The WAR Room: Performance-based rankings, #70 - #61
Potential impact relievers in Heller, Crockett, Feyereisen, and Soto headline part four of these rankings
Over the past three months, IBI rolled out the year-end rankings for every minor league affiliate in the Cleveland system. Next up, we will be running down the top-100 performers based on those WAR rankings, albeit with a slight twist.
Simply ranking each player based on the raw numbers would have some value, but not nearly as much as when the stats are adjusted for how old the prospect was compared to his minor league level. For example, older prospects like Anthony Gallas, who did well at 26 years old in High-A and Double-A, are downgraded, while younger prospects like Francisco Lindor, who did well at 20 years old Double-A and Triple-A, are upgraded (as if Lindor needed anymore help).
Naturally, if Gallas -- or anyone else in his situation -- continues to hit like he did in 2014, it will not matter that he was old for his level, and vice versa for young prospects. But overall, accounting for a player’s age relative to level is critically important for judging a prospect’s performance.
Before moving on to the honorable mentions of The WAR Room’s performance-based rankings, first some reminders on what these numbers are, their uses, and their limitations:
It is always important to keep context in mind, just like with scouting. A pitcher who is old for his level using that experience to succeed against young, inexperienced hitters must be taken with a grain of salt; the same goes when looking at these WAR totals.
But it is a useful tool to put each player's performance into context and look at where they sit in regard to the rest of the league.
As a reminder, a 0.0 WAR per 162 games is replacement level -- otherwise known as the kind of performance an average player from the level below could offer -- a 2.0 WAR per 162 games is average, and a 5.0 WAR per 162 games is All-Star level.
Also, the lack of good defensive metrics for the minor leagues means we have to adjust for a range of defensive abilities. To account for this, I will give you each player's WAR with a qualifier: either poor-defense WAR for a poor defender (-10 runs below-average per 162 games), average-defense WAR for an average defender (0 runs per 162 games), or great-defense WAR for a great defender (10 runs above-average per 162 games).
Additionally, note that pitchers have FIP-based WAR -- which is based on peripherals like strikeouts, walks, home runs, etc. -- and RA-based WAR -- which is based on runs allowed.
One more thing, all "+" stats are averaged at 100. Anything over 100, like 110, is higher and means that player is 10 percent better than the league average. Anything under 100, like 90, is lower and means that player is 10 percent worse than the league average. In the case of any "-" stats -- when lower is better, like with ERA -- a 90 ERA- means that player is 10 percent better than the league average.
The 2014 year-end season in review for every affiliate is listed below:
- The Columbus Clippers hitters and pitchers
- The Akron RubberDucks hitters and pitchers
- The Carolina Mudcats hitters and pitchers
- The Lake County Captains hitters and pitchers
- The Mahoning Valley Scrappers hitters and pitchers
- The Arizona League hitters and pitchers
And here are the previous editions of these rankings:
Now, on to the rankings:
#70: Giovanni Soto, LHP
We have now reached the top-10 relievers in these rankings, with Soto sliding in here at #10. The left-hander bounced back after only throwing 8.2 innings in 2013 due to a shoulder injury to post a 3.23 ERA (81 ERA-) and 2.73 FIP (68 FIP-) in 53.0 Double-A innings, re-establishing himself as a potential major league relief option in the near future. At the very least, Soto looks like a LOOGY thanks to his devastating cutter, but the left-hander was also effective against right-handers in 2014. Soto’s 23.1 percent strikeout rate (121 K%+) and 5.7 percent walk rate (70 BB%+) were not enough to get picked in the Rule 5 draft earlier this month, but despite being passed over for rostering, another healthy, strong season could get the 23-year-old a major league shot in the coming years.
#69 J.P. Feyereisen, RHP
Though Feyereisen and Soto are separated by a tiny margin in these rankings -- so tiny that you can flip the order and I would have no argument -- but more impressive for Feyereisen, he earned this ranking in only 17.0 innings. After being selected in the 16th round in the 2014 draft, Feyereisen reported to Mahoning Valley and started mowing down opposing hitters. In those 17.0 innings, the right-hander did not allow a single earned run, struck out 38.7 percent of opposing batters (193 K%+), and posted a rock-bottom 1.6 percent walk rate (21 BB%+). No pitcher can stay this effective over the long haul, but clearly Feyereisen has established himself as someone to watch and a candidate to take the Cody Allen-Kyle Crockett fast track to the major leagues.
#68 Josh Martin, RHP
Again, the relievers in this part of the rankings are packed so closely that you could order them in any order and you could have a legitimate argument. Martin edges Soto and Feyereisen here thanks in large part to having the benefit of throwing 64.2 innings in High-A (plus two late-season innings in Double-A). Martin took advantage of his time in High-A, posting a 2.92 ERA (74 ERA-) and 3.33 FIP (85 FIP-) thanks to his 24.8 percent strikeout rate (126 K%+). The soon-to-be 25-year-old is a little old to only have two Double-A innings under his belt, but while younger pitchers like Soto and Feyereisen are more exciting, Martin has them slightly edged in performance despite being penalized for his age. Prospects in general -- and relievers especially -- can come out of nowhere, and provided Martin continues to put up numbers, being old for his level will start to matter less and less.
#67 Alex Monsalve, C
Monsalve ended up having a solid 2014 season -- posting a perfectly-average .706 OPS (100 OPS+) and .120 isolated power (98 ISO+), but compared to the other catchers in the Cleveland organization, he falls behind. The 22-year-old finished ninth in these rankings among catchers in the organization, thanks in large part to actually playing more games as a designated hitter (48) than as a catcher (45). There was nothing truly wrong with Monsalve’s season statistically or age-wise, but he has clearly dropped in the organizational depth chart (Jeremy Lucas routinely played over him in High-A). In order to climb in the organization’s eyes and in these rankings, Monsalve will need to force his way into more playing time behind the plate.
#66 Leo Castillo, 1B
Despite spending most of 2012 and 2013 at Lake County, Castillo found himself back at Mahoning Valley following a rough time over those two seasons with the Captains. Castillo did get going offensively with the Scrappers in 2014, however, as the 21-year-old posted a .747 OPS (111 OPS+) and .152 isolated power (143 ISO+) in 64 games. The first baseman also showed good plate discipline, posting a 16.7 percent strikeout rate (83 K%+) and 9.8 percent walk rate (128 BB%+), though now the question will be what comes next. Entering his age-21 season, Castillo will need to show this type of power, discipline, and performance at a full season league in order to begin making good on the projection that made him an interesting prospect a few years ago.
#65 Kyle Crockett, LHP
It only took Crockett 15.2 innings in Double-A to get called up to Triple-A, something that does not come as a surprise given Crockett’s 0.57 ERA (14 ERA-) and 1.95 FIP (49 FIP-). After that callup, Crockett’s ERA remained elite in 8.2 Triple-A innings, rising only a bit to 1.04 ERA (26 ERA-), and the left-hander’s FIP remained low at 1.97 (49 FIP-). All told, it only took Crockett 24.3 minor league innings to get called up to Cleveland to stay, with the 2013 fourth round pick becoming the first player from his draft class to reach the major leagues. Being in the major leagues kept Crockett from rising further in these rankings, but clearly getting playing time in Cleveland, where the left-hander posted a 1.80 ERA and 3.23 FIP in 30.0 innings, was much more important. Crockett may have finished seventh among relievers only accounting for minor league performance, but including his major league time, the 23-year-old was probably the best relief prospect in the system.
#64 Jordan Milbrath, RHP
From a purely statistical standpoint, the 2014 season for Milbrath was not all that great. The right-hander struggled to strike hitters out (14.3 percent strikeout rate, 68 K%+), walked too many (9.1 percent walk rate, 110 BB%+), and ended the season with a 4.38 FIP (116 FIP-). Milbrath’s ERA was essentially league-average, however (3.95 ERA, 105 ERA-), and despite being a little old for Low-A, the 23-year-old ended up with a solid first full professional season. Most importantly for Milbrath, who was drafted out of a cold-weather state in Minnesota, the right-hander began getting the reps needed to establish himself as a legitimate starting pitching prospect in the organization. Even with his struggles and inexperience, Milbrath finished as the 20th-best starting pitcher in these rankings and could easily use 2014 as a learning experience and a stepping stone to an even better 2015.
#63 D.J. Brown, RHP
Based solely on his 4.51 ERA (115 ERA-) in 123.2 High-A innings, Brown’s first season in the starting rotation was not very successful. The 39th round pick in 2012 was much better when judged by his peripherals, however, with his 3.96 FIP (101 FIP-) rating him as a solid starting pitcher in the Carolina League. Brown did not overpower anyone, with the 24-year-old posting a 15.2 percent strikeout rate (77 K%+) and a 6.0 percent walk rate (70 BB%+), but the right-hander still found success at a roughly age-appropriate level. With such a low prospect standing entering the year, Brown will need to repeat this level of performance in Double-A in 2015 to really turn some heads.
#62 Justin Brantley, RHP
Cleveland had a number of prospects exceed expectations in 2014, but no one quite came out of nowhere like Brantley. While his cousin was having a breakout season at the major league level, Brantley had a breakout season of his own with Lake County, posting a 1.31 ERA (35 ERA-) in 41.1 innings. Those 41.1 innings were Brantley’s first professional ones following being signed as an undrafted free agent and the right-hander more than exceeded expectations. Though Brantley’s 3.32 FIP (88 FIP-), 27.8 percent strikeout rate (133 K%+), and 8.9 percent walk rate (108 BB%+) painted him more as an average reliever than an elite one, the fact that the undrafted Brantley pitched well enough to even rank on this list at all is amazing. The 23-year-old came into the season without any prospect stock; now, Brantley has a little and will look to gain even more with a full season’s worth of innings in 2015.
#61 Ben Heller, RHP
Pitching in his first full professional season after being drafted in the 22nd round in 2013, Heller dominated the Midwest League, posting a 2.43 ERA (64 ERA-) and 2.54 FIP (67 FIP-) in 37.0 innings. Control was not Heller’s hallmark, with the right-hander posting a 10.8 percent walk rate (130 BB%+), but when a pitcher is striking out 43.2 percent of batters (206 K%+), he can get away with walking a few too many. Things got worse for Heller after being promoted to High-A, however, with his walk rate spiking (18.6 percent walk rate, 216 BB%+) and his strikeout rate falling precipitously (24.3 percent strikeout rate, 123 K%+). Without the struggles in Carolina, Heller might have finished as the #1 reliever in these rankings. As it is, the 23-year-old hit a wall he will need to overcome in 2015 in order to continuing climbing the ladder toward the major leagues.
Next week we will tackle #60 through #51, which features one of the best slugging prospects in the system, a number of young, potential impact starting pitchers, and much more.
If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.