The Top-Five Athletics Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Oakland Athletics. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Oakland’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the A’s system 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). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Oakland system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. 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.

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.

5. Raul Alcantara, RHP (Profile)

150 5.4 2.8 1.1 4.62 0.3

The right-handed Alcantara produced a strikeout- and walk-rate differential just above 15% in 2013, placing him at approximately the 90th percentile among all minor-league pitchers by that measure who recorded at least 100 innings or more. That he did it as just a 20-year-old facing older competition in the Midwest and then California Leagues (between which he split his season almost precisely) is more impressive. Owing to elbow trouble followed by a Tommy John procedure, Alcantara made only three starts in all of 2014 — and the earliest likely return is the middle of 2015. Despite the lack of current data, however, the Steamer forecast still calls for run prevention at something slightly better than replacement level — best among Oakland’s rookie-eligible pitchers.

4. Billy Burns, OF (Profile)

550 .228 .289 .293 68 0.4

Burns produced nearly a win’s worth of runs by way of the stolen base (8.2 wSB) in the minors last year and more than a win by that measure (11.5 wSB) in 2013 while a member of the Washington Nationals system. Nor are such figures the product of fluke: as McDaniel notes, Burns possesses 80-grade speed. (The sort that allows one to score from second base, for example, on a sacrifice fly.) As such, much of Burns’ major-league value will likely be tied to his base-running and defensive exploits. Even accounting for the fact that Burns is unlikely to add much with the bat, it might not be irresponsible to expect something a little better from him than his projection would suggest, given that his two main virtues (i.e. base running and defense) are two elements most heavily regressed by Steamer.

3. Matt Chapman, 3B (Profile)

550 .230 .267 .361 78 0.7

Most of the 2014 draftees who’ve appeared on McDaniel’s organizational prospect lists lack a 2015 Steamer projection either because they (a) don’t possess the requisite sample size to merit a responsible forecast or (b) have appeared only in the lowest levels of the minors or (c) both. It’s usually both. After compiling over 200 plate appearances in the Class-A Midwest League, however, Chapman then joined Double-A Midland for the playoffs, recording a 3:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio and two home runs there in 36 plate appearances — all this after having been selected 25th overall in June out of Cal State Fullerton. McDaniel suggests that the concern regarding Chapman is contact rate — a concern which the numbers support. Chapman produced walk and strikeout rates of 3.5% and 22.8%, respectively, in A-ball, the disparity between those two numbers suggesting that Chapman was swinging often and rarely finding his way deeper in counts. That’s not a grave concern given the context (the level, Chapman’s relative lack of experience), but the degree to which Chapman exhibits improvement in this regard will likely correlate strongly to his success in the future.

2. Joey Wendle, 2B (Profile)

550 .238 .283 .361 83 1.1

Wendle was Oakland’s underwhelming return from Cleveland in exchange for very strong (and decidedly thoughtful) corner-type Brandon Moss. Superficially underwhelming, at least: Moss has hit a number of home runs at the major-league level; Wendle has hit many fewer home runs, all of them below the major-league level. As his established levels of production suggest, however, Wendle also possesses a pretty high floor: he makes contact, he features non-negligible power and speed, he occupies a place towards the more difficult end of the defensive spectrum. On the one hand, he’s a 25-year-old with no carrying tool who’s never played above Double-A; on the other, he’s nearly average player who’s never been given a chance. According to Steamer, he’s most likely a helpful bench player in 2015.

1. Rangel Ravelo, 1B/3B (Profile)

550 .246 .301 .368 86 1.2

Before he was sent to Oakland as part of a package for Jeff Samardzija, Ravelo was the top player on the White Sox’ version of this same list. And the same caveat applies to Ravelo’s appearance here as it did there — namely, that his projection assumes he’s a third baseman (at which position he made most of his earlier professional starts) and not a first baseman (at which position he’s made more of his recent starts). Oakland has exhibited some interest in allowing Ravelo to remain at/return to third base for the time being. In any case, there’s a pretty big distinction between the two positions so far as positional adjustments are concerned: +2.5 runs per season for third base; -12.5 runs for first. Demonstrating the ability to play the former with some competence would be of great value both to Ravelo and his new club.

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

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9 years ago

huh. Rangel Ravelo seems to be getting a lot of love from the projections — he was #51 in the KATOH too. Scouts strongly disagree. I wonder if it’s a case of scouts underrating so-called “non-prospects” that had success at the high minors, or if it’s a case of a guy who reached his ceiling early and won’t progress beyond what he is now.

Looking at his profile, I’d expect scouts to like him more than projection systems: there’s reports of his power improving to a ~50 or so, but that hasn’t shown up in-game yet. Weird prospect.

9 years ago
Reply to  yolo

Also, how did Ravelo go from a 93 wRC+/1.7 WAR guy in the White Sox farm to an 86 wRC+/1.2 WAR guy on the A’s?

Reade King
9 years ago
Reply to  yolo

That’s a bit of a puzzle given that wRC+ IS park adjusted.

9 years ago
Reply to  Reade King

It is park adjusted, but certain parks cater to certain profiles.

Sneak King
9 years ago
Reply to  Reade King


Yeah, but wRC+ is not supposed to be affected by that. Even if a homerun hitter is more adversely affected by O Co than a singles hitter, park factors for wRC+ use a ratio multiplier that adjusts for this. Hence, a wOBA not adjusted for park factors does not completely correlate to a specific wRC+ that is park adjusted.