Needle in a Haystack: Jeff McNeil

Jeff McNeil got the call end of July and got off to a quiet start in his first 9 games slashing .190/.370/.333. That is a juicy OBP with him getting on base in 6 of the 9 games but showing little of the ability he had shown in the minors in 2018. Then he went on a 3 game tear that resulted in him going 8 for 13 with a homer and a pair of doubles. After that 3 game performance, he caught my eye and I did some research on him and found that he was doing just ridiculous things in the minors. Look at these stats across AA and AAA this season before his callup:

LVL G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wRC+
AA 57 241 14 49 43 3 9.1% 9.5% .299 .327 .402 .626 181
AAA 31 143 5 23 28 3 9.8% 13.3% .232 .368 .427 .600 163

 

He has made minor league pitching look incredibly easy and showed that he had nothing to left to prove at the minor league level and is off to a pretty good start in the Majors. Nothing spectacular but if his numbers this season in the minors are any indication he could continue producing. So where did he come from?

Throughout his minor league career, he had posted consistent BB% (8-10%) and K% (10-13%), which are certainly signs of good bat-to-ball skills and good plate discipline. The problem is that he had never shown any power until this season. His highest ISO prior to this season was .152 in 30 games in 2017 at the High A level.

So, is the sudden power a mirage or is it real? The answer is–I’m not sure. His batted ball profile hasn’t changed much over his minor league career, until this year but only for his AA stint. During his stint at AAA, His flyball percentage increased to 49.7% which is higher than his career norm of about 35%. He reverted to 33.7% when he got called up to AAA but still had a .232 ISO indicating he was hitting the ball just as hard but wasn’t getting the ball up in the air to get it over the fences.

He has enough plate appearances at both levels to wonder which McNeil will appear in the bigs? The bat-to- ball skills have always seemed to be there for McNeil, but the power hasn’t until this season, and arguably that was only apparent at AA. Whether or not the power is real will be a huge factor in the type of player McNeil becomes. If it isn’t real he will probably become the utility player that many scouts believed him to be early in his career. But if the recent power emergence is real, well we could be looking at a diamond in the rough for deep league owners. I think at this current juncture that his floor is around a .280 hitter with 10 homers with good counting stats if in a decent lineup (he isn’t at the moment). However, I think there is some indication that there is some 25-30 homerun potential in his bat. I’d argue he’s going to be closer to his floor than his ceiling, but he is definitely a player to watch.

When doing this evaluation on McNeil I decided to do a quick filter of our database of players of a similar profile of McNeil and try to find diamonds in the rough for you potential deep league owners. I created a profile of:

  • Minimum 100 AB’s at any given level
  • K% < 16%
  • BB% > 8%
  • ISO >.200 (sorted players by ISO)

I’m going to quickly highlight two guys that I thought were interesting while creating this profile (I will be focusing on guys in AA and AAA and ignoring big-time prospects). It should be noted that almost every big-time prospect was on this list that was created (Vlad, Kiriloff, Cabello, Eloy, Franco) so hopefully, that bodes well for everyone else on the list:

Ramon Urias, 2B Cardinals

Age Class AB AVG wOBA SLG K% BB% wRC+ BABIP ISO
24 AA 155 .335 .440 .606 14.4% 9.4% 170 .358 .271
AAA 73 .233 .321 .466 22.8% 6.3% 88 .255 .233

 

When I did my latest writeup on Antonio Cabello and posted it to r/fantasybaseball on Reddit, this player was brought up to me by a user when we started discussing McNeil (before I started writing this). Lo and behold, he was one of the top guys on my list that was generated by one of my great colleagues. Ramon’s younger brother is Luis Urias, who is one of the top prospects in the Padres’ system. Ramon was signed out of the Mexican baseball league by the St. Louis Cardinals. He was originally in the Rangers’ system, but they let him go after only 2 seasons. He had been playing in Mexico ever since. He put up some monster numbers over there and was finally brought back to the states this season where it looks like those Mexican league numbers were pretty legit. He has been called up to AAA and has been there for 29 games. He seems to have slowed a bit but is still a player to watch. I’m a big believer that if you can perform well at the AA level you have MLB potential so don’t count him out yet for a slow start at the AAA level.

Connor Joe, 1B/3B Dodgers

Age Class AB AVG wOBA SLG K% BB% wRC+ BABIP ISO
25 AA 204 .304 .432 .554 23.0% 15.3% 165 .375 .250
AAA 127 .299 .381 .520 17.4% 9.7% 126 .333 .220

 

I’m going to be completely honest here. I’m only including him the only person who can compete with him for the best sports name is Ricky Bobby. HE HAS TWO FIRST NAMES! As a side note, there was a player from 1895-1905 named Joe Connor. So, I’m basically certain that if Connor Joe traveled to the upside down this would be his doppelganger. In all seriousness though, he’s actually an intriguing player. Originally drafted 39th overall in 2014 by the Pirates. He has been traded a couple of times already: once to the Braves, and then he was traded to the Dodgers (where he currently resides) last year for international amateur signing bonus pool money. He’s always had some power potential based on early scouting reports but never really put it together. He’s always had on-base skills too. But then this year he is finally showing some power, not unlike McNeil, but not quite the bat to ball skills. With how much depth the Dodgers have in the Majors right now, especially at the corner infield positions, we probably won’t see him this season. He’s probably a trade candidate this offseason and depending on the team he ends up with he could be someone to keep an eye on next year.

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