Assessing the Value of Hitters Flourishing in Obscurity
I believe it was Confucius who posed the question, “If a prospect flourishes at the minor league level, but he is not a Top 100 prospect, does it even matter?” Many in the baseball community would answer with a definitive “No.” Being a devout contrarian, I set out to find out if the answer might be closer to “maybe.”
After all, this is an important question to answer for dynasty owners drafting in leagues with deep farm systems. Once the upper-crust prospects are gone, drafting minor leaguers can start to feel exactly like taking shots in the dark. There is no shortage of in-depth scouting reports available for elite prospects like Ronald Acuna, Vlad Jr. and Sixto Sanchez, but owners have limited resources to inform decisions when researching most fringe and lower-level prospects. Fortunately, one constant of baseball at every level is the scorekeeper’s ambition to record everything that happens on the diamond for posterity.
Before I go any further, yes, I have heard the Dynasty Baseball Commandment, “Thou shalt not scout a minor league stat line.” Consider this article an exercise in cautious heresy. It is not my intention to blaspheme the Dynasty Gods, but it was with a well-intentioned desire to make a more effective use of the tools we all have readily available–minor league stats—that I built ‘The Dynasty Profiler.’
The Dynasty Profiler
The Dynasty Profiler is no KATOH. (I miss you already, Chris Mitchell!) The Dynasty Profiler is a much more rudimentary tool. I imported the 2017 stats of just over 3,300 minor league batters into a Google Sheet and started looking for hitters who did things well. I was looking for players who met the following criteria:
- Hitter takes at least seven walks for every ten strikeouts
- Hits for power, as evidenced by an isolated power over .200
- Had over 250 plate appearances
- Under age 26, i.e. young enough to matter long-term
The reasoning behind these ranges is simple: many of the best hitters in the majors have similar approaches defined by similar levels of power and patience. Additionally, the stabilization point for most of these measures is well below the Plate Appearance thresholds I set.
With the Dynasty Profiler, I was looking for guys whose offensive approaches potentially deserve more credit. After getting a pool of ‘premier names,’ I created three other buckets to filter out guys who might have also shown an attractive approach during their 2017 season. You can see all four buckets on the ‘Batter Highlights’ tab.
After compiling a list of guys who put together admirable minor league stat lines, I graciously patted myself on the back for unearthing studs like Rhys Hoskins, Carter Kieboom, Akil Baddoo, Carson Kelley, Danny Jansen,Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Nolan Jones. But what about the other names?
Anthony Villa? Mike Ford? Ryan Noda? I did some follow-up research on these guys, and the rest of the highlighted names, in a quest for context. I will not lie: Many of the players The Dynasty Profiler uncovered are not really worth remembering. However, a couple of them might be worth Watchlisting. Check out the highlights, and then see my conclusions below. Did I discover an easy way to identify a breakout hitter, or do I deserve to be burned at the stake for Dynasty Baseball Heresy?
D.J. Stewart, Age: 24, OF Baltimore Orioles
Why He Matters:
Former Florida State outfielder D.J. Stewart has been overshadowed in Baltimore’s system by toolsy phenom Austin Hays. But Stewart has done some admirable work of his own. Last season, his first in Double-A, was especially fruitful as he joined the 20/20 club in 542 at-bats. D.J. also managed to balance a modest 16.1% K-rate with a 12% walk-rate while posting an isolated power of over .200. This helped him achieve a triple slash of .278/.378/.481, and his solid performance earned him an invite to his first spring training with the big club. If Stewart is able to 1) continue hitting for power, 2) maintain his patience, and 3) have some degree of speed, he could easily be a sneaky-cheap and unexpected outfield depth option in dynasties.
Why He Doesn’t:
While he did post a 20/20 season last year, a glance at Stewart’s batted ball profile is sure to set off some alarm bells. A nasty 44% groundball rate and a shocking 22% infield fly ball rate suggest that he has plenty of room for improvement when making contact. Also, his six-foot, 230-pound build is reminiscent of a pre-trimmed Kyle Schwarber. While Stewart doesn’t possess Schwarber’s power, he also doesn’t have Schwarber’s ugly strikeout rate. There’s also a question of playing time, as he is blocked by Trey Mancini, Adam Jones and Austin Hays for the foreseeable future. It will be worth watching to see how Stewart’s bloated frame holds up to the rigors of the AAA level this season, and if he adjusts to make the most of his contact as he continues climbing the developmental ladder.
Sherten Apostel, Age: 18, 3B Pittsburgh Pirates
Why He Matters:
6’4” Sherten Apostel signed from the island of Curacao. He shows up here after finishing a 60-game stint in the Dominican Summer League where he took more walks than strikeouts and logged an Isolated Power of .237. The teenager also posted a wRC+ of 161. Not bad for an 18-year-old. After such an impressive showing, some scouts are curious to see if Apostel can fulfill his plus power projection while maintaining a semblance of the patience he displayed in the DSL. Count me as one of them. While his range of outcomes is extremely wide right now, as Eric Longenhagen reports, “Apostel is one of the more interesting lottery tickets in a system with several of them.”
Why He Doesn’t:
The Dynasty Profiler likes Apostel because he had over 250 plate appearances in the Dominican Summer League with impressive results, but in the real world of baseball, we can easily be looking at too small a sample. The Profiler also doesn’t take into account that this is the second time the youngster has appeared at this level. Furthermore, it doesn’t take into account how unprepared Apostel apparently was his first time through. So while it is nice to see an 18-year-old thriving, the Dominican Summer League is not exactly Double-A and we simply need to see more. Beyond that, my biggest concern is the pull-happy nature of Apostel’s contact.
Abraham Toro-Hernandez, Age: 21, 3B/C Houston Astros
Why He Matters:
Every good list needs a French-Canadian, and this one is no different. Hailing from Longueuil, Quebec (north of Montreal), Abraham Toro-Hernandez might be worth watching even in a loaded Houston Astros system. The former fifth-round pick (out of Seminole State College in Oklahoma) spent 2017 splitting time between two levels of A ball. He dominated Low-A, going .292/.414/.538 for 32 games. Upon receiving a promotion to A-ball, however, things went south. That .198 BABIP brought his slash line back down to Earth, and he finished with a meager .209/.323/.463. Still, at both levels, Abraham posted isolated powers over .240. While he won’t be playing catcher any longer, scouts do expect the switch-hitter to stick at third base due to a powerful arm. I’ll be watching him closely this season to see how he continues to develop as a hitter. The world needs more Québécois to cheer for.
Why He Doesn’t:
Aside from being buried in one of the deepest systems in the major leagues, Toro-Hernandez will need to be really good with the bat to make a difference at the hot corner for dynasty purposes. I’ll be honest: I was much more excited about his potential as a fantasy asset when I thought he might be a catcher full-time. Apparently, the catching experiment went about as well as Blake Swihart’s audition in left field. Like Apostel, this sample looks deceptively small and it wasn’t against the stiffest competition. Keep an eye on him, but don’t go crazy.
So it turns out that it is smart to take offensive minor league stats with a grain of salt. If a batter is flourishing at Double or Triple-A, then go ahead and take notice. But there are simply too many variables to consider when looking at a player’s performance at lower levels. And while 250 Plate Appearances might prove a player’s ability at a low-level, that’s simply not enough evidence to prove that a player will be able to climb the ladder effectively. There is also a whole other side of the game called defense that, it turns out, has a lot to do with playing baseball.
An ability to take walks and hit for power at any level is not enough to justify a dynasty owner selecting an unknown over a player with reputable sources vouching for their ability and overall ceiling. At the very least, players with name-brand reputations sell at higher prices on an open market than shrewdly acquired bats like these.
I set out to prove the conventional wisdom wrong, and this exercise reminded me that many people in baseball are very good at what they’re doing. When they talk, it is good to listen, and it is also good to keep trying to beat them at their own game. But the point of this exercise was to shed a little light on the names left after The Names are gone, so it feels just a little bit less like darts in the dark. I think we accomplished that.