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Tigers prospects Jake Rogers, Daz Cameron ranked on KATOH top 100 list

The two Tigers prospects are heavily favored by FanGraphs’ prospect projection system.

Jay Markle

The release of FanGraphs’ KATOH projections is the last piece in preseason prospect rankings before pitchers and catchers report. Rather than using eye tests and evaluating tools the way a scout would, KATOH uses a different set of tools to reach its projections. The hope is to find prospects who are under-valued by other methods of evaluation. This year, KATOH ranked Detroit Tigers prospects Jake Rogers and Daz Cameron as the No. 16 and No. 17 best prospects in all the minor leagues.

Surprised? According to KATOH, the pair of Tigers’ farmhands are ranked right behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who many regard as the best prospect in the game. Of course, like every other prospect ranking, you shouldn’t take this at face value. KATOH’s process — not to be confused with KATOH+, which does take scouting into account — is much different than normal scouting evaluations, but it is revealing in its own way.

What is KATOH?

You can get a more detailed primer here. Generally, KATOH bases its evaluations on minor league numbers, a player’s highest level, their position, age, size and body type, raw physical skills, and a host of other factors that are more tangible than grades from scouting reports, for example. The system attempts to predict how much WAR a player will accumulate in their first six years in the major leagues. As a result, it leans conservative, with a tendency to emphasize prospects with a very strong floor and more experience over younger players with more volatile profiles.

Incidentally, Ronald Acuna, the Atlanta Braves‘ elite center field prospect, draws the highest KATOH projection, at 13.3 fWAR. Only 10 prospects are pegged to clear 10 fWAR in their initial six years of team control.

So... Vlad Guerrero Jr.?

Many would give up the Tigers’ top five prospects for Guerrero Jr. without hesitation. He is an elite hitting prospect at just 18 years old. But his youth also means that his ultimate path to the majors is still uncertain. For one, he doesn’t really have a defensive position yet. He hasn’t grown into his body either, let alone faced higher caliber pitching, so there’s still a high amount of variance between potential outcomes when he finally reaches the major leagues. KATOH projects him for 8.8 fWAR over his first six seasons.

By comparison, Daz Cameron is projected for 8.3 fWAR, while Jake Rogers is pegged at 8.2 fWAR. The reasons for this are similar to those articulated in our discussion of prospect floors and pathways to the major leagues when dissecting Keith Law’s prospect rankings this year. Cameron and Rogers are both very good to excellent defenders at prime defensive positions. They are both older than a player like Guerrero Jr., and Rogers has already performed well at the plate at the Advanced A-ball level.

That trust in their defense as a very stable tool, is part of the reason Rogers and Cameron are so highly regarded. Still, there are a lot of good defenders out there who aren’t anywhere to be found on this list.

Rogers posted an .814 OPS with the Houston Astros‘ Advanced-A affiliate last season. Cameron erupted for an .815 OPS in Single-A and stole 32 bases. There is some stability in those results and in their tools that really played to what KATOH values most. Once you have them, speed and defense don’t need much more polishing to play as quality, trustworthy tools in the majors.

By comparison, despite drawing an 80 grade for his hit tool from MLB Pipeline, Guerrero Jr. couldn’t just come up to the majors tomorrow and rake — probably. There is a lot more projected improvement to come. There are still questions about his eventual positional home and defensive ability, as well as his speed and weight as he grows into his frame. Thus, he received lower grades here than on most other prospect rankings.

It’s more complicated than we’re touching on here

The basic takeaway is that Rogers and Cameron already look like players with clear paths to major league playing time and the ability to generate some value. That’s an argument we made in dissecting Keith Law’s prospect rankings for ESPN last week.

The Tigers have a pair of players here with a high likelihood to be modestly valuable even if they don’t develop into the hitters one would hope. That’s a good sign, especially considering the positions they play. You have to like KATOH’s confidence that each is already well on their way to being a legitimate major leaguer in some capacity. Should the pair develop a little more into just average offensive players, the Tigers may be set in center field and at catcher for years to come.