The Top 10 Prospects for 2015 by Projected WAR

Over the last month-plus in these pages, Kiley McDaniel has released the first four of his 30 offseason organizational prospect lists — designed, those particular posts, to sort out the best prospects in baseball according (predominantly) to overall future value. What follows is a different thing than that — designed to identify not baseball’s top prospects, but rather the rookie-eligible players* who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (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 omits certain players (like Byron Buxton, for example) who very obviously exhibit a great deal of promise.

*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 utilize the Steamer 600 projections made available today at the site. 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 a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Players eligible for the list either (a) enter their age-26 season or lower in 2015, 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.

10. Peter O’Brien, C, Arizona (Profile)

415 .238 .278 .456 99 2.1

A second-round selection by the Yankees in 2012, O’Brien was traded at the deadline to Arizona in exchange for Martin Prado. His projected value is a product simultaneously of raw power and a record of having played catcher. There are questions, however — asked recently, for example, by Kiley McDaniel — about his ability to take full advantage of the former and to do the latter at a league-average level. His projected .218 ISO would have been the third-best such mark among catchers this season to record 400-plus appearances.

9. Ty Kelly, 2B/3B, Seattle (Profile)

550 .254 .339 .348 102 2.2

Selected originally out of California-Davis by Baltimore in the 13th round of the 2009 draft, Kelly was acquired by Seattle in June of 2013 in exchange for a then-recently designated Eric Thames (who, incidentally, has hit many home runs in Korea). Not unlike other prospects to passed through the Mariners system recently — like Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, for example, or Kyle Seager before them — Kelly has been omitted from top-100 prospect lists while also exhibiting the capacity both to (a) play an infield position and (b) control the strike zone.

8. Corban Joseph, 1B/2B, New York AL (Profile)

550 .257 .320 .396 100 2.2

Joseph produced an encouraging 2012 season, recording walk and strikeout rates of 13.7% and 14.5%, respectively, and hitting 16 home runs in 505 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A — this, in just his age-23 season. He missed the latter half of the 2013 season following shoulder surgery, however, and posted a line of just .268/.320/.387 in 256 PAs with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year, prompting the Yankees to release him at the end of August. He recorded above-average plate discipline figures (a 7.4% BB and 12.1% K, respectively), though, and enters the 2015 season as just a 26-year-old.

7. Devon Travis, 2B, Detroit (Profile)

550 .273 .319 .401 102 2.3

Just a 13th-round selection in 2012 out of Florida State, Travis has produced markedly above-average batting marks at every level to which he’s been exposed, recording both excellent plate-discipline numbers and also high BABIP figures. The result: a slash line of .323/.388/.487 line in over 1,000 minor-league plate appearances. According to Steamer’s computer math, Travis — who enters his age-24 season next April — already profiles as a league-average hitter. That’s valuable for a player who also appears likely to handle second base.

6. Robert Refsnyder, 2B, New York AL (Profile)

550 .262 .328 .390 102 2.3

A right fielder at the University of Arizona, Refsnyder converted to second base in 2013 — a move which, obviously, should he demonstrate the ability to play the latter position ably, will allow him to produce more value. Though fielding percentage doesn’t provide a complete picture of defensive performance, it’s generally better to have a high one than low one — and Refsnyder’s has improved with each promotion. To wit:

Year Tm Lg Lev G Fld%
2013 Tampa FLOR A+ 95 .949
2014 Trenton EL AA 58 .968
2014 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre IL AAA 64 .988

Though a different sort of hitter than Devon Travis (above), the estimated results are similar, insofar as each is projected to be a league-average hitter at second base.

5. Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas (Profile)

550 .220 .298 .446 102 2.4

Gallo is essentially an experiment crafted by the Universe for the purposes of examining the break-even point for reasonable production between raw power and contact ability (or the lack of it). After recording a quite reasonable 26.0% strikeout rate in the High-A Carolina League this season, Gallo regressed back to the high-30s area that he’d maintained at lower levels following his promotion to Double-A. He enters just his age-21 season in 2015, however, so there’s no immediate cause to sound the alarm — metaphorically or otherwise.

4. Steven Souza, OF, Washington (Profile)

550 .268 .335 .445 118 2.4

Among the seven total instances in which he’s recorded at least 200 plate appearances at a given level in a given year, Souza’s walk-strikeout differential of just -5.6 percentage points this year at Triple-A Syracuse is the best such mark. A greater control of the strike zone complemented Souza’s already notable physical tools. Indeed, Souza is projected by Steamer to produce 19 home runs and 25 stolen bases per every 550 plate appearances.

3. Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago NL (Profile)

550 .271 .330 .470 121 2.5

Except for the fact that the latter is already an All Star, it requires almost no effort to draw comparisons between Soler and Yasiel Puig. Both defected from Cuba. Both are corner outfielders with considerable offensive skills. Both debuted to great effect in their age-22 seasons. A scout, speaking with Kiley McDaniel, regards Soler a better hitter of the two, but with less speed — and the numbers to date generally bear this out.

2. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota (Profile)

550 .235 .305 .440 109 2.8

Were he not compelled to undergo Tommy John surgery this past March, it’s quite possible that Sano would be ineligible for this list, potentially having played his way to majors in 2014. In just his age-20 season, anyway, he was both promoted to and acquitted himself quite well at Double-A in nearly 300 plate appearances, recording a strikeout rate (29.3%) of some concern, but also compensating for it by means of an above-average walk rate (13.0%) and characteristically prodigious power. That sort of batting profile in tandem with average third-base defense would be excellent, although he probably offers enough offensively to play a corner-outfield spot of first base, as well — even as early as 2015.

1. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago NL (Profile)

550 .265 .344 .489 130 4.0

As a junior at the University of San Diego in 2013, Bryant led the nation in home runs. In 2014, he led all the minor leagues in home runs. According to Steamer, Bryant is unlikely to lead the major leagues in home runs next year — although a top-10 or -15 finish wouldn’t be shocking, it seems, given a full complement of plate appearances. That power, in combination with serviceable contact rates and something in the vicinity of average third-base defense, conspires to produce a very promising baseball prospect.


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.
  • One will notice the absence of any pitchers here. The top three by projected WAR per 150 innings are as follows: Washington right-hander Lucas Giolito (1.4 WAR), Miami left-hander Andrew Heaney (1.4 WAR), and right-handed Toronto teenager Roberto Osuna (1.3 WAR).
  • San Francisco catcher Andrew Susac (2.1 WAR per every 415 PA) is the 11th-best hitting prospect by this methodology.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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9 years ago

Mookie Betts does not qualify as a rookie because he’s already played 52 games. But he’s only 21-years-old and is projected for 4.0 WAR.

Betts and Kris Bryant are the only players who are projected for 3.5+ WAR despite not having a full season of playing time yet.

9 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

Doesn’t qualify as a prospect, rather.

9 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

What is the limit for MLB games played on ‘prospect’ status?

Pirates Hurdles
9 years ago
Reply to  Zach

It’s not games, it’s 130 at bats (50IP for pitchers)

Robert Kral
9 years ago
Reply to  Zach

So there’s NO excuse for my exclusion from this list!