Even With Top 100 Prospects, Keep An Eye On The Risks

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We delved into our past for this year's Top 100 feature, "Split Decisions". I was also fond of the feature we did with our 2007 Top 100, "Risk Factors." We identified the biggest obstacle to projecting success for prospects in our Top 100, with best- and worst-case scenarios represented by comparable players.

Four years later, those look prescient. No. 8 prospect Brandon Wood had one Risk Factor all to himself: strikeouts. He's looking more like his Worst Case, former Pirates prospect Chad Hermansen, than like his Best Case, Troy Glaus. And our No. 91 prospect that year, Will Inman, was a revelation. As we compiled the Risk Factors, we ran Tim Lincecum up to No. 11 and wrote, "Size doesn't matter." Nevertheless, we tagged Inman as a "Short Righthander." Worse, we couldn't find a similarly-sized righty with similar stuff who had ranked in our Top 100 or who had made a big league impact.

Assessing the "Risk Factors" for Top 100 prospects actually helped me shape my personal contribution to our Top 100 list. Here are some of the ones I analyzed.

Mike Moustakas, Low Walk Rate: MousĀ­takas had a unique .322/.369/.630 season in 2010, with just 67 strikeouts in 484 at-bats to go with a minors-best 36 home runs. He drew just 24 unintentional walks as well, and finding Top 100 prospects who walked as infrequently but still panned out was difficult. But it was not impossible, and the players who made it worked out well.

Expos farmhand Brad Fuller had the most similar season back in 1997, batting .308/.361/.533 with 22 homers and a 33-35 walk-strikeout ratio in 448 at-bats. He played at Double-A and Triple-A, like Moustakas, and also hit lefthanded. Fullmer went on to a injury-shortened but successful big league career (.822 career OPS) that included a 32-homer season in 2000 for Toronto. Others posting similar seasons include Robinson Cano (2004), Chipper Jones (1992), Carlos Lee (1999) and Vernon Wells (1999—I'll let you go to Baseball-Reference.com to see for yourself). Fullmer's season is the most similar, and Fullmer's body and athletic ability are good comparisons, too.

It's actually harder to find worst-case scenario players, and the ones I found all caught in the minors. The most similar season belonged to Matt LeCroy (.285/.356/.546, 30 HR in '99 with 47-73 BB-SO ratio), who wasn't nearly as athletic as Moustakas. LeCroy still had several productive years as a DH with the Twins, but the Royals are probably expecting more from Moustakas. So are we.

Alex White, Righthanders with questionable breaking balls: This has been a red flag for me since 2001 first-rounder Dewon Brazelton didn't pan out for the Rays. (He's the worst case.) Brazelton had several issues—conditioning chief among them—but I thought his fastball and plus changeup would compensate for his inability to spin a breaking ball. I was wrong.  The other prominent recent example I found was Mike Pelfrey, also a first-round pick (Mets 2005).

White appears to be more like Pelfrey. He's a power sinkerballer, and though at times his fastball has just average velocity, he commands it well, like Pelfrey. Unlike Pelfrey and Brazelton, he has flashed a plus breaking ball in the past, as many scouts liked White's slider as a plus pitch when he was in high school. At North Carolina and in pro ball, his split-finger fastball has been his best secondary pitch, while his slider remains inconsistent and mostly below-average.

White will be fascinating to watch, because he could have a great big league career as a closer, where his competitiveness would fit well. But his athleticism and the fact he's shown the ability to spin it makes me think he's still going to figure it out as a starter, which is where the Indians need him most.

Chris Carter, Right-Right 1B: Carter can still play the outfield, but he looks like a first baseman/DH type whose sole value lies in his bat. And there are very few big leaguers who came up through the minors with a similar profile. The only righthanded-hitting, righthanded-throwing first basemen who were Top 100 prospects who are successful big leaguers are old—Paul Konerko and Derek Lee. The list of right-right first basemen who weren't really athletic enough to bring any value when their bats didn't pan out is longer, from Tim Costo to Jason Stokes and Brian Dopirak.