10 February 2014
The Future of Orange: 2014 Orioles Prospect Rankings
Posted by Jon Shepherd
First, I want to establish a general group think of evaluation. As you may know, there is a great deal of expressed isolation in evaluation. It is something I never quite understood. I would think regardless of your own method and approach that you would be interested in seeing how your end result compares to others. In other words, I think it is good practice to see if your yard stick is similar to someone else's. If it is not, then it might be good to figure out why one might be better than the other or if they are both similarly accurate and/or precise.
With that in mind, I compiled a group ranking of prospects (keep in mind, this is not a consensus, a consensus would mean that everyone agreed on something while this is simply an averaging). The rankings I considered are mine (based on some in game evaluation and considering thoughts by talent evaluators), Baseball Prospectus (note: former Depot writer Nick Faleris contributed to those rankings), Baseball America, Keith Law, Orioles Hangout (I assume these are primarily Tony Pente's rankings), and Fangraphs. In the graph below, if a prospect is ranked from one source and not ranked in another, the unranked list will assume a ranking of 13th. This is not ideal, but I think it gives a good idea as to where a player falls.
I would first like to discuss similarities and then go into my own list to discuss difference in mine.
What we first notice is that there are essentially five tiers to this group ranking. The first tier shows an even split among placement for Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. The Bundy-philes note his exceptional history of talent and performance while noting a general commonplace and safety surrounding Tommy John surgery. They may also be weary of Gausman's breaking ball and the difficulty for a pitcher to be an elite one without a plus curve or slider. Those who place more trust in Gausman point toward his admittedly limited period of great success in the Majors (something Dylan Bundy did not do) and that he has his health. Caution is given to any surgery as Tommy John is not 100% effective. Caution is also expressed because when Bundy was in the Majors in 2012, he did not look ready at all. That all said, both groups see these pitchers are potential top of the rotation arms with not a great deal of development required to get there.
The next tier of prospects include Hunter Harvey, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Jonathan Schoop. The Orioles tinkered slightly with Harvey last year and wound up seeing very impressive pitching over a dozen innings. This has led many to more firmly solidify Harvey as a potential ace. Rodriguez is thought well of as a potential mid-rotation southpaw. At worst, he should be an effective reliever, so there is basically some assured value there. Jonathan Schoop fits into the same boat. He has a strong arm and decent athleticism that does not exactly scream out a certain position. The bat could be above average, but a lingering wrap could overly slow his quick hands and make him susceptible to MLB quality fastballs.
Mike Wright finds himself separate from the second tier, but firmly entrenched behind them. That entrenchment is something none of the other prospects in the organization can claim within this group ranking. Wright's ceiling is that of a mid-rotation arm, which is not exactly a rare ceiling among right handed pitchers in the upper minors. His floor is that of a mid-inning reliever. He is a relatively safe solid arm that you would find appealing as a second or third piece in any deal, but not exactly someone you would rave about acquiring.
The next tier includes two players that were general included in the top ten, but were left out of a couple. It is a group that shares some similarly to Wright, but also with the next tier which there is considerably less agreement on. This tier includes Tim Berry and Chance Sisco. Tim Berry is an on-age control lefty about to graduate to the upper minors. Sisco's glove needs a little work, but his bat is very impressive from behind the plate. Out from the plate, he has the athleticism to play a corner position or even the outfield, but that bat looks less promising out there. In other words, he is a high risk prospect.
The final tier includes Michael Ohlman, Zach Davies, Henry Urrutia, Josh Hart, Adrian Marin, Dariel Alvarez, and Christian Walker. Everyone in this group is a tweener prospect. Depending on who you talk to, each of these guys could be considered an organization filler type of player. Also, depending on who you talk to, each of these guys could be considered as potential Major Leaguers. These are guys with one or two tools that could potential play well, but there is still a great deal of adversity expected for each of them.
The Depot Stands Alone
There are two choices where my evaluation differs from the group completely. Those deviations are (1) placing Jonathan Schoop in the three spot and (2) placing Christian Walker in the ten slot. Neither of those should send you to the top of any hill and cry out across the land, but both may make you raise an eyebrow and wonder what exactly do I see here from my evaluation process that might differ from others.
Jonathan Schoop has been big on promise and, somewhat, short on performance. As an 18 and 19 year old, Schoop was often the youngest in the leagues he played in while also performing at an above average level. As a 20 and 21 year old, he again was one of the youngest, but performance was lacking. In addition to a lack of performance behind the plate, some have suggested that Schoop is not suited for second base and may only be adequate for third base. This places a great deal of importance on his bat improving, something that has been affected by poor mechanics.
I placed Schoop third on my list because I think the distance between his bat now and where it needs to be is shorter than that of where Harvey's and Rodriguez's arms are and where they need to be. Right now, Schoop at age 22 can be a backup infielder. Harvey is not ready for a pen role and I hesitate saying Rodriguez is ready. Additionally, I think Schoop has a higher ceiling as a first division second or third baseman than Rodriguez' chances of being a first division mid rotation arm. Harvey has the highest ceiling, but his road is quite a bit longer. Simply put, I think Schoop has a safer path to have value and also has a high ceiling.
Christian Walker at number ten might make a few people roll their eyes. Not because being ranked tenth is notable, but that this puts him in front of several players who may have a simpler path (e.g., Francisco Peguero, Zach Davies, Michael Ohlman). The knock on Walker is that he is a polished college hitter without plus power who struggled with a cup of coffee in Bowie. My counter is that he is only 23 coming into this season and he has performed well at every full season stop along the way. This performance includes showing strong ISO (much of it leaning on doubles), above average contact rates, and on level walk rates. My only real pause on him is that walk rate. However, everything else plays.
For me, Walker personifies one of those players who does not scout well, but performs well along the way. The typical argument against these guys is that they eat up the lower rung of talent on each step of the way through the minors. For most, Walker is thought of as a guy who will get himself to AAA, do well, but be eaten up by the consistently high level of talent in the Majors. In other words, a AAAA player. I have no qualm with that sentiment and, largely, agree with it. However, I would say that the makings of a big league player surround Walker and what he needs is the unlikely explosion of one of his tools, like power. If mechanics or physical development can turn on his power from average to plus, he becomes a big leaguer. The probability of that is quite minimal, but it could make him into a first division starter. These are the C level guys I would want in my system.
This opens up a line of discussion about the kind of C level prospects I would like to draft. You can see them in my collegiate diamonds in the rough series. The idea behind my CDR series is that performance scouting in college might work for players displaying exceptional performance. This means that a player is showing elite performance with contact, power, and plate discipline. Past first round targets have included Anthony Rendon, Kolten Wong, Kevin Plawecki, and Joe Panik (only Panik is currently in the lower half of his team's top 10 prospects via Baseball America). This may not exactly be the best time to select one of these guys that are identified in this process. It might be a good tool for players later on.
A listing of players drafted in later rounds and identified by this process includes: Matt Skole (5th round, 4th overall in Nationals system according to Baseball Prospectus), Dan Gamache (6th round), Rob Kral (10th round), Matt Duffy (20th round), Taylor Dugas (8th round), James Ramsay (7th round), Christian Walker (4th round), Devon Travis (13th round, 2nd in Tigers' system according to Baseball America), and Brian Holberton (9th round). Perhaps I am too fond of my own system, but these are the sort of players I think teams should focus on. Performance scouting can lead one easily astray, but when you are talking about the slim chances of finding a quality MLB prospect beyond the fifth round, well, this might be a strong way to find those guys.
Addendum: The Depot 2014 Top 10 Orioles Prospects
1. Kevin Gausman, RHP
2. Dylan Bundy, RHP
3. Jonathan Schoop, INF
4. Hunter Harvey, RHP
5. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
6. Mike Wright, RHP
7. Tim Berry, LHP
8. Chance Sisco, C
9. Adrian Marin, SS
10. Christian Walker, 1B