Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Most Improved Prospects (Increased Plate Awareness Edition)

The Oakland Athletics have a keen eye for finding prospects that have the ability to get on base through walks whether it be the highly touted prospects like Carlos Pena and Daric Barton (who had a 13.0% walk rate in Triple-A) to Jack Hannahan* who was an solid mid-season acquisition that once again was plucked from another organization that did not value the walk. Jack Cust had an obscene walk rate of 24.4% in 2006 and was still not given the chance at the major league level until Oakland acquired him. Even newly pilfered prospects from the Diamondbacks organization in the Dan Haren trade have a history of patience. Billy Beane realized early on that one of the hardest things to teach is plate discipline, so he has stocked his farm system with batters that have a good idea of the strike zone. Patience has never been a strong virtue practiced by the Twins nor has it been a trait targeted when acquiring prospective talent. It stands to reason that having a roster of players that a) do not swing at bad pitches, b) makes the pitcher throw more pitches then necessary and c) gets on base in the process is a good philosophical building block for a team.

More than that, monitoring the walkrate is a good barometer for evaluating talent in the farm system. It is a major indication of whether or not a prospect is adapting to pitching. If a prospect is elevated to the next level and sees a significant decrease in the walks rate it is a telling sign that the player might not be able to assimilate. For instance, one-time heir to the third base throne Matt Moses had a solid year in 2005 at Ft Myers with a walk rate of 9.4% (28 walks in 304 plate appearances), midway through the season he received a promotion to Double-A New Britain where he struggled and saw his walk rate drop to 6.9% (14 walks in 204 plate appearances). The following season Moses started at New Britain and had a similar walk rate of 6.8% (30 walks in 516 plate appearances) leading to a very pedestrian obp of .295. The Twins, who have been reluctant to relinquish their faith in the former 1st round draft pick from 2003, let him begin 2007 with the Rochester Red Wings where his very poor walk rate of 2.2% (a ridiculous 4 walks in 181 plate appearances) got him bumped back down to New Britain for the remainder of the season. It is normal for a prospect to experience some neutralization when acclimating to higher levels of considering that the pitching talent should be getting more accurate as they ascend through the farm system.

Between 2006 and 2007, the Twins have had several of their prospects make significant inward adjustments in their approach at the batter's box:

5) Brock Peterson - 8.0% in 2006/10.1% in 2007 - increase of 2.1%

Drafted in the 49th round in 2002, 23-year old Peterson had the dubious privilege of not only being in Justin Morneau's shadow but also Garrett Jones. He had a solid season at Quad City (leading the team in hits) however the offensive production in his first season at Double-A New Britain has projected him past Jones in a lot of people's minds. In his second season at high-A Ft Myers in 2006 Peterson hit .291/.356/.497 with an ops of .853 in a league that averaging .701 and on a team that was averaging .696. He supplemented that with 21 home runs and an isolated power average (ISOP) of .206 to an organization desperate for power. This earned him the opportunity of Double-A. Peterson had a tough time in the early months of the season (a walk rate of 5.8%, 5.8% and 2.6% in April through June) but followed that with a strong July and August (21.9% and 18.3% respectively) and end with a .285/.381/.476 line (as well as 15 home runs). His .858 ops was 120 points high than the league average.

4) Brian Buscher - 7.4% in 2006/10.0% in 2007 - increase of 2.6%

Also a member of the previous Twins Top Five (contact edition), Brian Buscher has since been relegated to utility role now that the Twins have signed Mike Lamb. Gleeman has the full run down on Buscher's career which certainly has had its ebb and flow. His power has been described as Ron Coomer-esque, his defensive at third is serviceable (better than Lamb) and he would be a candidate for one half of a platoon but his peripheral numbers in the past season has sent the message that he might only be getting better. Last season when splitting three level, Buscher proved that he is better than a throw away prospect hitting Double-A and Triple-A pitching well. His stint with Minnesota was less reassuring to the front office that Buscher was the 2008 opening day third baseman (.244/.323/.329 in 93 plate appearances), but he was able to reduce his strikeouts and increase his walkrate which may indicate a turned corner. If nothing else, Buscher/Matt Macri will make a phenomenal platoon at Rochester in '08.

3) Juan Portes - 5.2% in 2006/8.1% in 2007 - increase of 2.9%

Another alum of the previous Twins Top Five (contact edition), Portes's consistency in 553 plate appearances for Fort Myers should earn him a promotion to New Britain in 2008. Almost all of his numbers improved in 2007 over his previous season in Beloit:

Extended Statistics
2006 20 A Beloit 288 268 .079 5.2% 19.1% .284 46% 11% .256
2007 21 A+ Fort Myers 553 495 .141 8.1% 16.1% .307 41% 19% .324

2) Luke Hughes - 6.3% in 2006/9.9% in 2007 - increase of 3.6%

This 23-year old non-drafted Australian native second baseman had the best season of his career last year but was a seemingly different player every month: one month it appeared he was swinging wildly for the fence the next he had zen like discipline. The results were a .283/.353/.438 season with 34 walks and 68 strikeouts in 362 plate appearances for New Britain. The Twins have Alexi Casilla playing second in Rochester or Minneapolis next season, more than likely Rochester, so Hughes will have to have an exceptional season to move further up in the organization or risk becoming a causality.

1) Brian Dinkelman - 4.7% in 2006/11.5% in 2007 - increase of 6.8%

Dinkelman will be on of the most watched position player the Twins have in their organization after his performance in 2007 not only because it was good but because the clock might be against him. After being named to the Midwest All-Star game, the 24-year-old Dinkelman hit .269/.367/.437 between low-A Beloit and high-A Ft Myers. He has a high walkrate and a low strikeout rate while hitting a good amount of line drives in play (16% of batted balls). The problem with Dinkelman (besides his name sounding like it belongs to a mathlete) is that he is considerably older than his competition of low-A and his numbers would be slightly padded due to facing more inexperienced pitching. That being said, Dinkelman has to be a strong bet to be given the opportunity to play in Double-A in 2008 if his starts the season well in Ft Myers.

*As a matter of personal experience, in high school Hannahan hit a home run off of me that cleared Hamline Avenue by four or five houses. Then again, I was the Brad Radke of Minnesota High School baseball and gave up quite a few jack-bombs my junior year. Brutal.