Sunday, October 19, 2008

Most Improved Prospects: Walk Rate

In 2007, the two top prospects that led the walk rate improvement list were Luke Hughes (#2) and Brian Dinkelman (#1).  Dinkelman followed up in 2008 with a solid performance at high-A Fort Myers (though he was two years older than most of the competition) and was revered by Baseball America as having the "Best Strike-Zone Discipline" but Hughes had a breakout season that has led to him being rated by Seth Stohs and the readers at Twinkie Town as the #10 overall prospect in the organization.  Previously, Hughes was a virtual unknown.  John Sickels's at asked the question of where Hughes came from and noting that even Baseball America didn't have Hughes listed among the top prospects for the Twins.  Outside of Dinkelman and Hughes, third baseman Brian Buscher was fourth on the list of most improved and he has found himself a comfortable home as a third base platoon at the Metrodome.  Who is in this year's top five for most improved walk rate and are they tomorrow's Twins?
#5 - Daniel Berg - 1b/Of/DH | 23 years old | 8.7% BB% in 2007 - 11.04% BB% in 2008 | 2.35% increase
Dan Berg, the Twins' 30th round draft selection in 2004 out of Texarkana College, spent his third minor league season at low-A Beloit in 2007 where he posted a lowly .214/.298/.291 batting line with a 32/98 BB/K ratio in 368 plate appearances.  His .589 OPS was well below the Midwest League's average of .696.  This was a significant regression from Berg who had spent 2006 split between Elizabethton and a sip of coffee at Beloit where he finished with a respectable .245/.348/.445 batting line with a 27/56 BB/K ratio in 234 plate appearances.  His induction to his first full season above rookie ball was rough, as he struck out in 26.6% of his plate appearances.  In Berg's defense, the organization was uncertain as to where Berg would best help the club on the field.  He would bring his infielder's glove, outfielder's glove, first baseman's glove and catching equipment to the dugout each day as well as being mentally prepared to be the designated hitter for that game too.  When he was assigned to high-A Fort Myers in 2008, the Twins had all but shelved the idea of Berg being a catcher.  Berg would play the majority of his games at first base and some in left field (those familiar with the Defensive Spectrum should deduce that the Twins are not particularly high on Berg's defense).  In 262 plate appearances with the Miracle, Berg pieced together his best season yet, batting .279/.381/.414 with a 32/49 BB/K ratio.  This earned him a promotion to AA New Britain.  In minimal exposure in the Eastern League, Berg's .255/.327/.319 batting line in 55 plate appearances is far from exceptional.  Berg, who will be 24 in the 2009 season, has now compiled a career line of .234/.329/.350 with 102/241 BB/K ratio.  He will most likely begin the season at New Britain and will need to put up similar numbers to his Fort Myers stint in order to continue to climb the organization's ladder the added patience is a good sign that he can adapted to the higher level of pitching. 
#4 - Matt Moses - Of/DH | 23 years old | 4.49% BB% in 2007 - 8.16% BB% in 2008 | 3.67% increase
When the Twins spent their 21st overall pick in 2003 on the third baseman out of Mills Godwin High School in Richmond, Virginia the front office figured they had found Corey Koskie's replacement in the coming years.  In 2004 as a 19 year old, Baseball America labeled him as the 3rd best prospect in the system.  His .224/.297/.362 batting line in just 128 plate appearances thanks to a lingering back injury while at the Gulf Coast League and Midwest League failed to meet the expectations placed upon someone that was viewed as one the best pure hitters in the 2003 draft.  In 2005, Baseball America dropped him down to the 8th best prospect as the Twins advanced him to high-A Fort Myers as a 20 year old.  While there, Moses showed why he was deemed a top ten prospect hitting .306/.376/.453 with a 28/59 BB/K ratio in 298 plate appearances.  This earned Moses a midseason promotion to AA New Britain where he was unable to compete with the pitcher's that were four years older on average (24.5).  In 204 plate appearances in the Eastern League, Moses hit a lowly .210/.275/.366 but did manage to slug 6 home runs.  Regarding this season as substantial progress, Baseball America once again named him the 3rd best prospect in the system.  The team decided to start Moses at AA giving the 21 year old a full season to develop with older competition.  Though he produced well in the power department (15 home runs, 16 doubles) he was ultimately over-matched as evident by his 35/113 BB/K ratio resulting in a minuscule on-base percentage of .303.  Moses fell completely off of Baseball America's radar.  Instead of giving Moses the opportunity to grow in AA in 2007, the Twins decided to push Moses to AAA Rochester.  The aggressive promotion backfired in the organization's face and after 48 games and a .224/.244/.305 batting line, he was shipped back to the Eastern League.  Part of the problem was that Moses reported to camp thirty pounds lighter than his 2006 season.  On the whole, the season was almost a complete wash in his developmental path as he finished with a .248/.283/.362 line with a 21/93 BB/K ratio and just 6 home runs.  In attempts to allow Moses to refine his swing and approach at the plate, the Twins started him in 2008 at AA again.  While there, he improved his peripheral numbers, walking 35 times and striking out just 65 times - a huge improvement for Moses - but he was unable to avoid defenders in the field as indicated by his .270 batting average on balls in play.  Nearly a quarter of his flyballs hit, which he did so nearly 40% of the time, were infield flies.  Together, this led to a unreasonably low .230/.293/.318 batting line in his third tour of AA ball.  Moses's, though still young, may be on the path to being systematically phased out of the Twins farm system as third base candidates like Dan Valencia and Luke Hughes continue to show progress in stark contrast to the direction that Moses is heading.   Bottom line?  The future is bleak for Matt Moses. 
#3 - David Winfree - RF | 22 years old | 5.31% in 2007 - 10.16% in 2008 | 4.85% increase
Winfree was drafted from high school 12 rounds lower than the aforementioned Matt Moses in 2003 but proved from the onset that he might be the better prospect after being named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2005 while batting .294/.329/.452 with 16 home runs and a 22/93 BB/K ratio.  Excluding his inability to draw a walk, one would have to say that was a very good season for one of the top right-handed power bats in the Twins system.  With vaunted expectations moving into 2006, a shoulder surgery and a thumb injury caused his season to sputter and out of frustration, Winfree returned home to Virginia Beach on a leave of absence.  After five days away from baseball, Winfree returned to Fort Myers where he hit 13 home runs from the end of July to September and was sent to the Arizona Fall League.  In 2007, the Twins started Winfree in AA, making efforts to transition him from the third baseman (who made 34 errors in the season he was named Minor League Player of the Year) to first base.  At the plate, Winfree witnessed his peripherals slide (26 walks to 106 strikeouts) and ended the season with 490 plate appearances, 12 home runs and a .267/.308/.426 batting line.  Recognizing that Justin Morneau at first base is an immovable object for the next few seasons, Winfree was once again repositioned in 2008 as a right fielder (which with Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer there, it is just the same dead-end).  His range was essentially an arm span, Winfree made improvements at the plate in his second year in AA as a 22 year old.  Winfree almost doubled the amount of walks drawn (41) and significantly reduced his strikeouts (86) all leading to a better on-base percentage .319 and his 19 home runs led the team.  The challenge for Winfree in 2009 will be to continue to show patience at the plate and start to develop into a DH with the capabilities of displacing Morneau at first if he needs an off-day without losing much in the power department. 
#2 - Steve Singleton - Inf | 22 years old | 2.05% BB% in 2007 - 7.28% BB% in 2008 | 5.23% increase
The switch-hitting Steven Singleton was drafted out of the University of San Diego (along with relief prospect Anthony Slama) in 2006 with the 336th pick overall.  The 20 year old was sent to Elizabethton where he quickly thrived, batting .340/.368/.556 with 18 extra base hits in 156 plate appearances.  In 2007, Singleton was moved to low-A Beloit where his statistics took a dive, finishing the year with a .271/.294/.346 batting line and 8/47 BB/K ratio.  This past season, the Twins started Singleton back at Beloit where he made wholesale improvement in his game by increasing his walks (from 8 to 19) and reducing his strikeouts (from 47 to 29) and batting .302/.348/.421 in 259 plate appearances.  This production earned the San Francisco native a promotion to high-A Fort Myers where he continued this output, batting .295/.371/.452 in 277 plate appearances, but most importantly posted a 26/24 BB/K ratio against stiffer competition.  For the season Singleton finished batting .301/.362/.439 with 11 home runs and a 39/53 BB/K ratio.  In order for Singleton to emerge as a viable second base candidate, he would have to perform at a similar level in AA in 2009. 
#1 - Chris Parmelee - 1B | 20 years old | 9.16% in 2007 - 17.93% in 2008 | 8.77% increase
Going into the 2006 season, Chris Parmelee was rated the #4 prospect in the Twins organization, brimming with raw power in the farm system that hasn't been seen since Justin Morneau was brought to the big club.  After being drafted out of Chino Hills High School (CA) in 2006 with the 20th pick overall, the Twins sent him to Elizabethton where the six-foot, one-inch, 221-pound lefty mashed 8 home runs in 206 plate appearances (3.2% HR%).  The next season the organization progressed him to low-A Beloit where he hit 15 home runs in 501 plate appearances (2.9% HR%) but struck out an Adam Dunn-like 137 times (27.3%).  The problem with Parmelee in 2007, however, was that he was unable to draw walks the way Adam Dunn could (9.1% BB%).  Strikeouts are frequently blown out of proportion by those that see a number like 137 and assume the worst.  As in, he is a free swinger, an all-or-nothing type.  His 2008 season, his second tour of Beloit, proved the naysayers wrong.  After 226 at-bats, Parmelee was hitting .239/.385/.496 with 14 home runs when he ran into the outfield wall and suffered a wrist injury that would shut him down for the remainder of the season.  He is still at least two years away from seeing Major League action (especially after a season-ending wrist injury).  Still, Parmelee's advancements in his strike zone judgement, going from 46/137 BB/K in 2007 to 52/83 BB/K in 2008, is a huge step forward.