Which Former Prospects Must Take the Next Step?

Maybe if you bring it down a notch you can bring your career up one, Travis Snider. - Scott Halleran

When looking at my previous research, which former prospects are facing their make or break year to take the next step in their career?

Intro

I know, again with the prospect research. There's just so much to look at! This time around I will be comparing my previous research with the former top prospects to see who is facing a make or break year. Which need to reach the 2, 4, and 6 WAR thresholds or face a high probability of never reaching it?

In order to refresh everyone's memory, here are my previous findings:

Prospectsummary_medium

Method

I will just be looking at the 90% Years After column. This represents the amount of years it took for 90% of all prospects who reached each fWAR threshold to do so after they were last ranked on a Baseball America top 100 list. For example, if a prospect was last ranked in 2009, he must have reached the 2 fWAR threshold for at least one year by the end of this season or will only have a 10% chance of ever doing so in his career.

Results

2 fWAR - Solid Starter

There are 56 prospects who were last ranked in 2009.

Max fWAR Count
No MLB 8
Below 2 28
2 to 3.9 12
4 to 5.9 7
Over 6 1

Eight of those players have never made the majors and are still eligible for future prospect lists (Michael Ynoa is probably the only one who has a chance of reappearing). Andrew McCutchen is the only player to reach MVP-level production so far, but seven others have already proven themselves to be all-star types. Another 12 have had a 2 fWAR season and may prove themselves good enough for more. One player in this data set is Nick Adenhart, who sadly and prematurely passed away. This leaves us with 27 players who are teetering on the brink of busted status. I'll remove another six players who did not play in the majors last year. The best of these is Carlos Carrasco who is serving a six-game suspension and will be starting the season in AAA. Finally, we have a list of 21 former prospects who were last ranked in 2009 and have not yet achieved a season of 2 fWAR.

Prospect 2009 Rank Max fWAR
Travis Snider 6 1.1
Chris Tillman 22 1.2
Matt LaPorta 27 0.2
Jordan Schafer 42 0.5
J.P. Arencibia 43 1.2
Kyle Blanks 50 0.9
Aaron Cunningham 55 0.6
James McDonald 56 1.6
Dayan Viciedo 61 0.3
Gorkys Hernandez 62 -0.2
Lou Marson 66 1
Jason Donald 69 0.5
Jordan Walden 70 1.5
Taylor Teagarden 73 1
Adrian Cardenas 74 -0.3
Jose Tabata 75 1.9
Michael Bowden 83 0.2
Carlos Triunfel 89 0.2
Chris Perez 91 0.8
Daniel Bard 98 1.7
Jeremy Jeffress 100 0.1

Snider, Tillman, Arencibia, and McDonald all look like possible candidates for becoming at least solid starters this year. Arencibia's rookie year was not until 2011, so he may still have a couple of years, but looks primed to solidify himself this year anyway.

4 fWAR - All-Star

For this comparison, I will remove all players who have not yet reached the 2 fWAR threshold yet. This is a list of 14 busted prospects including everyone's favorite...Delmon Young! These are prospects who were last ranked in 2007, giving them hopefully five whole MLB seasons to become all-stars.

Max fWAR Count
No MLB 6
Below 2 14
2 to 3.9 18
4 to 5.9 9
Over 6 5

14 prospects from 2007 have already reached all-star level, including five MVP performances (Ryan Braun, Tim Lincecum, Alex Gordon, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Justin Upton). There are 18 players at the sweet spot from two to 3.9, looking to make that next step. I'll remove Elijah Dukes who has other problems beyond reaching all-star level this season. Here is the list of 17:

Prospect 2007 Rank Max fWAR
Daisuke Matsuzaka 1 3.8
Phil Hughes 4 2.5
Mike Pelfrey 20 2.7
Billy Butler 25 3
Adam Lind 39 3.4
James Loney 44 2
Travis Buck 50 2.4
Ryan Sweeney 55 3.9
Jonathan Sanchez 59 2.6
Erick Aybar 61 3.9
Jaime Garcia 70 3.2
Kevin Slowey 71 3
Philip Humber 73 3.4
Alberto Callaspo 82 3.5
Brandon Morrow 87 3.6
Kurt Suzuki 89 3.3
Chris Iannetta 92 3

Not a list to inspire much hope. There aren't any particularly interesting names here that I can envision passing the 4 fWAR threshold. Aybar, Suzuki, Matsuzaka, and Morrow are the only players with over 10 wins in their career. Aybar is batting second in a potent Angels lineup, so he may have the best shot of anyone on this list. Suzuki is sharing the National's catching position, Matsuzaka is in the minor leagues, and Morrow's value has been trending down the past three years.

6 fWAR - MVP

Here is a summary of the 63 prospects last ranked in 2006.

Max fWAR Count
No MLB 5
Below 2 22
2 to 3.9 17
4 to 5.9 10
Over 6 9

Only five of these players have never reached the bigs. 22 more were busted long ago and 17 have at least become solid players. Nine have already achieved MVP success including my favorite, Nick Markakis. Only ten are looking to make that leap this year.

Prospect 2006 Rank Max fWAR
Stephen Drew 5 4.7
Francisco Liriano 6 5.7
Chad Billingsley 7 4.1
Matt Cain 10 4.8
Howie Kendrick 12 5.6
Carlos Quentin 20 4.7
Anibal Sanchez 40 4.2
Russell Martin 42 5.5
Jered Weaver 57 5.8
Cole Hamels 68 4.5

Oops. Drew is a couple years removed from his top season and is recovering from a concussion. Liriano's arm is broken. Billingsley is pitching with a torn UCL. Kendrick had one good year but is settling in as a solid starter, not an MVP. Quentin is more the 1.5 to two win style. Martin's best season was in 2007 and hasn't come close to replicating it beyond 2008.

That really leaves us with four pitchers: Cain, Sanchez, Weaver, and Hamels. All four of these pitchers have averaged about four fWAR per season the past three years. It's possible that they put everything together and have a breakout career MVP-type year.

Summary

I've highlighted 48 different former prospects who are looking at their last good chance at taking the next step in their career. Of these, the most interesting to watch this year are Travis Snider, Erick Aybar, and Matt Cain. Each is at a different point in his career, but all three still have the opportunity to show themselves worthy of their ranking as one of the best future major leaguers.

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