One Writer's Defense of his Prospect Ranks (Part II)

Astros Shortstop Prospect Jonathan Villar Hopes to Prove CRPerry13's Dire Predictions Wrong - Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

One Writer's Defense of his Prospect Ranks (Part II)

Introduction

In my first post, I covered my top 10 prospects and went into detail about those players that I was higher on than my TCB compatriots are. In this one, I take the Debbie Downer approach, where I detail those prospects that I am more skeptical about. No prospects were harmed in the making of this article, and I highly encourage any offended prospects to prove me wrong. I'll be as happy as anybody else and will gladly print a retraction where I mock myself for lack of faith.

The Method to the Madness

I wanted to save this for last so those of you who don’t care about my ranking method could ignore it easily. See...I always have your best interest in mind when crafting my articles. But to clearly describe why I have certain players dropped on my list to a level that will leave you livid, a certain understanding of my method is needed. So, to the top of the post it goes.

Step 1: Data gathering: I created my spreadsheet and added columns for position, 2012 age, 2012 farm level, draft year and round, college or high school, floor, ceiling, links, and notes. Most of that is self-explanatory. I then filled the data through liberal use of Google. I read as many online scouting reports as I could find without paying for expensive subscriptions I read articles by other SB Nation writers, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, Fangraphs, etc etc. Then, I gathered info from statistical sites, namely Baseball Reference, Minor League Central, StatCorner, and FirstInning.

Step 2: Subjective Ranking: From the data I gathered, I created a subjective ranking from 1 to 78 based on my opinion, the opinions of other writers/scouts, and actual statistical results. While I was at it, I filled in the columns for projected floor and ceiling. Wherever possible, I used other experts’ floor/ceiling projections, but only in cases where the information was recent (2012 or late 2011). Otherwise, I used my own gut, based on the info I had.

Step 3: Calculated Ranking: Hang on, this is where it gets complicated. I’m a system-driven guy, at work and at play. I have an inherent aversion to rating or ranking things or people based on observational or subjective feeling alone. I love Consumer Reports because their data is formulaic based on real data inputs rather than on emotional whim (and they don’t take advertising). So in an attempt to take my own personal feelings a little more into the background, I created a calculation to create a second ranking.

The inputs to this calculation are:

  1. Projected Floor Factor

  2. Projected Ceiling Factor

  3. Player Age Factor

The Floor and Ceiling Factors are based on the typical WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for a major league player who matches the description of the projection. For example, a typical short reliever is worth between 0-2 WAR, so I assigned a factor of 1 to the "short relief" projection for both floor and ceiling (Stay with me, here). Likewise, an MVP candidate can have a WAR between 7 and 9, so I assigned 8. This gave me a scale of value for the players based on their projections:


Floor/Ceiling Legend

TYP WAR

B

Bench

0.5

X

Few if any MLB appearances

0.1

MR

Middle Relief

0.5

L

LOOGY

0.5

PL

Platoon Hitter

1

SR

Short Relief

1

CL

Closer

2.5

BOR

ML 4th or 5th Starter

1.6

BO

ML Bottom of Order Regular

3

MOR

ML 3rd or 4th Starter

3.5

TO

ML Top of Order Regular

5

TOR

ML 1st or 2nd Starter

4.7

MO

ML Middle of Order Regular

6

ACE

ML All-Star SP ("Ace")

7

AS

All-Star Hitter

7

MVP

MVP Candidate

8

The Age factor is a little simpler. I divided the average age for a player’s highest level in 2012 by his actual age at the beginning of the season. So Domingo Santana, who started 2012 aged 19.9 years in a league that averaged 22.4 years of age had an age factor of 1.126 (22.4÷19.9). I fudged the average age for AAA a bit because of the number of journeymen minor leaguers and rehabbing major leaguers, but other than that I gathered my age data from online sources.

The final calculated score was:

=[age factor]×(0.3×[ceiling factor]+0.5×[floor factor])

As you can see, I weighted floor more heavily than ceiling because of the smaller likelihood that a player will ever reach his ceiling. After I had scores, I sorted them largest to smallest, then created a calculated ranking based on that.

Step 4: Reconciling Rankings:

I then averaged my subjective and calculated rankings to get my final rank. To break ties, I weighted the two scales 51/49 in favor of my subjective rankings.

Guys I'm Bearish On More Than Other Writers:

Jared Cosart (My Rank: 10, TCB Rank 6) - Like most people, I still think Cosart has the floor of a short reliever and the ceiling of a Top of Rotation starter. The reason he dropped on my list is because two of the pitchers immediately ahead of him on my list, Nicholas Tropeano and Lance McCullers, had conflicting rankings on my scales. Tropeano is a guy I like a lot and had him at #6 on my subjective list, but my calculation had him #11, right behind Cosart. McCullers, with his possible ceiling of "Ace", was up at #7 by my calculation, but subjectively I had him at #10 because he's so stinking young. The conflict bumped both of those guys immediately ahead of Cosart, who my calculation and I actually agreed on. The best thing here is that Cosart is incredibly young for his level, as he started 2012 at only 22.1 years of age and peaked in AAA, several years younger than the league average, and faced advanced competition. Cosart is a fantastic prospect, and deserves to be mentioned among the systems' best.

Mike Foltynewicz (My Rank: 14, TCB Rank 9) - Foltynewicz dropped on my list through no real fault of his. He has a solid argument to be in the Top 10, but my rankings had a few guys ahead of him that were all ranked higher than the TCB average, namely Bobby Borchering, Joseph Musgrove, Preston Tucker, and Ariel Ovando. For the record, my subjective rankings had him ahead of Borchering but the calculation made the difference.

Brett Phillips (My Rank: 32, TCB Rank 24) and Carlos Perez (My Rank: 23, TCB Rank 15) - I'd like a do-over on these two guys. They were left off our initial ranking list, so I didn't even research them until my entire ranking list was complete. Therefore, I did not spend as much time on them as I did on others on the list, and my subjective ranking was influenced by the calculation. I think highly of both prospects and tend to agree with the TCB ranking more than my own, particularly on Perez. Phillips is a long way away (he was only 18.1 years of age to start 2012) so there really shouldn't be a whole lot of argument with my ranking of 32. With so little data or information, it's just hard to tell.

Paul Clemens (My Rank: 29, TCB Rank 21) and Brett Oberholtzer (My Rank: 50, TCB Rank 40) - Ah the Michael Bourn trade, how we'd all like to have that one back. Last season, we all touted both of these players as among the Astros' Top 10, but now I wonder if it was not wishful thinking because we wanted to delude ourselves that the Bourn trade was not a complete disaster. In retrospect, neither of these guys were particularly exciting, though they certainly have Major League futures.

In the case of Clemens, my calculation really didn't like him because he was at the top end of his age bracket in AAA and profiles as no better than a Back of Rotation starter (with a short relief floor). Subjectively, I liked him a lot better (11 spots higher than my calc) because I feel he has a decent chance of beating his floor.

Oberholtzer is a little different story. In the podcast, somebody laughingly commented on the C- grade I assigned to him. As disgusted as I was with his 4.37 ERA / 4.12 FIP, my calc disliked him even more because his projections seem to be dropping from how we valued him immediately after the trade. Whereas last season we touted him as a middle of the rotation starter with a back of rotation floor, now he looks like a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out Relief GuY) who has a shot to be a fourth or fifth starter. He's got a low strikeout rate (13.4%) that will be even lower in the majors and his ERA/FIP performance has steadily gotten worse every season of his pro career with no real indication that it will turn around. There's no getting around it - 2012 was a huge step back for Oberholtzer.

While C- seems harsh after last season, nothing I've read about him in 2012 indicates that his statistical downturn was an anomaly. When it came down to the tiebreaker between Houser and Oberholtzer in the TCB rankings, the choice was clear to me, as I have Houser ranked sixteen spots ahead. Ask yourself to order these guys by floor/ceiling: Tropeano, McCullers, Cosart, Musgrove, Foltynewicz, Wojciechowski, West, Comer, Houser, Velasquez, Clemens, Rodgers, Owens, Oberholtzer. If you were to bet only 5 of them to even make the Astros' rotation by 2016, would Oberholtzer even be on the list? This is one ranking, though I hope he proves me wrong, that I feel pretty rock-solid on.

Rudy Owens (My Rank: 43, TCB Rank: 31), Daniel Minor (My Rank: 49, TCB Rank: 36, and Brady Rodgers (My Rank: 36, TCB Rank: 24) - In my system, Owens, Minor, and Rodgers were similar in one aspect beyond the fact that I had them ranked about 12.5 spots lower than the TCB average: All three were at or above the average age for their current level.

Minor started the season at 21.3 years of age, fully two years older than the average age of players in Rookie-level ball. Given that, it's no surprise he posted an ERA of 2.91 in 53 IP, but it is a little disapopinting that he only managed a 22.1% strikeout rate, which was just about league average. He's short for a pitcher, but not small, and the only scouting info I could find on him called him "bulldogish". He has a chance to outperform his stuff, but his major league future looks unclear to me until he starts pitching at a level closer to his age bracket. For now, it looks like he could be a bust, or he could be a 5th-starter. With so much uncertainty, I had other candidates that I wanted to rank higher.

Owens, at 24.5 years old in 2012, was one of the most aged prospects we reviewed. Appropriately, he was at Triple-A, but he was not a youngster compared to his competition. Reports I read call him a "finesse pitcher". Sadly, his results (4.35 FIP, 61 K%) were quite a bit below International League averages. He does have a low walk rate, but for me, advanced years, stuff that relies on finesse, and poor results add up to a Middle Reliever who may get some starts at the back of the rotation.

Subjectively, Rodgers made my top 30, but the calculated rank slammed him for being a full year older than his competition (22 spots lower, to be exact). Like Owens, he's a guy with advanced command and he should be quick to the majors. But he's not a power pitcher at all. He looks likely to reach his ceiling (which is why I think my subjective ranking is probably closer than the calculated one), but I believe his ceiling to be a fourth or fifth starter.

Ross Seaton (My Rank: 54, TCB Rank 31) - Look, I totally whiffed on Seaton, and it's a result of not checking my work carefully. I assigned him a "bust" floor, which is pretty clearly in error. At the least, Seaton looks like he'll be at home in a bullpen, and he could be a decent back-end starter. Fixing those values would boost him into the mid-40's, behind Rodgers but ahead of Owens and Minor.

Jonathan Villar (My Rank: 31, TCB Rank: 11) - Show of hands: How many of you skipped the rest of the mumbo-jumbo above just to read my reasoning for dropping Villar about 25 spots from his 2011 ranking? Let me say up front that I hope I am utterly and completely wrong about Villar, and that he turns into a top of the order force who hits for 20 HR and steals 50 bases while playing Gold Glove defense at shortstop. Some people think that's who Villar is, and have been vocal in their support.

My take on Villar can be summed up by one line in the Baseball Prospectus Astros Top 10 article (where Villar placed sixth):

"Some give Villar a utility future, with too many questions about the bat and overall approach to ignore."

I am one of those people. And it's not just questions about the bat, it's questions about the defense. For every article I read about Villar's defensive tools, I read another article questioning them. For every article I read about Villar's raw talent, I read an article questioning his attitude and work ethic. For every article I read about his burgeoning hitting skills, I read one about the fact that he doesn't make good contact, doesn't get on base, and strikes out a ton. The fact is, scouts can't seem to agree on Villar.

But I can give you another fun comparison, like I did with Preston Tucker.

Player A: .246/.319/.391
Player B: .263/.356/.385

Player A is Jonathan Villar's slash line at Double-A. Player B is Adam Everett's, the Astros' former no-hit shortstop. But wait, you say, Villar has more stolen bases than Everett! Yeah, well, Everett's Stolen Base success percentage was higher. The fact is, the only reason Everett was in the major leagues at all was because he was one of the best defenders at shortstop of the last two decades. Villar is not that guy. Nobody likes errors as a stat anymore, but it does allow apples to be compared to apples. Everett's AA fielding percentage was .959 in 1999. Villar's was .938 in 2012. No amount of saying "errors don't mean anything because they're dependent on range, luck, pitcher, blah, blah..." can make a .938 fielding percentage anything but abysmal. Sure, Villar is probably a better defender than he's shown, or at least he has the makings of a better defender. But here are the facts. In five seasons:

  1. Villar has hit very badly.
  2. Villar has not played defense at an even average level.

For me, and with the wealth of data (both scouting and numerical) available on Villar, he looks like a total bust. I think his speed and reputation will give him a major league career as a utility player, with perhaps a stint starting for a rebuilding team that may have traded Jed Lowrie and is waiting on Carlos Correa. But I'm not seeing the star that others are.

And I hope he proves me completely and utterly wrong.

Administrivia:

Following is some info about how my rankings shook out:

  • The only pitcher with a ceiling of "Ace" in my rankings was Lance McCullers, and only four pitchers (Tropeano, Cosart, Musgrove, and Comer) had "Top of Rotation" ceilings.
  • Singleton, Springer, and Ruiz were given "All Star" ceilings, and Correa was given "MVP".
  • Twenty-Four players had a floor of "Bust", and of those, the highest ranked were Ariel Ovando at #11, followed by Jack Armstrong at #40.
  • Speaking of Ovando, his "Bust" floor and "Middle Order Hitter" ceiling was the largest disparity in Floor/Ceiling among all 78 prospects on my list.
  • Of the 8 catchers I ranked, only Carlos Perez (23) and Tyler Heineman (25) cracked the Top 30. Last year's catching prospect du jour, Chris Wallace, clocked in at 35.
  • Jonathan Singleton was the only true 1B prospect ranked. Some others might end up playing 1B, but didn't spend any significant time there in 2012.
  • Likewise, other than Jose Altuve, Delino Deshields, Jr. has little competition at second base. The other two 2B prospects on the list, Enrique Hernandez and Brian Blasik, ranked 75 and 65 respectively. For what it's worth, Blasik went to my sister's alma mater, the University of Dayton. That's probably the only reason I don't have him ranked lower.
  • Is there a more interesting position than Short Stop in the Astros' farm system? Correa, Villar, Mier, and Fontana could all stick at the position, and all have a likely major league future.
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