05 January 2013

L.J. Hoes Vs. Xavier Avery

Two of Baseball America's Orioles top ten prospects spent most of 2012 at Norfolk. L.J. Hoes (#6) and Xavier Avery (#7) are outfielders who made their AAA debuts in 2012, are two months apart in age, and whose prospect status is driven by projection rather than performance. During a rain delay in a Tides game, the discussion in the press box turned to the question of which one you'd rather have, Hoes or Avery. At the time, my answer was Avery; but now I think my answer would be Hoes.

I first chose Avery because I believed Avery had both the higher ceiling and the higher floor. Avery is the superior athlete with more speed and defensive value than Hoes. So far, Avery has also shown improving strike-zone judgement, and more power potential than Hoes. If Avery develops to his full potential — admittedly a longshot — his ceiling is minor star. On the other hand, even if Avery doesn't develop any further at all, his floor is still pinch-runner/ defensive replacement/ September callup. While I thought L.J. Hoes would probably turn out to be a better player than Avery, I also thought Hoes' ceiling would be lower than Avery's and that Hoes lacked Avery's specialist floor.

Hoes is limited to left field. When I made my first decision, I believed that, although Hoes had a chance to be a consistent .300 hitter, Hoes wouldn't have the power to be a major-league left fielder. And because Hoes was defensively limited to left field, it was hard to see Hoes as a bench player. I believed that Hoes would be nothing more than a 4-A player, a Triple-A star not quite good enough for the majors. So, even though I believed that Hoes would ultimately turn out to be better than Avery overall, I would rather have Avery.

But after watching Hoes for three months, I've changed my mind. I started by thinking about players who were comparable to Avery and Hoes. An obvious comp to Avery is Felix Pie. Both are athletic, left-handed hitting center fielders with unrefined skills. Although Pie has been a major-league bench player for a few seasons, he also was a consistent .300 hitter in the minor leagues, which Avery has not been. It was harder to come up with a comp for Hoes, a consistent .300 hitter with doubles power and limited defensive skills. The best I could come up with Martin Prado, a second baseman in the minors but has moved positions in the majors, first to left field and now likely to third base. Prado has had three strong seasons, with one top-10 and one top-20 MVP finish. If Prado can be a major-league regular for a contending team, so too can Hoes.

But there's more. There's always been a hope that Hoes will develop more power as he matures. And there's a positive example for that — Ryne Sandberg. Here's a crude comparison of Sandberg and Hoes:

AgeLevelTriple CrownOBPSP
19Low A.247-4-47.328.334
AgeLevelTriple CrownOBPSP
19Low A.260-2-47.299.318
20SS/High A/AA.290-4-50.383.397
21High A/AA.285-9-71.354.390

Hoes and Sandberg were similar types of offensive players, granting that Sandberg was generally one level ahead of Hoes at the same age and had an extremely good age-20 season. At age 24 Sandberg exploded with an MVP 1984, marked by an increase in power. His slugging percentage jumped from .351 to .520, and from 1984-1992 Sandberg had six seasons with slugging percentages of .480 or greater. This gives me reason to believe that Hoes, too, may develop enough power to be a viable regular in left field.

Sandberg is in the Hall of Fame, in large part because his offense was supported by Gold-Glove caliber defense at second base. I'm not claiming that Hoes will be a Hall of Famer or a consistent MVP candidate; he doesn't have Sandberg's glove. But Ryne Sandberg's bat was good enough to be an all-star left fielder. Hoes' bat doesn't have to develop as much as Sandberg's for Hoes to be a viable left-field regular. I now think there's reason to believe that Hoes might develop enough to be a solid left fielder.

And that's why I now would rather have L.J. Hoes than Xavier Avery.

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