Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Catching Up with SAL Sluggers and Pitchers

I've been studying my brains out over the last couple of weeks, and if everything goes according to plan, I'll be bumping up my study hours to 4 hours a day over the next week, and eventually up to 8 hours in three weeks. That leaves me a very small window to do my baseball research, but after August 11th, I'll be able to focus on baseball non-stop (well, almost).

Anyways, I've been keeping an eye on the SAL lately, with particular interest in Derek Norris, Jordan Lyles, Jason Knapp, and Martin Perez. I've mentioned Knapp and Lyles in previous posts, and I think Perez is just as good as both of them, and maybe better. Very good K/9 rate consistently above 10, a walk rate around 3 per 9 innings, and a ground ball rate that hovers around 60%, all at the age of 18. If I had to rank them, I'd pick Lyles at number 1, then Perez, and then Knapp, but they'd all be very close.

Derek Norris puzzles me, striking out like crazy one week (27% K% on the year), and then crushing 6 home runs in 4 games like he did this past week (20 on the year in just 325 plate appearances). He's only 20 years old, but his plate discipline can be very erratic, and could lead to some very difficult encounters at advanced levels. However, it seems that the Nationals are content to keep him at catcher, which means that even if he turns into a 3-outcome hitter (walk, strikeout, or home run), he could be a very productive major league player. We'll see if he gets moved up to A+ or AA before the season is over and if he can keep his strikeout rate under control.

Right now, Norris probably ranks as one of the top 20 hitters in the minors, getting an extra boost from his defensive skills. Personally, I think he slowly improves on his strikeout rate, and makes his way to Washington in a couple of years. Other young hitters like Jesus Montero, Jason Heyward, and Jaff Decker will eclipse Norris in pure hype, but Nationals fans should be excited to have such a talented young catcher.

I'm not sure how good each of these SAL players is going to be over the coming years, but I would rank each of them in any top 50 prospects list, and I might squeeze one or two of them on a top 20 list. Once the season starts to wind down and I get past my national board exams I'll have more time to analyze each one in more depth.

For now, it's back to clinic to see patients.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Prospect Smackdown: Jason Knapp vs Jordan Lyles (vs Clayton Kershaw vs Felix Hernandez)

Hey everyone, I don't have a lot of time today, but I wanted to draw some attention to Jordan Lyles and Jason Knapp who are both currently pitching at A ball in the Southern Atlantic League. Both were supplemental first round draft picks (I might be wrong on that, so let me know if that isn't right), and both have been toasting the competition all season long despite only being 18 years old.

Knapp and Lyles both have their strengths and weaknesses, and I won't go into details at this moment, but they both also have a ton of raw talent. Just to give everyone an idea of how good these guys have been this year, check out the following stats.

To make things simple, Knapp has essentially produced about as well as Scott Kazmir or Clayton Kershaw's A ball numbers despite being a year younger, and Lyles' stats fall somewhere between Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and possibly Felix Hernandez (although it sounds like a bit of a stretch, if we just use Lyles' May and June stats -- 12.95 K/9 with a 1.67 BB/9 and 52% ground ball rate -- we could reasonably argue that he is closer to Hernandez than anyone else on the list).

I foresee both of these guys easily making just about every top 25 prospect list next spring, and possibly making their way to the majors before they turn 21. The Phillies don't have enough quality starters to keep Knapp from rising quickly through their system, and the Astros have virtually no one standing between Lyles and the majors.

So, who's the better prospect? At the beginning of the season, I would have said Knapp. He throws in the high 90's and seems to have the most up side. However, Lyles has really turned it on over the past 6 weeks, and he seems to only be getting better with every start. For now, I'm going to pick Lyles, but I wouldn't be surprised if Knapp begins to put up 10 or more strikeouts per start on a regular basis in the second half and nab the top spot. Regardless, both are going to be very good.