Every year fangraphs puts out their own team by team top prospect list. They put their own unique twist on their rankings that make it such an insightful read. We sat down with the architect of the Padres top prospect list, Marc Hulet. Marc is the 2nd longest tenured fangraph writer, and mainly focuses on prospect analysis and the Rule IV draft.
Fangraphs is such a unique site as it often incorporates sabermetrics in their calculations. When making your own individual rankings how much do you rely on sabermetrics vs the traditional stats and scouting reports?
Marc Hulet: I don’t really look at “traditional stats” with the exception of ERA for pitchers and Batting Average for hitters but then I weigh them against things such as FIP and BABIP. I also look at league averages and league/stadium effects. With the minor leagues it’s really pointless, for the most part, to rely on counting stats like wins, hits and home runs. Rate stats such as strikeouts per nine innings, hits per nine innings, and percentage of ground-ball outs for pitchers are much more helpful. The best information still comes from scouting reports and from talking with people in the game. I like the watch the players for myself, as well, usually on video.
Speaking of sabermetrics, how does fangraphs come up with stats like projected WAR and other sabermetric stats for newly drafted players?
Marc Hulet: We’re not really in the business of developing projections… We have them on the site but they come from other sources. As long as you have a solid idea of what type of player the prospect projects to become, though, it’s fairly easy to predict WAR simply by looking at the past WARs of similar big league players. Personally, I don’t look at projections much at all and use my own experience to look at a player’s stats and tools/scouting report to judge what type of player they’re going to become. For fans, projections are most valuable for fantasy baseball.
Who does fangraphs see as the better overall prospect; Rizzo or Alonso?
Marc Hulet: I’ll give you a sneak peek into the upcoming Top 100 list at FanGraphs… but only because you asked so nicely. I have Yonder Alonso ranked ever-so-slightly higher than Rizzo – They’re about two spots from each other. Rizzo has a higher ceiling but Alonso has the higher floor and is pretty much ready to be a solid everyday contributor at the big league level. Rizzo has a little more work to do. Alonso is definitely better suited to hitting at Petco.
You tabbed the system as "being deep." However, on most overall prospect ranking no Padre prospect ranks in the top 30. For the average fan what does having a "deep" farm system mean, and how is that going to translate into production in the next few years?
Marc Hulet: Having a successful farm system is as much about depth as it is about having high-ceiling players that make scouts drool. You can look back at Top 100 lists for the last 10 or 15 years and see scores of all-star-projected prospects that washed out for a variety of reasons. Having four prospects that project to develop into average players is preferable, to me from a development standpoint, than one projected star player. I know of at least one farm director that would agree with me. You’re never going to turn down having a star prospect like the Angels’ Mike Trout but having Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Rymer Liriano and Jeff Gyorko – and more – is also quite exciting. Historical trends tell us that at least two of those four players, though, are going to disappoint. What happens to the Angels if Mike Trout blows out his knee and loses a year of development and his speed tool downgrades from an 80 to a 60? The Angels future hinges on that guy because the other prospects behind him have question marks.
How much do you think the new CBA will affect a smaller market team like the Padres who are not big players in free agency and have to rely on the draft and international signings to try and win a championship?
Marc Hulet: I’m going to hold off judgment until we see how the first one or two amateur drafts play out now that the new rules are in place. But I have to admit that I am worried for the small market teams. My hometown club is the Toronto Blue Jays and, although they’re technically a larger market team, they use the draft and their farm system development to make themselves competitive as much as any club.
Things will also change if the international amateur market is absorbed into the draft. It’s a huge undertaking and will make the market less lucrative for international players and their “handlers” but I think it could be a good thing for baseball in the long run.
Jed Hoyer carried the philosophy that he wanted to draft players "for Petco." You currently have 3 2011 draftees (Spangenberg, Ross, and Hedges) in your top 10. Do you think the picks were a result of looking for players that "fit" Petco, or were they just looking for the best possible player?
Marc Hulet: Spangenberg was a bit of an overdraft because he was an unprotected pick. He was compensation for the club’s inability to sign first rounder Karsten Whitson in 2010. He’s still going to be a solid player, though, but I would say he might have been zeroed in on because of how well he fits in San Diego; In all honesty he was not the best player available at No. 10. As for Ross, pretty much any pitcher fits Petco, we’ve seen with some of San Diego’s pitching reclamation projects over the past few years. With Hedges, I think he was a great pick for his draft slot regardless of where he’s going to play as a big leaguer. He’s going to be in my Top 100 list and I think he’s already being underrated.
On that note what do you believe finding players that fit Petco means? As a sabermetrician could you give us an example of a player that fits the "Petco mold?"
Marc Hulet: When looking at fly-ball and ground-ball rates, it’s preferable to have a pitcher that has above-average ground-ball rates… Anything above 50% gets me excited – especially when you also have a nice K-rate to go with it. However, the fly-ball pitchers, like prospect Robbie Erlin, are going to see their value increase while playing half their games in San Diego as opposed to Texas.
Besides Alonso, who is the next big prospect the Padres can expect to see in San Diego, and what type of impact will they have on the team?
Marc Hulet: The obvious answer would be a player acquired along with Alonso – Yasmani Grandal. Current catcher Nick Hundley is a very underrated player, though, so if his 2011 season was for real I hope San Diego doesn’t get rid of him too quickly. Hundley had a wRC+ of 132, which was third among all catchers in the Majors behind Mike Napoli of Texas and Alex Avila of Detroit. What the means is that, while adjusting park factors which is important for offensive players in San Diego, he created 32% more runs than the average big league catcher. That put him ahead of Brian McCann of Atlanta, Carlos Santana of Cleveland and Joe Mauer in Minnesota, just to name a few.
Back to Grandal… He has the chance to be an above-average hitter but needs a little bit of work on his defense – especially his receiving skills. He could allow the club to trade Hundley for some more value, while also saving money, but I worry he might be underrated in a trade. I think Jedd Gyorko could also be a big help. I heard some very good things about him while talking to a scout.
Not on the list is former top 5 draft pick Donovan Tate. After repeated injuries and suspension for an illegal substance is there any chance that he ever reaches the lofty ceiling he had when he was drafted?
Marc Hulet: He has a chance but the odds are stacked against him even more so than they originally were… A young, raw player like Tate has a huge hill to climb to reach his potential even in the best scenarios but the added obstacles make it almost impossible. But, as Josh Hamilton has taught us – even with his recent setback – anything is possible if you want it bad enough, you’re open to learning from your mistakes and you have an organization that truly believes in you and is committed to the process.
Who are the prospects (hitter/pitcher) outside of the top 15 that has the best chance to have a breakout year and jump into the mix next year?
Marc Hulet: Three names that received consideration for the back end of the Top 15 would be pitchers Matt Andriese, Michael Kelly, and Matt Lollis. Andriese and Kelly were two players that I was really big on prior to the 2011 draft. Unfortunately Kelly has an injury that was found during his physical prior to signing his first pro contract so hopefully it’s not too serious and the club did still get him under contract. In fact, San Diego actually ended up drafting a number of prospects last year that I would have had on my “want list” if I were running an amateur draft, so that’s pretty cool. Lollis is a pitcher that I was big on in 2011 and he made the previous year’s top prospect list at FanGraphs but struggled a bit in high-A. The California League is a very tough league to pitch in, though, so we should have a better gauge on his true skill level when he pitches in double-A.