It's Monday morning, so we're going to talk about some prospects. Get pumped!
Is Prospect X Really That Good?
It's a question that gets asked pretty often when some young player puts up insane numbers in the minor leagues. I mean, you'd think that someone who can bat .350 in the minors has a decent shot of making it to the majors- and for the most part, you'd be right. But at the same time, it's hard not to emphasize the importance of context when it comes to minor league numbers- level, league, ballpark, position, age- all of these things are integral when talking about prospects.
Balancing the numbers with scouting reports is key for anyone that evaluates young players, and that's particularly the case when you see a guy putting up huge numbers in the minors. A 20-year-old batting .340 in Double-A? Hell yeah that's impressive. But what about a 26-year-old first baseman bashing 30 homers in Double-A? Yeah, it's a tad impressive, but he's more likely to be the next Calvin Pickering than the next Adrian Gonzalez.
So I thought we'd take a look at four of the most impressive performances from the 2010 minor league season, and how they play into each player's status as a potential MLB contributor. Also, I'd like to note that we're excluding short-season performances here, which are particularly subject to the uneven competition and small sample sizes that can often be found in the minors.
1B Brandon Belt, San Francisco
We'll start off with one of the guys that's truly legit. As in, this guy's turnaround from last season to this season has been among the largest in the minors. A sixth-round pick in 2009, the first baseman always had strong tools but rarely was able to utilize them in game situations. Then 2010 happened. The Giants immediately overhauled Belt's swing mechanics. "So pretty much as soon as I got in the [Giants] organization, they opened me up, they raised my hands, and they got me up out of the crouch just a little bit just so I could stay stacked in my upper body," Belt told Adam Foster in an interview with Project Prospect a couple days ago.
Apparently, a few tweaks made a world of difference. Belt started the season with Advanced Single-A San Jose, and finished the year with Triple-A Fresno. And he just flat out never stopped hitting, finishing the year with an unbelievable .352/.455/.620 line with 43 doubles, 10 triples, 23 homers and 22 steals. And this seems to be one of those instances where the monster numbers do truly indicate the emergence of a stud prospect- the scouting reports on Belt have been absolutely fantastic since changing his swing, and John Sickels of the brilliant Minor League Ball recently said that in his next prospect book Belt will, "likely getting a Grade A- for me, and [is] possibly the best first base prospect not named Hosmer." From sixth-round pick to the second-best first base prospect in baseball within one year... this is why "prospecting" isn't very easy.
1B Clint Robinson, Kansas City
Nobody here is going to argue that Robinson isn't a good hitter- you don't bat .335/.410/.625 in Double-A by accident. But this is one of those times when recognizing the context in which he put up those numbers is hugely important. Robinson is 25-years-old, pretty old for someone hitting Double-A for the first time, and he's relegated solely to first base duty. As such, you have to have an elite (or Belt-like) offensive projection in order to really be considered a top prospect.
Robinson just doesn't garner those kind of offensive expectations. He ranked No. 17 on Sickels' Top 20 Royals Prospects for 2011, with John commenting, "I've seen enough of him to believe he can mash for power, but finding a place to play is tough." And that's really the big problem here. If Robinson was a shortstop or even a right fielder, he'd probably have people pretty excited. But at first base, where the offensive expectation is significantly higher, Robinson's just not that interesting. While scouts spent the season gushing about Belt's improvement, the reports on Robinson just weren't nearly as bullish. So even though Robinson is certainly a solid prospect, and he'd presumably rank much higher if he wasn't in the game's best farm system, don't expect him to bat .330 with 25 homers in the majors. And especially so in Kansas City, where he's behind Billy Butler, Kila Ka'aihue and Eric Hosmer among Royals first basemen.
OF Brandon Guyer, Chicago (NL)
Coming into this season, Guyer was teetering on the edge of being labeled an organizational player, or the kind of guy that isn't really an MLB prospect and simply eats up a roster spot in Double-A or Triple-A. But now, he's emerged as one of the team's top outfield prospects. With Guyer's two stints in Double-A, it's almost like a tale of two players.
Guyer 2009: 205 PA - .190/.236/.291 - 15 XBH - 7/12 on steals - 4.8% BB% - 16.1% K%
Guyer 2010: 410 PA - .344/.398/.588 - 58 XBH - 30/33 on steals - 6.6% BB% - 12.4% K%
With twice as much playing time, Guyer absolutely killed Double-A pitching, improving in every facet of the game. With good contact skills, solid 15-to-20 HR power, and plus speed, Guyer could develop into a pretty strong offensive player with improved plate discipline and pitch recognition. But while the former 2007 fifth-round pick has plus speed, he also lacks good defensive skills and instincts, which force him into an outfield corner despite athleticism that could profile decently in center. In center field, he'd probably be one of the team's top prospects, but instead he's going to have to settle for being in the second tier. Either way, Guyer's reemerged from the dark depths of organizational filler.
2B Kyle Seager, Seattle
Whenever someone mentions that Player X put up big numbers with Seattle's Advanced Single-A affiliate, your immediate reaction should be, "Yeah, but I mean, it's High Desert."
Because when you play in a hitter-friendly park in a hitter-friendly league, a simple way to describe the conditions in High Desert, strong offensive numbers are essentially an expectation for any decent hitting prospect. And given that Seager slots nicely into the "decent hitting prospect" group, we shouldn't be too surprised that he finished the year with more hits and runs scored than any other player in the minor leagues. In almost any other circumstance, a 22-year-old second baseman batting .345/.419/.503 in Advanced Single-A during his first full season would be a sign of potential stardom. But in High Desert, it's merely a sign that Seager's actually a pretty good prospect, albeit not a future star.
Ranked No. 8 in the Seattle farm system by Kevin Goldstein, he was described as, "a sound hitter with a knack for putting the bat on the ball" while also noting that, "other than the bat, Seager's tools are a bit short." That's pretty much the story on Seager- he's never going to hit for power or play great defense, so getting on base will end up being pretty much everything. His 2010 is a decent example of how he'd contribute offensively in the majors- lots of batting average, a few walks, and not much power. Goldstein projected him as either a second-division starter or a strong utility infielder, and I think that's a reasonable expectation going forward.