Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline release top prospects lists
Every year prior to spring training many institutions, writers, websites, random people – it doesn’t really matter – rank the top 100 prospects in professional baseball or as is the case with Baseball Prospectus, the 101 top prospects. The results of these top prospects lists were released on Friday by both Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline with some interesting results.
I focused mainly on the American League West for two reasons: one because well, I’m an A’s fan of coursse and, two because it’s part of my job at Today’s Knuckleball. I cover the A’s first and foremost and then the remainder of the AL West before turning to the rest of Major League Baseball. Living on the West Coast, that’s mainly how it works.
However, I’m off topic here, let’s start with the main and biggest similarity between Baseball Prospectus’ list and MLB Pipeline’s. They had the same rankings for the top three players. Both lists began with Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, the Minnesota Twins’ outfielder Byron Buxton and the top ranked pitcher on the list, the Washington Nationals’ right-hander Lucas Giolito.
Both Seager and Buxton made their big league debuts in 2015, as did a number of other players on the list. Qualifying for the list means that the player did not exceed their rookie limits in 2015, which are defined under Major League Baseball’s Official Rules as a position player exceeding 130 at-bats or for a pitcher 50 innings pitched in the big leagues. Buxton played in 46 games while Seager played in just 27 games but did not exceed their rookie limits.
Seager excelled and exceeded his high expectations, at least in the regular season, hitting .337 with four home runs. In the post-season however he was just 3 for 16 at the plate in five games. Buxton struggled in his 46 games, hitting just .209 with two home runs.
Surprisingly, Buxton who is rated 80 on the 20-80 scale when it comes to speed (rated 70 overall), stole just two bases and was caught stealing twice. Not exactly the best stolen base percentage. However, there are obviously still high expectations for Buxton as he was ranked number two on both lists, but to remain relevant (as he likely will be ineligible for the list next season by exceeding 130 at-bats) he’s going to have to step up his performance.
Seager will just have to keep performing as he did in the regular season in 2015. He’s profiled as a better player than his older brother Kyle Seager was as a prospect. However, the Mariners other, better rated prospects failed to perform and Seager signed a seven-year, $100 million contract extension in November 2014 to continue playing third base in Seattle.
If the younger Seager is anything like his big brother, you can expect him to keep performing. Seager, like Buxton, is rated 70 overall on the 20-80 scale but his ratings are higher than Buxton when it comes to hitting and power so Buxton speed is going to have to be what propels him in 2016 – assuming the two will be battling for Rookie of the Year in their respective leagues.
When it comes to the AL West the Los Angeles Angels’ prospects were noticeably absent. They’ve been said to have a shallow farm system but it’s worse than it was in 2015. Their top prospect, pitcher Sean Newcomb (rated #21 by Pipeline and #32 by BP), to the Atlanta Braves as the center part of the trade that brought two-time Gold Glove Award winning shortstop Andrelton Simmons to Los Angeles.
Trading their number one and only top 100 prospect seemed questionable at the time and even moreso now that not one of the Angels’ prospects made either list. Similarly the Seattle Mariners, who are also known to have a thin farm system had just one player on each list: outfielder Alex Jackson. Jackson, the number six overall pick in 2014, was ranked 94th on both lists.
Both Texas teams in the AL West still have the deepest and most talented farm systems. The Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers led the AL West with five top prospects on both lists. From the Astros: shortstop Alex Bregman, first baseman A.J. Reed, RHP Francis Martes, outfielder Kyle Tucker and outfielder Daz Cameron.
And from the Rangers: outfielders Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara, third baseman Joey Gallo, and a pair of RHP’s in Luis Ortiz and Dillon Tate. With the rivalry between the two teams already heated up, this will likely only add fuel to the fire. Both teams are racing to be the first to bring a World Series Championship to the Lone Star State.
Finally we have the Oakland Athletics, who I am proud to say had four players make the lists. Highest ranked by both BP and Pipeline was 19-year-old shortstop Franklin Barreto. Barreto was a key piece in the the trade that sent reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays. Barreto landed at number 26 on Baseball Prospectus’ list and number 23 on Pipeline’s top 100. The youngster has already moved swiftly through the minors. He bypassed Class-A ball entirely when moving into the A’s farm system, after leading the Short-Season Northwest League in almost every offensive category.
While playing for High Class-A Stockton in 2015 Barreto, also the second youngest player in the California league, hit .302 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI. His defense is lagging a little bit behind his lightning quick bat and his raw power but he has a plus-arm with good range.
Perhaps if he were to work with Ron Washington, the A’s third base coach who turned around the A’s current shortstop Marcus Semien‘s 2015 season, he’ll be able to stay at shortstop throughout his career. However he may be, depending on the team’s needs, moved to second or third base both of which he would excel at. Either way his bat should make him an impact player regardless of where he plays on the diamond. Expect him to be with Double-A Midland, (and I’m being optimistic here, he’ll be just 20 years old in 2016) even Triple-A Nashville or a possibly even a September call-up by season’s end.
Also making the top 100 (or 101) was left-hander Sean Manaea who the Athletics got as part of their mid-season trade that sent super-ultility man Ben Zobrist to the Kansas City Royals. Manaea, 23, went straight to Double-A Midland upon joining the A’s organization. He’s a big strikeout pitcher – leading the Arizona Fall League in October and averaging 10.8 K’s per nine innings in his minor league career.
Manaea features a deceptive fastball that varies between 90-96 mph which he pairs with a plus-slider and a change-up. He’s had injury issues in the past so some worry about that being a problem for him in the future, however, none of them were arm injuries but groin and abdominal strains. If he can remain healthy he profiles as a middle of the rotation starter. With the way he gets hitters to swing and miss he will likely start the season at Triple-A Nashville.
Now, interestingly the third player on each list is where the two lists diverge, at least when it comes to Oakland. MLB Pipeline ranked home-grown first baseman Matt Olson as their 100th prospect while Baseball Prospectus put catcher Jacob Nottingham at number 68 on their list.
The A’s acquired Nottingham when they traded starter Scott Kazmir to the Astros at the 2015 non-waiver trade deadline. A’s vice-president of baseball operations Billy Beane sees Nottingham as the team’s catcher of the future. He says that in the past the A’s have traded youth for established players but they’ve now shifted that approach to trading for youth.
Nottingham is a catcher with a power bat, something that you do not see everyday (think Hall of Fame inductee Mike Piazza). In 2015 Keith Law rated Nottingham a 70 power grade in 2015, higher than any other catching prospect including the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber and we’ve all seen what he can do. Schwarber can hella rake!
As for Olson, the left-handed batter was third in the Minors in 2014 with 37 home runs trailing only Gallo and the Cubs’ reigning National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant. He is patient at the plate and led the Minors in 2014 with 114 walks. In 2015 Olson moved to Double-A Midland whose ballpark is known to be notoriously bad for left-handed hitters, especially when it comes to hitting home runs.
Still, Olson was able to belt out 17 homers in 2015 and was second in the Minors in walks with 105. He does strike out quite a bit. That may or may not change but with the number of homers he is capable of hitting and his ability to just get on base make up for the strikeouts. As the A’s 6th ranked prospect it is a little surprising he made MLB Pipeline’s top 100. On the other hand, he is practically MLB ready and his bat could be an asset to the A’s – maybe even in 2016.
All I really know is that Beane has done the right thing in trading for young talent. Although most disagree with my assessments of Beane’s trades, it’s clear to me that he’s building for the near future. There are a lot of players in the minors, many who will never make the big leagues – let alone the top 100 prospects list. So having three (technically four) prospects on each list is a big jump for the A’s. Beane has greatly rebuilt the farm system with young but highly promising core prospects who will soon make a team that will be able to contend with the best in the league.