The WAR Room: Performance-based rankings, #80 - #71
Rookie ball debuts from Pantoja, Algarin, Carter headline part three of the 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 pitchers and hitters
- The Arizona League pitchers and hitters
And here are the previous editions of these rankings:
Now, on to the rankings:
#80: Trevor Frank, RHP
Though Frank does not come as a highly-touted draft prospect -- he was selected in the eighth round of the 2013 draft as an underslot college senior sign -- but the right-hander came out firing in his first full professional season. Though Frank was old as a 23-year-old in Low-A, the right-hander put up an impressive 29.4 percent strikeout rate (140 K%+) and an extremely low 4.3 percent walk rate (52 BB%+) in 54.2 innings, which was the largest difference in strikeout rate and walk rate in the entire system among relievers with significant innings. Frank will be making his High-A debut in his age-24 season next year -- not a great indicator for his future -- but the right-hander has done nothing but produce since being drafted. Until he stops getting outs, Frank is an arm to keep an eye on.
#79 Shao-Ching Chiang, RHP
Heading into 2014, Chiang had thrown a singular inning down in Arizona in 2012 and 2013. But the right-hander finally got his chance to throw in game action last year and did not disappoint. Though Chiang’s 4.53 ERA (113 ERA-) does not jump out, his 3.16 FIP (79 FIP-) and rock bottom 1.7 percent walk rate (18 BB%+) in 45.2 innings point to a pitcher who outperformed his ERA. Chiang has not shown strikeout stuff on the mound yet (18.7 percent strikeout rate, 82 K%+), but most importantly for the right-hander, he began progressing through the system and could get a shot at a full season league in 2015. After signing for $250,000 out of Taiwan in 2011, the 20-year-old is still young and, with a solid showing next year in Lake County, would be on an age-appropriate developmental path.
#78 Tyler Cloyd, RHP
One of the least sexy positions in baseball is that of the major league depth starter stashed away in Triple-A, but it is also one of the very necessary roster spots for a successful organization. Cloyd filled that role for Cleveland last year, and while he probably was not as good as his 3.89 ERA (96 ERA-) shows, he would have soaked up innings if the rotation fell apart in 2014. The 27-year-old will be back in the same role in 2015 after signing a minor league contract with an invite to the big league spring training and should spend most of the season (if not all of it) in Columbus, where he will try to throw a no-hitter in back-to-back years with the Clippers.
#T-76 Alexis Pantoja, SS
On the plus side, when it comes to Pantoja, there is no doubt about his defensive ability. Being someone able to pick it at shortstop has a ton of value, but in order for Pantoja to ultimately make the majors, he will need to start hitting. The 2014 ninth round pick still has time for his bat to develop, but as of right now, there are plenty of questions after the 18-year-old posted a .595 OPS (88 OPS+) and .035 isolated power (34 ISO+) in 40 Arizona League games. Pantoja makes a ton of contact -- which is exactly what a speedy guy without much power should be doing, but he needs to raise that 7.5 percent walk rate (81 BB%+) in order to have any value at the plate. We will need to see Pantoja in a full professional season before saying anything definitive, but right now, we can definitely say the shortstop has work to do offensively.
#T-76 Erick Algarin, RHP
Making his stateside debut after pitching well in the Dominican Summer League in 2013, Algarin came out in The WAR Room rankings as the best reliever on Cleveland’s Arizona League team in 2014. Though some of that was helped by a low 2.32 ERA (58 ERA-) that was not supported by his peripherals (3.29 FIP, 82 FIP-), Algarin still put up a solid 26.4 strikeout rate (116 K%+) while only walking 6.4 percent of the batters he faced (69 BB%+). Rookie ball relievers do not receive the best future value projections -- since they have already been shifted out of the more valuable starting role -- but the 19-year-old Algarin is definitely on the right track.
#75 Jodd Carter, OF
There was not much power on hand for Carter’s professional debut (.063 isolated power, 61 ISO+), but the 24th round pick in 2014 still put up some nice numbers thanks to being above-average in both strikeout rate (19.0 percent strikeout rate, 82 K%+) and walk rate (10.2 percent walk rate, 111 BB%+), Carter spent his time in left field down in Arizona, but while that is not a glamorous position, the fact that 2014 was his age-17 season means there is plenty of time for the outfielder to grow. Even if Carter spends all of 2015 in rookie ball, he will still be on an age-appropriate path through the minors.
#74 Jerrud Sabourin, 1B
Sabourin’s season was a season in two parts. After getting the call to Double-A for the first time, Sabourin was sent back down to High-A after only 12 games. The bat just was not there in Akron, but following his demotion, the 25-year-old started hitting like he had not before. Most importantly for the first baseman, Sabourin came into some power during his time in Carolina, posting a slightly below-average .112 isolated power (91 ISO+) in addition to his customary high on-base percentage. If the power turns out to be a real step forward for Sabourin, he could be pretty solid statistically in addition to being a great clubhouse guy. The clubhouse present could keep Sabourin around for years, but if the first baseman starts being a little better on the field too, it will really help him stick around.
#73 Thomas Pannone, LHP
The 12.1 percent walk rate (130 BB%+) Pannone ran in 2014 is obviously not great, but since the left-hander paired it with an exciting 31.2 percent strikeout rate (137 K%+), it all came together nicely for him. Taking his second try at the Arizona League, Pannone put up some impressive numbers and looks like someone with strikeout ability to pay attention to in the years to come. Naturally, he will need to work on that walk rate -- losing even part of that high strikeout rate in 2015 could sink Pannone’s season without any improvement -- but it is always smart to bet on someone able to strikeout nearly one-third of the batters he faces. It may only be 45.0 rookie ball innings, but 2014 definitely looks like a good building block for Pannone’s future.
#72 Bryson Myles, OF
Quite a few of the players low in these rankings are here because they played in the short seasons leagues and are so far from the majors, but that is not the case with Myles. The combination of injury and being old for Double-A brought Myles down here, but while making your Double-A debut in your age-24 season is less than ideal, there is some hope still for Myles. The outfielder was solidly average at the plate in 2014, and while that was helped a bit by batted ball luck, that is not the worst thing to see from a talented prospect making his debut at Double-A. Myles will need to be healthy in 2015 and take a real step forward in order to regain some prospect shine, but the 25-year-old is talented enough to deserve more chances.
#71 David Speer, LHP
Yet another 2014 late-round draft pick who made an impressive professional debut was Speer, a 27th round draft pick who led the way for the Scrappers bullpen thanks to his 2.74 ERA (77 ERA-) and 2.41 FIP (68 FIP-). Those are the kind of numbers that come with a 27.2 percent strikeout rate (136 K%+) and 4.6 percent walk rate (60 BB%+), figures Speer we try to emulate as he moves to a full season league in 2015. The 27th round may not be a hotbed for major league talent, but it does happen. Provided Speer keeps pitching like this, his low draft standing will not matter much at all.
Next week we will tackle #70 through #61, which features some major league-ready relief arms, some low level surprises, 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.