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The Saber's Edge: Post-Hype Prospects

Jeff Zimmerman

Zimmerman writes analytics-focused baseball and football articles for RotoWire. He also handles scouting and reporting for PrepBaseballReport.com and contributes to RoyalsReview.com, FanGraphs.com and BaseballHeatMaps.com. Jeff is also a two time FSWA award winner, including the 2016 Football Writer of the Year award.

I have been preaching about a huge void in the baseball analysis for about a year, the transiting prospect. Plenty of resources have been devoted to evaluating prospects on their way up to the majors. Once the player loses his rookie/prospect status, he now gets covered only by those people covering the major leagues. Some of these prospects struggle in the majors with some getting sent back down into the minors. Writers don't find much excitement covering these "failed" players and their progress. Let's look at a few hitters missing from general prospect coverage. Next week, we'll move onto some similar pitchers.

Sometimes players are forced to the majors before they are ready because of injuries on the major league team, or the player just seems ready. Well, sometimes the player is not ready yet and he disappoints. The player is forced to the minors or to the end of the bench to work on his game. He eventually makes the needed changes and comes back better. These transitioning prospects should continue to get covered/ranked/rated until they have two full major league seasons under their belt. These players just get lost in the shuffle.

A couple examples of this type of player are the emerging Aaron Hicks and Jackie Bradley Jr. Before 2015, Aaron Hicks started out as a Baseball America top-100 prospect from 2009 to 2011 and also in 2013. His biggest issue was he was patient to a fault (37 percent MLB Swing% with the league average is 47 percent). In 2014, he had a 16.0 BB% to go with 25.0 K%, but his batted balls stats were horrible: .059 ISO, 3 percent HR/FB rate, .215 AVG. When he got a September call up in 2014, he started his transformation which he continued in the minors in 2015. This season in the majors, he has eight home runs, nine stolen bases and .268 AVG in just 267 plate appearances. He made a drastic transformation, but not many people noticed because he lost his prospect status in 2013.

Another example of a lost player who is finally turning it around is Jackie Bradley Jr. In 2013, he was the 32rd-overall ranked prospect by Baseball America. In two major league stints in 2013 and 2014, he had a sub-.200 AVG with little power (four HR, .084 ISO). Through some work in the minors, he has gotten to the point where he has increased his walk rate and dropped his strikeout rate. Additionally, he is smoking the ball by hitting one more home run than in his two previous seasons combined in 400 fewer plate appearances. Additionally his ISO is up to .269.

Here is a look at some hitters without official prospect status who are still trying to make the complete transition from the minors to an above average MLB regular. I will look at hitters with less than 1,200 MLB plate appearances, 26 or younger who were once on Baseball America's overall top-100 prospect list.

Javier Baez (No. 5 BA prospect in 2014): One simple issue is keeping Baez out of the majors: strikeouts. The 22-year-old Baez always had issues with contact. In the minors his K% was always higher than 20 percent. When he made the jump to the majors last year, the strikeout rate ballooned to 41.5 percent. To put how high that value is, since 1900 no hitter (min 200 PA) has "produced" such a high strikeout rate. The next closest was Melvin Nieves at 39 percent in 1997. His inability to make contact sunk his AVG to .169 and he had an OPS of .551.

Currently in Triple-A, he has his strikeout percentage at 25.0, which is the lowest since it was 23 percent in 2013 in High-A. It would be nice to see if he gets a 2015 September call-up and some MLB contact rates can be calculated for him. A sub-30 K% would be great. He is blocked for playing time, but could be a nice off-the-radar pick for 2015 if the drop in strikeouts continue because he is a nice power-speed fantasy play.

Jesus Montero (No. 4, 2010): Montero was on the quick fall from top-5 prospect to an ice cream sandwich eating has-been. I didn't expect anything from the 25-year-old coming into this season. It seems like he is going to give it one more push to be relevant. In Triple-A, he put up a slash line of .346/.388/.551 with 16 home runs and a career-high three stolen bases. The production couldn't be ignored by the Mariners, and he got another shot in the majors.

So far he failing badly with his possible last chance. He is swinging-and-missing at everything as seen by his 4 percent walk rate and 28 percent strikeout rate. When he makes contact, it is not the hardest with an average batted velocity of 89.2 mph. Looking back at some of my past work on batted-ball velocity, an average batted-ball velocity of 89 mph predicts a .159 ISO and 11.5 HR/FB%. Montero's ISO is at .159 and 11.8 percent, which is about as close as they can get. The problem is that those values are league average and a 1B/DH type has to hit better than league average to keep a MLB job. Overall, I don't like Montero's chance of sticking around.

Wil Myers (No. 4, 2013):
Myers' problem reaching the 1,200 plate appearances hasn't been demotions to the minors, but injuries. The 24-year-old has yet to reach 400 plate appearances in a single season. It looks like a small amount of data will become available in September as he comes back from injury. I think he is a perfect stash in keeper leagues for 2016.

Jurickson Profar (No. 1, 2013): Profar has missed the last two seasons with shoulder injuries. He is just going to be 23-years-old next year, so he is far from over the hill. He is worth a flyer next season.

Gregory Polanco (No. 10, 2014): Remember when he was all the hype after his call-up last season? Now, he seems to be a matter of frustration. Let's put this into perspective. He is only 23. He is putting up league average production (102 wRC+) with average defense. People are probably remembering his 2015 first half when he hit .237/.315/.338, they got disappointed and then dropped him. So far in the second half he is hitting .318/.364/.506. If he started out of the gate hitting like that, the narrative around him would be different.

Besides the preceding players, here is a list of all the highly touted prospects (on BA top 100 list from 2011 to 2015) and their current MLB plate appearances. Some are doing great, others aren't. It is a nice list of possible hitters to target this season and for 2016.

RANKPLAYERPA
1Kris Bryant496
1Byron Buxton66
2Xander Bogaerts1,142
3Jesus Montero821
3Addison Russell396
4Wil Myers893
4Carlos Correa294
5Javier Baez229
6Miguel Sano189
6Joey Gallo98
8Joc Pederson521
9Francisco Lindor283
10Gregory Polanco813
12Jorge Soler475
17Mike Zunino1,052
17Travis d'Arnaud687
17Maikel Franco384
17Blake Swihart163
18George Springer669
19Kyle Schwarber166
20Billy Hamilton1,061
21Nick Castellanos1,061
21Rusney Castillo203
22Mike Olt314
27Jon Singleton415
27Austin Hedges98
30Dalton Pompey134
31Jackie Bradley Jr.651
32Michael Taylor444
32Mason Williams22
37Steven Souza374
39Anthony Gose1,010
41Oswaldo Arcia853
42Rougned Odor754
45Aaron Hicks536
46Dilson Herrera159
46Tony Sanchez155
51Will Middlebrooks1,164
51Christian Colon135
52Jose Iglesias892
53Yasmani Grandal1,123
53Nick Franklin580
54Jose Peraza7
57Yasmany Tomas371
58Kolten Wong995
59Wilmer Flores814
60Kaleb Cowart24
63Grant Green286
63Kevin Plawecki227
64Jake Marisnick646
64Matt Szczur131
65Trea Turner4
66Chris Owings824
69Christian Bethancourt227
70Stephen Piscotty122
72Matt Davidson87
74Avisail Garcia963
75Mookie Betts705
76J.T. Realmuto396
78Jake Lamb408
78Cory Spangenberg290
80Didi Gregorius1,159
80Michael Conforto78
82Jonathan Schoop684
84Devon Travis238
84Cheslor Cuthbert26
88Andrew Susac233
91Marcus Semien799
94Jonathan Villar635
98Austin Romine181
99Delino DeShields Jr.348
100Arismendy Alcantara332