Will asks: Isn’t it amazing how non-prospects like Robinson Cano and Ivan Nova have turned into an all-star and an above average starting pitcher? Does this happen often? Who in the Yankees farm do you think can perform better than their minor league stats if they reach the big leagues?
Well, calling Cano and Nova non-prospects is harsh. Baseball America ranked Cano as the team’s second best prospect prior to the 2005 season and I actually thought he was their top prospect at the time, but either way he was clearly one of the club’s best potential big leaguers. He never did crack one of BA’s top 100 lists though. Nova never ranked among New York’s top ten prospects according to Baseball America — he topped out at #13 prior to 2010 — but he was in their top 30 in the Prospect Handbook every year from 2007-2010.
Anyway, the larger point here is that non-top prospects often do turn into above average big leaguers and even stars on occasion. At the same time, if you look at the list of the best starting pitchers over the last three years, the only one of those guys who didn’t project to become an ace was Cliff Lee. Non-top prospects can develop into strong starting pitchers but you very rarely see one develop into a truly elite hurler. Nova’s no ace, but he’s a rock solid starting pitcher with a chance to improve further and become a bit more at age 25.
Dave Cameron wrote a post about hitting being more difficult to scout than pitching a few weeks ago and I recommend giving it a read. Looking at the list of the best hitters over the last three years, not many of those guys were projected to be stars. Joey Votto wasn’t supposed to be the best hitter in baseball, Jose Bautista certainly wasn’t expected to be the game’s premier power hitter, Albert Pujols wasn’t supposed to be one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball history, so on and so forth.
As a layman, pitching appears to be more straight forward. You can see the pitches and their movement as well as the guy’s command, it’s right in front of you. Hitting, on the other hand, has so many intricacies and moving parts that work together that it’s very difficult to predict. I also think that because pitching dictates the game — the hitter reacts to the pitcher, not vice verse — it makes it tougher to properly evaluate hitters. Sometimes it’s quite obvious that a guy will be an excellent hitter, think Alex Rodriguez or Miggy Cabrera, but many times it’s not.
As for the Yankees, I think that OF Ramon Flores could develop into a really strong hitter down the road because he controls the strike zone well and is at the platoon advantage most of the time as a left-hander. I had him just outside the top ten in my preseason top 30, so he’s not a total sleeper. IF Corban Joseph is another one because he makes lots of contact. LHP Nik Turley seems like the obvious “exceed expectations” guy on the mound as a three-pitch lefty without a huge fastball, and RHP Shane Greene probably fits here as well. His stuff is consistently better than the results.