15 February 2014

The Ones They Gave Away - Nick Delmonico and Josh Hader

During the 2013 season, the Orioles traded two prospects in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to make the postseason. On July 23, the Orioles traded Nick Delmonico to acquire relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers. On July 31, the Orioles included Josh Hader in a package to acquire starting pitcher Bud Norris from the Astros. Going into the 2013 season, Baseball America ranked Delmonico as the number 4 prospect in the Orioles system, and he had produced a .819 OPS at High-A Frederick. Baseball America had ranked Hader as the #19 prospect in the Orioles system, an impressive ranking for a nineteenth-round draft pick in the season he was drafted. Hader made the midseason all-star team in the Low-A South Atlantic League in 2013, and had pitched 85 innings with a 2.65 ERA.

Both Delmonico and Hader ranked among their new team's top 30 prospects in Baseball America's 2014 Prospect Handbook. Delmonico is the Brewers' number 12 prospect, and Hader is the Astros' number 14 prospect. That raises an interesting question - if Delmonico and Hader were still in the Orioles' system, where would they rank?

Before I look more closely at that question, I need to mention a few points about prospect rankings. The Depot has provided its 2014 top ten prospect rankings, as have many other people and organizations. We should remember that "ten" is an arbitrary number and that there may not be much difference between the tenth-best prospect - who makes the list - and perhaps the fifteenth-best, who doesn't. We should also remember that a specific rank may be determined by the evaluator's personal biases, especially for players rated closely together. The Depot is, in our own words, more bullish on Christian Walker than most - in part, I think, because Walker represents a class of player Jon believes to be undervalued. I am more bearish on Mike Wright than most, because I've seen Wright pitch twice and was unimpressed. I did see Nick Delmonico play on June 4 and Josh Hader pitch on June 9, and they played well. While I'm going to try to not let my experience color my judgment, be forewarned that it might.

As a standard for measuring prospects, I'm going to use Baseball America's grade/risk system from its Prospect Handbook. The grade, on what is essentially a 40-80 system, is an attempt to measure a prospect's realistic ceiling, with a 40 being a bench player or low-leverage relief pitcher and 75-80 being a franchise cornerstone. The risk, ranging from extreme to safe, is an attempt to measure how much more development the prospect needs to reach his ceiling. Delmonico and Hader are both 50/High, which means BA thinks their realistic ceiling is solid-average regular player who might play in an all-star game in a good year (for Delmonico) or fourth starter on a typical playoff team (for Hader) but that they'll have to develop quite a bit to reach that ceiling.

Another aside - it's somewhat revealing that Delmonico is the twelfth-best prospect in a bad farm system (BA ranks the Brewers 29th) and that Hader is the fourteenth-best prospect in a good farm system (the Astros are fifth.) If this is typical - every farm system's tenth-through-fifteenth prospects are all graded 50/high - it means that the differences among farm systems is either at the very front end, at the back end, or both.

The Orioles have several prospects whom Baseball America grades at 50/High:
BA's #10 prospect is Chance Sisco, whom they grade at 55/Extreme, virtually equivalent to 50/High with a higher peak but more development required. Their #7 prospect is Henry Urrutia, an older Cuban refugee whom they grade at 45/Low. His unusual background makes him less of a traditional prospect; for this exercise I'll leave him out of the discussion. There are legitimate reasons for ranking him ahead of this prospect cluster and legitimate reasons for ranking him behind this prospect cluster. I will also leave Sisco, Hart, and Brault out of the discussion because I know almost nothing about them. They were players acquired in the June 2013 draft and have played less than a full season of professional ball.

The obvious player to compare Nick Delmonico to is Michael Ohlman. Both are bat-first players who really project as first basemen or left fielders - Delmonico has played third base but it's questionable if he can stick there; Ohlman is nominally a catcher but almost certainly won't stick there. (Ohlman caught 1/3 of the games at Frederick last season; the others were split between Allan de san Miguel, a 25-year-old minor league free agent, and Zane Chavez, a 26-year-old independent league refugee.) Both played at high-A in 2013. Neither Delmonico nor Ohlman has been durable.

There are some differences. Delmonico is eighteen months younger than Ohlman. Delmonico hits left-handed, Ohlman right-handed. Ohlman had a much better 2013 season than did Delmonico, .313/.410/.524 to .232/.346/.423 (although Delmonico's numbers were depressed by his time with the Brewers' Florida State League affiliate.) Delmonico has been consistent in his two professional seasons; Ohlman's 2013 was substantially better than any other of his seasons and his professional career has been an archetype of inconsistency.

If you believe that Ohlman's 2013 is a consequence of his development, then you would rank Ohlman ahead of Delmonico. If you think Delmonico's youth gives him more development room, then you would rank Delmonico ahead of Ohlman. I don't think there's any question that Delmonico ranks close to Ohlman as a prospect.

The obvious player to compare Josh Hader to is Tim Berry. Both are left-handed starting pitchers listed at 6'3". In 2013, Hader pitched at low-A at age 19; Berry pitched at high-A at age 22. Both strike out around seven batters per nine innings. Hader appears to have more room for physical development than Berry does; he's listed at 160 pounds while Berry is listed at 180 pounds. Berry has much better control than Hader and has been more durable. On the other hand, Berry pitched much worse at Delmarva when he was there than Hader did, and Hader was a year younger. I think it's reasonable to conclude that Hader probably has slightly more upside than Berry does, but also Hader must develop more than Berry.

Both Delmonico and Hader are roughly equal as prospects to Ohlman and Berry, and consequently with the other 50/High prospects mentioned above. So, depending on your subjective preferences, Delmonico and Hader could rank between sixth and sixteenth among the Orioles prospects. The Orioles, in hindsight, would not have made the Delmonico trade and it's still too early to reach a firm conclusion on the Hader trade. But both Delmonico and Hader would have ranked among the better prospects in the Orioles system.


Liam said...

I was never huge on Delmonico because his defense isn't great and his bat isn't good enough to make up for the lack of defense. I still thought giving him up for a reliever about to hit free agency was a bit of an overpay, though.

Hader I like a lot more but we got Bud Norris out of him and the odds Hader develops into a better pitcher than Norris are statistically not great.

Even though they didn't make the playoffs, I think most fans were happy with the deals because it showed the team felt they were in the chase and were all-in on winning now. In our immediate gratification culture, that's something fans really like to see and explains the frustration that they haven't signed a big name FA pitcher despite the weak market and lack of long-term need for starting pitching.

Anonymous said...

I think that if KRod had not given up a HR in his first appearance with the O's, Showalter would have used him differently and we would not be calling the Delmonico deal an O's loss. I'm fairly convinced (although it is just my opinion) that KRod would have pitched well enough for the team that we would have resigned him to a 2 year deal and made him the closer for 2014.