The Most Underrated Prospects for 2017

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Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland A’s

As I’ve commented elsewhere, Chapman’s built in the traditional Oakland Athletic mold: he swings big, hits ‘em big, misses big, and walks…big. He is, in every sense of the meaning, the quintessential Three True Outcomes Hitter. Chris Davis has made – or is scheduled to make – a lot of money as one. The same could be said for Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, and a litany of current and past big league hitters.

But what separates Chapman from his brethren, besides the gobs and gobs of money, is his ability to pick it at the hot corner.

Simply put, the former Cal State Fullerton slugger is arguably the best defensive infielder – perhaps position player – in the entire minor leagues. According to Clay Davenport’s defensive metrics, Chapman’s saved 46 runs at the hot corner during his three-year professional career – including 15 runs in just 80 games at Stockton in 2015 and another 23 runs in 117 games with Midland last season.

And just to add a little more context to that, consider this: If a player saves 10 runs in a season he’s considered a terrific defender; 15 or more runs is considered Gold Glove territory.

Chapman’s easily surpassed that mark during his last two seasons.

So let’s do a little think-tank thing right now…

Offensively speaking, let’s say Chapman develops into the second coming of Russell Branyan – which isn’t all that bad of comparison, really. Branyan finished his MLB career with a 111 wRC+. And let’s say Chapman continues to be a +15 fielder at the big league. Do you know what both of those add up to?

Roughly a 5.5- to 6.0-win player.

Even if he’s good, not Gold Glove caliber defender and a league-average bat, he’s still going to be a 3.5- to 4.0-win player.

Convinced yet?

 

 

T.J. Rivera, IF, New York Mets

Branch Rickey, my baseball idol, once said, “Success is that place in the road where preparation meets opportunity.” Well, Rivera’s been preparing for his crack at a big league lineup his entire life. All he needs is his opportunity. And, trust me, there’s going to be plenty of success to follow.

Since 2014, here’s Rivera’s Weighted Runs Created Plus totals at every stop in which he’s made at least 190 plate appearances:

  • 2014, High Class A+: 139 wRC+
  • 2014, Class AA: 132 wRC+
  • 2015, Class AA: 144 wRC+
  • 2015, Class AAA: 111 wRC+
  • 2016, Class AAA: 142 wRC+

And just for kicks, he also posted a 119 wRC+ in 113 trips with New York last season as well.

So the question remains, what else does he have to do to get an extended look?

No, seriously, what else do he need to do?

 

Austin Barnes, C, Los Angeles Dodgers

Locked in behind Yasmani Grandal and the Dodgers’ massive bankroll, Barnes continues to wait for more than a 37-plate appearance gig – even though he’s clearly deserving of an extended and/or permanent look. But let’s run through the checklist, just for fun:

  • Plays an offensive deficient position? Check. Major League catchers batted an aggregate .243/.310/.393 last season.
  • Does he have an extended history of offensive production? Check. He’s a career .299/.388/.439 minor league hitter, including slugging .303/.413/.503 in Class AA and .304/.384/.460 in Class AAA.
  • Can he play defense? Check. According to Clay Davenport’s defensive metrics, he’s been roughly a league average defender.
  • Can he control the running game? Check. He’s thrown out 30% of the would-be base stealers in his minor league career.

So, basically, the question really comes down to just one simple thing: Is he a better hitter than the league average mark?

You better your ass.

Barnes is currently slated to be Grandal’s backup, who, by the way, hasn’t topped more than 128 games in a season yet.

 

Mitch Garver, C, Minnesota Twins

Much of the same thing that was said about Barnes can – and should – be said about the former ninth round pick out of the University of New Mexico. Garver’s track record doesn’t extend doesn’t extend nearly as far back as Barnes’, but he’s proven his value behind the plate. He’s a .267/.359/.406 career minor league hitter. He’s thrown out 38% of would-be base stealers. He’s been a stout defender, saving 33 runs over the course of his four-year professional career.

Unfortunately for Garver, though, the Twinkies just inked Jason Castro to a multi-year deal. And backup John Ryan Murphy is already in place.

 

 



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.


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