11 October 2013

Performance Scouting the Independant Leagues: American Association

Performance scouting can be a dreadfully misleading thing to do.  Statistics can often hide things.  It can hide a player who is incredibly skilled, but inexperienced and facing competition much greater than should be facing.  It can also hide a flawed player who hits poor pitching quite well.  These issues we observe each year as players who dominated the minor leagues struggle greatly in the Majors.  This does not mean the stats are worthless, but that they are an incomplete story.  They certainly can enable to see things that get lost in a handful of looks.  Likewise, a handful of looks can sometimes see things that the stats do not.  Ideally, you want them both together to give you a full picture.

However, I do not have the considerable resources I need to actively scout the independent leagues.  Additionally, I do not have the considerable connections needed to ask people who have a good read on the players in the independent leagues.  So, I will be doing some performance scouting.  That performance scouting will be based on an approach I have used for collegiate numbers.

I will be focusing on three skills measured with four metrics.  To qualify as being exceptional for a specific skill, the player needs to rank in the top 20% of players in the league for that metric.  The skills:
Plate discipline - I measure plate discipline by the walk rate (BB%) and the ratio of walks to strikeouts (BB:K).  The intention 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 use batting average for this.  From an anecdotal perspective, players with good plate discipline AND poor contact rates 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.  Players who do not have good contact rates tend to get eaten up as they move on to higher levels of competition.

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 who have the speed to take advantage of a rapidly improving defense.  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.
Additionally, these leagues have a level of competition that is more or less on par with low A and below talent with an occasional old salt who would be average in AA.  As such, I am looking for players who are 25 and younger (emphasis on younger) where there may be some hope for a few years of development.  This kind of player should be not available in these leagues.  The MLB scouting apparatus should have found them and locked them into their minor league systems.

The first independent league I will cover is the American Association.

Buddy Sososkie
The American Association came together in 2005 with teams from the Northern League and Central League joining together.  The vast majority of players in this league range from 26 to 30 years in age.  Players coming from this league to the minors will often be younger than majority of players here and be players who at worst are above average.  For pitchers, the typical pitcher making a move is someone who has a high strikeout rate.  For position players, the typical player making a move will be athletic, playing a premium defensive position, as well as showing good contact and, at worst, good gap power.  Last year, the Orioles signed one position players from the American Association: outfielder Buddy Sosnoskie.  He did not make it out of Spring Training with the organization.  The take home to that being that it is difficult to be an overlooked independent league talent.  There are only a few guys out there that will be able to be successful in the minors.

The marks for a top 20% hitter in the AA are performances above 11.56 BB%, 0.97 BB:K, .315 AVG, and .194 ISO.  Does anyone younger than 26 and with at least 300 plate appearances stand out in 2013?  No, but there are some near hits.

Mike Padgett 1B/3B
35 years old
Drafted in 5th Round (Clemson) in 1998, Florida Marlins
199921Kane CountyAFLA181905102040.333.409.484
200022Kane CountyAFLA506222125353139.233.318.372
200123Brevard CountyA+FLA515372810164101.293.390.441
2006282 TeamsAA-AAAPHI,CHC2261225002554.260.350.418
2007292 TeamsAA-AAAPHI49630112103493.247.298.396
201032Long IslandInd3232015103257.275.348.404
201133Long IslandInd46924111504089.282.348.423
201234Southern MarylandInd49625112205398.251.335.394
2013352 TeamsInd44437324336969.334.437.644
201335Kansas CityInd36233219135856.337.442.650
201335New JerseyInd82415201113.324.415.620
16 Seasons

A- (1 season)A-
Ind (6 seasons)Ind
A (2 seasons)A
A+ (1 season)A+
AA (4 seasons)AA
AAA (4 seasons)AAA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/10/2013.

Padgett has continued his travels in Independent ball to Kansas City and New Jersey where he excelled on all four metrics, but at the age of 35.  The last time he was with an MLB affiliated team was 2007 with Ottawa.  He had a career where he was really only a break or two away from getting a cup of coffee with both the Marlins and Phillies, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself.  As an Indy player in 2013, he has been a top 10% performer with walk rate, batting average, and isolated power.  He was a top 20% performer with BB:K.  He would probably be a below average AAA player with this level of performance.

The Near Misses
Ryan Scoma, 1B
25 years old
Scoma was a 36th round, 2009 selection for the Giants.  He proved to be a first basemen with gap power and that simply was not going to get things done.  In 2013, he was a top 10% performer with BB%, BB:K, and batting average.  However, he has not seen any growth in his power.  It would be surprising to me if he signs with an MLB organization.

Willie Cabrera, 2B/LF
26 years old
Cabrera was drafted out of a JuCo by the Braves in the 14th round in 2005.  He performed well up through AA, but suffered greatly in two AAA stints and does not appear to truly play any position well.  If he has a place in the minors, it would be as a left fielder.  In 2013, he was a top 10% performer with BB:K and a top 20% performer with batting average and isolated power.  His walk rate was acceptable for the league.  At 26, this might be his last chance to stick with an MLB organization.  I would consider giving him a shot in Spring Training though my optimism would be greatly tempered.

Abel Nieves, 3B
27 years old
Nieves was a 50th round pick by the Angels in 2004.  He was a decent 3B, showed no acumen with the bat once he left A ball.  In 2013,  he was a top 10% performer with BB:K and AVG while being a top 20% performer with BB%.  He needs to show more power and it seems doubtful he ever will.

C.J. Ziegler, 1B
27 years old
Ziegler was taken out of Arizona in the 16th round by the Giants in 2008.  He showed some power, but was over several years older than his competition.  As an indy player, he has shown great power.  In 2013, his .327 ISO was an elite show.  He also was a top 20%er with BB% and batting average.  His most glaring issue is that he has been a little too easy to strike out given the players he has hit against.  He probably deserves to fill out someone's organization to see how his power shakes out in the minors.

Ron Bourquin, 3B
28 years old
Borquin was a notable 2nd round selection by the Detroit Tigers in 2006.  He walked a decent amount, struck out a little too much, had moderate power, and had difficulty fielding.  He still appears to struggle in the field and may be able to play at 1B.  He was a top 10%er with BB% and ISO and a top 20%er with BB:K.  With his age and fielding problems, I don't see how he would fit in an organizational as filler.

Brent Clevlen, LF
29 years old
Clevlen is a another Tiger 2nd rounder, but was drafted in 2002.  Before 2004, he was a Baseball America top 100 prospect.  In 2006, 282/317/641 over 42 plate appearances made it appear that he was a MLBer for good.  That was not the case.  In the minors he has spent time with the Tigers, Braves, Reds, Phillies, and Diamondbacks.  In 2012, Clevlen performed well for the Diamondbacks, but a shaky start in 2013 led to his release.  Once in the American Association, he was a top 10%er in ISO and a top 20%er in BB% and batting average.  With his background, one would think he should be able to find a home with an MLB organization next year and be a potential 6th outfielder.

I would not suggest that anyone here needs to be signed.  There are a couple guys, Cabrera and Ziegler, who I think would be interesting players as organizational filler.  If Aaron Baker will be up in Bowie, then I could see Ziegler being able to get some time in Frederick.  They does not seem to be an obvious player currently in the organization to start the year there.  Cabrera?  Left field and second base looks too crowded to me for him to get any time.  However, I do not think either of these players are needs.

Next time...
Atlantic League

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