The elusive tool of the prospect rainbow is the ability to hit. It also happens to be the hardest to evaluate and put an accurate future grade.
I saw Franchy Cordero multiple times during the Spring and fell in love with his beautiful left-handed swing. He showed a quick short stroke and had the ability to keep his hands inside the ball to make solid, hard contact to all fields. The Padres clearly liked what they saw and gave him an aggressive assignment to full-season ball in beautiful Fort Wayne Indiana. How did he do? In 85 at-bats, he had 16 hits and struck out 36 times while walking four times. At the end of April, he was sent back to the Padres Arizona Complex for more instruction.
Is it over for Cordero? Absolutely not! In fact, he hit better once he moved back to Arizona and is continuing to hit in his limited play in the Northwest League. Then why did he fail in his first attempt at full season ball?
Candidly, I’m not sure, but there are many factors that can affect a player’s ability to get acclimated to the professional game that really have nothing to do with their abilities. They include:
- Age: Franchy was 19.51 when he made his full season debut
- Weather: Franchy, a Dominican had probably never seen snow or 30 degree weather; both of which happened in abundance in early April in the Midwest
- Maturity: Franchy was 1,000 miles away from home, living with a host family and away from anything familiar
While I see dozens of minor league games per year and get many more reports from industry sources, there are stats every day that dwarf those data points. It’s easy to get excited about a player who is batting .340 with an .850 OPS and pick him up in your Dynasty Leagues, just to drop him when you find out his ceiling is a utility player.
As I provide analysis of positional players, I look both at their skills through first hand scouting as well as reports and then cross check that with a few, very important stats.
- Age – while there will always be late bloomers, many of the best major league players were very young in each stop along the development curve. Mookie Betts is proving that point very well this year as he’s the youngest player in the International League and was the second youngest player, behind Francisco Lindor when he was in the Eastern League.
- Strikeout to Walk Ratio – The formula is simple: control the strike zone and make good contact and your chance of sticking in the major league goes up. It’s not fool-proof, but players, particularly young players who can walk nearly as many times as they strikeout provide a very good barometer of future success.
- The presence of a fantasy secondary skill; i.e. power or speed – While .300 hitters with a plus .400 OBP are valuable baseball players, from a fantasy standpoint, you want something more. To finish off the formula, I like to see at least one other plus tool (speed or power). Speed is easier to see as it usually comes in the form of stolen bases but power is more elusive as it comes later. Bat speed is more important in kids and for this exercise, I focus on both.
Below are 10 young prospects that fit the above formula. You’ll have heard of some and others, you’ll be rushing to baseball-reference to look at their stat lines.
Jake Bauers (SD, Low-A, 1B)
Age: 18.72 – 165 AB, 28K/24BB, 5 HR
Jake Bauers is one of the youngest players in the Midwest League and controls the strike zone exceptional well. He doesn’t have premium bat speed but can take inside velocity deep when presented with the opportunity. Realistically, the ceiling is a James Loney type of producer but if the power develops, he could start to make some noise in prospect circles.
Reese McGuire (Pit, Low-A, C)
Age 19.31 – 189 AB, .265 BA, 21K/17BB
Drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft, Reese McGuire was praised for his defensive chops leading up to the draft but scouts worried about how much he would hit. In his first year of full-season ball, he’s done very well, batting .265 with 21K and 17BB in 189 at-bats. He only has one home run but there is bat speed and the dream that he could be a double-digit threat at the highest level. The defense will carry him but the offensive game is starting to look much better than many thought a year ago.
J.P Crawford (Phil, Low-A, SS)
Age 19.45 – 227 AB, 37K/37BB, 14 SB
I’ve had a chance to see J.P. Crawford live and the tools and intangibles scream “All-star”. He controls the strike zone very well with excellent bat speed that puts his future power potential at 20+ home runs. He also runs well as is evident by his 14 stolen bases. He’s already been promoted to High-A and should be on the fast track to Philadelphia to become the successor to Phillies shortstop mainstay, Jimmy Rollins.
Manuel Margot (Bos, Low-A, OF)
Age: 19.75 – 224 AB, 30K/24BB, 24 SB
Despite being a Boston Red Sox prospect, Manny Margot has flown a little under the radar in prospect circles. As a teenager, he’s played very well in the Sally League with a 30K/24BB strikeout-to-walk ratio while stealing 24 of 29 bases. He has excellent bat speed that should translate into 15+ home runs long-term. While 2014 was the year of Mookie, 2015 could very easily be the year of Manny.
Carlos Correa (Hou, High-A, SS)
Age: 19.75 – 249 AB, .325 BA, 45K/36BB, 6 HR, 20 SB
Carlos Correa’s year ended abruptly on the base paths over the weekend when he severely injured his right leg/ankle. As of this writing, we don’t know the full extent of the injury or the recovery period, except that Astros GM Jeff Lunhow said that Correa would miss significant time. It’s a shame as Correa was arguably having one of the best seasons in the minors. The hit tool is advanced as is the bat speed. Assuming he comes back healthy, he’s going to be a star.
Harold Ramirez (Pit, Low-A, OF)
Age: 19.80 -162 AB, 27K/10BB, 11 SB
Harold Ramirez barely made this list based on his 27K/10BB strikeout-to-walk ratio, but I believe the overall hit tool is only going to get better. He makes great hard contact with excellent bat speed as well as a plus run tool. While he doesn’t have the physical skills of Gregory Polanco, he profiles as a nice “Gregory Polanco” starter kit. If he continues to develop, he could sneak into the back-end of our Top 100 list.
Andrew Velazquez (Ari, Low-A, SS)
Age: 19.95 – 286 AB, 56K/33BB, 24 SB
If you’re in a deep Dynasty League and looking for a name, Andrew Velazquez should fit the bill. He’s only 5-foot-8 but makes good contact and controls the strike zone very well. He has plus speed and could profile as a 30+ SB threat at the highest level. He continues to work on his defense, but at a minimum, he should profile as a utility player with the upside of much more.
Jesse Winker (Cin, High-A, OF)
Age: 20.85 – 205 AB, .317 BA, 46K/40BB, 13 HR
Jesse Winker can really play and was one of the last cuts on our Top 50 list. Since he was drafted in 2012, he has always controlled the strike zone very well while making hard, loud contact. Before being promoted to Double-A last week, he slugged 13 home runs in the California League in 53 games while posting a 1.006 OPS. He doesn’t have a lot of speed but has a chance to hit .300 with 20 plus home runs, hitting in the middle of a lineup.
Clint Coulter (Mil, Low-A, C)
Age: 20.90 – 219 AB, 48K/42BB, 12 HR
Clint Coulter is the oldest player on this list but is every bit the prospect as the others. In 219 at-bats, he has a 48K/42BB strikeout-to-walk ratio with 12 home runs in the pitcher friendly Midwest League. At 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds, he could outgrow the backstop but that might actually help fantasy owners as that will accelerate his track to the majors. Expect Coulter to be promoted to High-A in the second half.
Michael Chavis (Bos, N/A, INF)
Despite not having an at-bat in professional baseball, Michael Chavis has the profile to join this list next year. As an amateur, he demonstrated a mature approach with the ability to make hard contact. Plus, the Red Sox have a history of drafting guys who can really hit.