Announcement: After peaking as the #3 book among all baseball books on Amazon last year, my new book, The 2016 Prospect Digest Handbook, is on sale! Check it out here!
And for those wondering what CALs are, here’s an article on the Comparison And Likeness program I designed.
|1. J.P. Crawford, SS|
|Born: 01/11/95||Age: 21||Bats: L||Top CALs: Tyler Pastornicky, Jorge Polanco,
Daniel Robertson, Gavin Cecchini, Jose Pirela
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 180||Throws: R|
Background: If you think about the sheer value of high quality prospects to come out of the first round in the 2013 draft – Crawford, Mark Appel, Jon Gray, Kris Bryant, Clint Frazier, Colin Moran, Austin Meadows, Hunter Harvey, Billy McKinney, Rob Kaminsky, Aaron Judge, Sean Manaea, and Aaron Blair among others – one could make the argument, in convincing fashion, that the Phillies’ shortstop of the future is the second best selection behind Bryant. Crawford, the 16th overall pick that year, has been one of the class’ fast-moving prep players. He made two stops during his pro debut, including a 14-game stint in the South Atlantic League at the ripe age of 18. He would then split the next season between Lakewood and Clearwater, hitting an aggregate .285/.375/.406 with 23 doubles, 11 homeruns, and 24 stolen bases. And Philadelphia had the young shortstop begin last season back in the Florida State League where he torched the under-matched and outgunned pitching to the tune of .392/.489/.443 in 21 games, though he managed just two extra-base hits during that time. He got promoted to the Eastern League at the end of May, and after a bit of an adjustment period Crawford batted .270/.345/.433 over his final 45 contests.
Projection: Here’s a bit of perspective for you: Crawford was the only qualified 20-year-old hitter in the Eastern and one of just three in any Class AA level. But here’s something more impressive, a list of players younger than 21-years-old in Class to post a walk rate above 12% since 2006:
- 2015: J.P. Crawford, 12.1%
- 2012: Jon Singleton, 15.9%
- 2011: Wil Myers, 12.5%
- 2008: Travis Snider, 12.3%
- 2007: Colby Rasmus, 12.6%
That’s it; five players in the last eight seasons. Ready to be impressed again? Good. Here’s a list ranking the players by their strikeout rate, lowest to highest:
- P. Crawford, 11.1%
- Colby Rasmus, 19.4%
- Wil Myers, 20.9%
- Jon Singleton, 23.6%
- Travis Snider, 27.4%
Crawford has a well-rounded offensive toolkit: above-average speed, something in the range of 25 to 30 stolen bases, solid average power with 10-to 12-homeruns and 30+ doubles in his future, a walk rate that should settle in between 9.0% and 10.5%, with a hit tool capable of posting perennial .300 averages.
Ceiling: 4.0- to 4.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2016
|2. Nick Williams, LF/CF|
|Born: 09/08/93||Age: 22||Bats: L||Top CALs: Julio Morban, Aaron Cunningham,
Steven Moya, Domingo Santana, Jay Bruce
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 195||Throws: L|
Background: Part of the massive haul package received from the Rangers in exchange for lefties Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman, Williams was acquired along with Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher, Jerad Eickhoff, and the corpse of once promising big leaguer Matt Harrison. Taken in the latter part of the second in 2012, tools-laden outfielder put together his finest season to date last year; he slugged .299/.357/.479 in 97 games in the Texas organization and upped the ante – and likely the city’s expectations – by raising that mark to a scorching .320/.340/.536 in 22 games with Reading. Overall, he finished the year with a combined .303/.354/.491 triple-slash line, adding 26 doubles, six triples, 17 homeruns, and 13 stolen bases. His overall production topped the league average mark by 37%, tying Cincinnati’s Jesse Winker for the second best showing among all Class AA players under the age of 22.
Originally part of Texas’ heralded 2012 draft class, the one that saw the additions of Lewis Brinson, Joey Gallo, new Phillies MiLB’er Alec Asher, Keone Kela as well as some prep player out of Alabama by the name of Jameis Winston; Williams has been a steady riser during his four year professional career. After an impressive debut in the Arizona Summer League, Williams handled the Sally with aplomb, hitting .293/.337/.534 as a 19-year-old. He followed that up with another impressive stint in High Class A (.292/.343/.491) while make the rare (and brief) appearance in Class AA before legal drinking age.
For his career, the well-built center fielder out of Ball High School, home to former big league right-hander Brandon Backe, Williams is sporting a solid .296/.346/.489 line with 84 doubles, 30 triples, 49 homeruns, and 42 stolen bases.
Projection: Williams can certainly stuff a stat sheet with the best of them. Since entering pro ball in 2013, he’s finished a season with at least than 19 doubles, six triples, 13 homeruns, and six stolen bases in any of his campaigns – all the while facing significantly older pitching. But the 2015 season represented such developmental growth in the supremely talented center fielder.
Cursed with a bit of a swing-from-the-heels approach during his first couple seasons, Williams shaved off some significant strikeout numbers from his previous career norms; between 2012 and 2014 his K-rate was a smidgeon under 27%, right on the border of red flag territory. And during the same stretch he walked in just 4.8% of plate appearances. Last season, however, he fanned just 18.8% of the time while posting a career best 6.8% walk rate. He’s evolving into a more complete player. I’m not certain that he’ll repeat those numbers moving forward, but at the bare minimum he’s a solid league-average starter with a much high upside.
Ceiling: 3.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2016
|3. Cornelius Randolph, LF|
|Born: 06/02/97||Age: 19||Bats: L||Top CALs: Aaron Hicks, Ramon Flores,
Andrew Lambo, Trent Clark, Royce Consigli
|Height: 5-11||Weight: 205||Throws: R|
Background: After a slight detour from the club’s typical draft strategy two years ago Philadelphia once again drafted a prepster with their first selection last June. (Note; Of their last 16 first rounders – including supplemental picks – they grabbed a high school player 14 times.) Randolph had one helluva showing in the Gulf Coast League during his debut, hitting a robust .302/.425/.442 with 15 2B, 3 3B, one HR, and six SB.
Projection: So, so very promising. Perhaps one of the best statistics to note from Randolph’s debut season: he posted a 32-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 212 plate appearances. Randolph flashed some speed, solid-average or better power, topped the GCL average production by 63%, walked a tremendous amount of time, and showed a promising hit tool. The lone red flag: the lefty-swinging outfielder showed some platoon concerns, batting .250/.358/.337 against LHP, not terrible production but something to note.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
|4. Mark Appel, RHP|
|Born: 07/15/91||Age: 24||Bats: R||Top CALs: Rob Rasmussen, Camilo Vazquez,
Adam Bright, Robert Rohrbaugh, Sam LeCure
|Height: 6-5||Weight: 220||Throws: R|
Background: The twice Top 10 draft pick out of Stanford put a disastrous – or should I say, a widely perceived disastrous – 2014 season behind him. In other words, the out-of-whack numbers that plagued him two seasons ago all came roaring back to earth. The .414 BABIP with Lancaster hovered a touch above .300 and his ungodly homerun rate, 1.83 HR/9, also with Lancaster (go figure), plummeted as well. And now for the bad news, or at least some unfavorable news: his production was not bad, not great, just merely…passable. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander opened the year back with Corpus Christi where he would post nearly identical marks in ERA and FIP (4.26 vs. 4.37) and his peripherals, 6.96 K/9 and 3.27 BB/9, didn’t exactly scream dominance either. The Houston front office pushed him up to Fresno in late June where he would make another 12 decent starts. He would toss 68.1 innings while averaging 8.03 strikeouts and 3.69 walks per nine innings while posting (again) nearly identical ERA/FIP totals: 4.48 vs. 4.36.
Projection: What the hell is going on here? This production – more specifically, the homerun rate and some wavering control – just seem…batty. So let’s delve a little deeper into the numbers, shall we?
First, the homerun rate: over the past two seasons Appel has surrendered 24 homeruns in 215 innings. And, yes, a large amount of that is attributed to the blip in Lancaster, but he still managed to give up about one per nine innings last season. But that total should even come down as he moves forward; his groundball rate, per StatCorner, was about 44% in 2015 and even higher the previous year (about 48%). Meaning: that’s a ton of worm-burners, so the homerun clip fits about as well as me in a slim-fitting shirt.
Now onto his actual individual starts: Appel really struggled for the first seven- to eight-weeks last season. But he managed to finish out the year on a high note, posting a combined 81-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 3.73 ERA over his final 91.2 innings as opponents batted a lowly .236/.307/.385. This seems to be more indicative of his actual talent.
By all accounts he’s still armed with the same arsenal as in college. It just might be all mental, maybe even a case of tipping his pitches? I don’t know. And while he doesn’t look like the “Next Mark Prior or Stephen Strasburg,” Appel should have no issues sliding into a solid mid-rotation role. But there’s still upside. I’m still holding out hope that he can/will take the next step toward ace-dom.
Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2016
|5. Jake Thompson, RHP|
|Born: 01/31/94||Age: 22||Bats: R||Top CALs: Randall Delgado, Eduardo Rodriguez,
Edwin Diaz, Jacob Turner, Jordan Walden
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 235||Throws: R|
Background: A second round pick out of Rockwall-Heath High School in 2012, Thompson was part of the three-headed prospect monster Texas shipped to the City of Brotherly Love. Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound right-hander, spent the year between two Class AA levels, tossing 87.2 innings in the Texas League and another 45.0 innings with Reading in the Eastern League. As one of just three qualified hurlers in any Class AA under the age of 22, Thompson more than held his own, posting a 3.69 FIP while fanning 20.3% and walking 7.6% of the total batters he faced in 2015. And just to put that into some perspective: Among all qualified hurlers under the age of 23 in Class AA, Thompson’s strikeout percentage ranked sixth. For his career the oft-passed around right-hander, who’s now onto his third professional franchise, has punched out nearly a bat per inning (8.8 K/9) while issuing 131 free passes in 374.0 innings of work.
Projection: Two years ago in my first book I wrote the following:
“Detroit is slowly bringing along Thompson, who’s tossed just 111.2 innings through his first 24 games. Solid control, above-average ability to miss bats, and plenty of youth on his side, the big right-hander’s name could start to jump this season as the training wheels are taken off.”
And I followed that up with this is last year’s book:
“Only 12 other pitchers with 100+ innings under the age of 22 who pitched above Low Class A had a better strikeout rate. The control took a step forward with Lakewood before regressing some in Class AA. Thompson has the ceiling of a solid #3=type pitcher, maybe squeaking in a few fringe #2-type seasons.”
Clearly, I’ve been a big fan of Thompson’s since I started evaluating minor leaguers. The strikeout ability is still an above-average skill, the control/command bounced back to be average or better, and his groundball rate reached an all-time high of 50% last season. Again, he has all the makings of a quality mid-rotation caliber arm. And if Alfaro and Williams develop into anything close to their potential the Cole Hamels deal could go down as one of the better swaps involving prospects in the last decade or so.
Ceiling: 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2016
|6. Jorge Alfaro, C|
|Born: 06/11/93||Age: 23||Bats: R||Top CALs: Kellin Deglan, Gary Sanchez,
Eric Haase, Luis Exposito, Justin O’Conner
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 225||Throws: R|
Background: Highly coveted as a potential return target during the initial Cole Hamels rumors, the Ruben Amaro Jr.-led front office was able to land their man, as well as the rest of the six-man package, as part of the megadeal with the resurgent Rangers. Alfaro, a slowly developing backstop out of Columbia, first appeared in the professional ranks as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League seven years ago. Since then the 6-foot-2, 225-pound prospect has spent a year in the Northwest League, and parts of two seasons each in the South Atlantic, Carolina, and Texas Leagues. In an injury-shortened campaign last year, Alfaro spent 49 games with the Frisco RoughRiders, hitting a Jorge Alfaro-like .253/.314/.432 with 15 doubles, a pair of triples, five homeruns, and two stolen bases while topping the league average production by 7%. Alfaro underwent the knife in the second week of June, a procedure to repair a tendon in his left ankle, and subsequently missed the remainder of his season. For his career, Alfaro has been a .261/.326/.432 hitter, slugging 101 doubles, 16 triples, 52 homeruns, and 35 stolen bases in 453 games.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote in last year’s book:
“More hype than production right now, outside of his debut season in 2010 Alfaro’s always performed well at each stop without truly standing out with the bat. His Weighted Runs Created Plus totals for each stop beginning in 2010 (150+ PA): 72, 129, 105, 128, and 112. CAL links the Columbian-born backstop with a pair of higher profile catching prospects – Gary Sanchez and Andrew Knapp. Otherwise, it’s nothing special. League average starting backstop, maybe a tick or two better depending on how the defense grades out.”
So let’s update that bit, shall we? First off, CAL still links Alfaro with Gary Sanchez, but now ties him to Kellin Deglan, Eric Haase, Luis Exposito, and Tampa Bay’s Justin O’Conner. It’s certainly a decent mix with Sanchez and O’Conner leading the way, but one that’s lacking a true standout bat. Secondly, here’s what we know about Alfaro in a rather lengthy history, one that encompasses nearly 1,900 MiLB plate appearances: the power is an above-average tool, something in the area of 20 or so homeruns across a full season; the hit tool is underwhelming; the patience at the plate is below-average; and he’s going to swing-and-miss a whole lot at the big league level. He’s like a bad version of the Three True Outcomes Hitter, offering up the power and strikeouts without the patience.
Ceiling: 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2016
|7. Carlos Tocci, CF|
|Born: 08/23/95||Age: 20||Bats: R||Top CALs: Yefri Carvajal, Roderick Bernadina,
Samir Duenez, Elvis Escobar, Dustin Fowler
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 160||Throws: R|
Background: After spending a good deal of the previous two books ripping into the Phillies for what can only be described as a piss-poor development plan put in place for the Venezuelan-born center fielder, Tocci finally delivered on his offensive promise in his third season in the Sally – despite the organization’s best efforts to derail his career. The front office (infamously) pushed the then-17-year-old up to Low Class A three years ago for an entire season – despite the struggling teenager’s inability to hit anything; he finished the year with a rancid .209/.261/.249 triple-slash line with just 17 extra-base hits. Undeterred by their own mistakes, Philadelphia allowed Tocci to spend the entire 2014 campaign back in the Sally where his numbers saw a modest – at best – improvement: .242/.297/.324. Finally, though, the no longer overmatched 19-year-old Tocci broke loose from the chains of the Sally last year; he slugged .321/.387/.423 with 14 doubles, a pair of triples, two homeruns, and 14 stolen bases (in 16 attempts). His overall production topped the league average mark by 33%, the second best showing by a teenager in the Sally last season.
Projection: I would love to know the thought process on not only pushing a 17-year-old prospect that couldn’t hit the league average production line in the GCL up to full season ball, but also why not demote him at any point? Tocci took several developmental steps forward last season, showing improvement in his plate discipline, power, and hit tool all the while trimming his punch out rate way down. He was a well-rounded tool kit with the ability to develop into a league average regular – as long as Philadelphia doesn’t muck it up.
Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2018
|8. Thomas Eshelman, RHP|
|Born: 06/20/94||Age: 22||Bats: R||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 212||Throws: R|
Background: The former Cal State Fullerton hurler is sort of like the Nolan Fontana, the New Greek God of Walks, of pitching. Eshelman wasn’t the flashiest pitcher in college. Hell, he was basically like a warm glass of milk for an elderly person. But he did manage to post three consecutive seasons of sub-1.90 ERAs for the Titans. Here’s where it gets impressive: Eshelman, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound right-hander, walked 18 hitters for his career – a career that spanned 376 innings. In other words, he averaged one free pass every 20+ innings. And his work as a true freshman – he walked three hitters in 115.2 innings – will go down as one of the greatest feats in modern college history.
Led by the analytically-savvy front office, Houston grabbed the production-over-potential hurler with the 46th overall pick. Eshelman would toss 10.1 innings without – you guessed it – issuing a free pass. Philly acquired the pinpoint control artist as part of the Ken Giles deal this offseason.
Projection: Prior to the 2015 draft I wrote:
“He’s not overpowering so he’ll likely get overlooked by some of the bigger arms in the class (Walker Buehler, Dillon Tate, Phil Bickford, Carson Fulmer, Michael Matuella), but Eshelman is a safe, fast-moving back-of-the-rotation caliber arm that could easily be in the big leagues within a season-plus of the draft.
Something to watch when he does make his pro debut: groundball totals. If Eshelman proves to be an above-average worm-burner, watch out. In terms of big league comparison, think Cincinnati’s Mike Leake.”
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
Risk: Low to Moderate
MLB ETA: 2017
|9. Roman Quinn, SS|
|Born: 05/14/93||Age: 23||Bats: B||Top CALs: Shane Peterson, Adron Chambers,
Casey Craig, Peter Bourjos, Dan Brewer
|Height: 5-10||Weight: 170||Throws: R|
Background: A former prep shortstop that could play the position about as well as your little Aunt Betty, Quinn made the oh-so-predictable move to the only up-the-middle position left for him a couple years ago: center field. And the speedy little Quinn responded in kind: his offensive production has been trending skyward over the past two years. Quinn, a former second round pick coming off of a .250/.361/.359 showing in High Class A in 2014, was in the midst of an unsuspected breakout season before a fairly serious injury – a torn hip flexor – shut him down in early June. But before the health issue popped up, He was on pace to set career highs in practically every single offensive category en route to hitting .306/.356/.435.
Projection: So the question is: Can the surging – and oft-injured – center fielder repeat his 58-game run of dominance moving forward?
Well, let’s delve into the numbers. The speed is clearly a game-changer on both sides of the ball, and Quinn has averaged a smidgeon over 71 steals per 162 games. His walk rate last season, 7.0%, was a touch lower than his career norms (8.8%), so there’s hope that it can inch back up. His pop, .129 ISO, is also very similar to his previous total (.119 ISO). And his strikeout rates were a touch lower. But the two main differences last season were a career high .360 BABIP, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility for a plus-runner with gap power, and his improved performance against RHP.
The switch-hitting Quinn was coming off of back-to-back showing in which he posted OPSs of .651 and .673 against righties, but hung a .769 mark in 112 plate appearances last season. Can me skeptical, but I’m going to need to see him repeat that level of production before I’m entirely convinced. For now, he looks like a fringy everyday player with some noticeable risk – and that’s before you factor in that he’s never topped more than 88 games in a season yet. One final thought: CALs best case scenario is Peter Bourjos, another speedy center fielder with a career 90 wRC+ and plus-defensive ability, which seems about right.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2016/2017
|10. Andrew Knapp, C|
|Born: 11/09/91||Age: 24||Bats: B||Top CALs: Dane Phillips, Travis Scott,
Ryan Lavarnway, Cael Brockmeyer, Zach Wright
|Height: 6-1||Weight: 190||Throws: R|
Background: Sometimes the stars just align for a player, just like when Davey Johnson bashed 43 of his 136 career homeruns in 1973 or when Brady Anderson went from hitting 16 or so dingers in season to a mind-boggling 50 moonshots in 1996. It happens from time-to-time. And the former backstop out of UC Berkley’s 55-game stint with the Fightin’ Phils in the Eastern League last season will likely go down as such. Knapp, a switch-hitting catcher taken in the second round in 2013, had a bit of a disappointing season two years ago as he battled his way back from Tommy John surgery, an injury that ultimately limited him to the team’s designated hitter role. He batted just .157/.222/.205 in 23 games in the Florida State League before the organization mercifully bounced him down to the Sally. Well, Knapp found himself back in High Class A for the start of last year where he hit a solid .262/.356/.369 to go along with a 125 wRC+ total. But his numbers ballooned to epic proportions once he got promoted to the Eastern League. In those aforementioned 55 games, Knapp mashed to the tune of .360/.419/.631 with a Babe Ruthian-esque 21 doubles, a pair of triples, and 11 homeruns in just 241 trips to the plate. His overall production with the Fightin’ Phils, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average make by 100%.
Projection: A few things to think about here. Prorating his production in Class AA to a full 162-game season looks like this: 62 doubles, six triples, and 32 homeruns. I don’t care where you’re playing baseball, be it in a video game or little league or, hell, even if the pitches are served up underhand, that’s one helluva stat line. But, unfortunately, Knapp’s never going to even sniff that type of production ever again. He’s never shown that type of power before, at any level and he finished his 55-game stint with a .405 BABIP. Slow-footed catchers with average power just don’t post BABIPs of that caliber.
Here’s what I wrote prior to his draft selection a couple years ago:
“Knapp, a switch-hitter, showed some blossoming power during his sophomore campaign, slugging 21 extra-base hits. It’s now developed in a solid-average skill with the potential to be 12 to 17 homeruns down the line. He couples that with a decent eye at the plate, though his walk rates will likely be average or slightly below in pro ball. Defensively , he’s nabbed 65% of would-be base stealers.”
So, what the hell is Knapp? Well, he’s a nice fringy everyday big league contributor. He won’t kill a team with his work behind the plate or with a bat in his hands. He’ll flash some pop, hit .260-ish, and do everything he should do.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2016
Note: All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com.