Scouting the Stat Line — Guessing the Mid-Season Market Value of Some of 2019’s Fast-Starting Prospects
The Dynasty Guru updates its peak performance leaderboards weekly. View the latest update here (updated through last week’s games).
The leaderboards present peak MLB wOBA for all players, minor and major leaguers. Peak MLB wOBA captures league difficulty, adjusting minor league performance from each league to the same major league baseline. It also adjusts for aging. These adjustments are derived from recent research: see here, here, here, here, and here.
Every month or so, we will provide a top-50 stats-only offensive prospects list. Check out our pre-season list here. Every week or two, we’ll highlight a few interesting performances in this series, “Scouting the Stat Line” (Ross Jensen and I will alternate authoring this series—see his first update here).
For this week’s recap, I’m focusing on ten lesser known players who are crushing it to start 2019. Each of these players is young relative to level, with an excellent MLB peak wOBA. If they keep this up, they’ll be all over top 100 lists by season’s end. Will they keep it up, though?
I offer a highest mid-season rank prediction, as a way to try and guess each player’s market value come mid-season. I’m considering all lists when predicting highest mid-season rank—real life and fantasy lists. There are a ton of lists to consider (approaching 20 minimum this off-season, though there might not even be half as many updated at mid-season). My prediction has to try to account for potential outlier ranks, making it seem too optimistic at times. I find this exercise helpful in preparing for mid-season prospect drafts and in evaluating trade value. Oftentimes, “the high man,” the most optimistic manager on a prospect, ends up owning him. This is not surprising since “the high man” is willing to sacrifice the most to get their guy. Highest mid-season list rank is a loose proxy for “the high man” on each prospect in different leagues.
Note my personal rank doesn’t necessarily align with my predicted highest mid-season rank. My preferences should be clear enough from the text on each player.
Omar Estevez, 2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers, age (oldest age during baseball season): 21, highest pre-season rank: did not make top 500 (see this reddit thread from BoBtheMule for a compilation of all free pre-season prospect lists)
Estevez is among the youngest players in Double-A. He was off the radar entering the year, but his performance has been difficult to ignore. He was solid in 2018 too, though, and looks like he can be a league average hitter. His defensive ratings at shortstop and second base are average to slightly above (defensive metrics taken from claydavenport.com). Some of his breakout has been fueled by a .390 BABIP, so regression is coming. He looks like a future league average regular, but not a star by any means.
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 100, some real-life list will squeeze him in at the very back end of their list
Jorge Ona, LF, San Diego Padres, Age: 22, highest pre-season rank: did not make top 500
Jorge has been Ona roll to start the year, with five homers in his first 100 plate appearances. I’m not buying it though, as his 2017 and 2018 performances were pretty unexciting, and he doesn’t offer speed or plus defense. He’ll have to show his newfound power stroke awhile longer for me to buy in.
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 205, but that’ll be too generous. That’s right, I’m calling you out, unknown future hypothetical prospect analyst! You have Ona too high!
Jonathan Ornelas, 2B, Texas Rangers, Age: 19, highest pre-season rank: 267 (Fantrax)
After a strong professional debut in the AZL in 2018, Ornelas is making a name for himself in Single-A. He’s shown patience (10.5% walks), solid power (.137 isolated power), and good speed—all while keeping his strikeout rate in check (23.7%). He’s already cracked TDG’s Jesse Roche’s updated top 200 at the back-end and has a toolsy power-speed reputation. He’ll easily make a bunch of top 100s this mid-season. Get your ticket before opening night—wait too long and you’ll be forced to sit apart from your family with a bunch of strangers.
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 50
Alejandro Kirk, C, Toronto Blue Jays, Age: 20, highest pre-season rank: 481 (TDG’s Jesse Roche)
Kirk was amazing in the Appalachian League last year, and he’s been amazing again in Single-A in 2019. His consistent excellence at a young age relative to level inspires confidence. His Single-A statistics are mouthwateringly good: 18.8% walks, 8.3% strikeouts, .221 isolated power, and three home runs in his first 96 plate appearances. He’s been rewarded with a swift promotion to High-A, where it’s been more of the same (222 wRC+ in his first 21 plate appearances). He’s a catcher with similar physical proportions to Willians Astudillo, so prospectors will have to overcome “bad-body” biases and anti-catcher biases to give him the mid-season rank he deserves. Also like Astudillo, his defensive metrics at catcher are solid; there’s reason to think he can stick there.
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 70, but that’ll be too low. If he maintains anywhere close to his current pace, I’ll view him as a back-end top 50 fantasy prospect.
Tyler Freeman, SS, Cleveland Indians, Age: 20, highest pre-season rank: 70 (Prospects Live Fantasy), he didn’t make any other top 100s
Freeman is a statistical clone of Kirk (though not a physical one). Like Kirk, he has been excellent since the start of 2018 at young ages relative to level. He has stellar discipline, (11.3% walks, 6.8% strikeouts in Single-A), and some power (.183 isolated power and 2 home runs). He’s less powerful than Kirk, but adds good speed (eight stolen bases already this year). He doesn’t face the same “bad-body” and anti-catcher biases as Kirk, so rankers will have an easier time bumping him upwards in their mid-season updates.
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 50
Heliot Ramos, CF, San Francisco Giants, Age: 19, highest pre-season rank: 86 (TDG’s Jesse Roche)
Ramos had the highest pedigree coming into the season of any of these guys, making a handful of top 100 lists at the back-end. He’s up to 54 in Jesse Roche’s May top 200 update after an incredible first month, complete with five homers and excellent plate discipline. He had a bit of a down year in 2018 after a very promising 2017. He’s bouncing back in a big way this year, fulfilling much of the scouting hype he’s generated in the past. His power potential is massive. It’s quite obvious he’ll rank highly come mid-season, but I’ll offer a prediction anyway.
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 29
Jose Devers, SS, Florida Marlins, Age: 19, highest pre-season rank: 314 (Imaginary Brick Wall)
Devers is a tough guy to evaluate. He was underwhelming and power-free in 2018 but received a promotion to High-A anyway. This year, he’s maintained good plate discipline (6.5% walks, 12.1% strikeouts), solid speed, and zero semblance of power. His ground-ball rate is absurd, so the long flies may come in time as his swing develops. Some prospectors do expect some power in the future. His performance is riding on a .410 BABIP, so regression is coming. In any case, he’s one of the youngest players in the league, and has good upside if he starts elevating the ball more. I’d personally leave him outside the top 100, but some evaluators are going to have him pretty high come mid-season.
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 59
Luis Campusano, C, San Diego Padres, Age: 20, highest pre-season rank: 304 (TDG’s Jesse Roche)
Campusano held his own in Single-A last year (106 wRC+). His power has been up this year as one of the youngest players in High-A, with two homers already after hitting three in 300 plate appearances last year. I like him as a late top 200 flier, but I’d want to see his power gains stick before investing more heavily in him.
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 160
Ulrich Bojarski, LF/RF, Detroit Tigers, highest pre-season rank: did not make top 500
Hailing from South Africa, Bojarski has come out of the gate hitting bombs this year after struggling in 2018. Before this year, he maintained a high strikeout profile with average-to-above-average power. He’s got the strikeouts in check in 2019 (20.5%), and he’s tapping into his power with five homers in his first 122 plate appearances. He’s another guy I’d wait and see on before investing. He’ll have to have a big year to put himself on the map.
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 200
Aramis Ademan, SS, Chicago Cubs, highest pre-season rank: 119 (Fangraphs)
Ademan struggled in 2018 to the tune of a 64 wRC+ in High-A. He’s been much better his second time around, with solid plate discipline (17.3% walks, 22.1% strikeouts), and some power (two home runs, .146 isolated power). Given his position and solid defensive reputation, I expect he’ll be a guy who always ranks higher on real-life lists. Fantasy wise, he’s unlikely to offer enough speed, power, or hit to make it worth your while except in very deep leagues (20+ teams).
Predicted highest mid-season rank: 77 (one of the non-fantasy lists will rank him highly)