16 February 2013

Baseball America's Evaluation of the Orioles' Farm System -- A Critique

Every year, Baseball America (BA) publishes its Prospect Handbook, in which they profile their top 30 prospects for each team. Because I get to see so many Norfolk Tides’ games, I read the Handbook to learn about the players I’ll be seeing. It’s also interesting to see how more expert evaluators regard players I may have already seen. This article will review Baseball America’s assessment of the Orioles farm system in general terms. While I don’t claim to be as expert as Baseball America, I see more Norfolk games and focus on different things as a milb.com datacaster and BIS scorer.  I’ve also seen many players exceed their projections and many more fail to meet theirs.
Baseball America rates Baltimore’s farm system, overall, at #17.  I think that’s too high; I would rate them #21 or #22. Baseball America’s rating is driven by one player – Dylan Bundy. BA rates Bundy as the best pitching and #2 overall prospect in baseball; I’ve never seen Dylan Bundy pitch so I am not going to disagree.  But I believe that BA gives Bundy too much weight in evaluating the Orioles’ farm system. BA argues that having one outstanding prospect – who, in the best case, projects to being historically great – is better than having several prospects projected to be solid players or occasional all-stars. Looking back, when Albert Pujols was in the Cardinals’ farm system, he was so valuable that even though the St. Louis Cardinals had very little depth in their farm system behind him, it would be foolish to claim that the Cardinals had a substandard farm system. BA editor Jim Callis puts their philosophy best as “You win with stars.”
I have two issues with their approach. The lesser point is the safety-in-numbers point, which is that a farm system with a very small number of prospects is vulnerable if something goes wrong.  I do agree that an Albert Pujols is worth more than ten middle relievers or utility infielders; I merely think that one Albert Pujols-type prospect isn’t enough to say that a team has a good farm system. The bigger point is that having a star, or even two or three stars, isn’t enough to guarantee that your team will be successful. The 1967-1973 Cubs with Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins, the 1979-1984 Expos with Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, and Tim Raines, the turn-of-the-century Mariners with Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey – won one division title among the four of them. Stars aren’t enough; you need solid regulars around them.
And the Orioles farm system doesn’t have the prospects that will produce those solid regulars. #1 prospect Dylan Bundy looks like the new Greg Maddux. And #2 Kevin Gausman looks like a solid #2 starting pitcher. But after that, there isn’t much there.  #3 Jonathan Schoop is starting to remind me of Luis Rivas; he’s been very young for the levels he’s played at, but he also hasn’t really done much at those levels. He’s highly rated because of his youth and projection, and as a farm system’s number three prospect, he’s okay. But #4 Nick Delmonico is a corner infielder with a history of back problems who slugged .413 in low-A ball. #5 Ed Rodriguez is a one-year wonder who struck out 6.1 batters per nine innings at Low-A.  Again, these are two players who have to develop but about whom there are large question marks. I’ll discuss #6 L.J. Hoes below. #7 Xavier Avery and #14 Glynn Davis are raw outfielders with athletic talents and undeveloped their baseball skills. #8 Mike Wright and #11 Tim Berry are college pitchers who might become innings-eating starters, but with have current career ERAs over 4.50. #9 Branden Kline, #10 Adrian Marin, and #12 Christian Walker are the second-, third-, and fourth-round draft picks from 2012; they aren’t any better than other second, third, and fourth-round picks. #13 Henry Urrutia is a Cuban defector who hasn’t even been cleared to play.  These players can still develop. But when you compares those prospects to the equivalent prospects  in Kansas City, Colorado, or Atlanta – the systems BA ranks immediately below the Orioles –they fall far enough short that Dylan Bundy isn’t enough to lift the Orioles over those teams.

I also believe Baseball America has underrated L.J. Hoes.  He’s listed as their #6 prospect, and I believe he should clearly be at least #4 and I might be persuaded that he should rank at #3, ahead of Jonathan Schoop. I’ve written before about L.J. Hoes, and why I think he can become a legitimate starting left fielder in the major leagues. Baseball America doesn’t think so. They believe his ceiling is as a “platoon / utility player,” although they do think he’s likely to reach that level and almost certain to have a major-league career beyond his 2012 cup of coffee. Their #4 and #5 rated prospects – Nick Delmonico and Eduardo Rodriguez -- have ceilings of “second-division regular … #4 starter on [a] good team”. BA acknowledges that they are much riskier prospects, since they’ve just played low-A ball and didn’t dominate.
Even by BA’s own standards and scale, L.J. Hoes should rate above Delmonico and Rodriguez. If you think that Hoes’ ceiling is at least equal to Delmonico’s and Rodriguez’ – if you think that Hoes could become at least a second-division regular – it’s no contest. L.J. Hoes is the Orioles’ number-4 prospect.


Anonymous said...

Tim Berry was drafted out of high school fyi.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the correction.

Bret said...

Although I don't disagree with the basic premise of the article the analogy of Rivas to Schoop is insane. Rivas averaged 3HR per year in the minors and was 5'10 175. Schoop has 3 inches and 25 pounds on him already plus steady power (27 HR combined last two years before he can drink legally?)

He was pushed too far last year, he was over his head in AA at age 20 but he will be a solid regular at minimum in the big leagues. Also the O's have young players at the big league level which other teams don't have. Overall state of organizations long term O's are in by far the best shape in the AL East. I like the Rays as much as anyone but Zobrist is not a spring chicken, their lineup is still very lacking pretty much everywhere else (except 3B) and Price won't be there much longer. Things will be fine, if not in 13 then certainly the next 5 years if they stay the course.

Unknown said...

I agree that Schoop and Rivas are different types of players; I was comparing them at a broader level. Rivas' status was and Schoop's status is based on performing competently at young ages for their level, rather than their actual performance. I want to see how Schoop does in 2013; if he takes a step forward then I'll cheerfully admit my concerns were misplaced.

Slade said...

If the late season velocity boost holds over the full course of this season, I think Eduardo Rodriguez is ahead LJ Hoes. Kieth Law must really like the reports he got on him as he boldly has him ranked at #100 in the minors.

Slade said...

Also, I disagree with BA's assessment that Rodriguez has the ceiling of a #4 starter. Call me bullish, but I like a 20 year old lefty who's already got the command, control, and pitch ability part down with plenty of projection left (IMO) for his repertoire to improve.