Wednesday, January 30, 2008
"Best compared to: (a healthy) Mark Prior"
Once gain, Beckett has thrown together two players that have nothing in common. Prior, when healthy, was about as untouchable as they come. At the age of 21, he was striking out an average of 11 batters per game at the major league level, while Greg Reynolds has managed to strike out just over 6 batters per game at AA ball. As soon as you see a similarity between the two, then let me know.
"Best compared to: Adam Laroche"
At first I wasn't sure about this one, but they match up pretty well. I'm not sure if Larish has that same long, looping swing as Laroche, but they put up similar numbers.
"Best compared to: Dwight Gooden"
When I saw the name Dwight Gooden, I couldn't believe my eyes. Gooden was a once in a lifetime prospect and it just didn't make sense for Beckett to put his name next to Jeffress...until I got the joke. Jeffress and Gooden are both well known for their "habits" and I think that's why Beckett thought it was a good idea to put them together. At least that's what I hope they were thinking, otherwise it's just another bad comparison.
"Best compared to: Bobby Abreu"
This is almost a decent pairing, but Abreu was a much more advanced hitter in the minors than Jones, and I really don't see Jones having the major league success that Abreu has had. If Jones was a better OBP guy then it might even out, but he isn't so it doesn't. Nice idea though.
The attempts by MLB to clean house and secure it's integrity are understandable, but a mass witch hunt for all things evil seems like something better left to the Department of Home Land Security. If an umpire has certain things he likes to do in his free time, whether it be fishing or wearing womens negligee is really of no concern to their employers, fans or anyone else for that matter. Bud Selig should keep in mind that though his intentions may be good, he might get more than he bargained for, including lawsuits and his own public humiliation.
Before I get too far, I want to clarify two things. One, I grew up in the south as a Braves fan, and I have absolutely no affiliation with the Red Sox, either as a fan or as an amateur blogger. And two, I'm dead serious about this one. If George W. Bush can get elected and operate under the title of President of the United States, then Theo Epstein could easily do the same. In case you think it's some kind of far-fetched idea, let me assure you that there is already an underground community completely devoted to this cause, and they will stop at nothing to see it happen.
Anyways, there are a lot of reasons to elect Theo Epstein as President, but the one reason I'm interested in is the fact that he gets it. He gets what it's all about, and he definitely gets it more than "W" gets it. If President Bush was half the man Epstein is, then the Rangers would be a power house in the AL right now, with at least 3 World Series rings on each hand. But President Bush doesn't get it, and I don't think he ever will. The "it" I'm talking about is conventionally known as the Money Ball theory, but in reality it's much more than that. If I were only interested in the best Money Ball man, I would be writing this article about someone like Billy Bean or maybe John Schuerholz, and both of those men wold make fine presidents, but I'm talking about more than just being the master of Money Ball. I'm talking about being able to capture the synergy of baseball, including the business side, the draft side, the development side, and the stat side. Bean and Schuerholz have both shown a certain level of proficiency at all of these things, but no one has done it so well and at such a young age as Theo Epstein.
Just to give you an idea about what kind of presidential candidate Epstein would make, let's take a look at his qualifications. A graduate of Yale University, Epstein is also the son of the head of an English department at Boston University, and the grandson of Philip Epstein who won an Academy Award for the screenplay of Casablanca. Epstein's brother-in-law Dan Futterman wrote the screenplay for Capote, and Theo's sister Anya is a writer for the television show Commander in Chief. Theo himself was the sports editor for the Yale Daily News and is also a graduate of the University of San Diego Law School. With that pedigree and his education background, I think Epstein matches up pretty well with the likes of Bush, Clinton (both Bill and Hillary), Romney or McCain. But beyond his family history and his illustrious law degree, Epstein also knows how to hire good help. As the GM for the Red Sox, Epstein went against years of baseball inner-circle tradition and hired Sabermetrics guru Bill James, along with Eric Van, a Harvard grad early and Sabermetrician best known for his development of the OPS stat, and Voros McCracken, known for his work with DIPS in the late 1990's. With the hire of James, Van and McCracken, Epstein created the baseball equivalent of an All-Star Presidential Cabinet, covering every facet of the game in statistical form and providing a deep wealth of historical and analytical knowledge unparalleled in all of baseball.
By assigning such gifted men to be his aides and counselors, Epstein has been able to re-establish the Red Sox as a yearly favorite to win their division, and even the World Series. When you play in the same division as the Yankees, such accolades are hard to come by, but Epstein makes it look almost easy. How has he done it? By maximizing talent and minimizing cost. By trusting in the numbers and identifying undervalued skills, the Red Sox have been able to maintain their high priced free agents while filling in the gaps with highly productive players at discount prices. They've put a premium on intelligent hitters with high on-base percentages, and maximized their team slugging numbers by combining extended pitch counts with powerful swings. They've also maximized their returns in the draft by identifying hitters that not only fit into their system, but can contribute early.
As good as the Red Sox have done at the plate, Epstein hasn't just developed solid line-ups. When outsiders look at the Red Sox pitching depth, they often think that their secret to success has been a rotation that includes Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka, but that's only half the story. By hiring stat heads such as McCracken, the Red Sox have been able to identify, draft, and develop young pitchers that are extremely undervalued, extremely talented, and above all else very good at inducing ground balls. Every early round pitcher taken by the Red Sox in the past several drafts has been a player that has exhibited high ground ball rates and solid control. While a few other teams have realized the value of ground ball pitchers, both as players and as capital investments, no other team has been as successful as finding such pitchers and developing them with the same amazing efficiency. These types of pitchers are what championship caliber teams are built around, and they create a depth chart that is virtually immune to major injuries while consistently producing the type of numbers that create solid win totals at a low cost to the team budget.
With all the things Epstein has going for him, I think it's is only appropriate if we use some kind of comparable politician to help us understand what type of potential Epstein has. With "W" still in the White House and as a former co-owner of the Texas Rangers for 5 years, I think we can look to his track record to draw some accurate conclusions. When you compare Epstein and Bush on all levels, Epstein is equal to or better than Bush in every significant category, indicating that Epstein would make a significantly better president than "W". First, Bush and Epstein both graduated from Yale, with Bush earning a degree in history and Epstein earning a degree in American studies. Bush went on to earn an MBA, while Epstein earned a law degree. During his time with the Texas Rangers, Bush had a hand in developing teams that won 466 games and lost 458 games, for a winning percentage of 50.5%. Epstein has helped develop a Red Sox dynasty that has won 563 games and lost 409 games, for a winning percentage of 57.9%. Under Bush's watchful eye, the Rangers drafted Rusty Greer, Benji Gil, Rich Aurilia, Kevin Brown and Scott Posednik. With Epstein at the helm, the Red Sox have drafted Jon Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden, and Justin Masterson.
In summary, Epstein has the same caliber educational background, had a better winning record with his team, and recognized and recruited young talent better then Bush. His ability to recognize and bring together the best people and the best ideas makes him the perfect candidate as Commanded in Chief, and his track record speaks for itself. He understands the value of history, while embracing and utilizing the best of intellectual developments, and his leadership skills are obvious. If November rolls around and you still don't know who to vote for, consider writing in the name of Theo Epstein. You won't regret it.
If you were already a Santana card collector, your stash may see a nice spike in value, while fantasy drafts may see him go earlier than ever. Other players involved in earlier trade rumors will probably see price fluctuations over the next several weeks and months, including Fernando Martinez, Deolis Guerra, Jon Lester, and Phil Hughes. There's already several threads on the Beckett Message Boards about the fate of Guerra prices since he'll be out of the New York spotlight, and most people seem to think there will be very little demand for his rookie refractors and auto cards, and I tend to agree. But, I also think he'll do much better in the Twins farm system than he ever would have done in the Mets, especially considering the fact that the Twins have produced several top notch pitching prospects in the last few years, while the Mets have had a total of zero young stud pitchers over the same time period. I'm excited to see what the Twins can do with a young, talented player like Guerra.
With Santana gone, all eyes will soon be turning to Francisco Liriano as he makes his comeback form Tommy John elbow surgery. Fans and collectors alike will be holding their collective breath, waiting to see if the new Liriano will be anywhere near as good as the old Liriano. At the recent Twinsfest, Liriano commented, "I'm throwing all my pitches now. Sliders, changeups, everything -- no problem." It's likely that the Twins will be very cautious with their use of Liriano until they feel confident he has fully recovered, but so far all signs point to a solid return for Liriano in 2008. If he can return to his 2006 stats, Liriano should ease the pain of losing Santana for Twins fans.
Breaking down the trade, I think the Twins really got a bad deal. They had several monster offers from the Red Sox and Yankees, yet waited until they got next to nothing for Santana from the Mets. Instead of pulling the trigger when they should have, the Twins big-wigs got greedy and blew their chance at a nice collection of young talent. Guerra will be a solid pitcher, maybe even a #2 or even #1 starter at some point, but Carlos Gomez is not going to replace Torii Hunter and the other guys involved in the deal are just spare bull-pen parts. If you add up all the trades and non-signings the Twins have made this off-season, they basically traded Matt Garza, Torii Hunter and Johan Santana for a guy who strikes out too much and could be a huge bust (Delmon Young), a pitcher that might replace Garza in about 5 years (Guerra), a guy who will never replace Hunter (Carlos Gomez), and some bull-pen pitchers that will barely make a dent in the vacuum left by the exit of Johan Santana. What a horrible off-season for Twins fans.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
"Analysis:...projects as a mid-rotation starter."
"Best compared to: (the early pitching version of) Rick Ankiel"
Say what? Beckett compares Savery to the early pitching version of Rick Ankiel, while also saying that he projects as a mid-rotation starter? Ankiel was a #1 starter by the age of 19, so how does Joe Savery even come close to Ankiel if he's only got middle-of-the-rotation stuff? C'mon Beckett, get it together. The whole thing makes absolutely no sense.
"Analysis: Mid-rotation starter."
While they blew the Savery analysis, I think they were pretty close with Sinkbeil. He's got decent stuff and would make a nice mid-rotation guy.
"Best Compared to: Matt Holliday"
I really don't get this one. I've already spent some time looking at Snider and I think he's a promising young hitter, but I could think of a lot of guys to compare Snider to before I would even think of putting him and Matt Holliday in the same paragraph. Unless maybe I were to say something like, "Snider and Holliday both play baseball" or "Snider and Holliday are nothing alike."
"Analysis: Reserve outfielder"
I hadn't really thought of it, but Martinez does profile as a typical reserve outfielder, at least until he gets closer to 25 years old. His speed might help him see more playing time, especially with Carlos Gomez going to the Twins in the Santana trade, but then again, he might waste the first half of his career in a ridiculous platoon job set up by the almighty Mets think tank.
"Best Compared to: Scott Kazmir"
Kazmir was born in 1984, while Luebke was born in 1985. Kazmir just finished the year as the AL strikeout leader, and would have led both leagues had he not been held to strict pitch counts. Luebke just finished the year with 61 strikeouts in 59 innings pitched in three levels of A ball. If Luebke was anywhere near as talented as Kazmir, he'd have been in the majors for two years already. Another ridiculous comparison.
"Analysis: Legitimate power, and an All-Star in the making; we don't take our comparison lightly."
"Best compared to: Albert Pujols"
I've already covered the Marrero comparisons to Pujols, but in case anybody forget what I said, let me repeat myself. Marrero is NOT the next Albert Pujols. Period. Beckett will lose a lot of it's credibility with prospectors if it continues to throw out these types of comparisons.
"Best Compared to: Joe Crede"
Where did Crede come from? Did they just spin a wheel and go with whoever it stopped on? At 21 years old, Longoria hit 21 home runs with an OPS of .931 in 432 plate appearances at AA ball. Crede had 4 home runs with an OPS of .650 in 313 plate appearances as a 21 year old in AA ball. Even if we consider Crede's AA ball stats as a 22 year old, he still only had an OPS of .874 with 21 home runs in 589 plate appearances, which places him about 2 years behind Longoria in terms of development. What a horrible comparison. If I had to pick one player to compare Longoria to, it would be Mark Teixeira, not Joe Crede. Maybe Beckett thought that since they both played third base then it wouldn't matter if they didn't bothered looking at the numbers, or maybe they just want to hoard tons of Longoria cards and they felt like devaluing him in the eyes of collectors. Either way, they really messed this one up.
Well, those are just a few of the players that caught my attention in the Beckett prospect section. Tomorrow I'll try and post a few more.
So, I'm asking for your help. If you have any information for recent refractor sells -- be it a gold, blue, orange, whatever refractor-- just leave a comment on the site anywhere you want, or email me at email@example.com. I'll try to keep a running post every week or maybe twice a week detailing the reported sells.
Friday, January 25, 2008
I've been thinking about this one for a long time, and I've finally made up my mind about it. I looked at it from just about every angle I could think of, and spent a lot of time finding comparable players and making adjustments in projections based off of various factors. At first I went with Snider, then I decided Marrero was better, and then I started all over because I couldn't make up my mind. But now I'm ready to declare a winner, so let's get to the good stuff. First, I'll quickly summarize what I like and dislike about each, then I'll declare a winner and explain my reasoning.
This guy can flat out hit. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip to show his swing from the front, but you can get a general sense of Snider's balance and swing type from the clip above. Without seeing his hands, I can't say too much about his mechanics, but his .325 average in rookie ball and .313 average at A ball tell me he does a pretty good job at the plate. I've read a lot of comments about Snider being a complete hitter, and if you mix his power numbers with his contact ability, I would tend to agree. In 748 minor league plate appearances, he has 27 home runs and 47 doubles, not to mention a healthy 8 triples. He also hits to all fields well, with a tendency to hit up the middle with power.
There's a lot of things I like about Snider, but I also have some hesitancies about his future. He's not real athletic looking, and he has a bulky frame that kind of reminds me of Prince Fielder which is a good thing and a bad thing. His size produces a lot of his power, but it could shorten his career and relinquish him to DH duty early. His outfield skills are pretty bad, and that could really decrease his value as well. He also strikes out a lot, at about a 25% clip, and he got caught stealing 10 times this year, with only 3 successful attempts. For a 19 year old with his talent, those are all concerns that could be overlooked, but I think they are worth taking into consideration.
Once again, I can't find a good clip for Marrero, so I can't say much about his mechanics. Like Snider, Marrero is a big guy, but at 6'5" he's several inches taller and much more athletically built. In 612 plate appearances spanning rookie ball, A ball and A+ ball, Marrero has 34 doubles, 3 triples and 23 homeruns, which puts him on pace with Snider in terms of power. His average is lower than Snider's, but he still makes consistent contact, and I think his plate discipline is pretty good for his age.
Marrero is already drawing comparisons to some well established big league hitters like Albert Pujols, however I would have to argue that Marrero is really not that similar to Pujols, but much more like a Mark McGwire or Jim Thome type. He has a decent strikeout rate of about 15-20%, but between his low walk rates and his tendency to hit a lot of ground balls, he could frequently suffer from low BABIPs like he did this past year in A+ ball. His playing time will always be limited to the outfield, but I think he'll have a longer career than Snider and should rarely have to worry about playing time with the Nationals.
So, now that we've covered the basics, who is the better prospect? Do we go with the more developed hitter in Snider, or do we go with the more athletic Marrero? In my opinion, Marrero is the obvious choice. At first it didn't seem so obvious, and I really didn't know which one to go with, but after breaking it down and looking more closely at the numbers, Marrero stood out above Snider in every possible category. Snider might have a better average, but he is about 6 months older than Marrero, and while Snider spent the whole 2007 season at A ball, Marrero was called up and spent half the year in A+ ball. Before his call-up, Marrero obliterated A ball pitching, while it took Snider almost the whole season before he finally went on a tear and put up numbers similar to what Marrero had done in A ball. Had they both stayed in A ball for the entire season, there would be no debate about who was better, and Marrero would be ahead of Snider on every prospect list. To better illustrate my point, here are both players numbers from their minor league careers:
Rookie Ball numbers are always a little bit skewed, so I won't spend any time considering their significance in this debate. I'd like to focus on examining the similarities and differences between Marrero's time in A ball and Snider's time in A ball, as I think those numbers can tell us a lot about what each hitter is capable of.
During his time at A ball, Marrero was 18 years old and didn't turn 19 until he was in A+ ball in July, while Snider spent his entire time in A ball as a 19 year old. Up until August, Snider did not have a month as good as Marrero had in June, and Snider never came close to the numbers Marrero posted in May. Essentially, at 18 years old and 10 months Marrero was better than Snider was the entire time he played as a 19 year old. It doesn't sound significant, but it puts Marrero on a development curve that is about a year ahead of Snider, meaning that Marrero's developmental trajectory is much steeper and much more impressive. His numbers in June alone were superb, but his May numbers rank up there as some of the most impressive numbers I've seen put up by an 18 year old in a while.
If we extend Marrero's numbers from A ball out to match up with Snider's PA total in 2007, then Marrero would have ended up with about 30 home runs and 30 doubles, and an ISOP significantly higher than Snider's. Like I said before, if Marrero had stayed in A ball, those 30 home runs and that extremely high ISOP would have landed him well above Snider on any prospect list, but the Nationals were well aware of Marrero's development and appropriately called him up to A+ ball. Up until August, Snider had not had the production that Marrero had in any category, and that has been over looked by a lot of people.
Since I feel that Marrero is by far the better prospect, I'll provide a few comparables for Snider and then devote the remainder of this post to talk about what I think Marrero is capable of. All of the players provided for Snider comparisons were 19 years old at A ball.
Just by looking at these comparables, it becomes fairly obvious where Snider fits in. He doesn't have the raw power of Fielder, Walker or Marrero, and his poor plate discipline only makes matters worse. He's also not as athletic as Wright, so really I would rank him well behind all of those hitters in terms of potential. Snider is a solid line drive hitter, but I think his strike out rate will be his downfall at higher levels, and he won't make the same kind of contact, resulting in a lower average and stagnant power numbers. Long term, I think he's probably good for a .270 average and a few 35+ home run years in his prime, but he won't be very productive before the age of 24 or 25. Think Joey Votto.
As for Marrero, I think his ceiling is much higher than Snider and his stats place him in some very promising company.
I put Jose Canseco on the list just for fun since both Canseco and Marrero are of Cuban descent, but they have some similarities beyond that. Pre-steroids Canseco was about 6'4" in the minors and he probably matched up to Marrero pretty well in terms of strength and power. Even without the aid of steroids, I think Canseco would have been capable of 30+ home runs early in his career, but the 40/40 thing might have been a stretch. Anyways, Marrero doesn't have quite the same power as Andruw Jones, but his plate discipline and power numbers compare well with everyone else on that list. He's taller than Jones, so I think he could eventually match Jones' power numbers, and he's more athletic than Butler, so I might rank Marrero just behind Jones and Upton, and in front of Canseco and Butler. In his prime I think he'll have a few 40+ home run seasons and post averages in the .290-.300 area, and he should reach 30 home runs by the age of 23, or maybe 24 at the latest.
Going back to Marrero's A ball numbers, he exhibited some very impressive power numbers that some might feel disappeared when he went to A+ ball. I was concerned about this when I first started looking closely at Marrero, but I really don't think it's a big deal. Like all young hitters, Marrero experienced an adjustment period when he moved up, and the same thing occurred when he started rookie ball and A ball. His first 100 plate appearances were mediocre, but after that he was back to his previous power numbers. In June he posted an ISOP of .042, but averaged an ISOP over .200 for his final 200 plate appearances. Marrero has consistently shown an ability to adjust quickly to more talented competition, and I think that will continue to be the case as he moves up towards the majors.
With Snider I feel like we've already seen the height of his potential, whereas with Marrero I think we're just beginning to see what he's capable of. He's not going to be the next Albert Pujols, but he'll make a very good outfielder or first baseman who hits for good power numbers and can contribute early with his approach at the plate. I'm still concerned about his ground ball percentages, but I think those will improve as he gets more experience. Until then, his average will stay relatively low, but I don't think it will be a significant hindrance to his progression.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
There's a really good article written about the whole subject if you're interested.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
David "Homer" Bailey has been a highly sought after pitcher ever since his high school days when he was just your average F-150 driving, cowboy boot wearing, wild boar hunting teenager. With a fastball in the mid-90's, smooth mechanics, and a tenacity on the mound that would make any Texan cowboy proud, Bailey has received rave reviews from scouts at every level and the Reds have him slated to be one of their top pitchers for the next several years, if not longer. He coasted through the minors, but at the age of 21, Bailey started 9 games for the Reds, giving up 29 earned runs in 45 innings, striking out 28 as well as walking 28. It wasn't what some had expected from him, but with youth on his side and a Reds rotation in need of a boost, there is still plenty of support behind Bailey, and the Reds will give him every opportunity to prove himself.
When Bailey pitches he has a very confident, business like way of carrying himself while he's on the mound without coming off as a show boat or primo uomo (I just learned that a 'primo uomo' is the male equivalent of a 'prima donna'). It seems that he's got all the right tools, both physically and mentally, to be great. But despite all that, I'm not a Bailey believer. I have several issues with his approach to pitching, both mechanically and mentally, and I haven't seen any evidence that Bailey is gaining a sense of what he really wants to accomplish with each pitch. I'll try to explain these things in more detail.
First, I'll start with Bailey's mechanics. From the stretch, I think he's as smooth as butter, but from the wind up I think he's got a lot of wasted motion. Here's a look at him from the stretch.
I really like his tempo to the plate and his forward motion with his lower body. He doesn't load a lot of pressure on his arm, and his follow through is fairly complete allowing him to reduce pressure on his upper body even more with only a minimal amount of resistance from his front leg. It looks like a very compact, efficient motion. The only thing I would want Bailey to do differently is to use his torso more just as he's releasing the ball, tightening his abdominal region and pulling his upper body forward just a bit. It could add a little snap to his motion that could produce better velocity efficiency and sharper rotation on his pitches.
If I were to give Bailey's motion from the stretch a letter grade, I'd probably give it a solid 'A'. But if I had to grade his motion from the wind up, I don't know what I would give him because there isn't much I like about it.
I don't like how he raises his hands because it seems like a useless motion that at best helps him keep his rhythm. A wind up should be used to create momentum into a forward and downward movement towards the plate and Bailey doesn't do anything with his early arm motions except obscure his own view of his target. If you want to see a good early hand lift motion, watch how Jake Peavy brings his hands down in motion with his initial leg movement towards the plate.
Just as his hands and his knees are about to meet, he drops them both down and out towards the batter, creating perfect momentum to start his arm movement. Baily on the other hand only creates downward movement, dropping his leg almost directly to the rubber, essentially creating a pause in his forward motion that has to be overcome by movement in his hips and upper body, which results in opening his front side too early. By opening up his body early, Bailey loses a lot of his ability to create velocity with his early motion and must rely on extreme late muscle contractions to get his arm moving. I would prefer to see Baily keep his body closed longer and use his hand lift to create a forward movement in conjunction with his front leg much like Tim Lincecum does.
Lincecum has incredible mechanics and really reaches back before he opens his front hip at the last second. This allows him to create great torque through his body and up to his throwing arm, resulting in an explosive move towards the plate that creates maximum velocity with minimal wasted motion. Lincecum creates almost all of his velocity in his early wind up, allowing his later motions to complement his arm action rather than dominate it. Bailey loses all of that simply by creating too much early downward and absolutely zero forward momentum in his hand raise and leg drop. With the loss of forward momentum, he has to compensate by shifting his upper body just enough to cause a drift in his lateral movement and then he has to recenter his body towards the plate before he can release the ball, resulting in less accuracy and too much emphasis on velocity production at the wrong moment.
While watching Bailey, I get the feeling that he is often just going through the motions without actually understanding why he is doing it. When he raises his hands above his head, it seems that he's doing it simply because that's what pitchers are supposed to do, so the sooner he can get it over with, the sooner he can throw the ball. What he doesn't seem to grasp is the fact that his throwing motion actually begins with that hand raise so he should use it to his benefit, and not treat it as just another step in the process. When he pitches from the stretch, he seems to be a completely different pitcher mechanically, and I think it has to do with the fact that he doesn't have to do all that other "stuff" before he can just let it rip and throw the ball. And that brings me to my biggest complaint against Bailey. He acts and thinks like a thrower and not a pitcher, and I think his lack of a mental approach is his biggest problem. I'm sure he's been taught over and over again about attacking hitters a certain way and using certain pitches in certain counts, but just because you've been taught something does not mean you've actually learned it. Rick Sweet, one of Bailey's minor league coaches, admitted that the one thing holding Bailey back is the fact that he hasn't learned how to pitch yet.
If it sounds like I'm ripping on Bailey, it's because that's exactly what I'm doing. He's got talent, but that's about it so far, and it's not enough to overpower the majority of major league hitters he'll be facing this year. If he had the same stuff that Felix Hernandez has, then he might do alright for a while, but just as Hernandez found out this year, your stuff can only get you so far before you have to adapt to hitters who have adapted to you. Bailey found that out the hard way in 2007, and he seems a little frustrated now that he's finally facing some serious adversity. When asked over the winter about his thoughts on the goals that the Reds have set for him for the 2008 season, Bailey responded by saying, "“I don’t care what people’s goals for me are. If I can live up to my own expectations, then I’m by far reaching their goals. I have my goals, and that’s what I stick to.” He's probably right, and he probably does have lofty goals for himself, but if he can't recognize the motives behind the Reds goals, then he'll fail to learn the lessons that he really needs to learn. Bailey went on to add that one of his goals was to throw “...a strike on the first pitch to the first hitter. That would be a start.” Sounds fundamental, but in reality it would just be a quick fix to mask other weaknesses in his game. He needs a better change up and he needs to learn how to use it. His fastball is considered a plus pitch, but he has a hard time locating it so what good is a plus pitch if you don't know where it's going? He could also benefit from learning to induce more ground balls, otherwise the Great American Ball Park could turn into a launching pad for visiting teams.
Ok, I've dogged Bailey enough. I'll reiterate that he has a ton of natural talent, and as long as he can keep his confidence and not shut out what others are trying to teach him, he'll be alright. I just don't think that's how his career will work out.
Besides worrying about the opposing team, this year Bailey will also have to worry about the manager in his dugout, and I don't predict good things coming out of the Dusty Baker era in Cincinatti.
Before I forget, let's take a look at Bailey's stats and try to come up with some comparisons.
He had good early numbers, but AAA hitters were obviously a big hurdle for Bailey. He also didn't show great control at AAA despite having shown improvements in his BB/9 rates up to that point, which tells me that when things got rough, it effected him and he lost his edge. The same thing happened when he was getting knocked around in the majors. Controlling his mindset during those moments will most likely define his career.
Here are a few players to measure Bailey by. Their stats are all minor league averages.
Of those pitchers, I'd rank Bailey between Cain and Wood, with Gallardo and Zambrano as #1 and #2 respectively. If Bailey had better control, I'd be much more inclined to like him more, but it's just not there. Anyways, those aren't horrible pitchers to be associated with, but Zambrano and Wood both struggled with command and Wood of course was injured and completely lost his dominance when he had to change his arm mechanics. When Cain can locate his pitches he's fantastic, but I think it will be a few years before Bailey can match the level of control that Cain has, and he may never match Gallardo's control. If he does, he could be dangerous, especially if he develops a solid change up, but until then I foresee ERA's in the low-4.00 area, with an occasional 3.75 or so. If he ever added some kind of sinker and increased his GB% he'd be absolutely filthy, but I really don't think it's going to happen. He'll be good in a few years, and maybe one day he'll put together a few great years in his prime, but he'll take a good beating or two getting there.
Perhaps the greatest single contributor to the increase in young talent is the globalization of the game. When teams began establishing youth player programs in Latin American countries, literally hundreds of thousands to millions of young players had access to proper equipment, a chance to learn the fundamentals of baseball, and most importantly the opportunity to turn their talent into large sums of cash. Such programs have been so successful that similar initiatives have been undertaken on every continent, with the obvious exception of Antartica. There is a brewing controversy over the ethical nature of such youth programs, mostly because it pulls so many young players – often as young as 10 or 12 years old – away from family and a formal education, only to have 98-99% of them fail to ever advance beyond the basic levels of competition. Consequently, many of these young players are forced out of baseball by the age of 18 or 19, left with no marketable skill set and very little compensation for the years they devoted to baseball. For those players fortunate enough to make it to the majors, demands on their time and talents can essentially run their lives. During a particularly rough period in his personal life in 2004, Raul Mondesi began to receive heavy criticism when he left the Pittsburgh Pirates to return home to the Dominican Republic in order to address a law suit filed against him. “I've played 20 straight years of baseball all year round,” Mondesi said. “I deserve a rest even if it's only a few months. Today I took my children to school for the first time in my life. It was an amazing feeling."
The expansion of baseball into Latin America and other parts of the world has exponentially expanded the pool of available young talent. As more international stars make their impact on the game, more and more young players from the home countries set out to follow in their footsteps. If we put the odds of making it to the majors at about 1 in 100,000, and the odds of becoming a big league star at 1 in 1,000,000, then a worldwide increase of a few million young ball players should result in the production a considerable amount of major league caliber players, as well as a handful of future All-Stars. Such has been the case and the driving force behind baseball’s surge in international investments and scouting ventures, ultimately helping to add more and more players to the youth movement in baseball.
Another significant contributor to the youth movement has been the success of Moneyball. Whether you’re a fan of it or not, the low-budget, high-tech approach to running a ball club based on stats and formulas has had a major impact on not only how the game is played but also on how teams scout and evaluate young talent. Skills that were previously overlooked or players that were dismissed due to body type or other subjective traits are now valued and appreciated by many teams. The success of the Atlanta Braves and Oakland Athletics in producing young and productive winning teams on limited budgets has convinced many GM’s and team owners to restructure their scouting and development departments, focusing more on low cost investments with high yields than expensive free agents. Recently, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has founded several World Series Championship teams around hitters and ideals that would have been severely overlooked in previous eras. This new approach to recognizing and developing young talent has significantly increased the volume of productive young players and ultimately has led to a decrease in the reliance of teams on older, veteran players. The skyrocketing cost of free agent salaries continues to push teams to find cheap, productive players that are often found in the form of young prospects and draftees. Once a future star is found, teams have begun to take a very calculated approach when planning training regimens, and pitch counts and inning workloads are carefully recorded in order to decrease the risk of injury or burnout.
One final development that I feel has had an influence on the amount of young talent in baseball is the end of the Steroid Era. I might be going out on a limb with this one, but it only seems logical that as the level of performance enhancing drug use decreases, the ages of player productivity will decrease. Hitters and pitchers alike could more easily withstand the pressures of long seasons and lengthy careers when under the influence of steroids and growth hormones, resulting in more and more players playing well into their late-30’s and early 40’s. Without the physiological benefits afforded by performance enhancing drugs, injuries take longer to heal, bodies give out quicker and minor injuries develop into larger problems. All of these factors effectively increase the odds that a player will fall below necessary productivity levels at an earlier age, and will eventually be replaced by a younger player.
There are a lot of factors behind the youth movement in baseball, and I’ve only listed and described a few. Today’s game is very dynamic and the infusion of youth will have a deep impact on the future of baseball. Hopefully the changes will be good for the game, and the young stars of tomorrow will erase some of the painful memories of a tainted time in baseball’s history.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
If I was a betting man, I’d bet that it’s coming soon. The timing is right and the stars are lining up for the Next Big One. I’m not talking about an earthquake or solar eclipse or some spawn of Mother Nature, I’m talking about something so supernatural that it can’t be contained for years at a time, even decades. I’m talking about the Next Big Hitter. Who will it be? We’ve waited long enough and I think the baseball gods are due to send us down one of their Elite to grace us with their eternal fastball crushing presence and shower us with monster blasts and celestial run production. In ’86 they sent us Bonds, in ’89 it was Griffey, then ’94 brought us A-Rod, followed by Pujols in ’00. Miggy Cabrera has been with us for four years now, and yet we are waiting for the next One to come over the horizon. Maybe he’s already among us and we don’t know it, or maybe he has just begun his ascension through the ranks of the minors, but no matter who or where he is, he is coming and he’ll be here soon. It might be this year, it might be next, but a new Star will rise and win the hearts of all. I think he could be wearing a Brewers uniform, or maybe he is a young third baseman in New York who is still finding himself. Perhaps he is an 18 year old who hit 11 home runs in one month in A ball, or a certain center fielder that recently learned to hit left handed pitching. Or maybe he is none of these and we will have to wait for his time. Who do you think it is? Have you seen him? And how will we know when he is truly here?
So what are some reasonable expectations for Buchholz this year, and what other pitchers can we look to for forecasting his progression? First, let's look at his minor league stats:
What really surprised me about Buchholz was his ability to maintain his K/9 rates throughout his rise through the Red Sox farm system. I really expected his strikeout rate to drop to about 9.5 or 10, but it only got better as he made his way to AAA. All total, his minore K/9 rate was 11.23, with a BB/9 of 2.43 and a GB% of 47%. He has some very solid and very talented comparables, so let's get to those while we're on the subject of minor league numbers.
That's some pretty good company to be in. Of the 4 comparable pitchers, I think Buchholz most likely fits in between Peavy and Beckett, but he's also very close to Hamels as well and if you factor in his GB% he's not very far behind Prior. Regardless, that's a lot of talent summed up in that short list and Buchholz certainly deserves to be included among them. Just for fun, let's see how each of those pitchers did at the age of 23 in the majors. Keep in mind that they all pitched in the N.L. so the ERA projection for Buchholz will be slightly higher.
If we assume that Buchholz will have an ERA of about +0.50 due to pitching in the A.L., that puts him squarely between 3.25 and 3.75 for 2008 with a 4.00 ERA being the maximum. If we consider the ERAs and win totals for other Boston pitchers this year then an ERA of 3.50 should result in a win percentage of about 60%. With a conservative projection of 20 starts, Bucholz should end up with about 12 wins and maybe 6 or 7 losses, and if he makes 30 starts that would put him at about 18 wins and perhaps 9 or 10 losses. If I had to give a single projection for 2008, it would look something like this:
Monday, January 21, 2008
Anyways, what I'm getting at is that there are a lot of prospects that get noticed simply because scouts like what they see, even if it means the scout has to ignore other things that should not be overlooked. Take Cameron Maybin for instance, who was called up to the big leagues after an official in the Tigers organization saw him hit a few home runs in AA ball. Maybin got called up that very same week to the major league club and went on to have a very depressing pro debut before being shipped off to the Florida Marlins. I'm a big fan of getting young players to the majors and letting them experience baseball at the highest appropriate level, but it was ridiculous to think that moving Maybin up so early was appropriate on any terms. In the case of Maybin, we have a young player that played well at age appropriate levels for two years in a row, but really hasn't performed at a level that justifies giving him a starting position on a major league team. He is definitely a solid hitter, and he has speed and some power to go with it, but he's no where near ready for major league pitching and he could just as easily fade away into obscurity as develop into an everyday big league center fielder. Before I get into this much deeper, let's look at his stats.
You can tell that Maybin has promise, and he'll develop into a solid hitter if things go right, but he isn't there yet. His numbers are good, but they aren't unusual for a young power hitter playing at those levels at 19 or 20 years old, and it's obvious that he still needs time to polish his plate approach and make the most of his at-bats. He strikes out a little too much, and a full 300 at-bats at AA would have given him a great opportunity to improve on his BB/K rate. But instead, Maybin struck out 21 times in 49 at-bats with the Tigers and ended the year with an average of .143. To add a little perspective to this argument, I'll give you player stats from some 20 year old hitters that were a little more developed than Maybin.
Other than Pujols, each of the above hitters went on to play a full year at AAA ball, and then struggled in the majors until the age of 23 or 24 years old. If we assume that Maybin continues to start for the Marlins, he'll have about 3 years of ineptitude in the majors before we see him put together a full productive season. By then he might be able to maintain an average above .300 and he might hit 25 or 26 home runs, and that's certainly something to look forward to, but I would argue that in the meantime he should have a few more chances to work on his plate discipline and approach in the minors.
So, in conclusion, the next 2-3 years of Maybin's professional career will most certainly be dictated by what level he plays at. I'm not down on him as a player, but he's at least 2 full seasons away from being major league ready. In the prime of his career he'll be good for a .315 average and 30 to 35 home runs a year with ample steals -- think Alfonso Soriano -- but he could face some very tough times between now and then.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
If you have any questions or comments or would like to see projections for a certain player, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I was younger, every kid in the neighborhood had at least a small stash of cards. Some of the kids didn't even like baseball, but they would get all the junk common cards none of the other kids wanted so that when we got together and traded cards, everyone would have something to trade with. We'd use cards to bet on sandlot games, poker games, dares and sometimes as bribes to keep other kids from ratting us out when we did something stupid. Cards were our form of currency, and there was a constant concern over market fluctuations due to rising or falling prices in the recent Beckett. Every now and then someone would pull off a monster trade -- say, two Frank Thomas rookie cards for a Bo Jackson Rated Rookie and a box of commons -- and we'd talk about it for weeks. If some kid got the raw end of a deal, he'd be forced to suffer daily verbal assaults from the other kids until he either pulled off a redeeming deal or some other recent trade stole the spotlight.
By the time we got into middle school, baseball cards were going out of style, and besides that they were getting really expensive. To this day, I don't have a single close friend that collects cards or even cares about them for that matter. Whenever I pick up a sweet auto card off of eBay my best chance at gloating about it is either to tell my wife (like she cares), or write up a post on the Beckett Message Boards. If it wasn't for the internet, I would have to assume that baseball cards were all but gone, but I really think that cards are on the way back up, and the hobby is more fascinating to me now than it ever was as a kid. My biggest concern is that cards are still too expensive for kids to start enjoying the hobby, so by the time my generation is long gone, there won't be anybody left with childhood memories of monster trades and sweet rookie card pulls. I've tried to get my wife's little brothers interested, but there are just too many other distractions out there for them. I'm interested to know if anyone out there either has or knows kids that are into card collecting. I'm hoping that there's at least a handful of kids that still like baseball cards.
Friday, January 18, 2008
This article originally appeared on Wax Heaven and has been slightly edited. With all the trade rumors surrounding the Mets, Johan Santana, and a Fernando Martinez, I think it's worth considering if trading Martinez for Santana is a good idea.
Fernando Martinez, the young Mets phenom from the Dominican Republic, recently finished up a more than adequate year at AA ball as an 18 year old. The Mets are confident enough in their young outfield prospects that this off season they traded away Lastings Milledge, who was one of the most promising prospects they’ve had in years (I know there were a lot of issues surrounding his character, but in usual Mets fashion they bought high and sold low with Milledge). A lot of things have been said about Martinez, who has been dubbed F-Mart for short, and here are just a few of the quotes I found regarding this young slugger:
“Martinez looks like a young Ted Williams.” - Anonymous scout
“Fernandez has great posture for being so young.” - Rafael Bournigal, Mets’ director of international scouting
“What we saw in [Martinez] was a 16-year-old kid with power, great ability and great character, above everything else.” - Omar Minaya
“The 18-year-old has that special something that causes the ball to crack off his bat in an unparalleled tone.” - Adam Foster of projectprospect.com
Without having ever seen Martinez play in person, it’s hard for me to know if any of these quotes are completely accurate. To be called a “young Ted Williams” seems to be a bit of a stretch since I seriously doubt that there are any scouts still living that saw Williams play in the late 1930’s. However, all reports on F-Mart seem to be consistent with one another and it sounds like he’s a good kid with a nice power stroke type swing. Listed at about 6′ 2″ and 190 lbs, he has a good build for his age and if it weren’t for a BABIP of .200 at A+ in St. Lucie last year, F-Mart would have few doubters. He also recently had his season at AA ball cut short due to a hand injury that seemed to sap some of his power. Just from watching clips of him on YouTube, it looks like he has a nice quiet swing, but I think he often leaves too much weight on his back foot and as a result hits a lot of ground balls to the right side. If he learns to shift more of his weight forward I think his power numbers will improve.
Another important fact to point out is Martinez’s splits against lefties and righties. In 2006, he posted a .349/.482/.831 stat line against righties and a .289/.350/.639 line against lefties. That’s a fairly large disparity, especially when you consider that his BABIP against lefties was 80 points lower than his BABIP against righties and 9 of his 12 homeruns came against right handed pitchers. It’s not an unusual problem for a young hitter to face, and I think his stats versus LHPs will increase with time, but his advancement through the minors and his success in the majors will problem depend on how quickly that adjustment occurs.
As far as comparisons go, Martinez is a special case. Since he’s played through A and AA ball at such a young age, there are very few players that would provide accurate comparable stats to go by. F-Mart is the only player to have at least 100 at-bats in A+ ball that I could find, so that makes it very difficult to even begin a list of players to compare him to. Generally, we can expect a hitter that has played at AA by the age of 19 to reproduce those stats in the majors by the age of 22 or 23. As an example we’ll take a look at B.J. Upton, Jose Reyes, and Juan Gonzalez:
Of course these trends aren’t 100% guaranteed, but they give us a rudimentary baseline projection system that can give us an idea of what to expect from a young hitter. We also might want to consider that Martinez was injured in 2007, so his stats at AA ball weren’t as high as the possibly could have been. Taking that into consideration and applying his numbers to our trends to come up with a conservative projection for Martinez, we come up with something that looks like this:
F-Mart has a lot of up-side, so these projection numbers are very preliminary, but I think he fits in with guys like Felix Pie, Hanley Ramirez and Cameron Maybin. That’s not a bad group to be in, but he’s definitely not the next Ted Williams and that will certainly come as a huge disappointment to a lot of Mets fans. But he'll be a very good young player and should provide ample production wherever he ends up. Considering that Johan Santana will be signing a huge contract with whatever team he ends up with, trading him for a player like F-Mart with a few lesser prospects would be a fair trade I think. Unfortunately for the Mets, they don't have many more prospects beyond Martinez, Carlos Gomez and Deolis Guerra, so they would completely obliterate any hopes of furnishing their big league club with young, cheap talent for several years to come. As for the Twins side of the deal, they could either keep all those young prospects and work them in over the years, or turn around and trade them for more established players.
Alright folks, with Spring Training around the corner, the card market is beginning to heat up. With that in mind, I'm going to start tracking eBay sales of Bowman Chrome refractors of some of the young guys in the game. Let me know if there's anyone in particular you'd like me to keep an eye on and I'll post sales as the occur.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re a Yankees fan, you’ve got to be pretty excited right now with all these young pitchers coming up through the farm system. It reminds me a lot of when the Braves started their streak of division titles back in the early 90’s. They had a young John Smoltz, a young Tom Glavine, a very young Steve Avery, and later added a young Greg Maddux. Between those four guys and a long list of offensive talent that included Terry Pendleton, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Fred McGriff, David Justice, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Rafael Furcal, and many others, the 90’s was the time to be a Braves fan. They don’t have the pitching anymore, and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to dominant the National League East anytime in the near future unless they address that need. But right now, the Yankees have Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, Phillip Hughes and Ian Kennedy, with the possibility of adding depth through trades or free agency. The market value of just those four pitchers is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of at least $40 million a year, if not more. Depending on how Chamberlain and Hughes perform, that number could be closer to $60 million, and possibly $80 million by the time their shot at free agency rolls around. I never thought I’d say it, but it almost looks like the Yankees are turning into one of those low budget home-grown-talent teams based around a well planned scouting approach. Obviously, the Yankees still need an established dominant pitcher for the play-offs, but if they keep the work loads of their younger pitchers relatively light, then I think one of their young prospects will step up and be a great Game 1 starter.
With Chamberlain and Hughes, the debate isn’t so much about if they’ll be any good, but rather how good they will eventually be. They’ve both proven themselves during their time in the minors, and they’ve both been impressive in the appearances they’ve made for the big league team, so the only real question is how long will it take to fulfill their potential.
When it comes to Ian Kennedy, there really doesn’t seem to be a clear cut decision about how good he is. The Yankees recently tried their very best to use him as trade bait in the Johan Santana mess, so it would make sense that they would try to convince the Twins and everybody else that Kennedy is a rising star. However, they couldn’t run the risk of over-hyping Kennedy and then have the Twins scoff at their sales pitch, or even worse they ran the risk of over-hyping Kennedy and then face the possibility of him never meeting the expectations of a deceived and unforgiving Yankees fan base. Either way, I think the Yankees have had to be cautious about the impression they give about Kennedy. I think the best thing they could probably do is put him in positions where he can succeed early, and then either trade him or hope he keeps developing (actually, I think that’s exactly what they tried to do this past season by working Kennedy into some late season starts, but the sample size was too small to convince other teams or Yankees fans of his potential). Regardless of what the Yankees hype-machine is or is not saying about Kennedy, we have his stats to tell us the real story. For quick analytical purposes, I’m just going to throw out a few pitchers with their minor league average stats and then we’ll take it from there.
Player K/9 BB/9 GB% H/9
Ian Kennedy 9.97 3.14 39% 5.62
Phillip Hughes 10.18 2.16 49.8% 5.56
Joba Chamberlain 13.79 2.76 53.7% 6.33
Tom Gorzelanny 8.98 3 43.3% 7.08
Ian Snell 8.46 2.13 43.5% 8.06
Kyle Davies 9 3.25 39.3% 7.56
Mike Pelfrey 8.53 3.17 53.5% 8.18
Out of these 7 pitchers, Kennedy ranks last in groundball percentage, and he ranks fifth in BB/9. His K/9 rate and H/9 rate are high, and scouts have praised Kennedy for being able to locate his off-speed pitches well, even making comparisons to Greg Maddux. But to be fair to Maddux, he went through the minor leagues at a much younger age and maintained a groundball percentage of almost 60% throughout his career. Also, while Kennedy was pitching through AA and AAA ball as a 22 year old, Maddux was pitching his second full season in the major leagues at the age of 22 with a K/9 of 5.06, a BB/9 of 2.83, and a GB% of exactly 60%. So the Maddux comparisons aren’t all that accurate. If anyone looks like Greg Maddux right now it’s Fausto Carmona, who just finished his second full season in the majors at the age of 23 with a K/9 of 5.73, a BB/9 of 2.55, and a GB% of 66%.
My biggest problem with Kennedy is that his power stuff isn’t good enough to blow major league hitters away and his off-speed stuff doesn’t result in enough groundballs, which tells me he’s leaving pitches high in the zone and isn’t getting much downward movement on anything. In the minors, those types of pitches were being popped up and usually didn’t amount to much, but major league hitters won’t be so merciful, especially in the AL East.
So what can the Yankees fans realistically expect from Kennedy? Probably #4 or #5 starter stuff for a few years, with a chance of becoming a solid #2 in the next 5 years. He’s much closer to being Mike Pelfrey or Tom Gorzelanny than Greg Maddux, which gives him a projected ERA for the next 2 years of around 5.00. That would probably put him in a good position to win 10 or 11 games next season pitching for the Yankees, while losing about the same number. Not bad, not great, just kind of average, but in a few years he’ll start to figure things out and if the Yankees can hold on to Hughes and Chamberlain until then, they might have two #1 starters pitching in the #1 and #2 spots and a solid #2 pitcher in the #3 spot, and that would make them a great playoff team.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Jeff Albert does another interesting mechanics website. Good stuff for sure.
(Special thanks to ryanhoward06 from the Beckett Message Board for the helpful links)
I've got a short list of players I'm planning to write about in the near future, and at the top of that list is Justin Upton. He's not necessarily the best on the list (but there aren't many that are better than him, no matter where he is on the list), he just happens to be at the top of the list today . I'm going to make a few comparisons to other players , and we'll see how it goes.
The first guy I'm going to mention is none other the Justin Upton's own brother Melvin E. Upton, or B.J. for short. I can't imagine how Melvin E. got turned into B.J., or why anyone wouldn't want to be called Melvin on a daily basis, but such is the case with B.J. Upton (actually, I just checked into B.J. and found out it stands for "Bossman Jr." since his father was known as "Bossman", so there ya' go). He was the 2nd pick in the 2002 draft and was immediately shipped to A-ball by the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays at the ripe old age of 18. Here's a quick look at his stats through 2004:
Age 18, A .302/.394/.445
Age 18, AA .276/.376/.381
Age 19, AA .311/.411/.519
Age 19, AAA .327/.407/.471
In 2005 B.J. got called up to play with the Rays. Between his time in the minors that year and his time with the Rays it's hard to make sense of his stats, and since we're really here to talk about Justin Upton, we won't talk much more about B.J.. I just want to give you a point of reference and generally illustrate the trends in B.J.'s numbers. He basically started in A ball and ended in AA ball 2 years in a row, and you can see his initial adjustments to AA ball dropped his numbers a bit, but his 2nd year was much better than his 1st, especially in terms of slugging %. So keep those numbers in mind, and we'll move on to Justin's stats:
Age 18, A .263/.343/.413
Age 19, A+ .341/.433/.540
Age 19, AA .309/.399/.556
Justin didn't have the A/AA, A+/AA yo-yo seasons that B.J. did, but the stats are comparable enough to make some surface level judgments. Justin's season in A-ball wasn't very impressive, but for a home-sick 18 year old in A-ball, those numbers are still very solid. His following season is where I really think we can begin to get a feel for the type of player Justin may become. Having never played above A-ball, he shot through A+ and AA-ball and not only kept pace with B.J.'s stats, but out-slugged him by quite a bit (especially in AA-ball). I attribute the difference in power to the fact that Justin is about 1 inch taller and 25-35 lbs heavier than his older brother. In the words of one scout, Justin is "man-strong". His swing isn't a classic power swing, but he's powerful enough to put a charge in anything.
Ok, I know I said I wouldn't spend much time on B.J., but I want to get back to him real quick for the sake of making some points about Justin's potential. I've read a lot of comments about B.J. "not developing" like Tampa hoped he would, or "being a disappointment", but if you look at his numbers and make some basic comparisons, B.J. is a very good player. Recently Bill James ranked Hanley Ramirez as the #2 impact player under 25 years old (or something like that), but if you look at the numbers, B.J. -- for his age -- is arguably as good as, and maybe better than Ramirez ( I know I sound crazy to some people on this board right about now, but that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it). Both players are generally listed as 23 years old, but Ramirez is actually almost a year older than Upton and if you stretch Upton's numbers for this year out to 708 AB's like Ramirez had, Upton could have had close to 30 HR's while having an OPS just .050 points below that of Ramirez. Looking past K% and BB-rates, I think those numbers are pretty comparable. If you want to further compare the 2, look at Hanley's minor league stats.
Anyways, I don't really care if Ramirez is better than B.J. or vice versa, I just wanted to point out that with a year between them, B.J. is at least close to Ramirez in terms of OPS. Also, if you compare Ramirez's 2006 season to B.J.'s 2007 season, you can get a better feel for where each player is at on their individual progression curves. Speaking of progression curves, let's move on to our next comparison:
Ken Griffey Jr.
Keep in mind that I'm using Griffey as a comparison and not a projection parallel.
When it comes to young prospects like the Upton brothers and guys like Griffey Jr., there is a very noticeable progression curve that can be followed through their careers, especially once they reach the majors. You can use the website fangraphs.com to compare different players from different eras and match their progression curves for various stats. Really good players have these absurd progression curves that shoot up in their first 2-4 years in the majors, and then out pace league averages for a decade until they finally come back down towards the end of their career. Look at guys like Willie Mays and Babe Ruth and you'll see what I mean. Then look at guys like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and you'll see what I don't mean. But to get back on topic, let's use Ken Griffey Jr.'s stats as a modern day measuring stick to draw some conclusions about Justin Upton:
Age 17, A- .313/.445/.604
Age 18, A+ .338/.431/.575
Age 18, AA .279/.353/.492 (61 total AB's in AA)
These stats cover a total of 462 AB's, which doesn't give us much to go on, but I think it's enough for today's discussion. You can compare Griffey's numbers to B.J. and Justin, and you get a feeling that Justin falls somewhere between the 2. Of course Griffey has some other important stats that we won't discuss right now, but you can see that Justin probably is not as good as Griffey was at the same age, but he's not terribly behind Griffey either. Griffey went on to hit about 20-25 HR's with an OPS of about .900 for the Mariners until the age of 22, afterwhich he consistently hit 40-50 HR's until he was 30 (barring injury of course). Applying those trends to the Upton brothers probably translates into 30-40 HR's and an OPS between .900-1.000 for the prime of their careers, with Justin being on the higher end of the numbers and B.J. on the lower end.
So that's what I've got for today. Hopefully I haven't reached too far with any of my comparisons, but I feel comfortable with my analysis. Projections like these would be more accurate with higher sample numbers, but the unpredictability of prospecting due to such low sample numbers is also what makes it fun. Let me know what you think and if you have any other players that compare to the ones I've mentioned.