With CHONE going on hiatus now that Sean Smith has been hired by an MLB team, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection system is now generally regarded as the premier projection system freely available to the public. And as someone who gets a lot of pleasure out of pouring over projections during the dark days of January and February, I'm fascinated by some of the results that the system comes up with.
This is particularly the case with top prospects. I know that they're probably the hardest guys to project because they don't have any MLB experience to go off of, but Dan still puts a lot of work into projecting them and I'm always fascinated when a prospect has a particularly optimistic projection. I thought I would touch on a few of those guys this afternoon, guys that ZiPS projects as solid contributors in 2011 despite zero major league experience. Ages included below are Opening Day 2011 ages, FYI.
(Also, to be clear, Dan hasn't completed posting all of the projections yet. The White Sox, Tigers, Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Mets and Phillies. So we miss out on a few guys, like Domonic Brown, Wilmer Flores, Jesus Montero and Brett Jackson)
CF Mike Trout - Age 19 - Highest level: High Single-A
Projection: .274/.345/.375 with 8 home runs and 46 steals in 65 attempts (156 games)
When you factor in that Trout is generally considered an above-average defender with the potential to be even better, ZiPS is essentially projecting Trout to be a 3-4 WAR player next season. His projection is somewhat similar to what Austin Jackson put up this season (.293/.345/.400 with 4 HR and 27 SB in 151 games), so that seems like a reasonable comp for what ZiPS projects. The 19-year-old Trout will probably start next season in Double-A with an expected arrival in late 2011 or 2012, although the Angels will still have Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Peter Bourjos in 2012. I wouldn't be surprised if Wells or Hunter was shifted to DH at some point in 2012 to accommodate arguably the game's top prospect.
1B Brandon Belt - Age 22 - Highest level: Triple-A
Projection: .266/.357/.440 with 32 doubles, 8 triples, 14 home runs and 18 steals in 27 attempts (136 games)
This one probably isn't as impressive given Belt's age and position, but it's still shocking to think of how far Belt's gone in the past year. A year ago, the big lefty was a fringe prospect trying to overhaul his swing mechanics, and now he's one of the best hitting prospects in the game after destroying three different levels in 2010. He might not be an everyday player in 2011 with Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and Mark DeRosa around, but he's pretty much a lock to be either San Francisco's first baseman or left fielder in 2012.
C Devin Mesoraco - Age 22 - Highest level: Triple-A
Projection: .244/.312/.452 with 23 doubles, 5 triples and 19 home runs (122 games)
If Belt's rise to top prospect status was the most surprising of the year, then Mesoraco's is a clear No. 2. Cincinnati's first-round pick in 2007, Mesoraco was bordering on non-prospect status coming into 2010 after a couple of poor performances in the lower minors. But something clicked with Mesoraco in 2010, and he finished the year with an eye-popping .302/.377/.587 line. There are still some questions about his receiving skills behind the dish and he has a good deal of competition at the position going forward with Ryan Hanigan and Yasmani Grandal, but Mesoraco could emerge as a high-quality offensive catcher and a major part of Cincinnati's long-term lineup.
1B Freddie Freeman - Age 21 - Highest level: Triple-A
Projection: .272/.333/.442 with 35 doubles, 2 triples and 18 home runs (156 games)
Freeman is a pretty polarizing prospect, and most of that comes down to the evaluation of his power potential. If you believe he'll develop plus power, you probably think he's a star-in-the-making. If you think he's leveling out with just average (or maybe a tick above average) power, then you probably view him as a solid regular but nothing particularly exciting. ZiPS basically projects Freeman to be Belt without the walks, and I'm guessing that the Braves would be somewhat satisfied with a 106 OPS+ from their rookie first baseman in 2011. Freeman's top comp according to ZiPS is Adam Lind, though, so don't write off a potentially big year.
C Tony Sanchez - Age 22 - Highest level: High Single-A
Projection: .269/.353/.390 with 18 doubles and 4 home runs (71 games)
ZiPS doesn't project Sanchez for regular playing time in 2011, and you don't really need a powerful computer to buy into that, but Sanchez's projected rate statistics would make him one of the better catchers in the NL. He was expected to move quickly but had his 2010 season cut short after getting hit in the face by a pitch (ow), although apparently ZiPS believes that his balanced approach and strong on-base skills from High Single-A would translate to the MLB level. Chris Snyder should dominate playing time behind the plate for Pittsburgh in 2011, but Sanchez is undoubtedly the club's long-term solution at the position.
1B Yonder Alonso - Age 23 - Highest level: Triple-A
Projection: .267/.330/.422 with 32 doubles, 4 triples and 13 home runs (139 games)
Alonso is kind of like a poor man's Belt; he brings a similar batting average, but has slightly less power and doesn't walk nearly as much. His projection is still slightly above the league average, but that's not likely to be good enough for the big first baseman. At this point, he's pretty much ready to get a shot somewhere. The problem is that it likely won't be in Cincinnati with Mr. Votto around, so you have to wonder if the Reds look to trade Alonso this summer.
The Royals Trio: Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers and Mike Moustakas
They're all in the same organization, and they all have similar offensive projections. None of them are projected to be stars, or even good regulars, next season, but each one is projected as a roughly league-average hitter, and that's pretty impressive considering that only Moustakas had reached Double-A before 2010. The projected lines: Hosmer, .263/.321/.412; Myers, .251/.335/.392; Moustakas, .258/.298/.435. Moose's ugly OBP clearly highlights one of the bigger concerns with his offensive profile, but his projected 22 home runs also reflect the big-time power that he could eventually bring to the table. Don't expect any of these guys to be key cogs in Kansas City next season, but Moustakas should arrive sometime in 2011, and don't be surprised if both him and Hosmer are KC Royals at some point in 2012. Myers will presumably take longer to develop if the club wants to keep him at catcher.
Other interesting prospect projections: CF Francisco Peguero, SF; CF Trayvon Robinson, LAD; 3B James Darnell, SD; CF Desmond Jennings, TB; RF J.D. Martinez, HOU