I created a system that could uses collegiate performance to identify players who would be useful in the minors. I scanned over batting lines and employed strength of schedule adjustments of players in the college ranks using College Baseball Splits. The devised system was designed to identify a subset of useful talent, not all useful talent. The criteria:
Plate discipline - I measure plate discipline by the walk rate and the ratio of walks to strikeouts. I have arbitrarily set these lines as a walk rate >15% and a >1.5 BB:K ratio. The thought behind this is to target players who have a good understanding of hittable pitches and their ability to work for a walk.
Contact rate - I also look for batting averages greater than .300. From an anecdotal perspective, players with good plate discipline AND poor contact rates in college have trouble progressing through the minors. As they face a greater number of pitchers with more command of their pitches, the opportunities for walks will decrease. Pitchers are more likely to pitch in the zone and for a player to make contact. Collegiate players who do not have good contact rates tend to get eaten up by pro-quality offerings.
Power - Good contact rate and plate discipline are a great foundation for a hitting skill set. However, slapping the ball in professional leagues with players who field better is not as useful. There are just not many Ichiro Suzukis out there. In the pro game, there needs to be some power to go along with these skills. Otherwise, pitchers will go at hitters and give them pitches to hit, knowing that there is unlikely to be much damage. For this criteria, I set an ISO of .180.
In 2011, eight players were identified as fitting this criteria at the time of my assessment. Those players were Anthony Rendon, Kolten Wong, Joe Panik, Rob Kral, Matt Duffy, Taylor Dugas, Matt Skole, and Dan Gamache.
Anthony Rendon, 3B
23 years old, R/R
Drafted 1:6 (2011, Nationals)
Selected After: Bubba Starling
Selected Before: Archie Bradley
Baseball America (19th, 2012; 30th, 2013)
MLB.com (27th, 2012; 28th, 2013)
|AA (2 seasons)||AA||147||7||1||5||0||25||25||.216||.374||.422|
|Rk (1 season)||Rk||14||1||0||2||0||3||3||.364||.500||1.000|
|A- (1 season)||A-||32||2||0||1||0||4||6||.259||.375||.444|
|A+ (1 season)||A+||32||2||3||0||0||5||4||.333||.438||.630|
Rendon was not a difficult selection to make for this system as he was Baseball America's number one prospect entering the 2011 draft. He fell to the Nationals at 6 due to injury concerns that have continued to haunt him and left him with only 160 minor league plate appearances and now a handful in the Majors. He looks like a potential star. That said, the criteria worked no better than how evaluators viewed him.
Kolten Wong, 2B
22 years old, L/R
Drafted 1:22 (2011, Cardinals)
Drafted After: Tyler Beede
Drafted Before: Alex Meyer
Baseball America (93rd, 2012; 84th, 2013)
MLB.com (83rd, 2013)
I would also call this a hit, but one that is only slightly more impressive than Rendon.
Joe Panik, 2B
22 years old, L/R
Drafted 1:29 (2011, Giants)
Drafted After: Sean Gilmartin
Drafted Before: Levi Michael
Panik was rated as a late first round to supplemental selection and that is where he went. The knock on him was that he really was not a shortstop and that his bat would become more important with a switch off that position. Two years later, he is now a second baseman in AA ball. He has shown a strong contact rate, good plate discipline, and an inkling of power. He too profiles as an average 2B at this point. Levi Michael, the SS taken behind Panik, was expected to have a better shot at sticking, but has not begun his move over to second as well. He is currently repeating HiA. At this point, Panik looks like the better selection.
I would call this a hit as well and one that is beginning to look more impressive with the major split in opinion on him when he was drafted.
Matt Skole, 1B/3B
23 years old, L/R
Drafted 5:6 (2011, Nationals)
Drafted After: Patrick Leonard
Drafted Before: Will Roberts
What we are seeing again and again is this: players who excel in competitive college environments with respect to contact, discipline, and power tend to also perform well in the low minors. Baseball America may not have Skole as a top 100 prospect, but they called him the 4th best prospect in the Nationals' system. He looks to be an average 1B or better if he can actually stick at third.
This could be contrived as a hit.
Dan Gamache, 2B
22 years old, L/R
Drafted 6:1 (2011, Pirates)
Drafted After: Mitch Walding
Drafted Before: James Zamarripa
Gamache played in the Auburn band box, which was a concern in that many thought it was inflating his numbers and encouraging an approach that would not work as a professional. In 2012, he showed in low A ball that he had a sufficient bat with decent contact rates, plate discipline, and doubles power. He is a long shot at being a MLB quality 2B. He is more of an organizational type.
This selection seems about average as sixth round picks go.
Rob Kral, C/DH
24 years old, L/R
Drafted 10:22 (2011, Padres)
Drafted After: Cody Koback
Drafted Before: Joe Maloney
|A+ (2 seasons)||A+||119||8||1||7||0||17||20||.333||.429||.646|
|AA (1 season)||AA||36||1||0||0||0||9||8||.160||.371||.200|
|Rk (1 season)||Rk||54||1||1||1||0||13||10||.275||.463||.425|
|AAA (1 season)||AAA||18||1||0||0||0||5||1||.385||.556||.462|
Kral has not been a wonder behind the plate, which was expected. However, he has been solid at the plate in the low minors. At 24, he is a bit old to be in HiA, but a slash of 333/429/1075 in HiA is pretty solid for a 10th round pick. If things break right for him (the hill is pretty steep to climb), he may be able to find himself in the Majors in 2015. You really cannot be too upset over finding a guy who has decent power, good plate discipline, and good contact. The Rangers' Joe Maloney is a decent person to compare Kral to as he too is a catcher who likely will not be a catcher. Similar to Kral, Maloney is also doing his best at killing the ball. This takes the shine off of Kral a little bit, but both guys would be solid gets for a team in the tenth.
The jury is still out on this selection.
Matt Duffy, 3B/1B
24 years old, R/R
Drafted 20:9 (2011, Astros)
Drafted After: Ben Klafcynski
Drafted Before: Brandon Williamson
In round 20, you find dreams of players and organizational filler. Duffy did not make the top 100 rankings for anyone after he completed his age 23 season in A ball, but it was a pretty solid year with him slashing 280/387/447. Good contact, good plate discipline, and a smack of power. This is the kind of hit that makes me think maybe there is something to this approach. He is still off of many people's radar and probably for good reasons, but if you need filler in the minors for your star prospects to play around...this is probably the kind of filler you want.
I would call this a somewhat non-consequential hit. He provides usefulness in the system, but nothing beyond that.
Taylor Dugas, OF
23 years old, L/L
Drafted 8:29 (2012, Yankees)
Drafted After: Cody Kendall
Drafted Before: Josh Ludy
Dugas was actually drafted in the 8th round by the Cubs, but they could not agree on a price. He went back to school and then wound up with the Yankees. As a professional, he has not been recognized as a valuable prospect, but he has performed well. He has shown excellent contact and plate discipline though nothing else. As he advances up the ladder, the lack of power or speed will likely become issues.
This could be contrived as a hit in terms of providing an organizational type.
Conclusions So Far
I am not sure this system has done a great job of finding true prospects, but it certainly has done a solid job at finding players who are able to hold their own in the low minors. This is not much of a surprise given their experience in competitive conferences. The performance of this criteria may indicate that if a team is simply looking for solid contributions of low minors players in the organization that a tool like this might work. We should take this all rather suspiciously as there really is not a great deal of information backing this data set up.
In the next article, I will review the targets identified in 2012: James Ramsay, Kevin Plawecki, Christian Walker, and Devon Travis.