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Victims of the hype machine: Overrated prospects in baseball

It’s easy – way too easy, really – to get quickly sucked up into the world of prospect hype, to get excited about those tantalizing tools. But as Paul DePodesta, the former Dodgers GM and current vice president of player development and scouting for the Mets, stated that’s rarely the case.

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"So if a guy becomes a solid No. 3 or 4 starter, and that was your first-round pick, you should be very, very happy. You won on that pick. But I don’t think that’s generally the expectation. I think people think of first-round picks and expect to have a potential superstar. That’s actually very rare. It just doesn’t happen that very often. But, generally, sometimes we can get a little too excited about somebody’s talent."

-- Paul DePodesta,
July, 7, 2012

It’s easy – way too easy, really – to get quickly sucked up into the world of prospect hype, to get excited about those tantalizing tools. But as DePodesta, the former Dodgers GM and current vice president of player development and scouting for the Mets, stated that’s rarely the case.

Matt Wieters was once touted as a "Joe Mauer with power" type of offensive bat, but has since settled in nicely as a league average contributor. Delmon Young, another former top prospect, has accrued more 4,000 trips to the plate while posting a career 98 wRC+. Lastings Milledge, Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider, the list goes on and on and on.

After analyzing more than 900 minor leaguers for my book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, here’s a list of some of the more overrated prospects in the minors.

1. Stephen Piscotty
The Cardinals’ player development system has been one of the most efficient, well-oiled machines in baseball for what seems like eons. And while they’ve churned out plenty of blue-chip caliber talent over the years, it’s the organization’s ability to extract as much value as possible from overlooked and underrated prospects. Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, and Matt Carpenter immediately come to mind.  But one wonders if Piscotty’s perceived value isn’t inflated as a result.

Piscotty, a former supplemental pick out of Stanford, opened his professional career on a rather strong note, batting .295/.376/.448 as he jumped straight into the Midwest League. He followed that up by hitting .292/.348/.477 with Palm Beach and .299/.364/.446 with Springfield. But last year’s work in Class AAA, .288/.355/.406, showcases his potential flaw: lack of power from a corner outfield position.

Through his first 1,200+ plate appearances, Piscotty’s sporting a career.143 ISO with just 28 home runs. Highlighting the potential issue are that facts that: (A) his isolated power (ISO) has declined in each of his last two stops – it’s dropped from a career best .185 to .147 to .118 – and (B) outside of a 63-game stretch in the FSL his pop has been average at best. He also doesn’t walk a whole lot, nor does he run all that well (or efficiently). So the question is: can the hit tool carry him to being a better-than-average big leaguer?

We can also look to CAL, the Comparison And Likeness system I derived. The quick overview of CAL, is that it is based off of Bill James' similarity scores, and then uses a litany of differently weighted statistics to compare prospects to each other. For Piscotty, CAL doesn’t offer up a whole lot of hope. His top five comparisons: Garrett Guzman, Willie Cabrera, Jose Martinez, Tim Kennelly, Jacoby Ellsbury.

In the end, Piscotty looks like a league average bat, posting something around a 105 WRC+ for his career. And that’s far from a certainty.

2. Colin Moran
The Astros’ potential third baseman of the future falls into the same category as Piscotty: a high round, polished collegiate player who’s yet to show a whole lot of power. Moran has a career .111 ISO while hitting just 11 home runs in his first 690 trips to the plate. And his overall production thus far, per wRC+ has been solid though far from dominant. He posted a 127 mark in his pro debut in Low Class A and followed that up with a 110 and 114 with Jupiter and Corpus Christi last season.

Moran’s top CALs are underwhelming as well: Cheslor Cuthbert, Kevin Ahrens, Anderson Hidalgo, Adrian Cardenas, and Eric Campbell. Also adding insult to injury, the Houston front office dealt away a young, cost-controlled, league-average starting pitcher (Jarred Cosart) for Moran, who, at best, might be a solid everyday guy.

3. Maikel Franco
When I first rolled out CAL a couple months ago, I wrote an article for the site entitled, "Maikel Franco: High Bust Potential." The crux of the piece is how CAL has been largely underwhelmed by Franco’s production throughout his minor league career, despite that fact he was one of the most dominant bats in MiLB two years ago.

But let’s ignore CAL and his standout 2013 season for a minute.  Franco’s been largely a good, not great minor league bat. His wRC+ totals at each stop when he’s made at least 200 plate appearances: 70 (Gulf Coast), 125 (NYPL), 112 (Sally), and 97 (International League). Now to be fair, he’s been really young for his levels, but for the time being his 2013 season is clearly the outlier.

Now back to CAL. Entering 2015, Franco’s top five comparables with their career wRC+ totals:

Player WRC+ PA
Wilmer Flores 78 375
Josh Vitters 5 109
Mike Moustakas 82 1,993
Blake DeWitt 87 1,247
Lonnie Chisenhall 104 1,215

Outside of Chisenhall, who’s been a semi-platoon bat due to well documented struggles against southpaws, the comparison group from Franco is quite disappointing.

4. Brandon Nimmo
There is a major flaw limiting the Mets former 13th overall pick: his work against southpaws. Nimmo, a lefty-swinging center fielder, owns a career .220/.331/.298 triple-slash line against southpaws in 425 trips to the plate. And while he’s shown improvements throughout his career – his yearly OPS totals vs. LHP are .594, .635, and .664 – they remain modest at best.

Nimmo has an incredible eye at the plate – he’s walked in 14.9% of his career plate appearances – but the power’s merely average (.129 career ISO) and he doesn’t run a whole lot or all that efficiently (just 25 career stolen bases in 41 attempts). And Nimmo’s breakout first half of 2014 was largely driven by a ridiculous 24-game stretch to begin the year (.407/.530/.549); he followed that up by hitting .265/.390/.397 over his final 38 games in High Class A.

As I noted in my book, Nimmo looks like a solid fourth outfielder-type.

5. Albert Almora
Widely recognized as one of the Cubs’ top prospects, Almora handled himself well enough as a 20-year-old in High Class A last season, hitting .283/.306/.406 while producing at the league average rate (100 wRC+). But Almora’s glaring red flag is his inability – or downright abhorrence – to walk.

Through his first 946 trips to plate, the former first round pick has walked just 33 times – or just 3.5% of the time. He did show a semi-useful eye at the plate two years ago – he walked 6.3% of the time in the Midwest League – but it fell back mightily in 2014. Almora is very similar to that of Brandon Nimmo in terms of hit tool, power, and speed. Another solid everyday regular seemingly backed up by CAL. Almora’s top five comparable: Jae-Hoon Ha, Teodoro Martinez, Engel Beltre, Yefri Carvajal, and Gerardo Parra. Slightly below-average average offensive ceiling with some defensive value.

6. Jose Peraza
One of the minors' top base threats, Peraza’s offensive showing in 2014 perfectly highlights the value of the free pass. Splitting his season between Lynchburg and Mississippi, the Venezuelan-born middle infielder hit a robust .339/.364/.441 – easily the best mark of his four-year professional career. And despite finishing the year tied with the fourth highest average in the entire minor leagues (450+ PA), his overall production was just 26% better than the league average. His 3.6 BB% is too low.

To put that into perspective a bit, among all stateside MiLB’ers with at least 450 plate appearances and an average above .320, only Willians Astudillo finished with a lower wRC+ total (123). Combine that with below-average, albeit improving, power and it’s certainly not a definite recipe for success.

. . .

For more prospect analysis, check out Joe's newest book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, here.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site, You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey