Written by Adam Adkins (Contact & Archive) on July 01, 2007
Anyway, a lot of the top prospects in baseball have made their Major League debuts. I've decided to go over to Baseball Prospectus and use their list of the Top 100 Prospects in baseball for this article. I took the top 10 prospects who are currently at the Major League level, and decided to evaluate them.
1. Alex Gordon, 3B-Kansas City Royals
2. Phil Hughes, SP-New York Yankees
3. Delmon Young, OF-Tampa Bay Devil Rays
4. Homer Bailey, SP-Cincinnati Reds
5. Tim Lincecum, SP-San Francisco Giants (actually 6th)
6. Chris Young, OF-Arizona Diamondbacks (8th)
7. Ryan Braun, 3B-Milwaukee Brewers (12th)
8. Yovani Gallardo, SP-Milwaukee Brewers (14th)
9. Andrew Miller, SP-Detroit Tigers (17th)
10. Troy Tulowitzki, SS-Colorado Rockies (24th)
(Note...nearly every single case I'm making here should be taken with a grain of salt, due to Sample Size concerns.)
So...without further adieu...(note...glossary of terms at the bottom)
Alex Gordon-Third Base-Kansas City Royals
296 PA .235/.325/.373 .242 EqA 1.5 VORP -2 FRAA
I doubt this is what Kevin Goldstein envisioned for Gordon when he constructed his Top 100 list. Gordon was an almost unanimous number one across the country, with only Daisuke Matsuzaka and Delmon Young being the one's to surmount him. Gordon's line at Wichita was a fantastic .325/.427/.588, and with that came a .312 EqA and an impressive 65 runs over replacement level. However, his Equivalent line at AA (.302/.386/.538) was good, but not best prospect in baseball good. It's entirely possible (and quite likely) that Gordon will be a good player(with a great peak,) but I doubt his career will end being more valuable than someone like Jay Bruce, who is a extremely good candidate to be the best prospect come 2008.
Phil Hughes-Starting Pitcher-New York Yankees
10.7 IP, 9.28 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 5.91 H/9, 3.38 ERA
Okay, to be fair, ten innings is certainly not enough to make a fair evaluation. But still, something can at least be learned from it. During Hughes' debut at The Stadium against the Blue Jays, Hughes gave up quite a few hits in his 4.1 innings, but he still managed to strike out 5 and only walk one. That's a very nice sign from a young pitcher. Everyone knows what happened in the next start, as Hughes was baffling the Rangers, throwing a no-hitter up until his hamstring barked. During the rehab for the hamstring injury, Hughes suffered a Grade 3 Ankle Sprain, delaying his return until at least August. Some (such as At Home Plate's Justin Zeth) have suggested that it would be best for Hughes if he were to take the year off, to combat the threat of a cascade injury. The Yankees appear to be ignoring said theory, and are planning on having #65 back in mid-August.
Delmon Young-Right Fielder-Tampa Bay Devil Rays
323 PA .278/.310/.415 .252 EqA 5.6 VORP -4 FRAA
The one knock on Delmon Young, other than his attitude (Dude chucked a bat at an umpire!) was that he'll swing at anything in his line of vision. His walk rate is a terrifying .4%, and it appears that Major League pitchers have taken notice. Young's still hitting what comes over the plate (9 Home Runs) but all to often he's simply swinging and missing (61 Strikeouts in 323 ABs.) Young's arm is fantastic, as advertised, but he's not too slick in the field, measuring as below-average by FRAA's count. Chances are, Young will get hot during the Second half, but it's quite possible that Delmon Young is growing up to be the prototypical streaky hitter. He'll adjust to the pitching, the pitching will adjust to him, and so forth. Alfonso Soriano could end up being a decent comp, but minus the speed.
Homer Bailey-Starting Pitcher-Cincinnati Reds
19.7 IP, 3.66 K/9, 6.41 BB/9, 9.15 H/9, 6.41 ERA
Out of all the slow starts, this one is the most troubling for me. Hailed as the next great Texas power pitcher, Bailey is doing the exact opposite of what you want. His K rate has dropped by 7, his walk rate has tripled, and he's giving up a number of more hits than he previously had. Now, of course, it's possible that Bailey needs to adjust to Major League hitting. But, and this why TINSTAAPP was developed, Bailey fits the mold perfectly of the kid who could simply blow away lesser competition with a low 90s fastball and a decent curve. Major League hitters have seen that before, and unless Bailey learns and seriously adjusts, he'll end up alongside Elmer Dessens in Reds lore.
Tim Lincecum-Starting Pitcher-San Francisco Giants
59.0 IP, 9.46 K/9, 4.42 BB/9, 7.47 H/9, 5.19 ERA
Oh, how I love Tiny Tim. Lincecum, drafted in 2006 out of Washington, fell to the tenth pick where the Giants selected him. Teams ignored the 14 strike outs per 9 innings (he led Division 1-A in strikeouts and strikeouts/9) and decided to focus on his 6 foot 170 pound build, and how easily he could "break down". Oops. Ignore the kid's ERA for a second, and just look at his per/9 stats. 9.46 Strikeouts every 9 innings is fantastic (only .04 behind Johan friggin' Santana!), 7.47 H/9 is a fine number (especially given the swiss-cheese esque defense behind him.) Now, admittedly, the walks are troubling, and they will most likely come down to about a 3.5 figure. The ERA is a direct result of having an abysmal defense behind him, as the hit rate isn't bad. He is giving up a fair amount of home runs (.92 HR/9) but still, Lincecum's performance hasn't garnered a 5.19 ERA.
Chris Young-Center Field-Arizona Diamondbacks
273 PA .241/.279/.431 .246 EqA 3.9 VORP -9 FRAA
One of Kevin Goldstein's favorite players, Chris B. Young (using the "B" to avoid confusion with the Padres right-hander who shares his name) was supposed to step in and provide at least some pop and decent speed. No one ever guaranteed Young would hit .300...and it appears those people were correct. Young has simply not been effective at the plate. His .241 batting average has dragged his OBP into Jeff Francouer territory, which is by no means a compliment. He's still slugging at an okay clip, which is a good sign. Young's problems appear to be directly tied to his fairly low .259 BABIP, and when that comes up to about .290, so will the average and OBP. One thing that the un-lucky BABIP cannot effect is his defense, which is at this point, "precisely replacement."
Ryan Braun-Third Base-Milwaukee Brewers
132 PA .328/.371/.605 .326 EqA 16.5 VORP 0 FRAA
Out of all the hitters I'm going over today, Ryan Braun has been the most successful. Most people thought Ryan Braun would be, essentially, Prince Fielder redux. Braun always hit for a lot of power in the minor leagues, but his .328 average appears to be the result of a hot streak (and a .388 BABIP.) His highest minor league BA was .355 at Single A (albeit in 152 at-bats and a plus .400 BABIP.) His defense has been better than expected (by that I mean, he's not beyond-awful) which is good because Fielder couldn't play another position on the diamond. Braun will cool down, but he's still probably good to slug .550, and that's pretty good, especially with Fielder having his best season yet.
Yovani Gallardo-Starting Pitcher-Milwaukee Brewers
13.3 IP, 8.10 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 6.08 H/9, 2.70 ERA
First off, Gallardo's case should have the words Sample Size stamped on it. But still, he's looked good. Yovani (pronounced Yo-vaughn-ee) Gallardo (guy-air-dough,) the Brew Crew's top prospect arm, was called up after butchering Triple-A (12.75 K/9, 2.90 ERA in 77.7 IP) and being touted as the Fourth Best Pitcher not in the big leagues (The four best pitching prospects were generally considered to be Hughes-Lincecum-Bailey-Gallardo, in almost any order.) The Brewers should be pleased with Gallardo, as he's looked good, like a "Young Mike Mussina" as ESPN's Tim Kurkjian put it. If I were the Brewers, I'd be very pleased if Yovani Gallardo became a pitcher of that level of quality. With current ace Ben Sheets showing signs of decline (a steep drop in K/9,) it's possible that Gallardo could be the Brewers best pitcher in 2008.
Andrew Miller-Starting Pitcher-Detroit Tigers
23.3 IP, 5.79 K/9, 4.24 BB/9, 7.71 H/9, 2.70 ERA
Lauded as the next Randy Johnson by scouts, Andrew Miller was considered the best pitching prospect in the 2006 First Entry Draft, but fell to 6th and the Tigers due to sign ability concerns. He coasted through a few innings at Single-A before getting the call up and debuting at Yankee Stadium (perfect inning.) Miller hasn't sparkled so far in the Bigs, he's been a recipient of luck, as he's allowing too many outs to come via balls in play. However, Miller's stuff and the 23 IP suggest that he'll end up raising the K/9 quite a bit if he stays at Comerica Park the rest of the year. A rotation of Bonderman-Verlander-Miller could be as good as the Braves' Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz trio was in the 90s.
Troy Tulowitzki-Short Stop-Colorado Rockies
318 PA, .277/.347/.426 .261 EqA 10.1 VORP 10 FRAA
Troy Tulowitzki has been pretty good. For a short stop, especially a 22 year old, he's hitting pretty well. His batting average is okay, OBP isn't spectacular but isn't a black hole, and he has a mediocre amount of power. Coors Field is surely helping the numbers, so I guess that dims the optimism bulb just a tick. But if there's one thing Tulowitzki does really well, it's play defense. He's currently 10 runs above average at the most important defensive position, and that in of itself is worth a roster spot. Tulowitzki is only 22, and should improve in all parts of his game as he matures. But right now, Tulowitzki is hitting well for a short stop, and when you toss in the awesome defense, Tulowitzki has a sparkling 3.5 WARP1.
So there you have it...an evaluation of the top prospects playing in the Bigs. Sometime in August I'll flip open this page, and see if I was as dumb as everyone thinks.
Glossary of Terms
VORP: Value Over Replacement Player. The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player's defense.
EqA: Equivalent Average. A measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching. EQA considers batting as well as baserunning, but not the value of a position player's defense. The EqA adjusted for all-time also has a correction for league difficulty. The scale is deliberately set to approximate that of batting average. League average EqA is always equal to .260. EqA is derived from Raw EqA, which is (H + TB + 1.5*(BB + HBP + SB) + SH + SF) divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH + SF + CS + SB). REqA is then normalized to account for league difficulty and scale to create EqA.
FRAA: Fielding Runs Above Average.
K/9: Strikeouts Per Nine Innings
BB/9: Walks Per Nine Innings
H/9: Hits Per Nine Innings
WARP1: Wins Above Replacement Player, level 1. The number of wins this player contributed, above what a replacement level hitter, fielder, and pitcher would have done, with adjustments only for within the season. It should be noted that a team which is at replacement level in all three of batting, pitching, and fielding will be an extraordinarily bad team, on the order of 20-25 wins in a 162-game season.
BABIP: Batting Average on balls put into play. A pitcher's average on batted balls ending a plate appearance, excluding home runs. Based on the research of Voros McCracken and others, BABIP is mostly a function of a pitcher's defense and luck, rather than persistent skill. Thus, pitchers with abnormally high or low BABIPs are good bets to see their performances regress to the mean. A typical BABIP is about .290.