Prospect Preview: Razing Expectations

Darin Ruf is a poster child for Razing Expectations Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

With the minor leagues ending their regular seasons, we're going to start taking a look back at the season that was and break down what it means for what's to come. Jason kickstarted the process with yesterday's post on our 2012 Prospect Review of Catchers. Today I'll take a look at four players who have gained notice due to impressive seasons, who are of a mirage than the oasis they may appear to be. Appearing on this list doesn't mean someone isn't a prospect, but it means they're not the prospect their numbers indicate they are - at least not yet. This is purely my opinion, and I'd love to hear you voice yours on guys I missed, or tell me why I'm wrong on who I listed. Let's get the discussion started.

Darin Ruf - 1B - PHI - Ruf became the answer to the future trivia question of "who spawned the hashtag #AAby26?" by exploding for 38 home runs at Double-A Reading, more than doubling his career total. He also mashed 32 doubles, and perhaps most astoundingly, one triple. Ruf has always had solid contact skills, and 2012 was no different, as he struck out in only 17.5% of his at-bats, an elite rate for someone who cranked 38 home runs. He's also walked at a double digit clip for the last two years. His walk and strikeout rates coupled with his power production portend an elite prospect, but much like Skole, age plays a huge role in evaluating what he is going forward. He didn't reach Double-A until his age 25 season (turning 26 in July), and he has never shown this time of power production before, with 2011's 17 home runs being a previous career high. Scouting reports indicate that though there is real power in his bat, he has to cheat to get to it in-game. His hit tool is below average, and he there's no other position he can play but first, and to say he can field the position would be generous indeed. Ruf projects as a minor league slugger, and while he did get a call to the majors, he's not long for the level. As Kevin Goldstein so helpfully pointed out, spawning the hashtag; name an impact player who reached Double-A at age 26. Not spent time there because they were blocked (Howard) but REACHED Double-A at 26.

Check out three more names after the jump...

Matt Skole - 3B - WAS - Skole set Lo-A Hagerstown on fire with 27 home runs and 45 extra base hits in 343 at-bats, before a promotion to Hi-A. He showed an especially impressive eye at the plate, sporting a walk rate of 21%, as well as an ISO of .289. All of this is rounded out by a .286/.438/.574 slash line that makes it look like he's a monster in the making. He even supported that notion by continuing to hit .314/.355/.486 in a very small sample (76 plate appearances) in Hi-A Potomac. The only thing is, there's a but that would make Sir Mix A Lot pick up the mic coming...He turned 23 in July, and was still in Lo-A. Age relative to performance matters, OK? It REALLY matters. It's why Manny Machado can hit .250 in Double-A at 19 and still be a stud, and Matt Skole can hit 27 homers in Lo-A and it's not only expected, it doesn't tell us anything, because he's two levels below where he should be. Not only that, but he was striking out at a 25.9% clip in Lo-A and while that decreased to 22.4% upon his promotion, his walk rate plummeted from 21% to 6.6%. His scouting reports indicate that his value as a prospect is almost entirely dependent on his ability to play third base, which is iffy at the moment. There is real power in his bat, but there is serious miss in that swing. If he can't hack it at third base, Skole isn't likely to have the bat to play elsewhere. He's barely played at Hi-A and will be too old for that league again next year, and Double-A could be a make or break test for him as a prospect.

Daniel Straily - SP - OAK - This one hurts. I pimped Straily hard, and picked him up in at least one league upon his call up. I love Straily for what he is, and while his stuff took a step forward this year, he still doesn't have the upside that his minor league statistics indicate. Let's take a look at those numbers before discussing what Straily is likely to be (which is still valuable). Split between Double- and Triple-A, Straily struck out 190 over 152 innings, while walking a staggeringly few 42. That breaks down to 11 strikeouts and 2.5 per nine innings pitched. All of this is great, but Straily's few (17) innings in the majors may be a better predictor of what he'll be long term than his minor league statistics. His strike out rate dropped to 6.35/9, while his control head steady at 2.12. Obviously 17 innings isn't a large enough sample to have any predictive value, but it IS more in line with what one would expect based on his scouting report. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get to 7-7.5 strikeouts per nine innings, with plus control while pitching in a great ballpark. All of this is to say, Straily is a worthwhile grab and a valuable asset in both real life and in fantasy, but he's not the ace-in-waiting that his stats would indicate.

Edwar Cabrera - SP - COL - Cabrera posted a sparkling 3.05 ERA between Double- and Triple-A, striking out 121 in 129.2 innings, while walking only 35. Cabrera is a change up artist, a type of pitcher that often eats up minor league hitters, but that dominance rarely translates to the majors. Cabrera's bugaboo will always be the home run ball, as even with his impressive performance this year, he gave up 1.5 HR/9. That number is sure to increase in the majors, but even if it held steady, it would preclude Cabrera from being the type of pitchers his numbers portend him to be. In the majors Cabrera is more of a 4/5 and might not even be that if he can't develop a breaking ball. Cabrera has shown strong control tendencies in his time in the minors, though that deserted him in his brief cameo in the majors where he walking 11+/9 IP. He did show an ability to miss bats, which will be paramount to his success, but the gopherball will be his undoing, especially pitching in an unforgiving environment such as Coors field.

Well there you have it. Four players whose minor league numbers belie their true projections. Remember that a projection can always change if the player changes, and Straily is a good example of that this year. If you disagree on anyone, let me know in the comments and we can get a discussion going. I tried to cover the range from non-prospects showing dominance to real prospects still playing over their heads, but if I missed anyone that fits the description, throw their name in the comments so everyone knows who to avoid!

Source Material
Baseball Prospect Nation
Baseball Reference
FanGraphs

Feel free to continue the discussion (or harass me) on twitter here

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