Do Nick Castellanos' 2012 numbers give us an indication of future MLB success?

Jamie Squire

Have you ever wondered the likelihood a stud hitting prospect like Nick Castellanos' minor league numbers translate into the probability of major league success? Luckily for you, I have. As we all know, Castellanos killed Advanced-A pitching in 2012, and was solid at Double-A, playing both levels at 20 years old. Does that translate into any form of future success? Click through to read along with my findings.

Let's first examine some raw hitting data, concentrated on age, performance and minor league classification. These are the primary variables when evaluating a prospect. While numbers aren't everything in scouting, they do tell some of the story. Think about it this way: when a 24-26 year old puts up a monster season at A+ or AA ball, people who look at stats get excited. The stats only fan asks "why don't they bring up (insert guy with Jordan Lannerton's numbers here)?? Well, in reality, the guy is probably repeating, or a bit too old for the level. I won't go much more into age vs. level, but there's a great piece by Mike Newman over at Fangraphs if you're interested, linked here. Obviously, every player is different. Some develop early like Fernando Valenzuela, and some develop late like Nelson Cruz. While this exercise isn't an end-all-be-all, I think that it will provide some insight on how likely it is that Nick Castellanos becomes a quality big league player after hitting for an .815 OPS between A+ and AA ball.

I want to find out the aforementioned question: how likely is it that a prospect who puts up adequate numbers as a young player for their level goes on to enjoy MLB success? First, I need to build a query. So, let's look at every corner OF who played in the minor leagues from 2006-2011 (no one in 2012 has played enough in the majors to make this work). From that, who played in A+ ball or higher when they were between the ages of 19-20 when the season started? I am also going to add in players who were 22 or younger in AA to even out the query for college guys. The average age is 25 for AA, so 22 is definitely young enough to be playing at AA and still be considered a "prospect". Of those players, who had an .800+ OPS in the minor leagues? Also, it's my query, and I do what I want. Anyway, 375 minor league PA's need to be accrued in order for the season to be counted. From there, we can see who has gone on to have success in the big leagues. My official "success" meter: a lifetime OPS over .750 (right at the midpoint of 1000+ PA OF over the time table).

To recap: .800+ OPS at A+ at 20 or younger or an 800 OPS at AA at 22 or younger, once we identify those players we can examine how many of those players, went on to attain a lifetime OPS of .750 or greater at the major league level.First, I need to build a query. So, let's look at every corner OF who played in the minor leagues from 2006-2011 (no one in 2012 has played enough in the majors to make this work). Then, who played in A+ ball or higher when they were between the ages of 19-20 when the season started. I am also going to add in players who were 22 or younger in AA to even out the query for college guys. The average age is 25 for AA, so 22 is definitely young enough to be playing at AA and still be considered a "prospect". Of those players, who had an .800+ OPS in the minor leagues? If Ryan Braun isn't included in this query, I'm doing it wrong. Also, it's my query, and I do what I want. Anyway, 375 minor league PA's need to be accrued in order for the season to be counted. From there, we can see who has gone on to have success in the big leagues. My official "success" meter: a lifetime OPS over .750 (right at the midpoint of 1000+ PA OF over the time table).

Final Recap: .800+ OPS at A+ at 20 or younger or 22 or younger at AA, then of those players, how many went on to have "success" in their time at the majors, a lifetime OPS over .750 or above. Also, if a player went from A+ to AA or AA to AAA, their full season OPS numbers will be taken, not just their numbers for a lower level.

Here are the findings:

Name Years Old at Start of Season OPS Level Year MLB OPS
Adam Lind 22 0.95 AA/AAA 2006 0.776
Billy Butler 20 0.887 AA 2006 0.83
Chris Lubanski 21 0.844 AA 2006 N/A
Adam Jones 20 0.829 AAA 2006 0.775
Ryan Sweeney 21 0.802 AAA 2006 0.715
Chris Young 22 0.896 AAA 2006 0.755
Carlos Gonzalez 20 0.891 A+/AA 2006 0.874
Adam Jones 21 0.967 AAA 2007 0.775
Wladimir Balentien 22 0.871 AAA 2007 0.655
Colby Rasmus 20 0.932 AA 2007 0.735
Carlos Gonzalez 21 0.814 AA/AAA 2007 0.874
Cameron Maybin 20 0.879 A+/AA 2007 0.688
Michael Saunders 20 0.86 A+/AA 2007 0.648
Jordan Schafer 20 0.831 A+ 2007 0.606
Travis Snider 20 0.838 A+/AA/AAA 2008 0.724
Jordan Schafer 21 0.85 AA 2008 0.606
Cameron Maybin 21 0.831 AA 2008 0.688
Dexter Fowler 21 0.946 AA 2008 0.791
Aaron Cunningham 22 0.932 AA/AAA 2008 0.628
Wilkin Ramirez 22 0.844 AA/AAA 2008 0.808 (43 PA)
Mike Carp 22 0.874 AA 2008 0.74
Sean Henry 22 0.816 AA 2008 N/A
Nick Weglarz 20 0.828 A+ 2008 N/A
Matthew Sulentic 20 0.849 A+ 2008 N/A
Cedric Hunter 20 0.804 A+ 2008 5 career PA
Tyson Gillies 20 0.916 A+ 2009 N/A
Cody Johnson 20 0.842 A+/AA 2009 N/A
Caleb Gindl 20 0.822 A+ 2009 N/A
Nick Weglarz 21 0.808 AA 2009 N/A
Ezequiel Carrera 22 0.857 AA 2009 0.653
Desmond Jennings 22 0.888 AA/AAA 2009 0.733
Rene Tosoni 22 0.814 AA 2009 0.618
Greg Halman 22 0.854 AAA 2010 0.535
Trayvon Robinson 22 0.836 AA 2010 0.602
Joe Benson 22 0.862 AA 2010 0.622
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 22 0.802 AA/AAA 2010 0.691
Mike Trout 19 0.958 AA 2011 a billion
Starling Marte 22 0.87 AA 2011 0.737
Caleb Gindl 22 0.862 AAA 2011 N/A
Dayan Viciedo 22 0.853 AAA 2011 0.743

There were 41 such occurrences of minor leaguers meeting my parameters. Of those 41, Adam Jones, Caleb Gindl, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Gonzalez, Jordan Schafer, and Nick Weglarz had two such seasons. That leaves 35 players in total. Of those 35 players, Adam Lind, Billy Butler, Adam Jones, Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Mike Trout have gone on to OPS over .750 in the big leagues. Adam Lind and Billy Butler don't play the outfield anymore. So, that leaves only 4 players. Granted, it's entirely possible that young guys like Colby Rasmus, Desmond Jennings, Mike Carp, Travis Snider, or even Cameron Maybin get over that .750 OPS mark. A lot of them are relatively close. However, this study shows how difficult it is to attain success at the big league level. Of those 35 players, 7 never made it to the big leagues, and another two recorded less than 45 career PA. Sure, a couple are still young, but once again, this proves the difficulty of hitting at the MLB level.

I know this study doesn't include Bryce Harper, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Ryan Braun, or Jay Bruce because they didn't spend enough time in the minor leagues to accrue the necessary plate appearances. Judging by their big league success at such young ages it's quite reasonable to lump them into the ‘success' category.

Take the findings with a grain of salt. Obviously, every player fails or succeeds on their own merits, but the numbers paint a distinct picture- prospects fail more often than they succeed. Take that into consideration the next time a guy like Castellanos puts up monster numbers at A+ ball. It's a long way from the majors.

Nick is at the top of our prospect list this upcoming season. I don't want to take anything away from him, as he's highly thought of anywhere you look. But remember this: for every Mike Trout, there's a Wladimir Balentien.

Reminders: You can follow us on twitter @TigersProspects and like us on Facebook as well.

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