Don’t Fear the Statlines (by Dan Victor)
When evaluating the performance of a prospect trying minor league baseball for the first time, it is easy to become disillusioned by what we perceive to be a poor stat line. Let’s face it, we have spent much of our time as fans reading box scores and checking the batting average, home run, earned run average, and strikeout leaders, and we all recognize the accepted statistical benchmarks for what is considered a great player. The problem with this methodology exists when we try to paint with such a broad-brush while applying these standards to recently drafted high school players or very young international free-agents.
In many of my prospect evaluations, I am met with questions from fans asking, “why is Player A so highly ranked when he only hit .240 with 6 home runs and struck out in 25% of his at-bats?” The answer is because stats are only a small part of the formula for player development. As we look at the underwhelming stat line of Player A we notice that he was signed as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old and this season he made his debut in the United States, in Low-A as an 18-year-old. At the Low-A minor league level, the average player is roughly 21 years 3 months old. In this scenario, Player A is, in essence, the equivalent of a very talented high school senior being thrown into competition against prospects that are among the best college players in the world. Not only is there an age disparity, but often a physical development disparity, and an adjustment to a significantly increased workload (schedule). Other factors can include homesickness, nutrition, climate changes, or cultural adjustments.
So, in addition to raising their level of performance on the baseball field, they have these other pieces of the puzzle to put together. Many of these young hitters have never seen premium quality breaking balls or the kind of high octane fastballs they are seeing consistently in the minor leagues.
When considering your dynasty league players at your next draft don’t give up on the Heliot Ramos(es), Yasel Antuna(s), or Ryan Vilade(s) of the world (they were among the youngest players in the South Atlantic League in 2018). During the first exposure a player gets to full-season minor league baseball, they learn a lot about how to train their bodies to withstand the grind of a 140-game schedule. Conversely, when making your dynasty selections start by finding the youngest players in each level; then consider their signing bonuses, draft selection, and scouting reports before deciding to hold a lackluster stat line against them. In 1992 Derek Jeter began his minor-league career by hitting .210 with 4 HR and 52 SO in 210 at-bats. Similarly, in 1994 David Ortiz hit .246 with 2 HR and 46 SO in 167 at-bats during his debut minor league season. Keeping an open mind during your draft will help you avoid the pitfalls of missing the talented players that might just require a little bit of adjustment before figuring things out.