Prospect Performance, Year Two: Hitters

Last week I looked at the performance of prospect hitters in their first MLB year. Now it’s time to look at the results in the top hitting prospects’ second year of MLB experience. They’ve already had at least 130 AB in the majors, and some have even had full seasons. What do top hitting prospects bring to the table at this point? Do more of them excel than in the first year? How many hitters get better from year one — and how many suffer setbacks? This is what you’ll find out in the data below.

The Hypothesis

In year two, I expect more nearly full MLB seasons from the prospects. However, I don’t expect the number of above-average fantasy seasons to change drastically. There could be a slight increase, but I feel that quite a few prospects will struggle in their sophomore season, offsetting most of the players who improve in year two. Overall, I’m guessing there will be 4-5 prospects per year who are putting up great seasons, compared to the 2-3 I estimated for year one.

The Method

As a reminder, I chose a yearly top-100 prospects list from a reputable source, starting with 2003 and ending with 2011. That gave me 9 seasons of top-100 lists, for a total of 900 rankings. Of the 900 prospects spots, 460 were hitters. I’m now looking at the data of these hitters in the season after they passed their rookie AB eligibility. I’m also putting a heavier emphasis on the players who reached 400+ AB, because one would think after at least a partial year of MLB experience in year one, these players should be closer to performing well for a full year.

Basic Stats

  • Number of total prospect hitters based on my criteria: 140
  • Number of prospects who reached 400+ AB: 74 (up from 51 in year one)
  • Number of prospects who had 10+ HR: 78 (up from 59)
  • Number of prospects who had 10+ SB: 44 (up from 35)
  • Number of prospects who had .270+ BA: 53 (down from 57)

As I assumed, there were a lot more full seasons of 400+ AB from prospects, going from 51 in the first year to 74 in the second. However, note that it’s still only 52.9% of the player pool. An interesting note is that of the 44 players who reached two of my criteria for BA (.270+), HR (10+), and SB (10+) in their first year regardless of the number of AB, 37 of them reached 400+ AB in their second year, or 84.1%. This shows that if players displayed a combo of pop, speed, and/or batting eye in their rookie year, their MLB teams made sure to give them a long look in their sophomore season. The skills display was a better indicator of sophomore AB than looking at players who simply acquired 400+ AB both years regardless of stats, which was 34 of 48 players, or 70.8%.

I wasn’t sure there would be a category that decreased in the second year, but it makes sense that BA did: with more AB, pitchers will adjust to hitters, and young batters may struggle to bounce back. With the AB totals generally on the rise, it was more likely that hitters reached 10 SB or 10 HR, because they’re simply counting stats, whereas BA is a ratio.

 

Best of the Full Season

When it came time to select the best full seasons, there were several more players in the pool in year two. As a reminder, for year one I opted for the following filter: a player must have 400+ AB and two of the three criteria:

  • .270+ BA
  • 10+ HR
  • 10+ SB

The sophomore results were 47 out of the 74 players with 400+ AB, or 63.5%. The number 47 is higher than the first year’s 31, but the percentage of 400+ AB players is actually slightly lower: the first year’s return was 64.6%. When you apply this filter of 400+ AB and two of the three criteria to both the first and second years, you end up with 24 players out of the 44 who qualified in their first season. That means that if a hitter played well in a mostly full first season, there is only 54.5% chance that he would repeat reaching the milestone.

For your perusal, here are the “best of the best” in terms of prospects giving solid production over two full seasons.

Player Rookie Year Rookie Stats Year 2 Stats
Mark Teixeira 2003 .259/66/26/84/1 in 529 AB .281/101/38/112/4 in 545 AB
Rocco Baldelli 2003 .289/89/11/78/27 in 637 AB .280/79/16/74/17 in 565 AB
Alex Rios 2004 .286/55/1/28/15 in 426 AB .262/71/10/59/14 in 481 AB
Jason Bay 2004 .282/61/26/82/4 in 411 AB .306/110/32/101/21 in 599 AB
Prince Fielder 2006 .271/82/28/81/7 in 569 AB .288/109/50/119/2 in 573 AB
Conor Jackson 2006 .291/75/15/79/1 in 485 AB .284/56/15/60/2 in 415 AB
Nick Markakis 2006 .291/72/16/62/2 in 491 AB .300/97/23/112/18 in 637 AB
Hanley Ramirez 2006 .292/119/17/59/51 in 633 AB .332/125/29/81/51 in 639 AB
Russell Martin 2006 .282/65/10/65/10 in 415 AB .293/87/19/87/21 in 540 AB
Kenji Johjima 2006 .291/61/18/76/3 in 506 AB .287/52/14/61/0 in 485 AB
Ian Kinsler 2006 .286/65/14/55/11 in 423 AB .263/96/20/61/23 in 483 AB
Delmon Young 2007 .288/65/13/93/10 in 645 AB .290/80/10/69/14 in 575 AB
Chris Young 2007 .237/85/32/68/27 in 569 AB .248/85/22/85/14 in 625 AB
Ryan Braun 2007 .324/91/34/97/15 in 451 AB .285/92/37/106/14 in 611 AB
Hunter Pence 2007 .322/57/17/69/11 in 456 AB .269/78/25/83/11 in 595 AB
Evan Longoria 2008 .272/67/27/85/7 in 448 AB .281/100/33/113/9 in 584 AB
Jacoby Ellsbury 2008 .280/98/9/47/50 in 554 AB .301/94/8/60/70 in 624 AB
Joey Votto 2008 .297/69/24/84/7 in 526 AB .322/82/25/84/4 in 469 AB
Colby Rasmus 2009 .251/72/16/52/3 in 474 AB .276/85/23/66/12 in 464 AB
Andrew McCutchen 2009 .286/74/12/54/22 in 433 AB .286/94/16/56/33 in 570 AB
Starlin Castro 2010 .300/53/3/41/10 in 463 AB .307/91/10/66/22 in 674 AB
Austin Jackson 2010 .293/103/4/41/27 in 618 AB .249/90/10/45/22 in 591 AB
Eric Hosmer 2011 .293/66/19/78/11 in 523 AB .232/65/14/60/16 in 535 AB
Danny Espinosa 2011 .236/72/21/66/17 in 573 AB .247/82/17/56/20 n 594 AB

At this point there are fewer future failures, but there are still some: Kenji Johjima (older player who came over from Japan), Conor Jackson (injuries derailed his career), Nick Markakis (fading since his first two years), and Rocco Baldelli (injuries). For the more recent players, there are some who are on the border of potential flop, such as Rasmus (BA and lack of SB affect value, though he has power) and Espinosa (poor BA hurting his chances of MLB playing time). The others were quite productive for several seasons, and there are some clear star names there.

However, it’s time to remind the reader that this pool of players with immediate full-season production followed by another full season pf production is only 24 players out of the original 140 qualifying hitting prospects, or 17.1%. And when you take into consideration the 460 total hitting prospects slots on the top-100 lists, then 24 / 460 = 5.2%. In a 20-team league, if every team takes a top-100 prospect in the draft, then one team will have a prospect who’s a solid, immediate producer in his first two years.

And if you’re hoping that prospects who struggled in their first full year could turn into stars their second year because they simply have more experience, you’re going to be disappointed. I looked at the players who had 400+ AB in their first season, regardless of their BA/HR/SB, and then I applied my criteria to their second year only. It resulted in 3 more players who reached the cutoffs in their second year: Dustin Pedroia, Mark Teahen, and Ben Revere. Pedroia’s now a star, but Teahen is useless, and Revere is still trying to consistently net high AB totals. That ups the total from 24 to 27 of 44, or 61.4%.

Development in Year Two

In the first article, I had a section titled “Best of the Partial Season” because there were quite a few hitters who reached my BA/HR/SB criteria with fewer than 400+ AB. However, in terms of a repeat performance of the criteria regardless of AB, every player who reached the criteria in both years also had over 400 BA in the second year. In terms of reaching my criteria both years, there were 26 players who did it in both their first and second seasons, out of 44 in the first year, or 59.1%. It’s a bit higher than the 400+ cutoff, so this list includes a few players who got a later start their rookie years. The players who reached the criteria in fewer than 400 AB the first year and met it again in the second year are: Ryan Howard, David Wright, Julio Borbon, Desmond Jennings, and James Loney.

Now, let’s look at those players who reached my criteria regardless of their first season results. There were 54 total players who reached two of the BA/HR/SB benchmarks I set regardless of AB. Of those players, 27 (50%) were new to the benchmark criteria, meaning they did not excel in their first year but did better in their second year.

Player Rookie Year Rookie Stats Year 2 Stats
Dustin Ackley 2011 .273/39/6/36/6 in 333 AB .226/84/12/50/13 in 607 AB
Brandon Belt 2011 .225/21/9/18/3 in 187 AB .275/47/7/56/12 in 411 AB
Brett Lawrie 2011 .293/26/9/25/7 in 150 AB .273/73/11/48/13 in 494 AB
Jason Kipnis 2011 .272/24/7/19/5 in 136 AB .257/86/14/76/31 in 591 AB
Ben Revere 2011 .267/56/0/30/34 in 450 AB .294/70/0/32/40 in 511 AB
Colby Rasmus 2009 .251/72/16/52/3 in 474 AB .276/85/23/66/12 in 464 AB
Carlos Gonzalez 2008 .242/31/4/26/4 in 302 AB .284/53/13/29/16 in 278 AB
Chase Headley 2008 .269/34/9/38/4 in 331 AB .262/62/12/64/10 in 543 AB
Billy Butler 2007 .292/38/8/52/0 in 329 AB .275/44/11/55/0 in 443 AB
Elijah Dukes 2007 .190/27/10/21/2 in 184 AB .264/48/13/44/13 in 276 AB
Dustin Pedroia 2007 .317/86/8/50/7 in 520 AB .326/118/17/83/20 in 653 AB
Jeremy Hermida 2006 .251/37/5/28/4 in 307 AB .296/54/18/63/3 in 429 AB
Matt Kemp 2006 .253/30/7/23/6 in 154 AB .342/47/10/42/10 in 292 AB
Corey Hart 2006 .283/32/9/33/5 in 237 AB .295/86/24/81/23 in 505 AB
Jason Kubel 2006 .241/23/8/26/2 in 220 AB .273/49/13/65/5 in 418 AB
Jason Bartlett 2005 .241/33/3/16/4 in 224 AB .309/44/2/32/10 in 333 AB
Chris Burke 2005 .248/49/5/26/11 in 359 AB .276/58/9/40/11 in 366 AB
Edwin Encarnacion 2005 .232/25/9/31/3 in 211 AB .276/60/15/72/6 in 406 AB
Brian McCann 2005 .278/20/5/23/1 in 180 AB .333/61/24/93/2 in 442 AB
Mark Teahen 2005 .246/60/7/55/7 in 447 AB .290/70/18/69/10 in 393 AB
BJ Upton 2004 .246/20/1/10/11 in 175 AB .300/86/24/82/22 in 474 AB
Grady Sizemore 2004 .246/15/4/24/2 in 138 AB .289/111/22/81/22 in 640 AB
Mark Teixeira 2003 .259/66/26/84/1 in 529 AB .281/101/38/112/4 in 545 AB
Victor Martinez 2003 .289/15/1/16/1 in 159 AB .283/77/23/108/0 in 520 AB
Miguel Cabrera 2003 .268/39/12/62/0 in 314 AB .294/101/33/112/5 in 603 AB
Travis Hafner 2003 .254/35/14/40/2 in 291 AB .311/96/28/109/3 in 482 AB
Juan Rivera 2003 .266/22/7/26/0 in 173 AB .307/48/12/49/6 in 391 AB

Miguel Cabrera shows up on this list, as does Matt Kemp and Grady Sizemore. But there are a lot more suspect players (in hindsight) compared to the “consistently good and over 400 AB” list from earlier. For example, Elijah Dukes, Jeremy Hermida, and Chris Burke did well in year two — but none of them put together a successful fantasy career. The list is highly varied here, with a lot players who have had a few good years but aren’t amazing.

Conclusions

It seems that if your prospect starts hot out of the gate in year one, you might as well play up his value in trade talks. If you can get someone to overpay, go for it, because there’s almost a 50/50 chance that player won’t be as good in year two. However, when it comes to buying low on top prospects who struggled in their first year, your chances of a breakout are also at 50%. Some players figure it out and take a step forward, and the same number of players don’t. Regardless of first year production, 54 hitters reached my criteria, for an average of 6 per year. That’s one player per year higher than I anticipated, but it’s certainly not sky-high.

The way I see it, prospects are still a risk either way. It’s a necessary gamble in deep leagues with prospects, but after year two the jury is still out on most players. After the second season, I’d certainly hold onto the hitters who reached 400+ AB both years along with the BA/HR/SB criteria (or something close to it). There are far more success stories in that group than any other group I’ve analyzed. But that’s a bit obvious, because anyone who does well for two seasons is building a history of success. For projections, most sites look at three years or more of data, and they usually weigh the last two years the most heavily. It doesn’t apply to just prospects — any player who manages two solid seasons is worthy of consideration as a keeper or earlier draft target, regardless of his age.

Kevin Jebens

Written by 

Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.

6 thoughts on “Prospect Performance, Year Two: Hitters”

    1. Thank you, Brad. I’m finding this quite educational as I go through each year. And I’ll admit, it’s one reason I traded Nick Castellanos in one of my leagues for Danny Salazar. I picked up Adrian Beltre in the draft anyway, and I’m already gambling on Bogaerts as my SS, though at least I have Lowrie to back him up. The thought of having Castellanos and Bogaerts as starters, and in a year I intend to compete, was too risky.

      1. Castellanos leads the spring with 13 RBI and has 2 HR/2 SB in 30 AB’s. Salazar has a 5.40 ERA 2.40 WHIP this spring. You did say keeper league so this could work out well for you in the long run, but via your article any prospect can go north or south in production..

        1. You’re absolutely right, Pete. Any prospect can break out or go belly up. But Salazar has some MLB experience already, and frankly his giant K/9 potential gives him more upside in my opinion than Castellanos.

          Your article about spring training stats meaning basically nothing says just that: http://fantasyassembly.com/2014/03/11/spring-training-stats-mean-nothing/

          How many years have we seen youngsters excel in spring only to struggle during the real season? Or how about veterans who suck during the spring but put up their usual numbers over 162 games? I don’t put any merit into spring training stats.

          1. I always take spring with a grain of salt, with pitchers I want to see if their K and BB rates are about at career norms or slightly better. With hitters I’m looking at the relatively unknowns who are lighting up the score board and taking a late gamble on them in my drafts. Doesn’t cost me much and thus can be dropped without hesitation if it doesn’t pan out. Last year my targets were D Drown, F Morales, and A Hicks. Brown and Morales worked out, Hicks bombed miserably. Brown made good trade bait as well.

          2. I hear what you’re saying, but given that even in-season trends have to be taken with a grain of salt due to small sample size, it’s applies even more so with spring stats. Don’t forget that oftentimes pitchers are working on improving new pitches in spring training; for them, it’s not always about their ERA and K/9 but getting the feel for a new grip or pitch type.

            See this article about Strasburg’s new slider: “He threw the pitch three times in two scoreless innings, clocking in at 86 mph on the first two before dialing it up to 88 mph on the third. He developed the offspeed pitch to help disguise his fastball, which topped out at 96 mph on Tuesday.” http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article/mlb/stephen-strasburg-brings-new-pitch-renewed-focus-into-14?ymd=20140304&content_id=68677534&vkey=news_mlb

            That being said, I don’t read anything indicating Salazar is working on new pitches or mechanics in 2014 spring training. But it’s one game and 1.2 IP. Saying he has a 5.40 ERA and 2.40 WHIP means nothing. At the end of spring training, if his stats are still that bad, there may be some cause for concern. But yeah, not going to flip out on his first spring appearance that was under 2 innings.

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