Friday, March 4, 2011

The Meaning of the Minors, Part 2.

Here’s what you missed on Glee…er…in my last article.

This study here by Scott McKinney finds that only about 30% of Baseball America Top 100 Prospects go on to be successful major leaguers. The Royals have nine Top 100 Prospects this year, but given the odds, we can expect no more than three or four of them to be quality players in the majors. Ergo, the Royals’ youth movement is doomed to failure. Only I disagree.

Two years ago, on one of the earliest episodes of “Rany on the Radio”, before any of us knew where the farm system was headed, I asked my guest – the intrepid Kevin Goldstein – to name a sleeper in the Royals’ organization. He gave me the name of Salvador Perez, who was such a deep sleeper he was almost comatose – at the time Perez was struggling to hit .200 in the Midwest League. He was just 18 and had plenty of projection, but he had a long, long way to go. Perez struggled so badly that he was eventually sent back to the short-season leagues once their season got underway.

Last year, though, Perez was a quiet revelation. The Royals aggressively started him in Wilmington, jumping him past the same Midwest League where he had struggled so mightily the year before. Despite being the youngest player in the Carolina League to start the year – he didn’t turn 20 until May – Perez hit well over .300 in the early part of the season, before going into a tailspin mid-year when pitchers started taking advantage of his aggressiveness at the plate. But around mid-July Perez adjusted right back, hitting over .300 the rest of the way.

For the season, Perez hit .290/.322/.411, with 7 homers and 21 doubles in 365 at-bats. He was an aggressive hitter (just 18 walks), but also made excellent contact (just 38 strikeouts). Those are respectable numbers for any 20-year-old catcher, but coming in the hitters’ graveyard of Wilmington, they were especially impressive. This is the same ballpark where Mike Moustakas had hit just .250/.297/.421 the year before. This is the same ballpark where Carlos Beltran hit .229/.311/.363, just two years before Beltran was the American League Rookie of the Year.

Defensively, Perez earned nothing but praise, being named the best defensive catcher in the system. He threw out 42% of attempted basestealers, and showed good agility and plate-blocking skills behind the plate.

Last November 8th – the iPhone does a good job of record-keeping – I got a text message out of the blue from Joe Sheehan, who was watching games in the Arizona Fall League. “Salvador Perez just hit a freaking bomb.” He continued. “Extremely young and a big kid. I’m getting a Sandy Alomar feel, and I mean that in a good way.” Alomar was an overrated player throughout his career, as he rarely played at the level he established as the Rookie of the Year in 1990. (That year, Alomar hit .290/.326/.418, numbers eerily similar to Perez’s numbers last year.) But Alomar did play 20 seasons in the major leagues.

(As an aside, with regards to the comments I made about Wil Myers a few days ago, it’s worth pointing out that Alomar was 6’5”, and was so injury-prone – generally suffering from knee problems – that he played in 100 games in a season just four times in his career. Perez is tall, but fortunately not that tall, at 6’3”.)

This spring, as Bob Dutton wrote recently, Perez has been the talk of camp.

“He’s as good a thrower as I’ve ever seen — as I’ve ever seen! — behind the plate,” said manager Ned Yost, himself a former catcher. “I always thought that a 1.8 (second) throw to second base was a myth. I’d never seen one. This kid is constantly in the 1.8s.

“He blocks the ball very well and has great energy behind the plate. He has a lot of leadership qualities. There’s a lot going on with that kid, and it’s all positive.”

There’s even this line later in the article: And Perez is already turning heads while drawing comparisons to Sandy Alomar because of his size and skills.

The Royals moved Wil Myers to the outfield in order to preserve his bat, and in order to get him to the majors more quickly. But there’s no doubt that the decision was made easier by the fact that they already had a prospect in the organization who projects as an above-average catcher. Perez will probably be a solid-average hitter for a catcher, with plus defense. Given his superior defense and high-contact batting skills, I’ve also used Yadier Molina as a potential comp.

Perez should head to Double-A this spring. Most Royals hitters put up raw numbers in Northwest Arkansas that are at least as good as their numbers in Wilmington, and I expect Perez to flirt with .300 once again, with perhaps a little more power. He’s on course to be the Royals’ starting catcher by mid-2012, shortly after his 22nd birthday.

Now here’s the punchline: according to Baseball America, Salvador Perez is the SEVENTEENTH-BEST prospect in the system. According to Kevin Goldstein and Baseball Prospectus, Perez is the TWENTIETH-BEST prospect in the system.

Even better: both of those rankings were issued before the Zack Greinke trade. Once you make room for Jeffress and Odorizzi, Perez moves down two more slots. A player that is widely viewed as a future everyday catcher in the major leagues may or may not be one of the 20 best prospects in the Royals’ organization.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I believe in this farm system. As impressive as the high-end talent in the farm system is, I’m almost more impressed by the quantity of prospects that Dayton Moore has collected than the quality.

That is why I believe that, even with the devastating attrition that waylays travelers on the road from prospectdom to major league stardom, the Royals have enough talent in their system to become a contender.

True, the majority of Top 100 Prospects don’t become successes in the major leagues. But you know what? A sizeable minority of successes in the major leagues weren’t Top 100 Prospects. Not every major-league star was as highly-touted coming through the minor leagues as Chipper Jones or Alex Rodriguez. Brandon Webb was never a Top 100 Prospect, not even prior to the 2003 season, when he was called up in April and wound up throwing 181 innings for the Diamondbacks with a 2.84 ERA. John Lackey was never a Top 100 Prospect, not even prior to the 2002 season, which ended with him being the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series. Johan Santana was never a Top 100 Prospect. Mark Buehrle was never a Top 100 Prospect, nor was Danny Haren. Jim Edmonds never made BA’s Top 100 list, nor did Brian Giles, nor did Jorge Posada. Mariano Rivera, of course, was never a Top 100 Prospect.

Hell, just look at the best players the Royals have developed in recent times. Johnny Damon and Beltran and Zack Greinke were top prospects, sure. But Mike Sweeney was never a BA Top 100 Prospect, not even after he conquered that Wilmington ballpark to the tune of .310/.424/.548 in 1994. Neither was David DeJesus, although I will immodestly point out that in BP 2004, I rated DeJesus the #26 prospect in baseball prior to his rookie season. Joe Randa was never a Top 100 Prospect, nor was Joakim Soria, nor was Jose Rosado.

The Royals don’t simply have more Top 100 Prospects than any team in the history of Top 100 Prospects lists. They also have one of the strongest collections of talents in the next Top 100 Prospects, the guys that you might rank from #101 to #200 in baseball. Don’t take my word for it. I asked Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, Jim Callis of Baseball America, and Keith Law of that question: “Off the top of your head, how many Royals do you think would rank between #101 and #200 in all of baseball?” Their answers:

Goldstein: “Somewhere between 3 and 5 guys, I think?” Goldstein, however, has TEN Royals (the same nine guys from BA’s list as well as Jeremy Jeffress) in his Top 101.

Law: “I'm thinking at least 7, probably more like 8-10. Dwyer, Odorizzi, Ventura, Colon, Yambati, Jeffress, Adam for certain. Probably Collins because at some point I'll start ranking relievers, plus Eibner and Crow. That's 10.” Keep in mind that Law had only six Royals in his Top 100, although he had Dwyer and Odorizzi among his 10 prospects who “just missed”.

Callis: “Guys who I ranked 101-150: Crow, Eibner, Jeffress. Guys who other BA editors ranked 101-150: Adam, Ventura, Collins. If you take it down to 200, you could make a case for Melville, Cuthbert, Yambati, Perez--everyone's lists are all over the place at that point.

I think it's safe to say you could put as many as 17 Royals on the Top 200 (or eight from 101-200).”

There seems to be a consensus that the Royals have somewhere between 14 and 17 players that would rank on a Top 200 list. Let’s split the difference and call it 16 – which means that if the Royals have 9 prospects among the Top 100, they have 7 more among the Next 100. I imagine that number also ranks among the highest in baseball.

To put it another way, a month or two ago I asked Jim Callis where the Royals’ farm system would rank if you simply ignored their entire Top 10 list – if the Royals just released their ten best prospects. His answer: “middle of the pack, probably.” The Royals have basically an entire organization’s worth of talent behind their 10 best prospects.

Here’s a list of Baseball America’s 10 best Royals prospects who are not in their Top 100:

1. Aaron Crow
2. Jeremy Jeffress (I’m guessing this is where he’d be ranked)
3. Brett Eibner
4. Jason Adam
5. Yordano Ventura
6. Tim Collins
7. Tim Melville
8. Cheslor Cuthbert
9. Robinson Yambati
10. Salvador Perez

Jeffress and Collins will probably never make the Top 100 list, both because they’re relievers and because they’ll likely exhaust their rookie eligibility this season. Crow might also not qualify for the Top Prospect list next year, although it’s worth remembering that he already made the list at #40 last year. But the other seven guys on this list all have an excellent chance to make the Top 100 in the future. Just two of those seven (Perez and Tim Melville) have so much as played a game in a full-season league yet.

Between these 10 players, and the #5 overall pick the Royals have in the upcoming draft, the Royals could easily place another four or five prospects in next year’s Top 100 – along with the guys on this year’s Top 100 list who don’t lose their rookie eligibility. It’s not out of bounds to suggest the Royals might break their own record for most Top 100 Prospects on next year’s list.

And then there are the players who are already on the Royals roster. Alex Gordon was the #2 prospect in the game four years ago, and if he serves to remind people of the risk of even the best of prospects, he also shouldn’t be dismissed as a guaranteed bust just yet. I’d say the odds that Gordon still establishes himself as a “success” are at least as high as your typical Top 100 Prospect. Billy Butler was a Top 100 Prospect three times, topping out at #25 in 2007. Luke Hochevar was a Top 100 Prospect twice. And last year, along with Crow at #40, Noel Arguelles checked in at #100.

Those five Royals represent McKinney’s study writ small: only Butler is a clear success at this point, although the other four still have the potential to be impact players. But add those five to the nine current Top 100 Prospects, add on another four or five on next year’s list, and now you’re talking about 18 or 19 players of a “Top 100” caliber. Even if the Royals hit on just a third of them, that’s six quality players. (And keep in mind that Gordon won’t be a free agent until after 2013, Soria until after 2014, and Butler until after 2015.)

Then factor in the guys who never see a Top 100 list. There’s Soria, of course, and also Kila Ka’aihue, who will get the opportunity to prove himself this year. Mike Aviles never sniffed a Top 100 list, but is a versatile and useful player. And the Royals are stacked with relievers – I mentioned Jeffress and Collins above, but there’s also Louis Coleman and Patrick Keating and a half-dozen other guys who could be quality relievers without ever being considered for a Top 100 Prospect list. Hell, Baseball America has David Lough as the #25 prospect in the system, and I still think he has a chance to be the second coming of David DeJesus.

That is a simply enormous amount of talent. It’s rare to find a team with so much minor league talent that even if just one-third of it pans out, the remaining talent is still sizeable enough to form the backbone of a contending team. But this is one of those rare instances.

I am not claiming that the Royals have enough talent in their system to win in 2013 and beyond. No doubt, Dayton Moore will have to go outside the system to fill in holes, and he will have to do so far more judiciously than he has done so in the past. But there’s a perception out there that Moore will have to bring in a massive amount of talent to complement his own, because the Royals’ prospect pipeline will turn out to be just a garden hose. I don’t think that’s the case. Moore has to steer clear of the pitfalls he has plunged into in the past, but he doesn’t have to be the second coming of Cedric Tallis.

Keep in mind that with the Royals’ payroll likely to be the lowest in the majors this year, and with only Butler and Soria under contract after 2011, the Royals have the two most desirable commodities any team can have on the trade market: prospects, and the ability to take on salary. The Royals are perfectly positioned to trade some of their excess prospects for an established major leaguer who is expensive and perhaps even overpaid, but who is a championship-caliber player at a position the Royals need to fill.

If, come the summer of 2012, the Royals are short a corner outfielder, could they trade Chris Dwyer, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Johnny Giavotella for Nick Markakis? If they need a catcher, could they trade Robinson Yambati and Derrick Robinson for Miguel Montero? If they’re desperate for another starting pitcher, could they trade Tim Melville, Humberto Arteaga, and David Lough for Wandy Rodriguez?

Maybe. Don’t focus on the specific trade proposals here; that’s not the point. The point is that in a market where teams have become almost overly reluctant to surrender prospects for ready-now major-league talent, the Royals have an excess of prospects that they can shop around in what is a seller’s market. If Joe Saunders, a borderline Top 100 prospect (Tyler Skaggs), and two non-descript arms can fetch Dan Haren…the Royals may be able to acquire impact players without ever resorting to free agency, and without surrendering any impact prospects in return.

With all that said, it would be easier to make the case that an exceptional farm system can build a contending team all by itself if we could point to some team out there that has done so in the past. Well, there is one, and in my next article we’ll look at that team in more detail. You might be surprised by who it was. I know I was.


Scott said...

Hey, I drink the Kool-Ade too, but at what point do we have to worry about a regression of the minor league system?

The minor league system took a huge jump, ranking-wise, between 2010 and 2011. What's to say it doesn't take a step back?

What's the old saying? That in good times, your team is never as good as it looks, and in bad times your team is never as bad as it looks?

Unknown said...

This is what I have been thinking about as well. It is really exciting to have such a strong group of kids to follow, but really, there is no where to go but down from "the best farm system in baseball."

Maybe the key is to make sure the fall isn't too far down. If you can consistently stay in the top 5 or 7 or 10 the Royals can't help but improve.

Scott said...

Looks like Will M. beat me to the punch by 13 hours:

Paul Thompson said...

Is Rany talking about the Minnesota Twins? San Francisco Giants?

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the how the Astros in the 90s were built -- lots of prospects and then even more prospects that they went and traded when they needed to. They never won the Series, but they dominated the NL Central throughout the 90s.

Unknown said...

gotta be the giants...and i'm not a fan of the pessimistic view many people take with the minor leagues, but i think Scott has gotten a bit too much unwarranted criticism for his bit he did on failure rates of prospects. From my take on reading it, i got more of a "let's be realistic here" than a doom and gloom viewpoint.

Rich said...

How bout the 2008 Phillies? Almost every vital part of that team was their own prospect, traded for with prospects, or was a Rule V pickup (Victorino). As best as I can tell, Werth was the only FA who contributed big to that team, and he was not a big time free agent when he signed.

Timothy said...

You know...I almost hate to say this, but your last paragraph really made me think...
Has Dayton Moore out Moneyballed EVERYONE?
Think about it...the point of money ball is simply to find market inefficiencies, stock up on them, and use them to get the team to a winning position.

The Royals have done just that. In a method reminiscent of lottery tickets, GMDM has loaded the system with prospects, a risky proposition considering their volatility, and its payed out. The Royals have the best system.

But we only need a couple of those tickets to really pay out. Its more than possible to make a great team with 2-3 stars and a lot of average players.

Even better, and most importantly to the moneyball ideal, is that those lottery tickets are right now, more prized than just about anything in baseball. As you said an above average MLB player and 3 likely worthless lottery tickets can get you one of the better pitchers in the league.
Thats the power of these tickets, they can turn above average players into stars, without costing a dime.

Its almost brilliant, and if DM can show an aptitude for turning guys that are 3-4 years away into MLB ready players, then this team is in great shape.

Jack Campbell said...

Because you mentioned the answer was surprising and off the top of my head: The 1996 Yankees?

Unknown said...

I'm thinking it has to be the Braves of 1995. They had a couple starters they got via free agency, but six of their starting eight were home grown. Three of their five starters were drafted. One was acquired in a trade before he became a major leaguer. Most of their bullpen was home grown, too.

I'm probably wrong though.

Jeff said...

My guess it was the Royals

Nick said...

The 1996 Yankees without a doubt

Anonymous said...

Whats with all this Scott Mckinny nonsense? What are we supposed to do not draft good prospects because theyll never pan out anyway, jeesh talk about laying over. All these skeptic in the face of such joy, weve got the best farm system ever and people are bringing up Scott Mckinny. who cares. and Keith Law? 6 prospects? you can take Billy Butler's bat and and stick it up your...
oh and when did Tim Melville drop so far. that kid has size. i remember last year it was him and montgomery the class of the pitching prospects

Jhawk said...

As a Royals fan I can't decide whether to be mad at Soren Petro for dashing my hopes when he talked about the article discussing the depressing number of Top 100 misses, or to be mad at you Rany for picking my hopes back up. Really enjoy your work, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Rany. The depth truly is amazing. Especially the pitching. The depth is not quite as strong in the outfield and at catcher, but like you say, that can be made up with the arms.

Jack beat me to it but I would say the Yankees also. I grew up in KC in the late 70's so I hate the Yankees to my core. And it takes a lot for me to say this, but that '96 Yankee team was fun to watch. They really had a blue collar mentality about them, and they played as a team with no individuals.

I think McKinney should be praised for his work. It isn't perfect. The numbers probably need to be tweaked. Any time you have a new idea you always do. But I think he is on to something, and he should be congratulated for taking a new look at an issue.

One of the ways the Royals may beat the curve on the Prospects List is because they are selecting high character guys. It is easy to say that, and easy to pretend that is what you are doing, but it really looks like they are being successful in that. At least from what I have seen from this first wave of guys.

One question, Rany. May be a bit early to think about this, but should the Royals go after Beltran this off season?

Benjamin said...

Not sure you strong of a case you can make for the 96 Yankees. Their starting lineup included Joe Girardi, Paul O'Neill, Wade Boggs, John Wetteland, Tino Martinez, and Darryl Strawberry. Their pitching staff had John Wetteland, David Cone, Doc Gooden and Bob Wickman. All of those guys were acquired through trade. If we're looking for a team whose farm system built a contender "all by itself," we have to look elsewhere.

Benjamin said...

Sorry, I realize that I had Wetteland in there twice. Poor editing on my part.

Kyle said...

Great stuff Rany!! I have been talking about the depth for awhile. The prospects outside the top 100 are still pretty impressive.

There are a few off the radar bats in the outfield in Van Straten, Francis, Orlando, Testa, and Richardson. Then the highlights might be D.Robinson, Eibner, Myers, and Lough. But they are either light hitting speed demons or high strikeout low OBP guys. It will be interesting to see how things play out this year.

Antonio. said...

If they acquired the vets by trading from the farm, it's still building through the system.

meb6216 said...

Actually I think Rany is talking about the New York Yankees. The championships the Yanks won beginning in the mid 90s were due to a superior farm system, simply overspending in free agency hadn't worked to that point.

meb6216 said...

I see now that I'm not the only one who thought Yankees.

Kenneth said...

Boston. (Youkilis, Lester, Paplebon, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Varitek) I know I missing even more

But even more glaring would be either Florida Marlin team. They had home grown talent they filled in around in free agency. Let's not forget this franchise no one will come watch. They have more world series since 1999 (2) then the Royals have winning seasons (1)

can't be Atlanta or Minnesota or Oakland or Tampa because we think of those places as having good farm systems so that would not be a suprise.

Brett said...

My apologies for the potential ignorance, but why don't I ever hear anything about Dyson, Robinson, and Robinson. I know they aren't prospects by definition, but is is unlikely that they will contribute to the overall picture before it's said and done?
For crying out loud, Clint Robinson was the Texas League Triple Crown winner last year. And I think he's looking pretty good this spring. Does he not project to help out at the major league level at some point?

PathetiKCfanCB said...

I also want to cement some other nicknames. Moustakas I think has been declared Moose or Mous. I think this is quite fitting because he is kind of a lovable lug with lots of power. But how should it be spelled? I prefer to spell it Moose even though Mous is more accurate. But Mous just seems to fancy to me. And Hosmer has been named Hoz, but I am not sure I like it. One reason is I hate it when things connected to KC get the Wizard of Oz relationship. First of all it is a lane connection and also the royals play in Missouri not Kansas. So it's not even accurate. I think I prefer it being Hos because he is a big ole strapping Hos of a man or is it spelled Haus? Plus Hos and Moose kind of fit together and is intimidating for the middle of a lineup. Ballstar was thinking wizard of Hoz which kind of fits like his bat is a magic wand be waives around. But again I prefer Hos. From @PathetiKCfancB on twitter. Feel free to answer on twitter too!

Michael said...

He's a DH/1st base type, who makes Billy Butler look good in the field. If he does help out at the ML level, it's because of a lot of injuries. D-Rob has a lot to work on hitting wise, but he's got the speed and tools to be a pretty good defender.

Antonio. said...

When discussing Clint Robinson's prospect status and future within the organization, you have to keep in mind that he's a very old prospect. He's done very well and I wish the Royals would have pushed him harder. He wasn't a high school draftee. Why start him in Rookie ball and why make him do full season stints in a level per year pace? Why not bump him to Omaha when Kila advanced to the bigs? He's hit at every level he's been at. Derrick Robinson, on the other hand, is the EXACT opposite of C. Robinson. He's a good defender. He's crazy fast. He can't hit all that well, though he did have a bit of a break-out season (for him) last year...but in a hitter's park in a hitter's league. No power, of course. Not a lot of patience, so he's not helping his cause out that way either. And overall, his stealing rates are BARELY acceptable and was actually slightly down this year. He just doesn't have a lot of baseball sense, I'd say. He's trying to get by too much on his blinding speed instead of using his brain. Cain is definitely ahead of him in the pecking order and it's been said that Dyson has passed him too, but it's all Cain as Dyson and Derrick Robinson cannot hit.

Michael said...

I absolutely, 100% agree with everything there Antonio. I think that, just like Kila had too, C-Rob is going to have to REALLY force the Royals hand before he gets any serious taste of the big leagues.

Rich said...

The 1996 Yankees were predominantly homegrown or acquired in trades for homegrown talent, but still had a significant number of Free Agent key parts. O'Neill, Boggs, and almost the entire rotation--Cone (acquired in trade in '95, but resigned as a free agent for '96), Gooden, Jimmy Key, and Kenny Rogers were all free agents. Plus, Cecil Fielder was acquired in a trade for Ruben Sierra (and a prospect), who in turn was acquired in a trade of Danny Tartabull, who was certainly not a homegrown talent. Thus, the '96 Yankees are not quite a model of a team built entirely with a farm system.

What they are, however, is a perfect example of a team built utilizing all of its assets--successful homegrown talent, trades and free agency to fill in the gaps--and may more realistically be what the Royals will have to accomplish to have long term success.

Kyle said...

Michael and Antonio make some pretty good points. I have a feeling that D.Rob will surprise some people this year. I'm not sure what they will do with the plethora of speedy low OBP CF. D.Rob, Orlando, Cain, Dyson, Richardson, etc.

D.Rob and Orlando may be late bloomers as they were not baseball only players growing up (D.Rob had a Football scholarship to Florida and Orlando is the only baseball player to ever come out of Brazil). At least this what I am hoping.

As for C.Robinson, he is just a little lower on the pecking order. I have heard that he will play some LF/RF in AAA this year when he is not DH. But I am not sure he is fast enough or has the athletism to be an avg outfielder. Hosmer may be a better option in LF. But right now if Kila never hits MLB pitching, C.Robinson could get a look this year. Then Hosmer will take over full time next year.

Antonio. said...

Cone wouldn't count as a free agent because they parted with youth and re-signed "one of their own". Would you consider Alex Rodriguez differently? You might, but they still gave up youth to get him. How about Derek Jeter? They re-signed him, but he still came from them developing resources. Same with Coney. They developed a resource well enough to trade for a top pitcher and then re-signed him when his contract was up. And O'Neill came from the Roberto Kelly trade...another Yankee farmhand.

Antonio. said...

I'm a guy that doesn't give defense a lot of weight on the pitching/defense discussion, but I've seen Robinson during a series in Springfield and you don't want him in the corner outfield. He's pretty athletic for a big guy, but he's still a big guy and it would get pretty ugly out there. I was very impressed with him (and Hosmer, but that's obvious) at the plate.