Hug them, but not too closely


Once upon a time, prospect-watching was a hobby reserved for those who scouting the minors and those who were adamant about their Baseball America subscription. The magazine though was a poor substitute for being there. It would arrive at home with stats a few weeks old, and charting the progress of prospects was nigh impossible for the casual fan.

For better or worse, the advent of the Internet has led to an increased attention on the young kids. Everywhere from blogs that focus exclusively on the minors to a revamped Baseball America website to an MiLB.com that nears MLB.com in its ability to deliver stats and video, prospects are everywhere. We, for example, have been able to track the progress of Jesus Montero since he was a wee lad making his states-side debut in July of 2007. As Mike duly noted in DotF that night, Montero homered in his first GCL AB.

As information has become more readily available, fans who seek it out glom onto prospects. We pick our favorites — mine right now is Tommy Kahnle — and hope they stick with the organization long enough to develop into something good. We’ve definitely been guilty of feeding the frenzy, but even still, it’s fun to look back upon days of yore. In Mike’s very first RAB DotF, Austin Jackson, Eduardo Nuñez and David Robertson were in Charleston, Francisco Cervelli was enjoying Tampa and Ramiro Peña and Brett Gardner were AA teammates. Tyler Clippard started for Scranton. Sometimes the kids are alright.

Yesterday afternoon, Mike linked to a sobering bit on prospects though, and it’s worth it to spend some time with the piece. Scott McKinney of Royals Review studied the Baseball America top 100 prospects and determined that 70 percent of those listed fail to maintain a 1.5 per-season average WAR over the course of their careers. While top prospects who are also position players– such as Jesus Montero, as Mike wrote yesterday — have a much higher success rate, only 40 percent of pitchers in the top 20 and 20 percent of pitchers in the remaining 80 find Major League success. The Yankees saw 26.5 percent of their prospects from 1990-2003 maintain that WAR production in the majors.

McKinney, in his piece, is quick to point out that the study does not have predictive effects. He summarizes:

I do want to make clear that the above numbers are aggregates and therefore they cannot be used to predict the success of individual prospects. For instance if a first base prospect is currently ranked #15, that doesn’t mean that he has a 59.3% of succeeding in the majors. It just means that similarly ranked players have had that kind of success rate in aggregate. Players in that group have ranged from absolute failure to legitimate star status. But I do think the empirical evidence provides a basis for realistic expectations for various types of prospects. No team is going to have all or even most of their top 10 prospects succeed in the majors. Usually, they’d be fortunate to have a third of them succeed. For an historically good minor league system, you’ve got a realistic chance at half of them succeeding in the majors.

No one wants to hear that their favorite prospect has an uphill battle to reach stardom. Lately, too, the Yanks have a had a good go of it prospect-wise with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, among others from the BA lists, enjoying success, as defined by McKinney. But this study helps contextualize trade rumors and crazy trade proposals.

As the General Manager, Brian Cashman has to know the relative worth of his prospects. I’m sure his Minor League guys and baseball ops guys have conducted studies similar to McKinney’s, and I’m sure they know success rates of prospects. When the right move comes around, then, the Yanks will be in a position to pull the trigger. We want Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman and Manny Banuelos to become the second coming of Joba, Hughes and Ian Kennedy, but that’s not a likely outcome. Oftentimes, a trade can net a player who will be more productive in the majors than the prospect he is replacing.

Knowing when to give up potential because it’s too remote or not refined enough is something often lost upon the legions of prospect huggers. As the Yanks face a clear shortage of pitchers, we might just see that skill tested soon.

Categories : Minors
  • Squishy Jello using Not Moldy Jello’s Computer

    Very well written, Ben.

    • RL

      With all the “hype” (obviously some deserved) these players get from fans of the organization, it’s easy to fall in love with them. This can create screams from some when proprosed trades are mentioned. “We’ve got to develop from within!”.

      However, articles like this help put things into perspective. While some top prospects will make it, getting a proven commodity seems to be the better path, provided the depth in the Minors exists. Choosing which prospects to part with and which to hold onto is an extremely difficult task. Love this article (and yesterday’s as well)!

  • mbonzo

    This is exactly what I was thinking when I read that article. Banuelos for Liriano doesn’t sound as bad when you see the stats.

    • ZZ

      I wouldn’t use this study to draw indiscriminate conclusions about all pitchers in the Yankee system. It is an interesting article for sure, but there are too many individual factors with players to suddenly shift course and basically say Manny is dispensable because this % of prospects in his range in the past did not succeed. As has been said many times about Banuelos, his ceiling may not be as high as Brackman or Betances, but he is a much safer bet than those two.

      The key to making any trade with prospects is the ability to self scout. Looking at Banuelos he would seem to be a safer pitching prospect than general at this point to have at least some level of success in the big leagues. If not for his innings issue, he could probably pitch in the major leagues right now. A LHP with solid mechanics, command, and a plus changeup is a good bet.

      Then there is the issue of recent comparable trades like Greinke and Marcum and it looks like including Banuelos would not be the best use of resources.

      Finally, in the other extreme I believe this article reinforces the value of “safe” prospects. Guys who’s prospect ranking is not as much about upside. Guys who you don’t constantly hear about projectability, or adding this, or fixing that is the key, etc. I personally think Banuelos is a “safe” prospect and based on the general bust rate this article shows, I believe he is even MORE valuable today.

      • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

        As I said, don’t hug them too tightly. :)

      • Mike M

        Eh…Kennedy seemed like the “safest” of the big three and look like that turned out. It’s a crapshoot no matter how you slice it. Still…its a fun ride while it lasts.

        • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

          Safest to what? Be a viable big league starter? Because Kennedy is.

        • mbonzo

          Hughes was always the gem.

  • ZZ

    I think the major problem and the reason Baseball America faces a 70% fail rate on their top 100 is how much focus these top prospects lists have on upside and how many of the players in these lists are just years and several levels away from the majors. Going as far as to including players who have not played a single professional game and players who are not even in this country yet.

    There is just too much that can happen between A ball for example and the major leagues. I would be interested in seeing a study based on top prospects but limited to AAA or maybe including AA as well. I believe teams often evaluate prospects very, very differently than BA or any of these other sites. BA had Arodys Vizcaino ranked as the Yankees top pitching prospect last year. There is no way the Yankees had him as their top pitching prospect.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Going as far as to including players who have not played a single professional game and players who are not even in this country yet.

      Except for a few big-name imports, the BA Top 100 list doesn’t have young kids who have never made their ways to the states. It’s a bit more discerning than you give it credit for.

      • mbonzo

        Beyond BA, all the other prospect listers that have placed Harper ahead of guys like Brown and Trout should be ashamed of themselves. The guy has a place on the list, but there are no real numbers for him against minor league pitchers (outside of the AZFL) and most of these writers have never seen him hit live. Sure there are infamous youtube videos of him hitting 500 foot homeruns with metal bats, but thats not the point of predicting prospects. A lot of these lists focus on upside, which is 99% of what Harper is at this point where he hasn’t played in the minors, but there needs to be more focus on what they have already accomplished. I would rather have a .289/.353/.517 20 year old in AAA than a .341/.428/.918 18 year old in single A. I’m not saying Montero is a better prospect, but it seems like Trout is getting more credit for raking in single A than people raking in AAA. Obviously he has athletic backing to justify a top prospect, but Brown OPSd .980 in AA/AAA this year and all I hear about is how great Trout’s bat will be. I’ll take the major league ready Brown; don’t count your eggs before they hatch,

        • A.D.

          Well prospect lists and Top 100s aren’t to predict who is most likely make it to the majors/be a solid MLB contributor, but who could be the biggest stars of tomorrow

          So they shouldn’t be ashamed of themselves, realistically if they both hit their potential peaks one would probably want Harper because he’ll flash a lot more power than Trout

      • ZZ

        You’re right. The two most recent guys I had in mind when I wrote that were Iglesias and Hecheverria and for some reason I thought BA had them in the top 100.

  • camilo

    How I see it is, we have waited this long for Betances and Brackman; what more is one year? Their value could only increase barring injury; they had both matured as pitcher last year, respectively.

    slightly OT; could we take it as a leak that cashman said something to the extent of “it is tough to ease a catcher into the major Leagues” Re: the signing of Martin as it pertains to Montero?

    • A.D.

      Their value could only increase barring injury

      1. That’s a big if
      2. Not entirely true, they could take a step backward and not perform anywhere near the level they did last year

      • camilo

        I suppose AAA could present problems that their repertoire can’t get them out, but I’m telling you, having been to Trenton for 3 starts brack and 4 Dellin. My grandparents had a place in Tampa, too where i caught a couple of Brackman’s as well.

        Their Deliveries are so much better and repeatable than I previously read (“read” :for the most part; Brackman was in the process of refining in Tampa)

        What did you see in their starts, brah?

        • Mister Delaware

          Its pretty tough to argue that a well paid, 40 man roster spot occupying 25 year old minor league pitcher’s value can only increase. I love the upside, but there is plenty of downside and its not all tied up in another injury.

  • http://www.yfsf.org AndrewYF

    I’m not too worried about the Yankees’ willingness to deal the prospects necessary to upgrade the team. I mean, in recent years we’ve seen dealt: Tabata, Jackson, Kennedy, all top Yankee prospects. We’ve even seen Montero offered up plenty of times. Cashman is anything but a ‘prospect hugger’.

    • The Real JobaWockeeZ

      Agreed. If this team is like 6 games out by May expect someone t be gone.

  • Ultimate Yankee Warrior (James)

    “We want Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman and Manny Banuelos to become the second coming of Joba, Hughes and Ian Kennedy, but that’s not a likely outcome.”

    Speak for yourself. While the Yankee record of developing pitching is telling, I don’t want the new guys to turn into a middling relief pitcher or even a homer-prone league average starter.

    Better to get a Halladay or a Haren or a Oswalt then sit tight and watch the Yankees mess up another pitching prospect.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      “Speak for yourself. While the Yankee record of developing pitching is telling, I don’t want the new guys to turn into a middling relief pitcher or even a homer-prone league average starter.

      Better to get a Halladay or a Haren or a Oswalt then sit tight and watch the Yankees mess up another pitching prospect.”

      This is the smartest man alive. Let’s not make the new big 3 into the old big 3

      • AndrewYF

        You’re right, I would much rather have Johan Santana than Phil Hughes and Curtis Granderson.

        • Mister Delaware

          And you can further speculate that we wouldn’t have given Sabathia 1/8 of a billion if we’d just traded for Santana and given him that amount of money. Imagine our collective pitching rotation freakout if that were the case.

          • camilo Gerardo

            ay dios mio

      • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

        This is the very definition of prospect-hugging. First, you’re completely undervaluing Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain. The Yanks took three pitching prospects and turned them into viable Major Leaguers. Whether you personally like Joba or not, he’s a successful, above-average pitcher. Second, the Yanks turned Kennedy into part of the Granderson trade, and I’d rather have CC over Santana. There’s value in all of that.

        Unless I’m missing your point, and you’re saying the Yanks should be even more willing to trade prospects…

        • The Big City of Dreams

          I’m all for prospects getting a chance. I’m not an All-Star at every position Yankee fan but I’m not sold on the Yankees having what it takes to develop these pitchers properly.

        • AndrewYF

          I think that is what he’s saying. He’s saying the Yankees should trade them now before they lose all value.

    • Total Dominication

      Ummm, Hughes his far above league average. We got a trade chip for an all-star, a capable late innings reliever, and a good number two, who still has ace potential.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        A capable late innings reliever? Where is he exactly?

        • Mister Delaware

          He’s the guy you probably think Robertson is.

      • AndrewYF

        Exactly. Everyone should be pretty happy if, say, Banuelos ends up a starter, Brackman ends up in the bullpen, and Betances is traded for a good player at an up-the-middle position.

        Although it should be noted that Hughes and Joba, at their prospect peaks, were much better prospects than any of the B’s.

        • The Big City of Dreams

          I’m all for prospects getting a chance. I’m not an All-Star at every position Yankee fan but I’m not sold on the Yankees having what it takes to develop these pitchers properly.

        • Mister Delaware

          “Although it should be noted that Hughes and Joba, at their prospect peaks, were much better prospects than any of the B’s.”

          I feel like this is always going to be a bit overstated. Hughes was a massive prospect who rose in a typical, no-noise fashion. Joba was #3 in 2008 because of a perfect storm of unlikely events. He stayed under the service time rules because they’re weird (he was an active contributor for > 45 days, just not enough of those before Sept. 1st), he was dominant in a small sample and that dominance was extrapolated into the rotation. If you look at players 4-10 on the list (Laptop, Rasmus, Maybin, Kershaw, Morales, Bailey, Price), all of them had more traditional rises to the top. Even Aroldis would be a weird analogy because he came to the US with massive expectations, Joba was a supplemental 1st pick who ranked 75th on the 2007 list.

    • Mister Delaware

      “… or even a homer-prone league average starter.”

      Haren gave up 31 HRs with an ERA only ~ a quarter of a run better than Hughes while pitching in the AL/NL West. For $10MM more.

  • CS Yankee

    No doubt that it is a crap shoot when it comes to prospects.

    Pitching seems to be the hardest to develop and rely on which might just seem that way since roughly half the roster is devoted to arms.

    These killer-B’s aren’t as highly regarded as the last trio, but that should tell us that (if at all possible) you shouldn’t trade either of the three. One of those guys could/should pan out into a legit starter…we don’t know for sure who that pitcher is, so I would rather trade a higher ranked position player and extreme cash for the legit #3 or #4 guy that we need. Let’s not make the situation worse down the line in moving any viable starter prospects.

    I would rather lose the next Posada then the next Pettitte.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      I would rather lose the next Posada then the next Pettitte.

      No way. I know Jorge doesn’t get a lot of love from Yankee fans these days, but finding the next Posada – a good hitter who can also catch – is a tall order. I’d be far more willing to trade a pitching prospect than a top-ranked catching prospect.

      • RL

        And, as it seems that it’s more likely for a top-rated postiion prospect to have a productive career than a pitching prospect, if the position player is a team need, I’d rather trade a top pitching “prospect” for a proven pitcher than trade a top position prospect.

        • Mister Delaware

          (Fangraphs does have Pettitte 15 wins above Posada in what amounts to ~2+ more full seasons.)

          • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

            Apples to oranges. Compare Posada to his likely replacement and Pettitte to his likely replacement.

            • CS Yankee

              ..and any reasonable person would know that oranges taste better, cost more and are healthier.

            • Mister Delaware

              Aside from the impossibility of the task, its probably worth noting that Pudge, Piazza and the once awesome Jason Kendall all changed teams during Posada’s prime. I’d think, if anything, Posada’s hypothetical replacement would be better than Pettitte’s hypothetical replacement because it would have been an every day hole. Besides, if there were a great SP available for us to get, wouldn’t we have gone for him regardless of whether or not Pettitte was around? I mean, its not like we didn’t want Maddux, he didn’t want us.

              (And really, I’m not even disagreeing, I’d keep Posada over Pettitte (and both over Mariano) if I had to restart at 1995 again. But its certainly possible we’re both wrong and the numbers would skew that way.)

            • RL

              And look at the likelyhood that Pettitte’s replacement will come from the minor league system and the likelyhood that Posada’s replacement comes from there. Much more likely for the position player, even if both are top 20 (or top 5) prospects. We haven’t found a “Pettitte” from the minors since Pettitte. It’s possible Hughes will grow into that but where’s the next crop? As has been mentioned many times, the “B’s” are not as highly-touted as Hughes, Joba and IPK were.

          • CS Yankee

            How many WS titles did each heavily factor in as well.

            In ’96 Cone, Pettitte & Leyritz had big changing moments.
            In ’09 AJ, Pettitte, Arod & Matsui ruled the day.

            I know & believe in Posada, but give me the next reliable arm that 8 position players can rally behind versus having one position above average with a rag arm that has you dead before first pitch.

            • RL

              give me the next reliable arm that 8 position players can rally behind

              Once every 5 days? I’ll take the one that the arms are throwing to every day, especcially when it’s someone of Posada’s caliber.

      • Mister Delaware

        Besides, if that pitching prospect does pan out he’d probably just leave us for a few years anyway.

      • CS Yankee

        My perspective…

        Really like Posada and used him as both are near-HoF worthy with Posada being a bit closer and I’m not a any player basher (except maybe those meatball pitchers).

        However, the big pitchers give you a chance in the postseason and nothing has bummed me out more than knowing that the Kevin Brown’s (’04), the AJ’s (’10) and such (untold others) didn’t even give us a chance (meaning that it was hard to get up for the game) come postseason. Even when those guys start alright, you are waiting for the wheels to fall off…on the flip side, Posada isn’t the best stopper and one weaker bat won’t matter as much as the arm.

        We are stacked at catching with one spot to fill for the next 5-7 years, we are starting pitching poor; needing perhaps 15 guys over the next 5-7 years. If Austin is ranked as our #5 prospect and we have a #1 & #3 above and below rated higher, it makes sense to move him over any of the other B’s that that are just below or just higher than his rank (value)

        • JU

          Here is the problem with the “we are stacked at the catcher position” argument. Jesus Montero is not just a catching prospect – he is a premiere, once in every 20yrs hitting prospect. He is a completely different animal than a guy like Romine. Monty’s potential as a hitter transcends a position, which is why catching prospect depth is not a completely valid argument that would justify trading him.

    • camilo Gerardo

      are you insinuating that Jesus would be the next Po and One of KillerB’s would be the next Pettitte?

      In that case, Keep Po, although Sanchez looks like he could be a player

  • David

    A terrific article. It is very pertinent. The prospect huggers are going to be very upset, because a trade of several prospects for a core starter is very likely. It is merely a matter of waiting for a time when a team is looking to unload $$ and rebuild their system. You are looking at a probability of at least 85% that a trade of that nature will happen.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    I like studying the minors, but looking at Mike’s top 30 and I’ll go through what I feel are the chances of the player going forward to contribute to the big club:

    Jesus Montero: Should find a spot in the bigs in some capacity. It may not be at catcher, but a firstbasemen or DH sure.

    Manny Banuelos: Pretty young, still a bit too far away to get really excited. I’d say worst case scenario he’s like an Ian Kennedy, not good enough to hack it in the AL East but good enough to find a job elsewhere. With young pitchers who aren’t guys that throw 95+ on a frequent basis the GB rates need to be looked at more closely.

    Gary Sanchez: Awfully young, but flat out destroyed good competition and was one of the youngest players in the leagues that he played in. There’s a lot that can happen between now and then, but he’s got something special here.

    Brackman/Betances: Health is the ultimate question. I’d say the worst case scenario is that they go all Adam Miller on the team and end up just getting too injured to play at the big league level. A realistic outcome would be the Joba scenario, great in short stints can’t handle the workload of starting.

    Romine: I’d find it awfully hard to believe that he can’t find a job as a BC. There’s the old brotherhood of backup catchers with Sal Fasano, Jose Molina, Greg Zaun, and others…he should at least be able to do that.

    Slade: Sigh…he does strikeout an awful lot and he’s the first player on the list that I can very easily see complete bust. He’s awfully young and has a lot of time to improve, JR Murphy is in the same camp for me.

    Nova/Noesi: Already big leaguers in some capacity.

    Warren/Phelps: Hell if Dan McCutchen, Ross Ohlendorf, Vicente Padilla, Gil Meche and Paul Malhom can have ML careers I don’t see why these guys can’t either.

    Stoneburner: I can see him washing out and being a AAAA arm, but I think he’ll likely be a major leaguer at some point.

    Marshall/Mitchell/Ramirez: they’re all in the “if they can stay healthy and keep the ball on the ground” camp.

    Adams: I think he’ll probably be a second basemen for some team someday, there’s not that many good ML second basemen, he should find a job someday.

    Joesph: If he develops the power, he’ll be fine.

    The recent draftees haven’t had enough professional experience yet, so it’s too early to judge them but overall I like what the farm has done recently. A lot of high probability players mixed in with some youngsters with upside.

  • twac00

    Wouldn’t relief pitchers also bring down the number? I don’t know how many relief pitchers BA puts in their top 100 list, but it’s extremely rare to see a reliever average 2 WAR per season. The only guy I can think of is Mo. The effect is probably tiny, but I think it’s worth noting.