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|
|Wilkin Ramirez||22||0.844||AA/AAA||2008||0.808 (43 PA)|
|Cedric Hunter||20||0.804||A+||2008||5 career PA|
|Mike Trout||19||0.958||AA||2011||a billion|
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.