Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TPC 2009 Top 10 Hitters in the Midwest League

Over the coming weeks and months heading into the off-season, I'm going to be combing through a ton of minor league stats and highlighting the top 10 hitters and pitchers from each league this year. Today, I'd like to start with the top 10 hitters from the Midwest League.

I didn't spend a lot of time putting this list together, but I did spend a few hours breaking down stats and trying to eliminate players that I thought didn't belong in the running. I think the list is pretty good, but if anyone has thoughts about players I might have left off, let me know.

1. Jaff Decker -- At 19 years old, Decker is a rare mix of patience and power. He's not quite an elite hitter, but could very well develop into a blend of Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn, hitting 30 or more home runs a year, with an on-base percentage that floats around in the high-.300 area. Unfortunately, he'll also play in San Diego, which means he might have to settle for a bunch of doubles during the first few years of his career.

2. Josh Vitters -- Vitters moved up to advanced A ball in July, but while he was in A ball with the Cubs, he tore the cover off the ball. With 15 home runs and 28 total extra base hits in 288 plate appearances, he was on pace to put up some huge numbers. My biggest concern with Vitters is that he has yet to post a walk rate above 4.7% in his professional career, and this year he's sitting right around 2%. I don't think hitters necessarily have to walk a ton to be successful, but this could become a really big problem for Vitters at higher levels.

3. James Darnell -- The Padres have 2 of the top 3 hitters on this list, with Decker taking the #1 spot, and Darnell coming in at #3. At 22 years old, Darnell will probably be rushed through the minors, which so far hasn't been a problem, as he's posted an OPS of .965 or higher up through advanced A ball this year. His career numbers match up with an odd group of players that include Andy Laroche, Conor Jackson, and Alex Gordon, so it's hard to say at this point what the Padres can expect from Darnell.

4. Brett Lawrie -- Lawrie recently made the jump to AA, but I think a bit more time at A ball might have been a good thing for him. He has decent plate discipline with moderate power, but he seemed to struggle at times, and didn't show much improvement as the year progressed. Lawrie has the tools to be a very good player, but putting them all together might take some time.

5. Josh Fellhauer -- A 7th round pick by the Reds in the 2009 draft, Fellhauer came into professional ball as a hitter with what might be considered an average set of skills. But I like the fact that he signed quickly, and jumped right into A ball hitting 6 home runs in his first 2 months, and posted a strikeout rate of just 13%. He's not a big guy, and the power numbers may never substantially increase, but his overall make-up leads me to believe that Fellhauer should at the minimum make an average everyday major league player down the road.

6. Brett Jackson -- With a small sample size and suspect plate discipline, I'm not ready to believe this 2009 1st round draft pick is the real deal, but I'll give him a chance. Good defensive skills, raw plate approach.

7. Kyler Burke -- Burke's stats prior to 2009 were very average to say the least, but something seems to have clicked this year, and he has developed a lot as a hitter. He might regress next year, but for now I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and keep an eye on him in 2010.

8. Andrew Cumberland -- I really like to see a young hitter that can post a strikeout rate of about 10% and match that with a walk rate between 8% and 12%. It seems to be a good indicator for major league success. With that in mind, I think 20 year old Andrew Cumberland might have the skills to be a major league shortstop in the coming years. His highest career strikeout rate is just 11%, and this year he posted a walk rate of 12% while hitting .302.

9. Alexia Amarista -- Amarista has essentially the same stats as Cumberland, but will probably end up in the outfield or at second base, making him a little less valuable on defense.

10. Allan Dykstra -- I was hoping to see Dykstra really turn it on this season, but other than working the count a lot, I'm not sure he has much to offer. I'm not giving up on him entirely, but he's slowly fading from my radar.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

TPC in Retrospect: 2009 Top 20 Pitching Prospects #6-10

Last week I reviewed my top 5 pitching prospects for 2009, so this week it's time for the other 5 guys I ranked in the top 10. While there are a few changes I would make given the chance, I think my top 10 actually came out pretty good.

6. Neftali Feliz -- Up until about 6 weeks ago I wasn't sure how this pick was going to work out. Last year Feliz rocked AA hitters, posting 47 strikeouts in 45 innings, while hitting 100 mph on his fastball at the ripe old age of 20 years old. But Feliz struggled in AAA this year, posting a relatively meager 18% K% in April and June. I'm not sure if the learning curve was a little steeper this year, or if Feliz focused more on his secondary stuff, but it took about 3 months and a move to the bullpen before he looked like the pitcher we saw in 2008. Of course, we all know how well Feliz has performed at the major league level for the Rangers, accumulating 17 strikeouts in 11.2 innings with 0 walks, and a WHIP of 0.34. It's obviously not a very large sample size, but still very impressive. I hope Frank Wren never again allows a guy like Feliz to slip out of the Braves farm system.

7. Rick Porcello -- My gut told me to rank Porcello a bit higher than I actually did before the season started, but it seemed like there was going to be plenty of opportunities to reevaluate the Tigers young ace since he hadn't yet thrown a single pitch above advanced A ball. Guess I was wrong. The Tigers gave Porcello a spot in their starting rotation, and he has done quite well given his age and experience level. Looking back, I think I should have given Porcello the #4 or #5 spot and dropped David Price to #7.

8. Jhoulys Chacin -- This doesn't seem like a very radical pick, but going into 2009 Baseball America had Chacin ranked as the 46th best prospect in baseball, right behind Tim Alderson. I'm not saying this was a great pick by me, but I think having Chacin in my top 10 was a smart move. He's not going to be a dominant pitcher any time soon, but I think he could be just as good Jair Jurrjens in a few years.

9. Jairo Heredia -- Heredia was my most radical top 10 pick. He still isn't on any other top 50 list as far as I know, and I don't think he's going to get much attention for at least another 6 to 12 months. Heredia spent the majority of 2009 on the DL for a mystery injury, but has put in 26 innings at A and advanced A ball since July, collecting 21 strikeouts and just 3 walks. In retrospect, I might drop Heredia to #11 or #12 and maybe replace him with someone like Jenrry Mejia, but Heredia still deserves a lot more attention than he's been getting.

10. Christian Friedrich -- Baseball America ranked Friedrich as the 95th best prospect in baseball going into 2009 right behind Brad Holt, Phillippe Aumont, and Andrew Brackman, so I think I can give myself a pat on the back for putting him in my top 10. In 103 innings between A and advanced A ball, Friedrich has 140 strikeouts with just 37 walks, and has allowed just 74 hits. He still has work to do, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a shot at the Rockies starting rotation early next year.

Overall, I'd give myself a B+ for my #6-10 picks. I probably should have included Tommy Hanson in my top 10, but I'm still not completely sold on him (I'll explain later).
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Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 A.L. Rookie of the Year Update -- Position Players Still in Contention

Now that we've covered the N.L. position players still vying for Rookie of the Year, let's spend some time on A.L. position players.

Going into the 2009 season, Matt Wieters headed almost every preseason list, and I really thought he had the best chance to win ROY. But things haven't quite worked out for Wieters, and guys like Elvis Andrus and Gordon Beckham are stealing the spotlight.
Let's check the stats for a second, and then I'll cover the A.L. pitchers in my next post.I've highlighted the best stats for each category, and it looks like there are only 3 real contestants here: Elvis Andrus, Nolan Reimold, and Gordon Beckham. However, after looking at the stats of some recent R.O.Y. winners, I'm not sure Andrus has much of a chance. Historically speaking, guys like Elvis Andrus and Dexter Fowler have to do a lot more than steal 30 bases in order to take home the Rookie of the Year Award. Here's a quick list of the 6 most recent position players to win the award while stealing 20 or more bases.

If history is any indicator, Andrus and Fowler don't stand much of a chance. Here's how they stack up against the above players.

Not very comparable, is it? Ultimately, Gordon Beckham is probably the only rookie position player that has a shot at hitting .300 while posting an OPS around .850, which doesn't guarantee him anything, but at least puts him in the vicinity of historical averages in 2 categories.

Overall, I'd call this a very week year for rookie position players in both leagues, which means the R.O.Y. could very easily go to at least one pitcher, if not two.
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

2009 N.L. Rookie of the Year Update -- Position Players in Contention

Yesterday I took a look at the pitchers still in contention for the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award, so today we're going to take a look at the position players still in contention. There are some familiar names topping the list, but there are also a handful of surprises making a run at R.O.Y.

Pulling some averages from my preseason N.L. R.O.Y. post, here's how the top 6 rookie position players stack up (notice that my list does not include Garret Jones, who has hit just 2 home runs since July 24th).

With about 50 games left, let's assume each player accumulates somewhere around 200 at-bats (I think Casey McGehee is the only player on the list that isn't receiving full playing time). The only players that could possibly reach 20 home runs are Colby Rasmus, Casey McGehee, and maybe Andrew McCutchen, but I don't think any of them will actually accomplish the feat. I also don't think anyone will reach the 75 RBI mark, and I would be surprised if anyone ends the season with a batting average above .300.

Ultimately, I think this will come down to a three way race between Dexter Fowler, Chris Coghlan, and Andrew McCutchen. Fowler has the edge due to his speed, but no one is an obvious frontrunner when compared to the 3 pitchers I discussed yesterday.

To sum up the N.L. race, I'd give Dexter Fowler the overall lead right now, with J.A. Happ coming in second, and Randy Wells pulling in at third. After that, there's a 4-way time between Tommy Hanson, Andrew McCutchen, Chris Coghlan, and Casey McGehee. It should be a very interesting race over the next month and a half, and there's a good chance the award will ultimately go to the player who has the hottest September.
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

2009 N.L. Rookie of the Year Update -- Pitchers in Contention

Prior to the start of the 2009 season, I made some speculations about who might be in the running for the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award. It's still a bit early to declare an obvious winner, but there are a few interesting candidates that were no where to be found on any preseason list.

For my original 2009 N.L. ROY list, I included guys like Cameron Maybin, Colby Rasmus, Kenshin Kawakami, Tommy Hanson, and Dexter Fowler. Here's the basic projection I wrote up in my preseason post:

"...if I had to narrow down the field (for position players), I'd include Maybin, Fowler, and (Gaby) Sanchez. Overall though, I think this year's position players provide a relatively weak field of candidates, which opens up the opportunity for a pitcher to win the award.

"...I really can't single out any one player that I feel is going to stand out this year, and it might come down to who gets more playing time and doesn't screw up a whole bunch. To narrow it down, Kenshin Kawakami has the best shot at R.O.Y. simply because he has a secure starting role with major league team."

Well, we're over two thirds through the season, and it looks like Kenshin Kawakami is pretty much out of the race. With a 5-9 record and a 4.13 ERA, Kawakami can't possibly keep up with teammate Tommy Hanson, who has a 7-2 record, and a 3.05 ERA. Besides Hanson, Randy Wells and J.A. Happ have both added their names to the debate, each posting WHIPs of 1.20 or less, and ERAs of 3.01 or better.

Since Hideo Nomo won Rookie of the Year in 1995 with 13 wins, the fewest number of wins by any ROY pitcher was 12, when Scott Williamson finished with a 12-7 record and also had 19 saves and posted an ERA of just 2.41 in 1999. The average WHIP and ERA since Nomo has been 1.21 and 3.09 respectively.

There aren't any great rookie closers to add to the list, so for now it looks like Wells, Happ, and Hanson will be the only rookie pitchers making their cases over the next 50 games. At this point, I'm not sure if any of them has a distinct advantage, as each of them pitches for teams involved in a playoff battle with the offensive support and defensive capacity to keep them in line for at least 3 or 4 more wins. At least one of these guys is going to win 5 or 6 more games, and it's very possible that all 3 of them will still be in contention for Rookie of the Year at the end of the season.

Later this week, I'll break down the position players still in the running for N.L. R.O.Y. and then make some predictions about who will win it in the end.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

TPC in Retrospect: 2009 Top 20 Pitching Prospects #1-5

Finally, I got past my national board exam, and don't have to spend my days and nights memorizing anatomical anomolies of the head and neck and random biochemical metabolic mechanisms. At last, I can get back to reading and writing about baseball, and hopefully there are still a handful of people out there interested in reading my posts.

At the beginning of the 2009 season, I put together my list of the top 20 pitching prospects in baseball, and though the season isn't over, I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at how accurate or inaccurate my list was. I'll just post the names of the first 5 pitchers that made my list, and maybe make a comment or two. Over the next few days I'll work my way down the list.

1. Brett Anderson -- Although he got shelled this week facing the White Sox, at 21 years old, Anderson has displayed the capacity to be a very good pitcher. Not counting his start against the White Sox, over his last 58 innings Anderson has allowed just 16 earned runs, with 56 strikeouts, 18 walks, and 41 hits. According to, Anderson has hit 95 mph or better on the radar gun in 9 of his last 11 starts, and his evolution as a pitcher has been much faster than I ever expected. If I could travel back in time and recreate my top 20 list, I'd still have Anderson at the #1 spot.

2. Trevor Cahill -- Cahill began the year with some very good starts, but has since keep runs off the scoreboard. His walk rate hasn't been great, and his 1.50 WHIP doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the Oakland faithful, but like Anderson, he's just 21 years old, and is still many years away from reaching his full potential. Even Hall of Famer Greg Maddux posted a 1.64 WHIP as a 21 year old with the Cubs, so don't write off Cahill just yet.

3. Brett Cecil -- Looking back, I don't know if Cecil would still be at #3 on my list, but I'd still have him in my top 10. Maybe I'd switch him with Rick Porcello, who I ranked #7 going into the season. Cecil hasn't been terrible, but he allows a lot of base runners and will need to make a lot of adjustments over the coming years. However, if you take the time to look, Cecil's numbers at the age of 22 compare very well with guys like Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, and Zack Greinke. Keep an eye of Cecil.

4. Madison Bumgarner -- Bumgarner gets a lot of attention, so I don't feel like I need to talk about him too much. He hasn't blown away AA hitters, but at 19 his 1.04 WHIP and 1.98 ERA over 82 innings would still land him in the top 5.

5. David Price -- At the start of the season, every top 10 prospect list had Price in their top 3, and had him as the #1 pitching prospect in the nation. I wrote a ton of posts illustrating why Price was undeserving of such accolades, and I feel a bit vindicated now that Price has proven himself to be very human, and is currently the owner of a 5.13 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, both of which are higher than the corresponding stats put up by Anderson, Cahill, and Cecil. Price is still a very talented pitcher, but if I could do it all over, I might consider dropping him down to as low as #7 or #8, and put Rick Porcello and Neftali Feliz ahead of him.

So that's my take on my top 5. I'd give myself a solid 'B+' with this list, with the exclusion of Rick Porcello as my biggest blunder. But I kept David Price out of the #1 spot, which up to this point in baseball history makes my list a lot better than a bunch of the other top prospect lists I saw heading into 2009.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Project Prospect and Top Prospect Lists Released

In case you haven't seen it, recently published their top 25 prospects list for the summer, and released their list of the top 50 prospects of the summer. I don't want to spoil it for those of you that haven't seen the lists yet, but Braves fans will be very excited to see Jason Heyward's name top each list.

Catching Up: Brett Anderson, David Price, Josh Reddick, Jason Heyward, Brett Cecil, and more -As

I've only got 9 more days until I take my national board exam for dental school, which means that pretty soon I'll be able to spend a lot more time watching and writing about baseball. Until then, it's 12 hours of studying everyday with 30 minutes for lunch, and an hour for dinner.

However, today I've decided to take some extra time off and relax to get my head clear and catch up on missed sleep, so I thought it might be an good opportunity to catch up on baseball as well.

-Over the last year or so, I've stated the case for Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Brett Cecil being more talented pitchers than David Price, who went into 2009 as the consensus #1 pitching prospect in baseball. I don't think many people listened to my amateur opinions, but I feel that time is finally proving me correct. Despite being a year older than Cecil, and 3 years older than Anderson and Cahill, Price has the highest posted WHIP and ERA of the 4 pitchers. Obviously, things could change, but I think my pre-season #1 pitching prospect (Brett Anderson) is going to look like a very good choice over the next few years.

-I was surprised to see Josh Reddick's name in the Red Sox lineup the other day after hearing his name mentioned in trade talks for weeks. Instead of being traded, Reddick came up and hit 2 doubles and a homerun over the weekend, while also getting a shaving cream pie to the face from David Ortiz. Reddick's a guy with above average power and contact skills, and hitting in the BoSox lineup should allow him to see plenty of good pitches to hit. Good luck to the Georgia native.

-As a Braves fan, it's great to see Jason Heyward at the top of so many mid-summer prospect lists. I'm not sure that he's a better hitter than Jesus Montero right now, but the two are very close, and Heyward has the benefit of being a bit more athletic with above average speed. Both players have put up some absurd numbers this year for their age, and I'm excited to see if their progress thus far carries over into higher levels.

-If you are the Texas Rangers, what do you do with Justin Smoak and Chris Davis? So much potential, yet so little room at first base.

Well, that's it for now. But I'll be back with a vengeance in about 10 days.