Letters of Intent
Fangraphs Releases Top 200 Prospects: Blue Jays Land 8
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away
One of the last lists of the top prospects in baseball was released by Fangraphs today and Kiley McDaniel has a somewhat unique take on the subject. I’ve always enjoyed reading McDaniels’ writing due to his insight as well as his approach. As he explains in his “Process and Introduction”article, he groups the players into tiers based on his assessments (that he gets from scouts) of the players’ Future Value (FV).
For those of you who are new to scouting, here’s a quick version of how it works. Scouts grade players’ tools on the “20-80 scale” (no, I’m not sure who the genius was who came up with that scale), which can also be represented by a scale from two to eight. The tools for hitters are hitting, power (which McDaniel divides into raw power and game power), speed, field and arm. A five-tool player is one who can hit for average and power while being able to run fast, field his position and throw well. If you’ve been following prospects for a while, you realize how rare this really is. Usually players who have one or two tools in spades, have deficiencies elsewhere (D.J. Davis, for example). Mike Trout is pretty close to a five-tool player although his arm may be his only “average” tool.
Pitchers are graded on their individual pitch qualities as well as their command. While those things are very quantifiable, the scouts will also include things like durability, consistency and “pitchability” in their written reports while including those factors into the FV for the player.
In scouting parlance, “average” means major league average. If you say that a guy has average tools across the board, then he’s probably going to be a top prospect and project to be a major leaguer.
The top of the scale, “80” is really rare. We’re talking Kris Bryant/Joey Gallo raw power, Billy Hamilton speed, Yasiel Puig arm (or even Jose Bautista), etc. An 80 hitting grade is extremely rare because there’s so much that goes into it. McDaniel gives a really great chart of what each grade means in his “Process and Introduction” article and you should check it out.
A more realistic grade for a tool that is well above average, or “plus-plus” is 65 or 70 (but more likely 65). The grades go down by five to 60, 55, etc. 50 is considered average. Again, a player with five “50” tools will likely be a major league regular. If he has 55s across the board, he could be an above average player. McDaniel uses the example of Steven Souza as a player who is a very well-rounded guy with a Future Value (FV) of at least 50 in every category. This puts Souza at about #52 on his list. Souza is a guy who crushed in Triple-A last year but struggled in limited time in the majors. He’s ready for the majors and has very little risk at this point, having had a cup of coffee and has performed at every minor league level along the way.
A grade of 45 is what they call “fringy” (pronounced fringe-y). A player with 45s across the board will probably make the majors at some point but whether or not he sticks depends on a lot of factors including how he approaches the game and whether he has opportunities to play regularly. Sometimes those opportunities can expose weaknesses and the player will be labeled as a utility or fringe player for the rest of his career.
A 40 and lower is starting to get a bit iffy. If you’ve got a power hitting guy with 40 speed, you can live with it. If a guy has great range but a 40 arm, he’ll play center field or second base and, again, you can live with it (if he hits). A 40 rating in the hit tool could be a death sentence as a defense-only player or even career minor leaguer. For pitchers, a 40 pitch is survivable if it’s your third or fourth pitch. If a pitcher has at least two major league pitches, there’s major league potential in the bullpen. If he only has one major league average pitch, then he’s in trouble. For command, 40 is only playable if the stuff is so good that hitters don’t have a chance and even then, the minor leagues are littered with pitchers with fantastic stuff who couldn’t command it.
For overall future value (sometimes abbreviated OFV), it’s pretty much an estimation. For hitters, the hit tool becomes really important. If he can’t hit, he can’t play. For pitchers, the intangibles really come into play here. How mature is he on the mound? Does he have a “feel” for pitching? That is, does he have a knack for knowing how to exploit hitters’ weaknesses? Does he know when and where to throw the offspeed pitches and keep the hitters off balance? Finally, pitchers generally get knocked down a bit due to inconsistency, unpredictability and attrition due to injury. Remember, some people believe that There’s No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect (sometimes abbreviated TINSTAAP or TNSTAAP). Pitchers make it or they don’t but there’s such a high chance that they don’t, that pitchers are docked marks from the get go.
This is all just a summary of McDaniel’s great intro to his process. The reason that I’ve written all of that is because the way McDaniel groups his prospects is by tier of FV. Rather than just listing all of the prospects in order of who he thinks is better, he admits that by grouping them in tiers, the rankings within each tier is can be interchangeable.
The Blue Jays had no prospects in the top tier (70 FV) which only included two players: Kris Bryant and Byron Buxton. Still no Blue Jays in the second tier (65 FV) which only included six players. You can see how few prospects actually achieve such high grades.
Our first Blue Jay appears in the third tier of 60 FV prospects. Welcome to the list, Daniel Norris. Norris is placed in that group at #17 overall with three already big league average (or better) pitches and fringy command (with average potential). McDaniel seems like Norris’s curveball better than his slider and while I saw him throw the hook more last year, I actually think the slider is his best pitch.
Right behind Norris, at #19 is our old friend Noah Syndergaard but we’re not going to go there anymore.
The next Blue Jay on the list is a bit of a surprise. Grouped with the 55 FV Prospects (all 51 of them), Jeff Hoffman shows up in the back half of the group at #67. Hoffman, despite not having thrown a professional pitch yet, is still very high on evaluators’ lists because of the quality of stuff. His fastball has 70-grade potential with a plus-plus curveball (65 FV) to go with a big-league average changeup. While his FV grade is 55, it represents a kind of midpoint of his floor and ceiling meaning that if/when he comes back healthy (and reports have been very good so far), Hoffman could be even a better prospect than Norris. The uncertainty lowers his overall grade.
Aaron Sanchez is next at #70 getting knocked down a bit because of his fringy command (45+ future value according to McDaniel). Despite that, Sanchez’s 70 fastball and the prospect of a 60 curveball puts him in the category of at least a potential closer with an OFV of 55.
For reference, former Blue Jays shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto comes in at #79, right at the tail end of the 55 FV group.
Dalton Pompey shows up as our first 50 FV prospect at #80. Pompey gets props for plus speed (60), potentially above average fielding, graded as a 55 FV (although I think that Pompey doesn’t get enough credit for his range and defensive instincts) and a FV of 50+ for his bat. His power and his arm are fringy but, to McDaniel, he looks like a solid everyday starter which is a compliment to the pride of Mississauga, Ontario and shouldn’t be looked down on at all.
At 93 is the Blue Jays’ other first-round pick in 2014, catcher Max Pentecost. Not a typical catcher, Pentecost has above average speed which is actually projected to lose value in the future, particularly if, as a catcher, his legs undergo typical wear and tear. He’s got an above average arm and a future value of above average fielding and McDaniel sees some future improvement in his power. I think his 20 current grade for hitting is only indicative of the fact that he hasn’t been seen much in the professional ranks and the fact that he had been nursing an injury last year.
The last Blue Jays with a write up is Roberto Osuna who ranks 119. I think Osuna gets a lot of credit for having come out of his Tommy John with his stuff intact. McDaniel notes that Osuna is sitting at 92-94 mph, touching 97 after Tommy John, but I distinctly remember hearing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler calling out some similar (or higher) numbers when Osuna was in Lansing in 2013. Osuna has four pitches that project to big league average or better but McDaniel isn’t sold on his command, giving it a 45+ future value. McDaniel admits that this is the result of the command being slow to come back after the TJ surgery and, with a good 2015, Osuna could shoot up the list.
Former Blue Jays’ draftee Tyler Beede was ranked at #134, FYI.
McDaniel also lists players with a “45+ FV” as honorable mentions (yes, I’ll use the American spelling because he does). The two Blue Jays to squeak into this list are Devon Travis and Sean Reid-Foley.
The fact is that there are several players that the Blue Jays have in their minor league systems who could be 45+ players and this culling is probably due to necessity. Travis has been a great hitter at every level in the minors despite not having outstanding tools in any one area. Think Kevin Pillar (although I think Pillar has better speed and defense). Pillar wasn’t ever on Top 200 or 100 lists for the major leagues. Does that mean that he’s not going to be a decent major leaguer? Nope. I think Pillar is a solid fourth outfielder and, if he can figure out how to lay off breaking balls from righties, he could even be a starter somewhere. Travis will likely be at least a Pillar type player and, if he can hit big league pitching, could be a starter for the Jays in 2015 or 2016.
As far as Reid-Foley goes, he was the Jays’ second round pick in 2014 and has a long way to go but scouts love his size, feel for pitching and maturity. It will take the 19 year old quite a while to move up the minor leagues.
Who’s missing? It seems to me that McDaniel looks for two things. Guys who are well known to scouts and evaluators and guys who are closer to the majors. Norris, Pompey and Sanchez have all had their major league debuts. Osuna was very well known out of Mexico and Reid-Foley, Pentecost and Hoffman were very highly regarded as amateurs.
The fact is that writers who cover the amateur ranks and the minor leagues have a huge number of players to account for. Think about it. As a writer about the majors, you’re probably working with 30+ players per team per year so you’re taking into account about 1000 players. In the minors, you could multiply that by six or seven and if you’re writing about amateurs, you could probably add another couple of thousand (only a small percentage at the top will be worth thinking and writing about). It takes a while for guys who were less known to filter their way on to scouts radars.
Thanks to Michael Wray (@Wrazerblade on Twitter) who wondered (aloud) about Miguel Castro. Castro would probably rate a 45+ right now, mainly because of his short track record and need to develop his offspeed pitches a bit more. He’s also only been in North America for a little over a season and has yet to start a season at the A-ball level or higher. I think McDaniel is still gathering info on Castro and has much more reliable information on other players with longer track records.
Whew. So there’s my 2,000+ word rant about that. Who do you think is missing from McDaniels’ list?
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