Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Philadelphia Phillies. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Philadelphia’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Phillies 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 Phillies 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. J.P. Crawford, SS (Profile)
The Phillies’ first pick of the 2013 draft, Crawford is the only player among the five present here who hasn’t made an appearance above High-A. In terms of Steamer’s computer math, that’s significant, as level of competition is a non-negligible variable in the model — and yet, despite that handicap, Crawford’s production in the low minors (along with his place on the age curve) renders him basically a replacement-level player at this point. That makes him more valuable than Ryan Howard, among a small collection of other major-league regulars.
4. Severino Gonzalez, RHP (Profile)
The Panama native’s projection appears optimistic relative to his 2014 season, during which he recorded a 4.60 FIP along with strikeout and walk rates of 17.0% and 5.0%, respectively. Between the previous two seasons, however, Gonzalez had produced strikeout and walk rates of 27.7% and 3.9%, respectively, over 201.1 innings — which is to say, among the very best such figures in the minor leagues. It’s of some concern, this recent development, because pitchers with below-average velocity (like Gonzalez) who rely on command tend to find more difficulties with advanced hitters.
3. Jesse Biddle, LHP (Profile)
Starting pitchers as a group struck out 7.4 opposing batters every nine innings in 2014 — the highest such figure ever in the history of the game. Biddle is projected by Steamer to produce a full strikeout more than that per game in 2015. The good news, is what that is. The bad: Biddle is also projected to walk 5.2 batters every nine innings. Only two out of 251 qualified starters over the last three years have walked more than five opposing batters per nine — in part because it’s difficult to prevent runs while allowing so many base runners, in part because it’s difficult to throw so many innings while also throwing so many pitches.
2. Kelly Dugan, OF (Profile)
Dugan’s minor-league resume suggests that his offensive floor is relatively high. He’s made a reasonable amount of contact, taken walks, and hit home runs. He’s done none of it, however, at a decidedly above-average rate, nor has he been particularly young for his levels. Were he capable of playing an average center field, his offensive profile would be a greater cause for excitement. As a seemingly standard right-field defender, though — which is what McDaniel’s scouting report suggests — Dugan would need to demonstrate improvement in one area or another to develop into an average player.
1. Maikel Franco, 3B (Profile)
After a 2013 season in which Franco produced not only attractive slash lines but also the fielding-independent batting profile to support those offensive numbers, there were reasons to be encouraged by what his 2014 could be. In Triple-A, however, his walk and strikeout and home-run rates all deteriorated slightly — which, in concert with just a .276 BABIP — conspired to produce a line of .257/.299/.428 in 556 plate appearances. The good news, however, is that (a) that was nearly average for the International League and (b) Franco was playing just his age-21 season. According to Steamer, he’s not a major-league average player yet. Neither are most 22-year-olds, however.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.