The Prospect List Season Starting Gun: Examining the 2020 Rookie Graduates

It’s time to begin FanGraphs’ annual offseason trip through our team prospect lists. Once again, we’ll aim to provide the most in-depth, comprehensive analysis in the public sphere. Before we get to the meat of the team-by-team rankings, we’ll first publish a few bigger pillars, including a list of international prospects and updates to my draft lists. Those will begin to roll out later this week along with the debut of, and some discussion surrounding, cosmetic changes to The Board, which houses the most robust, easily-accessible prospect scouting grades and data anywhere in media, all available for free but made possible by your support.

But I want to start the list parade by touching on the big leaguers who graduated this year, the complete list of which can be found on the Seasonal tab over on The Board. I’m doing this for a couple of reasons. First, while the player pages of younger big leaguers include their prospect-era tool grades and rankings, those are often from the offseason before they graduated. This year, I took the opportunity to comment on prospects who played in the big leagues for an extended stretch and update their tool grades where applicable so they’re not quite as stale.

This is also in response to reader feedback. People have sometimes been confused about the tool grades featured on player pages, thinking they represent the site’s up-to-date opinions on the abilities of big leaguers rather than a look at how they were evaluated as prospects. Others have expressed a desire to see prospects’ scouting reports on their player pages, but often there is not enough space on the screen for the whole report, and I’d rather readers head to either a team’s list or The Board to read these. With the help of Sean Dolinar, I’m attempting to solve the first issue and compromise on the second by putting little scouting snippets about top prospects and all graduates (similar to the TLDRs readers may be familiar with from my Top 100 lists) on the player pages. The graduates’ version of this will be written as a debriefing of sorts, discussing the player in the context of their rookie season or early career so readers will know when the tools grades are from. This also increases accountability on my part (or on the part of whoever is helming prospect coverage here) since our final thoughts on the prospect will live on their player page forever.

Another reason I thought it was important to talk about graduates with some focus (and stash a list of them on The Board) is because we have more of them this year, and in fewer games, than ever before. Single-year changes to the rookie eligibility rules caused many players to graduate even though they haven’t played all that much. In a normal year, players graduate if they’ve exceeded 50 innings pitched or 130 at-bats, or if they’ve spent more than 45 non-September days on the active roster. But because of the timing of this year’s season and the lack of September roster expansion, September days counted toward that 45-day limit in 2020.

As a result, several players who came up in mid-August and stayed on the roster through the end of the season, and who wouldn’t even be close to graduating in a normal year, lost rookie eligibility in 2020. Because Baseball America only considers the innings and at-bats limits as their cut-offs for including players in their prospect publications, it means several players will appear on their lists who won’t appear on mine or at MLB Pipeline. (I’m not sure what’ll happen with these guys at The Athletic, ESPN, or elsewhere.) The Graduates tab will house those players, allowing you to very closely approximate where they’d rank on their respective team lists and the Top 100 by simply looking at where they ranked upon graduating and also ensuring that you won’t get less information here than you would elsewhere. Here’s an Old Testament-style list of the dudes who graduated because of the new rule, which comprises roughly half of the players who exhausted their rookie eligibility in 2020:

Jo Adell, Daulton Varsho, Andrés Giménez, Edward Olivares, LaMonte Wade Jr., Anthony Alford, Jonathan Araúz, Garrett Stubbs, Kris Bubic, David Peterson, JT Brubaker, Cole Irvin, Cody Stashak, Logan Allen, Anthony Kay, Tejay Antone, Brusdar Graterol, James Karinchak, Brandon Bielak, Matt Foster, Michael King, Bryan Garcia, Travis Bergen, Adrian Morejon, Cionel Pérez, Thomas Hatch, Keegan Akin, Codi Heuer, Enoli Paredes, Rony García, Tyler Zuber, Nick Nelson, Blake Taylor, Lane Thomas, Jorge Mateo, Jimmy Herget, Vimael Machín, Anthony Misiewicz, Taylor Hearn, Jorge Alcala, Kyle Funkhouser, Yohan Ramirez, Caleb Baragar.

Here I would appreciate anyone who is willing to double-check my work here since there’s no MLB-published list of these players, and I’ve had to calculate their active roster days with an abacus.

Now let’s take a look at the distribution of Future Values (FV) among the graduates. Remember that FV grades simply map the 20-80 scale to what I think a player’s annual WAR production will be during their years of team control. I’ve included the roles associated with each FV tier for clarity:

2020 Pitcher Graduates by FV Grade
FV Pitcher’s Role No. of 2020 Graduates
80 Elite Starter, Ace (not just a SP1 in fantasy) 0
70 Top-of-the-rotation starter 0
60 All-Star starter 2
55 Impact mid-rotation starter, often Game 2 or 3 starter in a playoff series 1
50 No. 3/4 starter on a good team, high-leverage relievers 6
45+ High-leverage or mid-rotation stuff with control/injury issue 3
45 Traditional set-up type, No. 4/5 starter who eats innings 13
40+ Multi-inning relief, high risk/reward pitching prospects 5
40 Steady middle-inning reliever, fifth starter 15
35+ Up/down reliever or spot starter 10

2020 Hitter Graduates by FV Grade
FV Hitter’s Role No. of 2020 Graduates
80 Elite, Generational Talent 0
70 MVP-caliber hitter 1
60 All Star 2
55 Impact regular 3
50 Strong everyday player 8
45+ Toolsy, boom-or-bust type hitting prospect 3
45 Valuable utility man who plays up the middle or strong platoon bat 5
40+ Role-playing corner bats, though usually with an impact tool or two 4
40 Less bench/role players 13
35+ Low-probability player with an elite skill 1

I don’t think much can be gleaned from this year’s crop because the circumstances surrounding the season were so bizarre, but these numbers don’t seem so out of whack that I’m left questioning my methodology, which is good. I will ask readers to note the number of pitchers versus hitters in and around the 45 FV tier. There are about 20 arms in that range and only about 10 hitters. The way pitcher usage has evolved has caused innings to be spread across more players, pushing WAR production for pitchers closer toward the middle of the bell curve and putting greater emphasis on the leverage situation in which that particular pitcher throws. I think that is reflected here.

It’s now been two seasons since I’ve begun sourcing and integrating TrackMan data into both what is publicly visible on The Board and my evaluations across the entire player population. I don’t yet have enough year-over-year data to identify trends crosscut by player age and talent level, but we can start checking debutantes’ data to see if what I’m sourcing is correct, and if it’s changing in certain orgs, with certain types of players, because coaches are implementing certain philosophies, or because the league sources feeding me data are trying to mislead me, etc.

Checking on exit velocities and other hitter data isn’t very telling because young hitters and their bodies can change so quickly, the quality of the pitching they face has changed drastically, and there was very little 2020 big league data due to the shortened season. It’s much better to check on pitcher data since pitching is an independent activity, spin rate isn’t malleable, and pitchers throw enough pitches to eliminate small sample concerns, even in 2020. If a pitcher has two breaking balls, I picked the one with the higher spin rate:

Recently Sourced Pitcher Spin Rates by RPM
Name Team Sourced Fastball Spin Actual Fastball Spin Sourced Breaking Ball Spin Actual Breaking Ball Spin
Jesús Luzardo OAK 2,350 2,450 2,500 2,550
Dustin May LAD 2,400 2,350 3,000 3,100
Mitch Keller PIT 2,450 2,350 2,800 2,600
Tony Gonsolin LAD 2,500 2,500 2,700 2,750
Jose Urquidy HOU 2,300 2,200 2,600 2,600
Kris Bubic KCR 2,250 2,200 2,650 2,600
Brusdar Graterol LAD 2,100 2,000 2,600 2,500
James Karinchak CLE 2,450 2,400 2,650 2,350
Devin Williams MIL 2,350 2,400 2,350 2,450
Brady Singer KCR 2,250 2,200 2,400 2,400
Cristian Javier HOU 2,450 2,350 2,800 2,800
Adrian Morejon SDP 2,450 2,400 2,600 2,700
Justus Sheffield SEA 1,900 1,900 2,600 2,500
Logan Webb SFG 2,250 2,100 2,700 2,700
Patrick Sandoval LAA 1,950 2,000 2,750 2,750
Peter Fairbanks TBR 2,400 2,450 2,300 2,400
Génesis Cabrera STL 2,250 2,300 2,550 2,450
Michel Baez SDP 2,500 2,350 2,350 2,150
David Peterson NYM 2,150 2,100 2,250 2,200
Logan Allen CLE 2,000 2,050 2,200 2,750
Anthony Kay TOR 2,400 2,350 2,450 2,550
Brandon Bielak HOU 2,400 2,350 2,650 2,550
Thomas Hatch TOR 2,550 2,600 2,550 2,600
Keegan Akin BAL 2,400 2,400 2,500 2,600
Codi Heuer CHW 2,450 2,300 2,200 2,350
Jonathan Hernandez TEX 2,150 2,100 2,350 2,350
Josh Staumont KCR 2,350 2,400 2,750 2,900
Kyle Wright ATL 2,400 2,400 2,600 2,750
JT Brubaker PIT 2,300 2,250 2,800 2,850
Tejay Antone CIN 2,200 2,650 2,750 2,950
Enoli Paredes HOU 2,350 2,400 2,950 2,900
Lewis Thorpe MIN 2,200 1,950 2,500 2,450
Devin Smeltzer MIN 2,550 2,400 2,650 2,700
Anthony Banda TBR 2,150 2,050 1,850 n/a
Dennis Santana LAD 2,550 2,450 2,850 2,700
Cody Stashak MIN 2,250 2,250 2,200 2,250
Matt Foster CHW 2,300 2,300 2,300 2,300
Michael King NYY 2,250 2,350 2,300 2,350
Bryan Garcia DET 2,250 2,150 2,500 2,450
Cionel Pérez HOU 2,100 2,100 2,550 2,650
Tyler Zuber KCR 2,400 2,250 2,750 2,850
Nick Nelson NYY 2,150 2,100 2,550 2,700
Blake Taylor HOU 2,350 2,300 2,400 2,300
Jimmy Herget TEX 2,350 2,350 2,600 2,600
Taylor Hearn TEX 2,300 2,300 2,200 2,400
Jorge Alcala MIN 2,450 2,400 2,600 2,450
Kevin Ginkel ARI 2,300 2,400 2,200 2,250
Walker Lockett SEA 2,250 2,250 2,500 2,650
Justin Dunn SEA 2,200 2,250 2,450 2,400
Cole Irvin PHI 2,000 2,000 1,950 2,000
Travis Bergen ARI 2,300 2,250 2,900 2,800
Rony García DET 2,300 2,300 2,250 2,200
Anthony Misiewicz SEA 2,400 2,350 2,750 2,850
Kyle Funkhouser DET 2,000 2,000 2,450 2,450
Yohan Ramirez SEA 2,300 2,350 2,400 2,400
Caleb Baragar SFG 2,450 2,500 2,900 3,000

The standard margin for error seems to be about 100 rpm. I have any pitcher whose sourced data dropped by more than that highlighted in red (there were lots of guys who were dinged up in 2020) and the ones who increased their spin rates by more than 100 rpm highlighted in blue (some guys were coming off of injury, and also, wow Tejay Antone — I can’t imagine how that happened). This is not to point toward spin rate as some kind of driving force in my evaluations; it’s more a way to present evidence that readers can trust the data I’m publishing here and on The Board since it isn’t derived the same way that the Statcast data is populating our player pages and instead comes to me over the phone or in email.

More random notes on the graduates…

I’ve left each player’s pre-season ETA intact so you can see who arrived ahead of my schedule.

If a player’s FV was changed after the season because of a change of opinion on my part, they have a trend arrow on The Board to reflect that change. I’ve also tweaked some tool/pitch grades to better reflect current information.

It’s ironic that some pitchers who threw about 20 innings during the year have lost rookie/prospect eligibility while Ian Anderson and Sixto Sánchez, who threw big league playoff innings, remain eligible. I once had an exchange with Bay Area radio/podcast host Chris Townsend during which he asked why postseason performers like Anderson and Sánchez stay prospect-eligible when, in a sense, we know more about them than almost all of their peers since they’ve had to perform at or near the pinnacle of the sport. I think there’s some merit to this line of thinking, but I also think it’s valuable for readers to see players they’re quite familiar with on prospects lists to put the ones surrounding them on the rankings in better context.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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So both Garrett Stubbs AND Garrett Stubbs are off?

Sonny L
Sonny L

He said Old Testament style so the second one is Garrett Stubbs the elder

Meg Rowley

1) lol 2) good catch – thanks!