versions, featuring lower velocity, few strikeouts, and a 5.38 ERA.
Ray also didn’t crack KATOH’s list but was a consensus top prospect who ranked as high as 20th and not below 48th on industry lists. KATOH wasn’t impressed by Ray’s 21% strikeout rate and lack of power last year. Ray repeated the level this year and fared even worse, hitting a weak .238/.311/.367 with a 31% strikeout rate. As a result, Baseball America omitted him from their midseason top-100 list. It’s not looking good for last year’s fifth-overall pick, and KATOH came to that conclusion a year ago.
All outlets placed Reyes among their top-14 prospects last year, with Baseball Prospectus ranking him at the top of their lists. KATOH had him a more conservative 44th. Reyes hasn’t thrown a pitch since those rankings were published after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring. Perhaps you think it’s unfair that I’m cherry-picking a player who fell KATOH’s way due to injury rather than performance. I don’t disagree, but I’d also contend that part of KATOH’s pessimism was due to injury risk. Pitchers are inherently risky, which helps explain why KATOH’s top-100 lists tend to skew towards hitters by about two-to-one.
Espinoza ranked as high as 10th on prospect lists last winter and not below 25th, but did not crack KATOH’s preseason top-100. KATOH’s relative pessimism was not solely a function of Espinoza’s performance. Rather, it had more to do with him being a pitcher in Low-A. Plenty of pitchers put up Low-A numbers on par with Espinoza’s, but many don’t pan out. All pitching prospects are risky, especially ones who are four levels away from the big leagues. Case in point: Espinoza didn’t throw a pitch this year and underwent Tommy John surgery last month. He’s expected to be out until 2019.