Saturday, January 10, 2015

A new metric for evaluating shortstop fielding

(this is an edit to clarify a few points that were confusing previously)

Recently when I was looking for an objective way to numerically describe how good Engelb Vielma's glove for my Minnesota Twins' top 40 prospect list, which is fairly easily understood as a concept, I came up with a simple metric:  The percentage of putouts that resulted in a double play.   I did a bit of research to see whether it will pass the stink test, and looked at  Omar Visquel's (who is indisputably a good glove shortstop and pretty recent) gold glove seasons (1994-2001).  Visquel percentage of putouts that were double plays was 40%, so I concluded that Vielma's 39.6 was indeed encouraging.    Furthermore I used this metric (as supportive to what I have seen with my eyes this season) to suggest that Jose Polanco, whose 52.3% of Put Outs were Double Plays, despite the rumors, is a very good shortstop with the glove.  This resulted in a major upset on the top 10 of my Twins' prospect list, and a hearty discussion of the metric, among other things, here.

Conceptually it is very simple metric:  An effective shortstop will turn as many outs as possible when he has a chance.  It is affected by many things like range and arm, but it is not perfect.  It misses the number of chances for double play as a normalization, and something to describe how the shortstop was with the glove when there were no putouts.   So I did three things :

a. When I first thought of  this, I thought that putouts were the way to go, because for some reason helped tell more for a shortstop than assists.  After a bit of discussion and noodling, this is not really valid.  I was wrong to use putouts for the denomination.  I think that Total Chances are a better denominator, so that is it. Instead of percent of Put Outs that were Double Plays, I am using percent of Chances that resulted in Double Plays (%CDP)

b. To add something in the measurement that describes a shortstop in a non-double play situation, I went back to an old (and tired) friend and gave it new life my marrying it with %CDP:  Good old Fielding Percentage, which by itself is inadequate to whole describe fielding, but a very simple conceptual metric: Errors over chances.  So this compound measurement is simply: The percent of Chances that resulted in Double Plays multiplied by Fielding Percentage.  Because that is a mouthful, I am calling it Shortstop Fielding Effectiveness (SSFE, and the name is similar to the other metric I device to simply evaluate pitching, the Pitching Effectiveness.)

c.  To normalize for the chances of double play (i.e. how many of total chances were with a man on base,) I normalized against the league for a full season, assuming that the chances for a double play are pretty much the same for all teams in the course of 2280 games (152 times 15) and a league normalization, would be good enough.  So I calculated the average SSFE (which was 13.5) and divided each player's with that average, resulting to a normalized value, which I call nSSFE. nSSFE of 1 is average, everything above 1 is above average and everything below 1 is below average.  To make it look numerically a bit more familiar (think ERA+ and OPS+,) I multiplied by 100 (making the average 100, like those other 2 metrics) creating what I call nSSFE+ (still a mouthful).  139 players played Shortstop in the bigs in 2014 contributing to those numbers.

Does it pass the stink test?

Here is the nSSFE+ are all MLB shortstops in 2014 with more that 200 innings at shortstop.  In blue are the above average shortstops (nSSFE+ 110 or more) and in red are the below average (nSSFE+ 90 or less.)   Since this is a Twins-focused blog, the Twins' players are in bold.

I think that it does pass the stink test if you look who is in the blue categories (JJ Hardy, S. Drew,  et al) and who is in the red (Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins et al.) 

Is it a perfect metric?  No; because there is no such a thing.  But I think that it is easily understood as a concept and can be valuable.   And it is better than the "eye" alone.  The two together may be awesome.   Could it be translated to other positions?   I will try to play around, but feel free to play and tell me :)   I will eventually look to see how the average moves with history, and potentially refine it, but this is the first attempt...

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 offseason Minnesota Twins top 40 prospects: summary; all 1-40

I have been counting down the Twins top 40 prospects with descriptions and scouting reports of the players, their potential, their likely destinations for 2015, and in some cases the reasons why they were ranked where they were.   You can find all installments here in reverse chronological order.  Here are the detailed rankings: 36-40, 31-35 , 26-30 , 21-25 , 16-20 , 11-15 , 6-10 and 1-5. You can find the 2014 off-season summary list here   In these listings in parenthesis, I am including their ranking in the last prospect list, which was the 2014 mid-season list, with "--" if not ranked.  You can find that list here.

First of all the following players graduated: Graduated: Trevor May (4), Kennys Vargas (5), AJ Achter (25)

and these, ranked in the mid-season list, did not make this list: Nico Goodrum IF (22), Jose Abreu (27), Matthew Koch C (28), Zach Jones RHP (31), Sean Gilmartin LHP (32); and not only because he is not part of the organization any longer, Brian Gilbert RHP (33), Argenis Silva RHP (34), Sam Clay LHP (35), DJ Baxendale (37).

Here are my top 40 Twins' Prospects for 2015, in one single post: 

1. Miguel Sano 3B (1)
2. Jorge Polanco SS (6) 
3. Byron Buxton OF (2)
4. Alex Meyer RHP (3)
5. Jose Berrios RHP (9)

6. Amaurys Minier 1B/3B/OF (11)
7. Kohl Stewart RHP (7)
8. Eddie Rosario OF (10)
9. Lewin Diaz 1B (24)
10. Nick Burdi RHP (14)

11. Lewis Thorpe LHP (15)
12  Nick Gordon SS (8)
13. Stephen Gonsalves LHP (20)
14. Travis Harrison OF/3B (16)
15. Max Kepler OF/1B (12)

16. Jake Reed RHP (--)
17. Mitch Garver C (17)
18. Chih-Wei Hu RHP (--)
19. Jorge Fernandez C (--)
20. Engelb Vielma ss (21)

21. Adam Walker OF (13)
22. Levi Michael 2B (38)
23. Mike Cederoth RHP (18)
24. Rainis Silva C (--)
25. Alexis Tapia RHP (30)

26. Max Murphy OF (--)
27. Brandon Peterson RHP (36)
28. Stuart Turner C (--)
29. Felix Jorge RHP (23)
30. Ryan Eades RHP (19)

31. Aaron Slegers RHP (26)
32. Randy Rosario  RHP (40)
33. Zach Larson OF (29)
34. Todd Van Steensen RHP (--)
35. Mat Batts LHP (--)

36. Jermaine Palacios IF (--)
37. Fernardo Romero RHP (39)
38. Tyler Kuresa 1B (--)
39. Moises Gomez RHP (--)
40. Luis Arraez IF (--)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2015 Twins offseason top 40 prospects list: 1-5

Today is the eight and last installment in the top 40 Twins' Off-season prospects countdown (other than the overall summary that is coming up next).  You can find all installments here in reverse chronological order.  Previous rankings: 36-40, 31-35 , 26-30 , 21-25 , 16-20 , 11-15 and 6-10. You can find the 2014 off-season summary list here   In these listings in parenthesis, I am including their ranking in the last prospect list, which was the 2014 mid-season list, with "--" if not ranked.  You can find that list here.   Every Twins' fans should know those names, so I am really going emphasize discussion of the rankings here:

5. Jose Berrios RHP (9) RHSP, DOB: 5/27/1994, 6'1", 185 lbs

Jose Berrios was drafted by the Twins in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft from Papa Juan (PR) High School.  Since he was drafted by the Twins, he had to face criticism about his height, which he answered by being a maniac worker, improving his arsenal every single season and knocking in the door of the majors just 3 seasons after he was drafted.   Berrios has a plus fastball that sits at 93-94 and can get up to 96-97, an above average change and a plus curve ball. He reached Rochester for one start, but likely will begin his 2015 season anchoring the Chattanooga rotation

4. Alex Meyer RHP (3) RHSP, DOB: 1/3/1990, 6'9", 220 lbs.

Meyer was drafted in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Washington Nationals out of the University of Kentucky and traded to the Twins in 2012  for Denard Span.  Meyer is the best pure pitcher in the Twins' organization stuff-wise.  His repertoire includes 4 pitches: a plus plus fastball that averages 94-96 and hits 98-100, a plus to plus plus hard slider at high 80s with a sharp break a slow curve that sits in the low 70s and he learned a low 80s change up recently, which he used last season.  If you do the math, this is 30 mph differential.  He still needs to command his stuff, but think of a RH Randy Johnson, with a slow curve and a change up, as far as stuff goes.  The only things he needs to do, it to challenge batters and keep healthy.   Definite ace potential here.

3. Byron Buxton OF (2) RHB, CF, DOB: 12/18/1993, 6'2", 190 lbs

This and the next ranking will be the major controversies here.  I have been ranking Buxton second to Sano, but right now I feel that another Twins' prospect has surpassed him.   I am not counting Meyer's, Buxton's, and Sano's injuries against them in these rankings.  My question about Buxton is not whether he is injury prone (which is a fair question because his injuries, unlike the ones for Sano and Meyer that were the product of repetitive use, were on the field of play in plays like sliding head first while nursing a wrist and diving into a teammate's knee head first.)   For me the question is not whether Buxton can be the next Rickey Henderson or the next Bo Jackson.  For me the question is whether he can be the next Rickey Henderson, the next Vince Coleman or the next Otis Nixon.  And unless he dominates with the bat above the Midwest League level, which he hasn't done in at least 3 chances, he might be more like Vince Coleman than Rickey Henderson, and unless he can hit the league average above the Midwest League level, he will be more like Otis Nixon.  After last season he hit .212/.281/.404 in 57 PAs in the Arizona Fall League.  This season he hit .240/.313/.405 in 134 PAs at Fort Myers (I am discounted his single unfortunate game in New Britain) and capped it with hitting .263/.311/.298 in 61 PAs in the AFL.  Sorry, folks, this is not the best prospect for the Twins (and you can read my reasoning from last year regarding the Sano/Buxton comparison here,) which takes us to probably what most people would think of as the biggest surprise in this ranking:

2. Jorge Polanco SS (6)  SH, SS, DOB: 7/5/1993, 5'11", 165 lbs.

Polanco was added to the Twins' 40-man roster last offseason to be protected from the rule 5 draft, and had a cup of coffee (mostly warming the bench while getting 8 PA) when the Twins needed someone because of injuries this season.  Unlike the other prospects who saw MLB time, I don't consider him graduating this status, because he just was practically sitting on the bench.  So why Polanco 2 and Buxton 3, other than the fact that I might be crazy?   Simple.  They are the same age, Polanco has outhit Buxton in the higher levels and Polanco's glove is close to becoming elite.  Last thing first:  For some reason, there is a tale that Polanco's glove is not good enough to be a shortstop and he is better fit to be a second baseman, that has been propagated like the one about the guy with the bathtub and ice and kidneys.  Not sure where that came from, but let's look at one number:  Do you remember when I talked about Vielma's glove here and said the following?

How good is Vielma with the glove?  I will let the numbers speak for themselves and the number I would like to use as a criterion of a good SS is the percentage of Put Outs that were double plays.  Omar Visquel, the perennial AL gold glove winner, had a 40% of his Put Outs being double plays, in average of his gold glove years 1994-2001.  Last season for Vielma 39.6% of Put Outs were Double Plays.  In other words, four out of ten outs were in double plays.  I know that defensive metrics like RZR, RangeF, UZR etc are not believable by some people, because it involves a lot of math, but % POs that were double plays, is a very tangible concept.  For comparison's purpose, here are these numbers for the 2014 Twins with more than 50 POs: Escobar 49/130, 37.7%  and Santana 15/53, 28.3% - (Santana's MiLB career numbers are 209/622, 33.6%)

Here are Polanco's Put Outs that were Double Plays this season: 63/120 at Fort Myers (52.5%,) 18/29 (62.1%) at New Britain and 3/3 100% with the Twins.  I hope that this, along with Twins' fans witnessing his soft hands in the majors this year, seals that myth for ever.

This season Polanco hit .291/.364/.415 at Fort Myers in 432 PAs and .281/.323/.342 at New Britain in 157 PAs.  You can check what Buxton did this season in the same levels.   And I would argue that a good fielding shortstop who can hit is much more rare than a good fielding centerfielder who can hit.  Buxton does have more speed.  But he is more injury prone and he has not hit as well as Polanco at the same levels.  That seals it for me...

Polanco will likely start the season as the shortstop at Chatanooga, and will move up to the Twins at least by September.

1. Miguel Sano 3B (1) RH, 3B, DOB: 5/11/1993, 6'34", 235 lbs.

Sano should be regarded the best prospect in the game.  Period. Rationalization here and not much more needed to even discuss.  His hitting will be back, his fielding has been improving.  Likely will start as the Red Wings' third baseman, with an outside possibility of making the Twins during Spring Training. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2015 Twins offseason top 40 prospects list: 6-10

Today is the seventh installment in the top 40 Twins' Off-season prospects countdown, and the descriptions of the player and rationalization of their rankings continue to a bit more detailed.  You can find all installments here in reverse chronological order.  Previous rankings: 36-40, 31-35 , 26-30 , 21-25 , 16-20 and 11-15. You can find the 2014 off-season summary list here   In these listings in parenthesis, I am including their ranking in the last prospect list, which was the 2014 mid-season list, with "--" if not ranked.  You can find that list here.   Before I start counting down the top 10, I need to mention the names of the players who dropped from the mid-season top 10 (along with their rankings in that list in parenthesis) : Nico Goodrum IF (22), Matthew Koch C (28), Zach Jones RHP (31), Sean Gilmartin LHP (32); and not only because he is not part of the organization any longer, Brian Gilbert RHP (33), Argenis Silva RHP (34), Sam Clay LHP (35), DJ Baxendale (37).  Now that we established that Nico Goodrum is not one of the top 10, here are the prospects 10 to 6, with a couple of surprises:

10. Nick Burdi RHP (14) RHRP, DOB: 1/19/1993, 6'5", 215 lbs.

Nick Burdi was the Twins' 2nd round draft pick in 2014 from Louisville.  This was what Nick Burdi did in relief in 2014:  Louisville: 37 IP, 65 K, 10 BB;  Cedar Rapids: 13 IP, 26 K, 8 BB; Fort Myers: 7.3 IP, 12 K, 2 BB.  Total: 57.3 IP, 103 K, 20 BB.  His K% was 43.6% in College, 48.2% at Cedar Rapids and 42.9% at Fort Myers.  A high 90s nasty fastball that often reaches triple digits, complemented by a low 90s even nastier slider, and there is no wonder than many, including the author of this, were wondering why Burdi did not start his pro career in the majors, since he is the best RHRP in the Twins organization at any level, since he was drafted.  But this is not the way the Twins are thinking.  The 22 year old had nothing to prove in a league whose average age was 2 years + older.  He will likely have nothing to prove in Chattanooga and be called to the majors by mid-season to serve as the Twins' set up man or even the closer.  He is not on the 40 man roster and has not been invited to the MLB Spring Training camp as of yet. 

9. Lewin Diaz 1B (24) LHB, DOB: 11/19/1996, 6'3, 180 lbs.

Lewin Diaz is an unknown name among most Twins' fans, but it will not be so for long.  He was signed as a 16 year old in 2013 from the Dominican Republic for a $1.4 million bonus.  2014 was his Pro debut in the DSL where he hit .257/.385/.451 with 5 HRs and 24:26 K:BB in 174 PA as a 17 year old.  He was about 1.5 years younger than the league average and hit well in a pitcher's league where the average slash line is .245/.339/.331.  Five HRs might not seem like much, but Diaz hit all but 2 of the DSL HRs and had the same or more HRs than 3 of the Leagues' teams.  His is stronger (and bigger) as a 17 year old than both Miguel Sano and Kennys Vargas at that age.  His glove is a work in progress at 17 and will likely end up at first base.  Will likely move to the GCL in 2015, where he will make his presence known to most of the Twins fans.  Here is a picture of Diaz from 2013 with David Ortiz, when Diaz was on the Dominican elite travel team (and Diaz was just 16 years old) to get an idea about the size of this kid:

8. Eddie Rosario OF (10) LHB, DOB: 9/28/1991, 6'0", 170 lbs.

Eddie Rosario was the Twins' 4th round pick of the 2010 MLB draft from teh Rafael Lopez Landron High School in Puerto Rico.  Rosario has been a top Twins prospect since he hit .337/.397/.670 with 21 HRs in 298 in Elizabethton as a 19 year old (1.5 years younger than League Average) in 2011.  In 2012 he hit .296/.345/.490 in Beloit where he suffered a broken jaw as result of being hit by a pitch, and in 2013 he hit .329/.377/.527 in Fort Myers and .284/.330/.412 at New Britain.  Baseball Prospectus twice named him top 100 prospect (#87 in 2012 and #60 in 2014). Last season was a trying season for Rosario.  Suspended for 50 games for street drug use, changing position from 2B to full time OF, he never found his swing.  He hit just .237/.277/.396 at New Britain and .300/.382/.300 in 8 games at Fort Myers, where he started the season. 

So why is Rosario ranked so high, if he apparently has contact problems at AA?   It is because of his past and his  potential (for pretty much the same reason that Sano and Buxton are still top prospects, even though they had worse seasons that Rosario in 2014) and because of what he did in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .330/.362/.410 with 10 SB in 105 PAs (his highest SB/PA rate ever.)  I take it as a clue that the 23 year old has put his bad couple seasons behind him and he is on his way of realizing his potential.  I'd like to see more doubles as well, but he is getting there.  He is on the Twins' 40 man roster, and unless something bad happens, he will be called for a cup of coffee in September, maybe sooner depending on his performance and the MLB team's needs.  His stock as a prospect dropped when he moved to the outfield from second base, but still Rosario would had been a top 5 prospect in most organizations out there.  Will likely start 2015 as the starting Centerfielder for the Red Wings (the assumption is that Buxton will have that position for the Lookouts,)  unless he gains a major league job out of Spring Training.

7. Kohl Stewart RHP (7)  RHSP, DOB: 10/7/1994, 6'3", 195 lbs.

Stewart was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1st round (4th overall) of the 2013 from St Pius X (Houston, TX) High School.  Other than a single game started in Elizabethton (4 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 8 K) he started his pro career in the GCL at age 18, where he pitched in 7 games (4 GS) for 20 innings, walking 3 and striking out 16.  He had a 1.69 ERA and 0.938 WHIP.  Last season was not Stewards best, when he was promoted to Cedar Rapids. There he started 19 games and looks like he was bitten by the pitch-to-contact bug of the Twins' organization.  His K% dropped from 23.2% in the GCL (which is not great for someone with his stuff to begin with) to a mere 17.2%, putting his K rate to the Blackburner.  His 2.59 ERA and 1.14 WHIP might look encouraging before someone takes a look at his 3.73 FIP and .270 BABIP.   Still Stewart was a full 3 years too young for the league at 19 and has been battling shoulder issues pretty much the whole season. 

Stewart has 4 pitches that he commands well:  A plus to plus plus mid 90s fastball that peaks at 97-98, a close to plus mid to high 80s slider, an above average high 70s to low 80s curveball and a very good mid 80s changeup.  In August his fastball was barely hitting 90, which is an indication of injury.  He is still young, he has a lot of potential as long as the shoulder is strong.  If that happens and if he can start to miss bats, he could be a top of the rotation pitcher.   Right now, he is the third best RHSP prospect in the Twins' organization.

6. Amaurys Minier 1B/3B/OF (11) SHB, DOB: 1/30/1996 6'2", 190 lbs

Amaurys Minier might be slighted by this ranking (and it is the highest I have seen him ranked in any of these lists.)  He was signed by the Twins as a 16-year amateur free agent ($1.4 million bonus) out of the Dominican Republic on July 2, 2012.  In his first pro season in 2013 at the GCL he hit .214/.252/.455 (which other than the power numbers, is pretty bad) and then, he had shoulder surgery in the off-season for batter's shoulder.  Recipe for disaster.  Everyone thought that it will be a lost season.  But what did Minier do?  He played a full season in the same GCL as an 18-year old (2 years younger than the league average) and hit a mere .292/.405/.520 with a 29:52 BB:K ratio in 205 PAs.  To put this into perspective:  Minier had shoulder surgery, is 3 months younger than Nick Gordon, who in most lists is a top Twins' prospect, and out hit him in any possible way in the same team (Gordon's numbers: .294/.333/.366, 11:45 BB:SO, 256 PA.)  If you have 2 players the same age, one coming from a surgery and outhitting the other by that much in the same team, there is no way to justify not ranking them in this order.  Or is there?
The one issue with Minier is his glove.  He was signed as a SS (a position he never played professionally and likely will never play,) played an awful third base in 2013 and a better 1B and so-so LF in 2014.  A lot of people think that Minier might have the most power in the Twins' organization (and this includes his compatriots Sano and Diaz and the MLB stars in making Vargas and Arcia; Sano's GCL slash line was .291/.338/.466, for comparison.  With these 5 players mentioned, the Twins might have locked the corner IF and OF and DH positions for a while.  But this while will not start as soon as for the others, for Minier and Diaz.  Definitely exciting to see how these young powerful guys develop for the Twins.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 Twins offseason top 40 prospects list: 11-15

Today is the sixth installment in the top 40 Twins' Off-season prospects countdown, and the descriptions of the player and rationalization of their rankings continue to a bit more detailed.  You can find all installments here in reverse chronological order.  Previous rankings: 36-40, 31-35 , 26-30 , 21-25 and 16-20.  You can find the 2014 off-season summary list here   In these listings in parenthesis, I am including their ranking in the last prospect list, which was the 2014 mid-season list, with "--" if not ranked.  You can find that list here.   This list has 3 prospects that were not featured in my top 40 lists before:

15. Max Kepler OF/1B (12) LHB,  DOB: 2/10/1993, 6'4", 205 lbs

Kepler does not need much introduction, since he has been a top prospect after  was singed by the Twins as an amateur free agent from Germany in 2009 for an $800,000 bonus, the highest ever for a European baseball player. What was different this season than the rest was the addition of 25 lbs to his 6'4" frame as a 21 year old.  He played the whole season at Fort Myers and played in 102 games (407 PAs) which were about twice as many as he previously did in a season.   Furthermore, he played in an additional 18 games (72 PAs) in the Arizona Fall League.  At Fort Myers he hit .264/.333/.393 and at AFL he improved to .307/.366/.440. 

Kepler has been touted as a five tool prospect since he signed with the Twins; however he has not quite reached his potential and there are some concerns in his game:   He tends to be neutralized by LHPs (.273/.301/.390 with 26:3 K:BB ratio in 80 PAs this season vs. .263/.344/.396 with 36:31 K:BB in 316 PAs against RHPs.)  With the major difference is the strikeouts (33.8% against LHPs vs 12.6% against RHPs) and his walks.  He has problems seeing the ball from LHPs and this might be a fatal flaw that could turn him into a platoon player.  Overall his power has decreased as he developed, despite the muscle gain, his IsoP going from .241 in 2012 in Elizabethton, .186 in 2013 in Cedar Rapids (and .078 in the AFL) to .129 last season in Fort Myers and .133 in the AFL.  Thirdly, he is a man with no position with a bat that does not play for a DH.  In 2014 he started most of his games at CF, 61, a position he clearly does not have the range to handle (based, in addition to seeing him take bad jumps or being tentative and waiting for the corners to catch the ball, on 125 POs in these 61 games, compared to the 80 POs in 28 games that Buxton had in the same league.)  He played 18 games at RF, 8 at LF and 12 at 1B, but the starters for the Miracle at those positions were Walker, Harrison and DJ Hicks.   There might be a numbers game going against Kepler in the organization, with at least 4 corner OF and/or 1B prospects ahead of him in this list, and this does not count players already in the majors.   Kepler will likely start in Chattanooga in 2015, and likely playing first base mostly, with the premise that the starting Chattanooga OF will be (L to R) Harrison, Buxton, Walker and DJ Hicks will be their full time DH.   Kepler does have the potential, but he has to realize it soon.  2015 will be a critical year for him and his development, otherwise he could be a trading chip for the Twins, since he is occupying a valuable 40-man roster spot.

14. Travis Harrison OF/3B (16) RHB, DOB: 10/17/1992, 6'1", 215 lbs.

Travis Harrison was the second Twins 1st round pick (after Michael) in the 2011 draft from Tustin High School (CA.)  Harrison is a lot like Max Kepler (and Adam Walker) in the respect that they have not yet realized their potential.  Harrison, Kepler and Walker have been ranked 13th, 16th and 17th in the 2014 off-season list, 16th, 12th and 13th in the 2014 mid-season list and now are ranked 14th, 15th and 21st.  For Harrison and Kepler (primarily, Walker is a year older,) it might just be age, because both of them have been one and a half year younger than league average.  They do have time and cannot be considered yet as busts.  This is what I wrote about Harrison in the 2014 off-season prospect list :

Power has been touted as Harrison's best tool, and there have been flashes of it, and his IsoPs have been around .160, which is okay for a 20 year old in pro ball, but has to increase as he grows.  Harrison has some trouble with breaking balls, especially of the in-the-dirt variety, and that is reflected by his consistent so far about a strikeout a game rate.  He has to improve his pitch recognition and contact to go to the next level.  Position-wise he has played almost exclusively at 3B (just a single game at LF finishing the game) but he will be squeezed from Sano ahead of him and potentially Minier behind him who are both better fielders.   Moving across the diamond or at an OF might be an option, but he needs some reps at those spots soon, and first base might be spoken for for a while.

Harrison took a step back in the power department in 2014 hitting .269/.361/.365 at Fort Myers compared to .253/.366/.416 at Cedar Rapids.  Like Kepler he is tentative at LF (but it is his first full year in the position,) but unlike Kelper (and thus the ranking a step ahead) he does not have a fatal flaw against same side pitching. His 2014 splits against RHPs were .272/.359/.376 with 62:46 BB:K in 392 PAs and against LHP .255/.362/.327 with 24:17 K:BB in 127 PAs.  Another thing that sets him slightly ahead of Kepler at this point is his durability, playing in 129 games in each of the past 2 seasons vs. Kepler's 102 in 2014 and 61 in 2013.  Still, like Kepler, he has a lot of development to do.  Will likely start 2015 as Chattanooga's starting leftfielder.  Third base is not an option anymore; he made 7 errors in the 15 games he played there in 2014.

13. Stephen Gonsalves LHP (20) LHSP, DOB: 7/8/1994, 6'5", 190 lbs.

Stephen Gonsalves was drafted by the Twins in the fourth round of the 2013 draft from the Cathedral Catholic High School (CA).  I think that I surprised everyone (including himself) by ranking him as the Twins' 10th best prospect and the best LHP in the 2014 off-season rankings  based on him dominating both Rookie Leagues at an age  2.5 years younger than their average, with a 32.1% K% in the GCL and 38.1% K% in Elizabethton.  However his ranking dropped to 20 overall in the 2014 mid-season list  based on what I saw from him during Spring Training, which was being very tentative and lacking command.  In 2014 he started 6 games in Elizabethton (29 IP, 26 K, 10 BB, 1.138 WHIP and 2.79 ERA) and was promoted to the Cedar Rapids rotation, where, at a full 3 years younger than the league, he started 8 games for 36.7 IP, struck out 44 and walked 11.  His WHIP was 1.145 (with a .326 BABIP,) ERA 3.19 and FIP 2.50.  His K% in the Midwest League was 29.8%. 

Gonsalves and Thorpe are very close in the race for the top Lefty prospect in the organization, but at this point the 19 year old Australian has a sight edge over the 20 year old Californian based on stuff and age.  Gonsalves came in the organization with a high 80s low 90s fastball with good action, a mid 70s change up, which was his best pitch, a slow curve and a slider, both of which were works in progress.  Now his fastball moved up a few ticks to low to mid 90s retaining the good downward movement, making it at least above average to plus, his changeup is fully plus and he dropped both breaking balls for a better slurvy sharp breaking curve, which still needs work.  Very tall and lanky, he is the post boy of "projectibility".  The command stil needs a bit of work, but he is young.  Will likely repeat Cedar Rapids to start 2015, but he might be pushed to Fort Myers depending on the recovery from TJ surgery of other pitchers who would also need a home.

12.  Nick Gordon SS (8) LHB, DOB: 10/24/1995, 6'0", 160 lbs.

The Twins drafted Nick Gordon in the first round of the 2014 draft (5th overall) from Olympia High School (FL).  Mainly because he is the son of Flash Gordon and the brother of Dee Gordon (of Dodgers' and Marlins' fame and a career .272/.314/.345 MLB slashline and 86 OPS+,) he was propelled very high in all Twins' prospect rankings after the draft, all the way up to the 6th spot in the 2014 Baseball America list.    I would have to see more that his .294/.333/.366 line in Elizabethton (which, btw, was worse than his brother of 86 career OPS+ first pro slash line of .331/.371/.430) to think of him as a top 10 prospect in this organization.  Also his 11:45 BB:K in 256 PAs is somewhat worrisome for a non-power hitter.  Why 12th instead of 20th then?  He does have a nice compact swing with doubles power and makes good contact.  He does have good speed, but nothing close to his brother and he does have good hands and good range as an infielder.  I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at this point and want to see more to determine whether he is more like Levi Michael or like Byron Buxton.  Also he was 2.2 years younger than the Appalachian League average.

If shortstop does not work for Nick, he has a low to mid 90s fastball and a curveball allegedly close to wickedness to his father's, so that might be an option for the Twins down the road, if the bat does not work out.  For 2015 I think that the Twins (unless they saw something to hold him for EST) will have him start as the starting SS in Cedar Rapids, where he will be around 3 years too young for the league.  Time will tell whether Gordon becomes and elite prospect, but right now, in my opinion, he is not.  

11. Lewis Thorpe LHP (15) LHSP, DOB: 11/23/1995, 6'1", 160 lbs.
Thorpe was signed on July of 2012 by the Twins to the largest bonus ever given for an Australian player, $500,000.  He played his first professional season in the GCL in 2013, pitching 44 innings, striking out 64 and walking just 6 for a 2.05 ERA (1.43 FIP) and 0.86 WHIP, despite a .319 BABIP  His 38% K% and 10.7 K/BB were just phenomenal and (with the addition of about 5 mph to his fastball) propelled him really high on Twins' prospect lists, including 7th in the Twins 2014 list by Baseball America .   Thorpe was ranked 18th best prospect a year ago in my list, then moved up 3 spots to number 15 mid-season and he is now up to 11.  This might seem contradictory to his performance in Cedar Rapids this summer (71.2 IP, 80 K, 36 BB, 1.367 WHIP, 3.52 ERA, 4.24 FIP) until someone realizes that he was a full 4 years younger than the league average. In addion, he went to Cedar Rapids from EST, to fill in for the starting pitcher injuries there and was rushed.  Furthermore, to UCL bug hit him as well and was diagnosed with a "strained UCL" that did not require surgery.  I discussed a bit in the Gonsalves entry why Thorpe is my top ranked lefty prospect in the organization.  I think that he young enough so, even if he requires surgery, it will not be a huge set back. 

Thorpe has four pitches:  A plus fastball with a lot of lateral movement that sits at 92-95 mph, a plus changeup and a curve and slider, which both are works in progress.  His elbow will dictate where Thorpe will start in 2015, but if all (including the temperature) checks out, he will likely return to Cedar Rapids' rotation.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 Twins offseason top 40 prospects list: 16-20

Today is the fifth installment in the top 40 Twins' Off-season prospects countdown, getting into the top 20 so the descriptions of the player and their rankings are a bit more detailes.  You can find all installments here in reverse chronological order.  Previous rankings: 36-40, 31-35 , 26-30 and 21-25.  You can find the 2014 off-season summary list here   In these listings in parenthesis, I am including their ranking in the last prospect list, which was the 2014 mid-season list, with "--" if not ranked.  You can find that list here.   This list has 3 prospects that were not featured in my top 40 lists before:

20. Engelb Vielma SS (21) SHB, DOB: 6/22/1994, 5'11", 155 lbs

Vielma was signed by the Twins as a 17 year old International Free Agent from Venezuela.  Before last season he played professional baseball for 2 seasons, starting in the DSL at 2012 and moving to the GCL and Elizabethton in 2013.  Once he moved to the States, he captured the eye of the scouts with his ability on the field, with some of them proclaiming him a top 10 Twins' prospect.  As usually, I do not buy into hype, unless I see someone play or results of play and his combined .234/.318/.253 in the Twins' Rookie League teams in 2013, left me enough lukewarm feeling about him to be included in my top 2014 off-season list.   I had the opportunity to have a good look at Vielma last Spring Training and wrote the following :

Engelb Vielma.  This is the single one most unknown superstar in the making in the Twins' organization.  He turned two unassisted double plays (one a line out/throw out the other a step on second throw at first) today and he made them seem so easy.  Like it is an everyday kind of thing.  Looks like his contact tool is getting better.  He has crazy nutty speed and as a cutoff guy, he almost threw a guy out at third on a easy triple. Very strong arm.  And he has room to grow.  I think that he will move into second in my SS rankings after 6th overall ranked Jorge Polanco.  

Indeed, he would have been second in my SS rankings in my 2014 mid-season list , had the Twins not drafted a SS on the first round of the 2014 draft.   Vielma moved to Cedar Rapids this season and hit .266/.313/.323 in 112 games, while continuing his solid SS play.  At first, that slash line seems a bit disappointing; however subtracting a record cold Midwest April when he hit .187/.247/.227, he hit .283/.326/.391 for the season, very respectable for a player who is a year and a half younger than the league.  Furthermore, this included his .231/.268/.282 July when he was shaking out a concussion.   

How good is Vielma with the glove?  I will let the numbers speak for themselves and the number I would like to use as a criterion of a good SS is the percentage of Put Outs that were double plays.  Omar Visquel, the perennial AL gold glove winner, had a 40% of his Put Outs being double plays, in average of his gold glove years 1994-2001.  Last season for Vielma 39.6% of Put Outs were Double Plays.  In other words, four out of ten outs were in double plays.  I know that defensive metrics like RZR, RangeF, UZR etc are not believable by some people, because it involves a lot of math, but % POs that were double plays, is a very tangible concept.  For comparison's purpose, here are these numbers for the 2014 Twins with more than 50 POs: Escobar 49/130, 37.7%  and Santana 15/53, 28.3% - (Santana's MiLB career numbers are 209/622, 33.6%). Vielma will likely begin 2015 in Fort Myers as a 22 year old.  If he continues to improve with the bat, he will fly through the Twins' system, but do not expect any power numbers, other than doubles and triples from him.

19. Jorge Fernandez C (--) SHB, DOB: 3/30/1994, 6'3", 188 lbs.

Fernandez was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 7th round of the 2012  Draft from International Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico.  In 2012 and 2013 seasons he played in the GCL, where he put lack luster numbers with the bat (.263/.288/.293 and .236/.276/.398 respectively) as a younger than the league player.  In 2014 he moved up to Elizabethton at a league average age and had a breakthrough season hitting .321/.361/.440 to produce the second highest OPS for a Catcher in the Twins' organization (Hint: read on to find out who had the highest).  Was that enought to propel him in the top 20 of the Twins' prospect rankings?  No. Fernandez is an interesting prospect.  He has very good approach and mechanics at the plate and as a switch hitter, he is lethal against RHP (.341/.367/.462 as a LHB vs .222/.333/.333 as a RHB.)

The Twins might see him as a 1B/OF because of his tall, slender build, but he has made improvements as a Catcher and I think that he can stick at the position.  Biggest problems right now with the glove are a. his ability to block passed balls, but this will come with time, and b. his ability to throw out runners, which I think it is more of a learning than arm strength issue and this is also something that he can develop into.   I foresee at least Pinto-like numbers with the bat from the Left side, as he fills in, with a better glove than Pinto, as his catching insticts develop, as long as the Twins allow him to be a Catcher.  That's the reason he is in my Twins' top 20 prospects list.

18. Chih-Wei Hu RHP (--) RHSP, DOB: 11/4/1993, 6'1", 209 lbs.

Chih-Wei Hu was singed from Taiwan by Twins for $220,000 in 2012.  Last season he played for the Gulf League Twins, sometimes starting, sometimes relieving, pitching 36.7 innings, striking out 39 and walking 8. (0.982 WHIP, 2.45 ERA, 1.99 FIP.)  As a young pitcher in Taiwan he had the opportunity to represent his country in International Tournaments and was more polished that hitters his age who were touching wooden bats for the firs time, so, even though impressive, his 2013 numbers had a huge grain of salt attached them.  However his season he started in Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids and both his numbers and stuff improved.  He always had 4 pitches:  Fastball (low 90s), Curve and 2 changes (one a slow palmball).

This season, his fastball improved both in velocity (up to mid 90s) and movement and has been commanding his off-speed stuff better.  In 71 IP between Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids, the 20 year old had 64 Ks and 15 BBs, for a 2.15 ERA, 0.873 WHIP and 2.33 FIP.  What you don't see in those numbers are a 62:36 (or 1.72) Ground Out to Fly Out ratio, which is a result of his ground ball inducing FB, hammer curve and palmball. One thing to consider is that his BABIP was .243, which was the result of all those ground balls.  He was 2 years young for the Midwest League, but his K% was not stellar (22.2%)  Add to the considerations the way he is built (think a young Carlos Silva,) and there are some considerations about his future.  A Carlos Silva is a good comparable for his potential (mid of rotation starter) and, like Carlos Silva, to reach it, Hu needs to have impeccable control and induce many ground balls.  So, even though, a lot of people will see his numbers and rank him even higher, I do have serious concerns. 

17. Mitch Garver C (17), RHB, DOB: 1/15/1991, 6'1", 220 lbs

Mitch was the Twins' 9th round pick in the 2013 draft from the University of New Mexica and was not much on the radar last off-season after a .243/.313/.366 performance in Elizabethton, while 1.5 years older than the league average.  Garver really impressed me last Spring Break with his bat, his athleticism and his ability to handle pitchers, thus he was my highest ranked catching prospect in the Twins' organization in my mid-season list as he is in this list.  Puting the highest OPS for a Catcher in the organization .289/.399/.481, does not hurt. He was also 1.5 years too old for the Midwest League, but displayed great selectivity (61:65 BB:K ratio, that translated to an OBP a hair below .400) which is not really related to level of play.  He has excellent power (hit 16 HR in 430 AB and .183 IsoP.)

Mitch looks like a catcher and has good insticts behind the plate.  He did spent time as a DH but the Twins rotate their catchers to DH in the low level leagues.  Mitch will start 2015 at Fort Myers and might finish in Chattanooga, depending on performance and health and how his bat responds to higher level of play, potentially reaching the majors for a cup of coffee in 2016 and maybe as the Twins starting catcher in 2017.  Further improving his ability to call a game, will be critical for his development.  His 17th overall ranking is quite conservative and a reflection of Garver being older for the league.  He has four tools (and average speed) so with a good showing in 2015, I expect him to break into the Twins' top ten prospect list.

16. Jake Reed RHP (--) RHRP, DOB: 9/29/1992, 6'2", 190 lbs.

Jake Reed was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2014 draft from the University of Oregon and has raised eyebrows from the first to his last pitch in his first season as a pro.  He started his career at Elizabethton (0.5 years older than the league) where he pitched 6 innings in 4 games, allowing a single hit, striking out 8 batters (0.00 ERA, 0.167 WHIP.)  He moved up to Cedar Rapids, where a year younger than league average, he pitched 25 innings, had 31 Ks and 3 BBs (0.36 ERA and 0.520 WHIP).  His pro season was not over, as he represented the Twins in the Arizona Fall League, pitching 12.7 innings, striking out 10 and walking 3 (0.71 ERA, 1.03 WHIP.)  Jake started his 2014 season as a junior in Oregon, pitching 31 innings, striking out 34 and walking 15 (1.95 ERA and 1.00 WHIP.)  His full 2014 season in all of his 4 stops, he pitched 80.7 innings in 61 games, accumulating 22 saves, striking out 83 and walking 22 (and most of those in College) while pitching at an ERA close to 1.00 and WHIP under 1.00.  His 0.452 WHIP and 0.29 ERA with Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids were the lowest for any pitcher in the Twins organization.

Reed has two pitches:  a plus plus fastball with a lot of movement that sits in the mid 90s and touches 97-98, and an above average slider in the low 80s.  The biggest change he made from Oregon to the pros was to change his high effort delivery to a simple delivery.  This increased his command and control (15 BB in 31 IP in College vs 7 BBs in 49.7 IP in the Pros.)  Also the changes in his mechanics added about 2-3 mph to his FB compared to College.  With additional work on the slider and the development of a third pitch (changeup?)  Reed will be well on his way to being a late innings reliever for the Twins.  Will likely start 2015 in Fort Myers with a promotion to Chattanooga mid season.  Both in these rankings and in the organization, there is only one reliever ranked higher than Reed.

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