Overreactions to small sample sizes in a new season are certainly not only meant for major league players, right? As we’ve made our way through another week of minor league games the heads at the Baseball Farm are starting to spin on which guys are really looking to prove something in 2018. Let’s see if we can find some potential benefactors of our early season hype train. At the farm our “Blueberry” rankings rank a position playing prospects individual performance relative to all other MiLB performances (Strawberry rankings are for pitchers). If you are not familiar with the blueberry rankings, a more detailed description can be found here.
For a quick recap on Blueberry rankings:
Blueberry rankings are on a 0-9 scale, with each number representing the percentile rank a prospect achieved for each category compared to their peers.
The ‘Blueberry’ hitting categories (reading left to right) are Batting Average – On Base Percentage – Slugging Percentage – Stolen Bases – At Bats.
We want to be sure to include at bats as a measure for several reasons but particularly this early in the season where stats will be inflated. Let’s take a look at some of the top Blueberry ranked hitters who are 20 years old or younger based on stats for this young 2018 season while also having a percentile ranking of 70 or higher in ABs.
Stats as of 4/16/2018
Two names immediately jump off to me on this list and you can probably guess that those names are Soto and Naylor. Coming into this season Soto was considered a hot commodity by some. MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the number 29 prospect in baseball and several other sites have him in their top 50. Heck, our very own Harvest draft saw Soto go in the first round to Jason Woodell. Soto is continuing his incredible minor league career with a .361/.489/.861 slash, 4 home runs and 19 RBIs. He comes in at number 4 on our Baseball Farm rankings list for stats on the 2018 season. Amazingly his slash line continues to be in line with his minor league career averages. Between Soto and Robles, the Nationals might be pressed to think about whether they truly need to shell out for Harper’s expected record breaking contract.
Now to the Josh Naylor conundrum. Miami’s first round pick in 2015 who is now playing in the San Diego Padres system after being traded in the 2016 summer is the hottest player in the minors right now. The question is, is it a breakout or just an anomaly? Well, lets take a look at what he’s done so far this season by the numbers. Slashing an incredible .436/.531/.923 Naylor comes in strong as our number 1 ranked player at the moment. His 6 home runs are half way to his career high of 12 but to me the most impressive thing thus far is his patience at the plate. Let’s look at his K and BB totals over his first 3 professional season compared to how he’s started thus far.
While this year is very very young, it is encouraging to see that his BB totals are higher than his Ks. Even more interesting is that in 2016 and 2017 he struck out the same amount of times (84) but nearly doubled his total walks from 2016 in 2017. It seems Naylor is making a more conscious effort to improve his patience at the plate. Now in regards to his power it cannot surprise you to notice that his FB% has jumped from 35% to 53.1% this season while also seeing an increase in HR/FB from 4.8 to 35.3%. We can take that jump at the moment with a grain of salt until the sample size gets much larger. However, we can also take a look at Naylor’s Green Bean Ratio, a Baseball Farm statistic to help measure a potential increase in slugging percentage. We consider anything below a 1.0 to be a solid potential indicator for an increase in SLG. Taking a look back at Naylor’s past we see every year in his career with a Green Bean below 1.0, with his lowest of .72 coming from his time in A+ during the 2016 season. Maybe rather than just a hot start we are simply seeing a prospect growing into their own and finding their power stroke. Time will tell for Naylor but his Green Bean ratio of .39 in 2018 is scary. Who knows, maybe the Padres could start regretting signing Hosmer to a long term deal this offseason. Too soon for that talk? Yeah you’re probably right.
Looking at the remaining players from our blueberry rankings extract, I am especially curious to see if any of them show staying power throughout 2018. Khalil Lee found his power stroke in his second professional year hitting 17 bombs but he also struck out 32% (171 Ks) of the time. So far this year he is still striking out at a rate around 30% but he has also improved his walk rate from 12.2 to 20.9%. I think it’s safe to say that will drop back down and so will his incredible slash line when it does.
Yepez and Montero are each Cardinals prospects who man the corner infield positions. Yepez came to the Cardinals last year from the Braves in the Matt Adams trade. He has raw power but is held back by his inability to continually make contact. Striking out 21% of the time and walking only 5% certainly does not help that. However, looking at his start thus far his walk and K rate are exactly equal at 11.4%. Montero on the other hand mans the 3rd base side of the infield and for his 6’3″ 195 lb build, he has a solid shot of sticking to that position with his arm strength. Unlike the two previous mentions, Montero has seen his K rate drop each year of his career, from 20+% to 15.9% last season. For someone with his raw power if he can remain patient at the plate and allow his power to transfer to in game results I could foresee Montero being an everyday third baseman. Interestingly enough, looking at Montero’s Green Bean ratio from his first three seasons he averaged around 0.50 (.46,.50,.51) which compared to his slugging percentage in those three years of .339, .352, and .468 you can start to see the power translation taking place. Maybe his 2018 slugging percentage of .613 is truly a sign of what’s to come. I’m certainly going to be keeping an eye on this 19 year old as the season moves on.
At the end of the day, we are barely 2 weeks into our young minor league baseball season. What fun would life be without drastic potential overreactions to small sample sizes be though? Let me know what you think! To soon to call or is there some truth within the lines here?