George Springer is in the big leagues! George Springer may not work out.
That’s the stark reality when it comes to prospects. Even the very best can be a crapshoot. A top-ten position player prospect has nearly a 40% bust rate. Springer was ranked 18th on Baseball America’s list going into the season, so he has as much of a chance to be a bust (41%) as to be superior (40%).
Move down the list, and it just gets worse. A pitcher ranked between 30th and 50th on that sort of prospect list has an 80% bust rate. 80%! By the time you leave the top 100, your pitcher has a one-in-ten shot at respectability in the big leagues.
So remember this when you’re after the next hot thing in a redraft league. You’re not only asking your prospect to be a great player — the benchmark for productivity in a 12-team mixed league is actually very high — but you’re asking him to be a great player in his first year.
Let’s name the tiers after prospects in the minor leagues that are likely to come up this year, in order of their likelihood of contributing this year.
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Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The “Gregory Polanco” Tier.)
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
While Travis Snider and Jose Tabata muck about in the major leagues, a top-ten prospect is killing it at their position in the minor leagues. Polanco’s second taste of Triple-A has him hitting over .400 with power and speed, but the real best news is that his strikeout rate once again dropped. Power with a strikeout rate under 10% is virtually unheard of, and it bodes really well for his ability to help right away. Take a look at George Springer’s strikeouts, and know that strikeouts and batting average inversely correlated — the batting average on a K is zero. With Tabata possibly hurting himself today, it's unclear if Polanco's time frame has changed. Travis Snider is the one playing almost every day, and playing okay. Still, if this team needs a jolt on the offensive side, it's Polanco that will provide it.
There are cracks now in the elite tier. Craig Kimbrel’s shoulder hurts, but he’s throwing catch and will supposedly avoid the DL, so David Carpenter is not the hottest of pickups. Kenley Jansen blew the save Tuesday night, but he had some help. His cutter is now headed to the plate two and a half miles per hour faster, and his strikeout rate has risen with it. Right now, more than half of the balls put in play off him are hits, and that won’t continue. He should get used to his new velocity soon and right the ship. Koji Uehara threw 86 innings last year, a full 20 more than he’d ever thrown before. No surprise that his shoulder hurts. He’s supposedly fine and will return to the Boston bullpen Thursday. You can drop Edward Mujica now.
Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The “George Springer“ Tier.)
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers
Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks
It’s tempting to put someone from the Cubs here, but that team doesn’t seem like it’s in a hurry to bring up their top two positional prospects. And anyway, those guys have things to work on. Kris Bryant may be an outfielder, so he has a bit of time to prove he can be a third baseman. If he can’t, his bat is ready, and might be ahead of Springer’s when it comes to batting average leagues. Javier Baez needs to improve his defense at short, and anyway the big league team has a decent shortstop. So Springer it is, despite his career strikeout rate over 25% in the minor leagues. He’s likely to hit for a bad batting average (with a good OBP), but the man who went 37/45 between Double- and Triple-A last year has enough power and speed upside to matter in any league. The bust rate comes from those strikeouts though.
Trevor Rosenthal should right the ship, and given his position on a team that will score some runs, and his talent, which is good enough to put together a double-digit strikeout rate with a great WHIP, he could be elite soon. There’s no real reason to doubt him. Sure, his velocity is down a bit, 96 instead of 97, but between April and August, there’s usually about a mile per hour to be gained in your average fastball velocity. Also: 96 is good. Otherwise, his swinging strike rate is there, and though his walk rate isn’t great right now, it’s note terrible. A couple walk-less innings will fix that.
Jason Grilli’s velocity says he’s good, but the command isn’t quite there, and his injury is often a harbinger of surgery. But he could join the elite tier with a nice healthy stretch too. Sergio Romo’s velocity is up a tick, and he’s throwing the change up twice as much as he ever did before. Maybe a postseason of rest is what he needed for a nice healthy year. Though the change isn’t getting whiffs like an average change (9% swinging strike rate, average is 15%), just having confidence in it might be enough to improve his work against lefties.
And let’s invite Addison Reed into the rock-steady group. His team isn’t winning a ton of games, but he’s enjoying the weaker league, as his swinging strike rate is into the elite territory right now, and his strikeout rate has risen with it. He regained some of the velocity he lost last year, and he’s showing his customary command.
Read about the more volatile closer situations on the next page.