Friday, July 25, 2008

BP News on Giants Prospects

Baseball Prospectus is having a free week, so I checked out their latest prospect musing on the Giants (link won't work after Sunday 7/27 I believe). They had two items:


  • Bumgarner: They had an interesting quote from a scout:
    One veteran scout who saw Bumgarner this year walked away with nothing bad to say, noting that his breaking ball, which was his main weakness coming in, has progressed by leaps and bounds. "Right now, his curve flashes OK, but for me it projects as a real power-type curveball and a plus pitch," said the scout, who followed with a laundry list of other positive characteristics. "He's young for the year, he has above-average velocity, his control is outstanding, and his command is getting there—he has a repeatable delivery, clean arm action, he's very competitive and an excellent makeup guy. I like him a lot and think he'll move fast."
  • Villalona: Scout also had this to say about Angel:
    ... the scout who was so impressed with Bumgarner was also impressed with the 17-year-old Dominican, albeit with some reservations. "His raw power is just off the charts," said the scout. "It's massive raw power—he'll mis-hit balls in [batting practice] and they go 390 feet, but right now he's very restless at the plate." The scout explained that with such pedestrian numbers, the amount of projection currently required is a bit discomforting, but his age provides some promise. "You have to take a leap with him and use your imagination, but no matter how you look at it, his performance and projection are seriously gapped," he continued. "At the same time, he could theoretically be in this same league for four more years and still be age-appropriate for the level."
Giants Thoughts

Sabean said as much about Bumgarner on the day the Giants drafted him. Sabean thought that it might take Bumgarner (and Alderson) only a couple of years to make the majors. For that to come true, they would either be called up next season in September or actually make the club in spring training 2010. That would be faster than how Matt Cain did it, though he was still only 20 when he came up to the majors for good.

That's also as much as has been said about Villalona as well. People are projecting 40+ homers for him. And while there is a lot of projection involved, the scout should get serious, here's a 17 year old hitter taking on 21-22 year olds and still hitting .710 OPS against them, with 12 homers in 332 AB, tying him for 15th in the league in HR. That's 27.7 AB/HR, which is pretty good.

Plus, remember, this is his first experience in a long season league - he played briefly in an rookie league then the short-season A-level league last season. And he has improved each month he has played, in one way or another.

His homers have improved to about 23.3 AB/HR. His BABIP has increased each month. He reduced his GB% and boosted his LD% greatly, from 10% his first month to roughly 20% since April. Line drives is the most likely to become a hit among the various batted balls there is. He is hitting better on the road than at home, so his numbers are getting depressed by that. HR rate on road is 26.0 AB/HR vs. 30.0 at home. In close and late situations, albeit small samples, but he has a .876 OPS with 6 homers in 81 AB. His OPS has marched from .598 in April to .759 to .720 to .790.

So while his overall numbers are pedestrian, the view changes when you look at his last couple of months, and tie that with how he is 4-5 years younger in age and professional/college experience. From that view, he is doing very well, and would deserve to get promoted to San Jose next season. I don't see why he thinks that Villalona might get another season in Augusta.

Particularly since the Giants grouped a lot of the top or better prospects together on the team: Bumgarner, Noonan, Culberson, Thomas Neal, Waldis Joaquin, Daniel Otero. As long as he's not embarrassing himself, like Jeremiah Luster did and still does, he should get promoted to San Jose next season. After a horrible April, Villalona has acquited himself well, and better, each month. That's all you can really ask out of a prospect.

And if he's a bit restless at the plate, perhaps he's bored by how poorly pitchers pitch in this league, he is, afterall, a young genius playing with lessers. Some prospects with poor peripherals like Angel get exposed as they rise, but he's only 17, imagine if you were a 12 year old playing against 17 year olds, that would give you an inkling of the difficulties he is facing and surmounting.

I think he will probably do better as he rises because he will face better and better pitchers, which means that he should be getting more and more pitches that are actually in the strike zone, and be balls that he could handle and hit well. The key, as it ever was and is for hitting prospects, is if he can learn to lay off enough to force pitchers to be honest and throw him strikes. If he can do that enough, he can rise up the system much like Schierholtz has, striking out a lot, but still hitting at every level. But I'm no expert on this, this just seems to make sense to me right now.

In any case, I would take the scout's worries about Villalona with a boulder of salt. Of course there is huge projections involved: he's only 17! For comparison, the Met's Fernando Martinez started out in the Sally League too at 17, and he did do better than Angel in terms of OPS and walks and strikeouts, but he couldn't muster more than 5 HR in 192 AB. Plus he's a speedy guy, so he's going to get more infield hits over a big guy like Villalona. Arizona's Justin Upton, played in A-ball league when he was 18 and only hit .263/.343/.413/.756 with 12 HR in 438 AB over a full season, not much better than what Angel has done this season at 17. The next year, he hit .341/.433/.540/.973 in Advance A (5 HR in 126 AB) then .309/.399/.556/.955 with 13 HR in 259 AB in AA, before getting the call to the majors at the age of 19. That's too much to hope for Villalona, but I just want to show that low numbers don't mean that he's necessarily struggling, because when you are that young, there are a multitude of reasons he hasn't hit that well, plus you throw in the language learning curve, that's another obstacle for Angel to go over.

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