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  • Three Overlooked Twins Prospects

    Here are three Minnesota Twins prospects (all are 1.7 years younger than the average player in their respective leagues, according to Baseball Reference) who, at first glance, appear to be struggling so far in 2014. A closer examination, however, tells a different story:

    Taylor Rogers (AA SP)

    • 32.2 IP in 8 GS
    • The bad:
      • 5.36 ERA
      • 1.53 WHIP

    • Why he’s better than his numbers:


    The obvious indicator is his 3.50 FIP, almost 2 full runs lower than his ERA; in fact, this difference is the highest in the Eastern League amongst qualified pitchers. Let’s take a closer look:

    Rogers is striking out 8.66 per 9 innings (21.3% of plate appearances) and walking just 2.27 per 9 (5.6% of PA), good for a stellar 3.82 K/BB, which ranks him 8th in the Eastern League amongst qualified pitchers. This is a huge step forward from a season ago, when Rogers posted just 5.72 K/9 (15.7%) with a 2.59 K/BB. Furthermore, Rogers continues to keep the ball on the ground, posting an excellent 1.61 GO/AO ratio.

    The cause of Rogers’ struggles is two-fold: an extremely high BABIP and a poor strand-rate. Rogers has a .377 BABIP, which is the worst in the EL amongst qualified pitchers, and his strand rate of 61.5% is the 8th worst amongst qualified pitchers.

    How optimistic should we be?
    Very. Although I wouldn’t expect Rogers to continue to strike out close to a batter per inning, if he continues to induce ground balls at a high rate and limit walks—which I expect him to do—he should have a solid year. And if his increased strikeout rate is here to stay—even if it settles around 7 K/9—then Rogers could become a very intriguing prospect. If his BABIP and strand rate settle down soon, Rogers should merit a mid-season call-up to AAA.

    Adrian Salcedo (AA RP)

    • 22 IP in 15 relief appearances for New Britain
    • The bad:
      • 7.77 ERA
      • 1.86 WHIP

    • Why he’s better than his numbers:


    Similar to Rogers, Salcedo’s FIP is an immediate indicator of bad luck; he has a FIP of 2.43 for the season, over 5 runs lower than his ERA (this is a staggering figure, as the next highest difference between ERA and FIP for an Eastern League pitcher with at least 20 IP is 3.42, compared to Salcedo’s 5.34). Let’s take a closer look at Salcedo’s numbers:

    Salcedo is striking out a whopping 12.27 batters per 9 innings (27.5% of PAs) and is walking just 3.27 (7.3%), good for an excellent 3.75 K/BB ratio. Although he is walking more batters than a year ago, the large increase in strikeouts (up from 8.33 K/9) has led to a slight improvement in his K/BB ratio (up from 3.6 last season). Furthermore, Salcedo has posted an excellent 2.08 GO/AO ratio, even better than the 1.68 GO/AO from a year ago.

    The cause of Salcedo’s struggles, similar to those of Rogers, is a high BABIP and a lower strand-rate. Salcedo’s BABIP of .464 is the highest in the EL amongst pitchers with at least 20 IP (the next closest is just .400) and his strand rate is just 51.7%, meaning roughly half of all batters that reach base score; this is the 4th worst rate in the Eastern League amongst pitchers with 20 IP.

    How optimistic should we be?
    Very. Salcedo is establishing himself as a high-K, low-BB, ground-ball inducing relief pitcher. What more can you ask for? Once his BABIP comes back to Earth, which it will, his strand-rate should increase and his ERA will drop. I expect Salcedo to be another candidate for a mid-season call-up to AAA. It is worth noting that Salcedo was a popular sleeper prospect heading into the 2012 season before injuries limited him to just 30 IP that year.

    Max Kepler (A+ OF/1B)

    • 35 games (27 at CF) for Fort Myers
    • The bad: .215/.319/.347 for an OPS of .666
    • Why he’s better than his numbers:


    Kepler has displayed excellent plate discipline, striking out in just 13.5% of his plate appearances (down from 16.3% last year) and walking in 10.6%, which is the highest rate of his career. The result is a BB/K ratio of .79, which is the 13th best in the league, and a significant improvement from a solid BB/K ratio of .56 from last season.
    The main cause of Kepler’s struggles is his .236 BABIP, which is the 6th lowest amongst qualified starters.

    How optimistic should we be?
    I would be slightly less optimistic about Kepler than Rogers and Salcedo. Yes, his BABIP is incredibly low and should rise. Although this figure is certainly a result of bad luck and therefore should be expected to rise, it could also be a result of some underlying problems for Kepler. First and foremost, it is similar to the .254 BABIP of a year ago. Secondly, his ISO of .130 is much lower than his ISO of .189 from last year, which could indicate that he simply isn’t hitting the ball very hard.

    On the other hand, the Florida State League is notoriously a pitcher-friendly league, and Kepler’s ISO is actually much better (24% better, to be exact) than the league average of .105. In fact, only one player in the league has a higher ISO and BB/K ratio than Kepler. I’m very high on Kepler—he presents a rare combination of plate discipline, power, and athleticism—but I think a full year in A+ would be good for him.
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Did something change from the Rogers of 2013 and the Rogers of 2014?

      In 2013 he was a college pitcher getting good results in a pitcher friendly High A environment but not getting strikeouts. In 2014 he is a pitcher getting poor results in a more neutral environment but getting a lot of strike outs.
    1. iTwins's Avatar
      iTwins -
      I keep waiting for Max Kepler's numbers to perk up. Like you mention, the secondary stuff is all solid - so his numbers SHOULD be better but they're just not there yet. I hope it's simply a combination of poor luck and a pitcher friendly league holding him back at the moment.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      I think Kepler can be a good player but it's a good reminder that he's going to go really slowly. He's going to need 2000 milb at bats.
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      Two excellent GO/AO ratios and huge ERA/FIP differences on the same team. So is the NB infield just a bunch of statues out there that let everything hit on the ground get by them?
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by SD Buhr View Post
      Two excellent GO/AO ratios and huge ERA/FIP differences on the same team. So is the NB infield just a bunch of statues out there that let everything hit on the ground get by them?
      Yeah, pretty suspect, I think. Sean Gilmartin's numbers confirm this, as well. His FIP is more than a full run below his ERA (2.36 vs 3.40) and his BABIP-IFB is at .379.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      How is MiLB FiP evaluated? Does the metric adjust for the often clown-car-esque nature of MiLB defense?

      If not, then I believe it's a pretty flawed metric.
    1. Boone's Avatar
      Boone -
      Quote Originally Posted by SD Buhr View Post
      Two excellent GO/AO ratios and huge ERA/FIP differences on the same team. So is the NB infield just a bunch of statues out there that let everything hit on the ground get by them?
      There are 9 Rock Cats pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched and 6 of them are in the top 25 for highest BABIP (minimum of 20 innings pitched, 104 players qualify). This is a really large number, especially when you consider the fact that in the 12 team Eastern League, each team should have just 2 on average.

      It seems unlikely that so many Rock Cats pitchers would be this unlucky so far. Almost surely a sign of poor defense, most likely in both the infield and the outfield.
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      How is MiLB FiP evaluated? Does the metric adjust for the often clown-car-esque nature of MiLB defense?

      If not, then I believe it's a pretty flawed metric.
      I don't think defense-independent metrics work for the minor leagues at all. Defense is an issue, but the larger issue is that the quality of pitching varies much more. There's a selection bias at work at the MLB level that allows for BABIP regression - only certain pitchers are good enough to be promoted to the Majors in the first place.

      There are minor league pitchers that allow much harder contact than would be sustainable for a big leaguer. Using a metric like FIP overrates that player because it doesn't take that possibility into account. So when a prospect is getting bashed but has a decent FIP, I don't think bad luck, I think they are doing poorly.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by drivlikejehu View Post
      I don't think defense-independent metrics work for the minor leagues at all. Defense is an issue, but the larger issue is that the quality of pitching varies much more. There's a selection bias at work at the MLB level that allows for BABIP regression - only certain pitchers are good enough to be promoted to the Majors in the first place.

      There are minor league pitchers that allow much harder contact than would be sustainable for a big leaguer. Using a metric like FIP overrates that player because it doesn't take that possibility into account. So when a prospect is getting bashed but has a decent FIP, I don't think bad luck, I think they are doing poorly.
      As what you said is true for pitchers- no argument about the number of AAAA pitchers scattered about, it's equally or more true for position players and the glovework. Defense, or lack thereof, is a huge issue in the minor leagues, and varies to wildly considerable degrees, as well- I don't think it justifies your minimization, but I can be persuaded if there's data to support your supposition.

      As far as "unsustainable harder contact" for your reasoning, I'm seeing many guys in the system with falling, or already very low LD%'s and good GB%'s who are clearly being hurt with much higher ERAs and H/9, than their FIP's suggest they should be getting.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by drivlikejehu View Post
      I don't think defense-independent metrics work for the minor leagues at all. Defense is an issue, but the larger issue is that the quality of pitching varies much more. There's a selection bias at work at the MLB level that allows for BABIP regression - only certain pitchers are good enough to be promoted to the Majors in the first place.

      There are minor league pitchers that allow much harder contact than would be sustainable for a big leaguer. Using a metric like FIP overrates that player because it doesn't take that possibility into account. So when a prospect is getting bashed but has a decent FIP, I don't think bad luck, I think they are doing poorly.
      Good take.
    1. 2wins87's Avatar
      2wins87 -
      Quote Originally Posted by clutterheart View Post
      Did something change from the Rogers of 2013 and the Rogers of 2014?

      In 2013 he was a college pitcher getting good results in a pitcher friendly High A environment but not getting strikeouts. In 2014 he is a pitcher getting poor results in a more neutral environment but getting a lot of strike outs.
      It's still early, but if anything he looks better. Baseball Reference has game logs for minor league guys now which include ground balls, flyballs, etc., so if you add up the columns you can calculate true ground ball rates, etc. as fangraphs does for major leaguers. These are more stable than the GO/AO ratio.

      Rogers had a 55% ground ball rate on batted balls last year (which was, I believe, the main reason he was so successful despite having only an average strikeout rate). This year it's at 50%, but his strikeout rate has increased by the same amount from 16% to 21%. In addition his line drive rate has decreased from 19% to 14.5%.

      It seems like some of the weak contact he was generating last year is turning into whiffs this year, while he hasn't been as lucky (his .286 BABIP was probably a bit low for a pitcher generating so many ground balls). The park probably depressed a bit of the run scoring against him last year also, as his homerun rate has doubled (though it's still not too high).
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      As far as "unsustainable harder contact" for your reasoning, I'm seeing many guys in the system with falling, or already very low LD%'s and good GB%'s who are clearly being hurt with much higher ERAs and H/9, than their FIP's suggest they should be getting.
      A minor league pitcher can of course get unlucky - that's no different. The issue is the degree to which we can tell whether it was bad luck or just bad performance. Metrics like FIP are based on relationships measured at the Major League level, and aren't meant to account for the variations in the game found in the minors (and the minor leagues themselves vary quite a bit).

      You are right that we can look beyond that to batted ball data, team data, and so on. But even then, there is a lot of noise involved with respect to any one pitcher. For a guy who is a giving up a lot of hits, the possibility exists that his 'true talent level' with respect to BABIP is poor. Another example would be HR/FB - something that tends to be fairly uniform at the MLB level, but that is variable in the minors and worth considering with a sufficient sample.
    1. 2wins87's Avatar
      2wins87 -
      I would agree that DIPS don't translate exactly to the minor league levels as the coefficients are based on regressions to major league rates. These rates surely vary from level to level, but the theory behind them remains pretty solid. You can't compare the numbers directly to major league numbers, but if you compare them to other guys in the same league they can be pretty useful.

      I would also add that minor leaguers are often working on specific aspects of their game which is why results in general don't mean much without scouting reports to provide context or additional information.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      How is MiLB FiP evaluated? Does the metric adjust for the often clown-car-esque nature of MiLB defense?

      If not, then I believe it's a pretty flawed metric.
      KLaw was asked that in a chat question a week ago and he said he wouldn't use fip for minor leaguers.
    1. PseudoSABR's Avatar
      PseudoSABR -
      Quote Originally Posted by gunnarthor View Post
      I think Kepler can be a good player but it's a good reminder that he's going to go really slowly. He's going to need 2000 milb at bats.
      Right. I was surprised they pushed him to the AFL, but that was probably to see if it was worth spending a roster space on him (rather than risking to him the Rule 5 draft). Kelpler still only has this year and two more before he's out of options, no? So there is a clock.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I don't know about Rogers. Salcedo, on the other hand, could be a pretty dominant reliever. And it is amazing that this guy is still this young.

      Kepler is slowly coming around. I do kinda worry about stagnation for a full year once he hits AA.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by PseudoSABR View Post
      Right. I was surprised they pushed him to the AFL, but that was probably to see if it was worth spending a roster space on him (rather than risking to him the Rule 5 draft). Kelpler still only has this year and two more before he's out of options, no? So there is a clock.
      What's funny is that his showing in the AFL might have actually made him more attractive as a snatch up candidate for another team (still quite doubtful, unlike Polanco who was merely unlikely to be selected).
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      The problem with BABIP is that it does not distinguish between a weak grounder and popup from a smash grounder and a line drive. You use is to give us reason to be hopeful. Others have used it to show that a high average or power hitter, is in a lucky streak. Its one of that stats that you can use to be optimistic or pessimistic about a players future success.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by PseudoSABR View Post
      Right. I was surprised they pushed him to the AFL, but that was probably to see if it was worth spending a roster space on him (rather than risking to him the Rule 5 draft). Kelpler still only has this year and two more before he's out of options, no? So there is a clock.
      I believe he has another option year as a small loophole for international signings put on the 40 man before a certain age. I forget the details but it came up when we were having those discussions.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      What's funny is that his showing in the AFL might have actually made him more attractive as a snatch up candidate for another team (still quite doubtful, unlike Polanco who was merely unlikely to be selected).
      Only Milwaukee (have stashed in the past), or Houston likely would have picked either one up. Although the odds were remote on both, it does appear the Twins either "knew" something, got played, or were either just a little over-defensive or over-optimistic.
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