The Top 10 Prospects Currently by Projected WAR by Carson Cistulli June 17, 2014 What follows is an exercise not very different from that one performed on a slightly larger scale by the author at the very beginning of the season and more modestly about a month ago. As was the case with those posts, this one represents an attempt to identify the rookie-eligible players* who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). What it is not is an attempt to account for any kind of future value — for which reason it’s unlikely to resemble very closely those prospect lists which are typically released by more qualified writers at the beginning and middle of the season. *In this case, defined as any player who’s recorded fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings — which is to say, there’s been no attempt to identify each player’s time spent on the active roster, on account of that’s a super tedious endeavor. To assemble the following collection of 10 prospects, what I’ve done first is to calculate prorated rest-of-season WAR figures for all players for whom either the Steamer or ZiPS projection systems have produced such a forecast. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce approximately a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time. Owing to how the two systems are structured, the majority of the numbers which follow represent only the relevant prospect’s Steamer projection. Players eligible for the list either (a) enter their age-26 season or lower in 2014 or, alternatively, (b) were signed as international free agents this offseason. Finally, note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par. 1. Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta (Profile) PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR 550 8.3% 10.7% 6 .335 2.7 La Stella appeared sixth among all prospects by projected WAR at the beginning of the season when the author performed almost this same exact exercise and then fourth on a similar such list in the middle of May. Fewer than 20 games into his major-league career now, he’s already produced nearly a full win. Even without his considerable batted-ball success, La Stella has been excellent. For example: of the 412 batters to have recorded 50-plus PAs, only A.J. Ellis has produced a better differential between his walk and strikeout rates. 2. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto (Profile) IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR 150 8.4 2.4 1.22 3.89 2.1 Because he was projected to throw a number of innings in relief when this same exercise was performed last month, Stroman was omitted from consideration — or, at least, was regarded as a reliever, which is very similar to being omitted. For the moment, however, the Blue Jays appear likely to utilize him exclusively as a starter. He’s been entirely proficient in that role through a limited sample. To wit: 18.0 IP, 22.1% K, 2.6% BB, 55.4% GB, 3.06 xFIP. 3. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City (Profile) IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR 150 8.0 3.5 1.01 4.05 2.0 Zimmer has recorded zero innings thus far, first missing time whilst recovering from a shoulder injury suffered late last year and now finding himself disabled for likely six-to-eight weeks because of a strained right lat muscle. When he does pitch he’s likely to have have success, is what the projections indicate. 4. Ty Kelly, 2B/3B, Seattle (Profile) PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR 550 11.0% 15.2% 7 .321 2.0 A number of players on this list feature a profile similar to Tommy La Stella’s insofar as they (a) control the strike zone well, (b) occupy a place somewhere towards the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum, and (c) have failed to ignite the passion-heart-fires* of scouts. Between 2013 and -14, Kelly has recorded 565 plate appearances at Triple-A Tacoma and produced a positive walk-strikeout differential. Offensively, there’s probably little else for him to demonstrate in the minors, at this point. *For which awkward phrase there is almost certainly a single German word. 5. Chris Taylor, SS, Seattle (Profile) PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR 550 7.2% 19.3% 5 .305 2.0 Kelly’s teammate at Tacoma, the 23-year-old Taylor resembles something a little bit more like a traditional prospect — at least so far as age relative to level is concerned. A fifth-round selection out of the University of Virgina in 2012, Taylor has produced above-average offensive results at every level during his ascent through the minor leagues. In 2014, only six qualified hitters aged 25 or under have produced a better offensive line at Triple-A than Taylor, and none of them are likely to match Taylor’s defensive value. 6. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh (Profile) PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR 550 6.3% 15.9% 12 .313 2.0 Among a list of true facts that are true, one such fact is that ZiPS is currently much more enthusiastic about Polanco than is Steamer. The former projects the outfielder to produce 3.1 wins per every 550 plate appearances; the latter, about 0.9. Indeed, much of the disparity appears to derive from defensive estimates: ZiPS regards Polanco as an above-average center fielder; Steamer, as a league-average right-fielder. To the extent that valuating defense is difficult, projecting those valuations is even more difficult, probably. In any case, both systems call for him to produce league-average offensive numbers, however, a thing which is probably more immediately relevant to our concerns. 7. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota (Profile) PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR 550 8.2% 28.0% 22 .313 1.9 “Why even bother to include Sano?” is a question more than one commenter has asked in previous versions of this same exercise. It’s a reasonable query. One answer is that, at the most basic level,the point of this type of post is probably to reflect the present-day true talent of rookie-eligible players, of which Sano is one. Another, newer answer is also that Sano might actually record professional at-bats before the end of the season. 8. Shawn Zarraga, C, Milwaukee (Profile) PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR 415 7.8% 12.2% 6 .312 1.8 The 25-year-old Zarraga was absent from Milwaukee’s top-30 organizational prospect list in the most recent edition of Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook. This is a system, one notes, ranked 29th overall in terms of minor-league talent by the editors of that same publication. Not very encouraging, is the idea. He’s produced walk and strikeout rates of 16.3% and 5.6%, however, in 178 plate appearances at Double-A Huntsville — figures which a discerning reader will immediately recognize both as “bananas” and “completely bananas.” He’s also likely to remain at catcher after losing 20-25 pounds this offseason. 9. Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Profile) PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR 415 11.1% 21.1% 11 .302 1.8 Kral was absolutely the most obscure player to appear among the top-10 prospects both on the first and then the second iteration of this same exercise. His projected WAR has declined by 0.7 per every 415 plate appearances since that post from early April. That said, he’s still produced entirely respectable plate-discipline marks (16.5% BB, 23.3% K) through 133 plate appearances at Double-A this season, which are a pretty important kind of marks. 10. Jose Pirela, 2B/SS, New York AL (Profile) PA BB% K% HR wOBA WAR 550 6.0% 12.7% 9 .305 1.8 Between Dean Anna, Yangervis Solarte, and Pirela, the Yankees have an impressive collection of largely nondescript, but disciplined and defensively capable, players in their mid- and late-20s. Solarte, of course, is much more descript than before, having now produced a 1.4 WAR as a mostly everyday infielder for the New Yorkers. Anna and Pirela, however, offer roughly the same profile. *** Three Brief Comments: The assembly of this list was performed, in part, by hand. While the author has attempted to remain vigilant, he is also notoriously incompetent. The reader is invited to raise any relevant concerns in the comments section. Young and celebrated St. Louis prospect Oscar Taveras was not accidentally omitted from the above. His Steamer and ZiPS projections both currently rate him as worth ca. 1.5 WAR per 550 plate appearances. Here’s a rather young pitcher about whom Steamer is particularly optimistic: right-hander Lucas Giolito. The 19-year-old Nationals prospect, currently pitching in the Class-A South Atlantic League, is projected to produced 1.7 WAR already per every 150 innings.