As you may now know, I am a big fan of observing as many prospect lists and projection systems and external reviews of that kind as possible. The key, I try to emphasize each time, is that you must always view them in the proper context (which can vary from item to item). None are perfect, and none presume to be. They are all merely data points that you can incorporate into your broader view of various topics.
Chris Mitchell’s KATOH prospect system over at FanGraphs is a perfect example of observing something that’s interesting, not taking too much from it, but wondering if it could modify your perception of things at the margins.
In very short, the KATOH system uses minor league statistics, plus age, level, and a variety of other bits, to predict big league performance. Systems have attempted to do these kinds of big league translations for a long time, and, indeed, intrinsically we know various things tend to be true: success at higher levels at a younger age tends to be predictive of success in the big leagues, walk rates and strikeout rates tend to be predictive, ISO tends to be predictive, etc. KATOH goes into this stuff in much, much greater mathematical depth. It’s pretty complex.
That’s all a precursor to sharing with you how KATOH projects various Cubs prospects, something you can check out here.
The most interesting thing that KATOH finds, by far, is right there at the top: the system loves Albert Almora. You may find that shocking, given his 2015 season, but if you read Luke’s recent take on that season, and if you consider how young Almora remains (he turned 21 during that 2015 season at AA), maybe you’re not all that surprised.
Oh, and one more thing on Almora. Although KATOH considers defensive position, it does not consider defensive ability. That’s right: KATOH is loving Almora without even knowing that he’s a plus-plus defensive center fielder.
The other usual suspects generally show up at the top of the Cubs list – Billy McKinney, Willson Contreras, Jeimer Candelario, Gleyber Torres – but you’ve also got Eloy Jimenez way up there, as well as Taylor Davis (who gets a healthy bump by virtue of being a catcher, even though it doesn’t seem the Cubs are viewing him as a big league catching option). We’ve talked about Davis before – he really has been a great hitter in the minors – but it’s not clear how or if or when he’ll factor into the big league plans.KATOH is not loving the Cubs’ pitching prospects, which is unsurprising when you consider that the upper-level guys having always put up the best stats, and lower-level guys, where the bulk of the talent lies, is harder to project. You don’t even get a pitching prospect on the list until number 11 (Trevor Clifton), and, although there are a bunch of arms in that 11 to 20 range, KATOH is extremely down on many of the names with whom you’re most familiar.
In any case, as I said, it’s just an interesting group of data points to consider. Maybe you leave the process more encouraged about certain hitters and more discouraged about certain pitchers. Maybe you leave the process thinking differently about the relative value of certain prospects. Maybe you leave the process not moved at all on specific players, but instead just thinking more broadly about prospecting.
For me, there’s not a ton in there that surprises me – I had a feeling, for example, that KATOH was going to like Almora and McKinney, because they’re young dudes at high levels who hit well and don’t strike out a lot (that tends to be the type of guy who has a successful big league career). It’s all still interesting, though.