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How to identify potentially super star prospects


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As I wrote in another thread, I think you can generally identify when a player will likely become a super star or become very good. Actually, to state it more precisely, you can identify players that will become super stars and hope that some others will become stars as well. The key is this: put up big time numbers in high A, AA, or AAA before reaching the age of 23. If they don't put up big numbers, they may or may not become super stars. But if they do, they will almost certainly also put up big numbers in the majors.


I'll just use a few players as examples.




In his minor league career, Willis dominated. He was 21 when he first came up to the big leagues. These were his career minor league numbers: 19-4, 2.03 ERA, 0.93 WHIP




11-4, 1.97 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 11.59k/9IP


Manny Ramirez:


.311 .595 Slg


In his last season before reaching the majors (he was 21), he hit over .300 and had a slugging percentage of over .600 in AA and AAA.



Same thing can be said for Pujols, A-Rod, etc. This is just the trend.


So, in short, the guys we're hoping to get from the Rangers probably won't be stars. Just like we identified Willis in 2002 (he had dominating numbers before the trade, but wasn't ranked very high among the Cubs' prospects for whatever reason) we should identify another 20/21 year old in the Rangers system will big time numbers.



By the way, I am sure SBR guys have already done this. If so, hopefully one of you can post their findings.

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Johan Santana minor league: 24-23, 4.56 ERA, 1.36 WHIP 9.41 K/9

Chris Carpenter minor league: 22-31, 3.71 ERA, 1.38 WHIP 7.18 K/9

Randy Johnson minor league: 28-27, 3.46 ERA, 1.51 WHIP 9.64 K/9

Thomas Diamond minor league: 14-6, 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 10.86 K/9


This board has fallen in love (hate?) with his AA debut struggles and ignore his 8-0, 1.99 that got him called up. He's going to be very good, he just had some struggles adjusting to a level, big deal.

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My argument is that when a player under the age of 23 puts up big time numbers in high A, AA or AAA they will be stars. There are some that don't put up big time numbers at those ages that will become stars. My argument wasn't, "if you don't put up great nubers under the age of 23 then you're going to suck or you aren't going to be a star."

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This is laughable.. You can't tell how good a prospect is by just looking at his numbers. I sure as hell hope thats not how we do things.



Not just numbers... but age and what level they're producing those numbers. Dontrelle was dominating. Josh was dominating. Miggy dominated AA when he was 20. Pujols did the same thing. Manny. Carlos Delgado. Etc. Just look it up.



Just look up all the big time stars. See how they did when they were really young. With a few exceptions, they all dominated.



But I bet we could find a whole list of guys who dominated who clearly aren't big time stars.


Dominated as 20 or 21 year olds? I am sure you can. However, the question isn't whether you can find some, because you can always find examples one way or the other. So, there are two questions. First, among those 20, 21, 22 year olds that dominate high A, AA, and AAA, how many become stars? Second, among those 20, 21, 22 year olds that don't do well in A, AA, and AAA, how many become stars? I bet that you'll find that the ones that put up the big time numbers are MUCH MORE LIKELY to become stars.


I am going to try to find if any SBR guys wrote about this.

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Rob Neyer wrote about this. His theory is a little different than mine, but it's close.





Identifying baseball's next big stars is easier than you probably think. I realized this after looking at the lists of top prospects published in John Sickels' old (1995-2001) Minor League Scouting Notebooks. I use John's lists because 1) I believe in them, and 2) he's been a friend and a colleague for longer than I care to remember.


Let's look at John's top hitting prospects entering the 1998 season (and by the way, I selected 1998 mostly at random from that range of seven years). You ready for this?


1. Adrian Beltre


2. Ben Grieve


3. Paul Konerko


4. Todd Helton


5. Aramis Ramirez


6. Travis Lee


7. Miguel Tejada


8. Mark Kotsay


9. Chad Hermansen


10. Sean Casey


Pretty good list, huh? Say what you want about Ben Grieve, but the guy did win the Rookie of the Year Award in '98, and two seasons later he drove in 104 runs. Travis Lee's career, of course, hasn't been what everybody expected. And Pirates second baseman Chad Hermansen just never quite worked out, almost solely due to his inability to control the strike zone. Hermansen's enjoyed brief major league stints with four different clubs in the last three seasons, but at 27 his chance of winning an everyday job in the majors has dwindled to something like zero.


Generally, though, that's a list composed of major league stars, with seven of the 10 earning healthy salaries in 2005. Why did John do so well that year? Well, it was an exceptionally good year, even by John's standards; in 2000, John's top hitting prospects included Dee Brown, Ben Petrick and Ruben Mateo. But mostly, John did so well in 1998 because identifying the very best prospects just isn't all that tough.


Here's the same list of prospects, but this time accompanied by the ages of each player in 1997, and the professional levels at which he played that season. See if you can spot the running theme:


Age Level(s)


1. Adrian Beltre 18! F-A


2. Ben Grieve 21 AA/AAA/MLB


3. Paul Konerko 21 AAA


4. Todd Helton 23 AAA/MLB


5. Aramis Ramirez 19 AAA


6. Travis Lee 22 A/AAA


7. Miguel Tejada 21 AA


8. Mark Kotsay 21 AA


9. Chad Hermansen 19 AA


10. Sean Casey 22 AA/AAA


Beltre was only 18, and destroyed pitchers in the fast-A Florida State League (which is generally a pitchers' league). That's why Sickels wrote, "Adrian Beltre is the best prospect in baseball."


Grieve tore through the minors at 21, finishing with an impressive September with the big club. Konerko destroyed the Pacific Coast League, the only real question being whether he could play third base in the majors (you know how that one turned out).


Aramis Ramirez didn't actually tear up Class AAA. But he held his own, and a 19-year-old who holds his own in the International League is, by definition, an outstanding prospect. Yes, it took him a bit longer to find his feet than we thought -- but wouldn't you like to have him now?


Helton's the oldest player on the list; he actually turned 24 late in the 1997 season. What's more, he struggled in his first professional season after the Rockies grabbed him with the eighth pick of the 1995 amateur draft. Ex-collegians like Helton would seem to have a disadvantage in this whole age/performance/league equation, as they simply don't have a chance to dominate Class A when they're 20, or AAA when they're 21. But the basic rule is the same. If a college player isn't doing exceptionally well in his second or third professional season, then he's just not likely to become a star.


Are their exceptions? Sure. But the top five OPSs in the National League last season were posted by Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Adrian Beltre. Helton and Beltre, you already know about. Bonds opened his professional career in Class AA, and was playing every day in the majors before his 22nd birthday. Pujols destroyed the Class A Midwest League when he was 20. And while Edmonds was something of a dark horse prospect, he probably shouldn't have been: The summer he turned 22, he batted .307 with good power in the two highest levels of the minors.


Let's do the same thing for the American League, where the top five OPSers last season were Manny Ramirez, Travis Hafner, Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz and Melvin Mora. At 21, Ramirez thrived in the Class AA Eastern League (and did even better after moving to Triple-A later that summer). Hafner got off to a relatively slow start. Unlike most of the players we've discussed, he actually "repeated" a league, returning to the Class A South Atlantic League in his third professional season. He found his power that year (1999), but the Rangers -- this was before he was traded to the Indians -- moved him slowly, one level per season, perhaps because Mark Teixeira outranked Hafner on the depth chart. In most organizations, Hafner would have moved up faster. At 20, Vlad Guerrero batted .360. And Melvin Mora? He's some sort of freak. Forget about him.


If identifying the best prospects is about identifying the best players, then the place to start is the players' ages rather than their statistics. If you have a .250 hitter in the Pacific Coast League who's 20, and a .300 hitter in the PCL who's 24, it's the .250 hitter who's more likely to enjoy the good major league career. For a current example of what I'm talking about, let's look at two outstanding young third basemen, Atlanta's Andy Marte and Orange County's Dallas McPherson:


Age Level(s) OBP Slug


Marte 20 AA .364 .525


MacP 23 AA/AAA .387 .670


Marte's numbers last year were depressed by an ankle injury, and he's the superior defensive player. But what really makes him one of the two or three best prospects in the game is that first column. The summer McPherson turned 21, he played in the Rookie-level Pioneer League (and batted .395 in 31 games). The summer before Marte turned 21, he was beating up experienced professional pitchers in the Southern League.


Which isn't to say, of course, that McPherson won't wind up with a better major league career than Marte, because McPherson's an outstanding prospect, too; doing well in the Pacific Coast League at 23, as McPherson did in 2004, is itself a strong indicator of future success. But what Marte's done is simply more impressive, because he was 20 when he did it.


Pitchers are different -- but only to a point. The rules aren't quite the same because 1) pitchers get seriously hurt more often than hitters, and 2) pitchers don't develop in quite the same way that hitters do. But when Greg Maddux was 20, he went 10-1 in Class AAA. When Pedro Martinez was 20, he posted a 3.81 ERA in the Pacific Coast League. When Roger Clemens was 21, he was pitching in Fenway Park. When identifying future star pitchers, you're still looking for youth, along with (of course) stuff, control and strikeouts.


There are a lot of ways to make a career in major league baseball. But if you're trying to identify the players who might one day be in the Hall of Fame, all you have to do is find the youngest players in each good league who are holding their own. Those are the future stars, and that's how it's been from Babe Ruth to Willie Mays to Barry Bonds to Alex Rodriguez.

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