Category Archives: prospects

Your International Free Agent Primer (updated)

Now that Yu Darvish is finally going to be posted from the NPB to MLB, let’s take a look at how international free agency works.

First, 95% or higher of all players entered MLB by signing a standard minor league contract (team-friendly, low annual pay) with a bonus at a young age, grew up in the organization and played for that team.

By the time they hit the majors, they’re under what’s called a rookie contract:

-3 years of league minimum pay.
-3 years of arbitration.

“Super 2” players are the exception to this; they get arbitration with less than three years service, but it’s usually like 2.8 years service.

At the end of their final year of arbitration, they’re free to test the free agent market unrestricted, so long as they didn’t agree to any extensions.

Players in the minors can be traded, DFA’d, etc., but the contract remains the same. As soon as their service time clock starts, they’re all getting paid the same (unless they agreed to a major league contract).

If you’re wondering why this is so common when there are so many players in MLB with so many different backgrounds, it’s because MLB is meticulous about scouting. Very few players slip through the cracks. There are academies in virtually every country in the world now. The Dominican Republic has its own developmental league. Japan has its own fully functioning professional league and independent league. MLB has, in the past 20 years, made a very strong, concerted effort to revive baseball in inner cities in America.

On top of that, as opposed to the NFL or NBA, maybe one player a year, if that, is prepared to make the jump from college to the pros. It takes years to learn the sophisticated movements for pitching and batting and make them repeatable.

Because of this, MLB gets them young. Most international players, and especially ones in the latin countries, are signed at VERY young ages (16 or 17) in order to give them more sophisticated coaching and develop them in time to be ready for the majors.

That said, the two biggest international free agent spots are Japan and Cuba.

Japan benefits from having a competitive league of its own and the league is autonomous, though Nippon Professional Baseball and MLB do have a lot of crossover. Japanese players need to accrue nine years of service time before they can hit international free agency. At that point, they can sign with any MLB or NPB team they want.

If the player wants to go to America before the service time is over, he must ask his team to put his negotiating rights up for bidding to MLB teams. This is called posting, as in “The Nippon Ham Fighters posted Hideki Matsui and the Yankees won the rights to exclusively negotiate with Matsui on a contract.”

Most NPB teams refuse to do this until eight service years are accrued because, well, why would you ship out a talent that’s MLB worthy when it’s any earlier? This is what’s happening with Yu Darvish right now.

His NPB team may decline to post him, but if they approve, MLB teams bid for the exclusive negotiating rights.

After MLB Team X wins the posting rights, Team X then signs him to a contract. Yes, Team X has to pay twice over, though the posting fee is usually taken into consideration in the contract. Every once in a while, the MLB team will pay the posting fee and be unable to reach a deal on the contract. (EDIT: This is incorrect; the team doesn’t pay the posting fee if a deal isn’t reached.) In that case, Japanese player then returns home and plays for his team again. Iwakuma and the Oakland A’s is the most recent example of this. However, this is very rare. Almost every player who’s been posted from NPB has signed to an MLB team. Because the player was already active in Japan, he almost always makes the jump directly to the majors.

Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka were both posted; Hideki Matsui and Hiroki Kuroda both signed with MLB teams after accrued service time.

Only three Japanese players in history have dodged the NPB and jumped straight to MLB’s minor league system via international free agency–Junichi Tazawa was the most recent and he signed a 3-year/3 mil deal with the Red Sox in 2009. Tazawa, who went undrafted out of high school, played a year in Japan’s corporate league (junior circuit) and asked NPB teams to not draft him the following year so he could play in MLB. They all complied. Kazuhito Tadano was another, but he was disgraced by being in a gay porno. The Cleveland Indians signed him.

Cubans are usually the only ones that hit the international free agent market without restrictions because they defect. Because Cuba has such an advanced national team and development system, Cubans are usually better prepared for, and old enough to play in, the majors when they defect, though some come raw-er than others.

A Cuban player will play with his national team for however long and then, on a road trip in another country, will abandon his team. This is how he defects. After the player gets some time to adjust to living away from home, the player usually does a public workout for teams. The player sets a deadline and teams have that many days to offer a contract. The team that offers the highest-paying contract is usually the winner.

Aroldis Chapman is the most famous international free agent in recent years. Adeinis Hechevarria (another Cuban) was another international free agent, though he flew under the radar because his skills weren’t as highly valued.

These are the very few exceptions. Almost everyone else goes the scout-bonus-develop-rookie contract route.

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A Quick Thing About Your Prospect and Errors in the Minors.

A few things about errors in the minor leagues and why they happen so often:

1.  Some times it’s because the player is learning a new position and has some glaring fault that he repeats.  Sometimes this can be a throwing error to first on a repeated basis; other times it can be more serious like inability to field balls cleanly within range.  Both can be worked on with time, so long as the player takes the time to adjust.  But trust your club’s judgment (and the judgment of scouts) on whether or not he should stick there.

1a. Some times it can be because the player is learning a different part of fielding his position and boots a ball now and again learning to adjust.  This can include going for balls outside of his comfort range, working on glove-to-throwing hand transfers, moving his feet faster, working on fielding the ball a DIFFERENT way, etc.  Same with 1, trust the club’s and scouts’ judgment.

2.  Some times it’s because the player is a fish out of water.  Changing leagues and facing harder competition can cause a learning curve for position players.

3.  Some times it’s because the player isn’t fit for the position and the team wants to try and prepare him for the position anyway.

Three examples:

1.  The Orioles’ Josh Bell.  While there was talk of moving him off third base when he was traded from the Dodgers (he put up 38 errors in 2007), he worked hard to make his defense at 3B average and later above-average.  His bat on the other hand is not so good.

1a.  The Dodgers’ Dee Gordon has had 30+ errors almost every year in his minors career, but because he has superior range and worked on fielding the ball smoother, he was a major league short stop.

2.  I got nothing.

3.  The Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez.  Similar to Bell, there was talk of moving him off first, but because he lacked the range and was called “lazy”.  The Pirates decided to keep him at 3B though for whatever reason.

Looking at stats in the minors is an OK way to get to know your team’s prospects, but expectations have to be tempered when looking at stats.

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Dodgers MiLB Stuff: Post-Jerry Sands Edition

Congrats to Jerry Sands on making the big leagues! All Dodger fans are rooting for him now.

What this means, though, is that a few players are flying under the radar.

In Albuquerque:

Dee Gordon improved a bad start to the season into his regular looking stat line: .298/.333/.383. Of course, the focus on Dee isn’t offense, but defense, and it looks like he’s become pretty adept at making quick transfers from fielding the ball to throwing it.

In spring training

And in a game for the Dukes

Rough camera work on that second one, but you can see he’s doing the same motion he did in spring training. Transferability of skills from practice to games is a major plus.

Trayvon Robinson, likewise, has improved his average from a rough sub-.200 start to an average .278. His line so far is a nice even .278/.350/.500 with three extra base hits (one triple, two homers) in 40 PA.

There’s no current video of him in Albuquerque, so use your imagination.

It’s been a while since you’ve heard this name: Roman Colon. That’s right, the same one. The 31-year-old is dominating in the PCL and has given up one run on three hits and no walks in 5.2 innings. He’s the featured closer for the Dukes and although it’s a small sample size, it seems like he’d be the first person to be called up for bullpen help.

In Chattanooga:

Rubby De La Rosa is the star. You’ve heard his name brought up once or twice, but now it seems his legend is growing. Here’s ESPN’s Keith Law’s report from 2009:

“The best stuff of the day belonged to Rubby de la Rosa of the Dodgers, who turned 20 earlier this month and has yet to pitch in a pro game in the United States. De la Rosa sat at 91-95 mph with a solid change-up from 84-86 that he turns over hard. His breaking ball was a slow curve in the mid-70s, although the harder he threw it the sharper the break became. He clearly has the arm speed to throw a good breaking ball and the laxity in his wrist to throw a curve, so it might just be a matter of development with better coaches as he moves up. The two red flags on de la Rosa were poor command Monday and the fact that his listed weight of 170 might be generous.”

And Keith Law just a couple of weeks ago:

Scout just texted me to say he saw Rubby de la Rosa hit 100 with “a wipeout slider”

That is to say, he was hitting 100 with the fastball and he also has a wipeout slider.

I’m working on getting video for this one, stay tuned.

Strangely, Nathan Eovaldi has been putting up the exact same numbers as Rubby: 10 innings pitched, 2 earned runs, on seven hits and four walks. Eovaldi has 12 strike outs to Rubby’s 13.

And Chris Withrow has started 2011 off with some issues: 10 innings pitched, 7 runs (all earned), 11 hits, 6 walks, and two home runs. Ouch. Here’s hoping it gets better.

A player who’s flying under the radar: OF Alfredo Silverio. Silverio is 24 and has had some success at every level he’s played in. He’s a bit on the older side, certainly, but this is what he’s putting up so far in 35 PAs: .313/.343/.719. Yes, that is an awfully high slugging percentage: 1 double, 3 triples, 2 homers. He’s never gotten many walks, and it may be too late for him, but you’ll probably hear about him in ABQ before the year is over (or maybe just next week, since Sands was promoted).

Kyle Russell was a bitter debate point last year. Russell had power and average in A+, but was 24 already. Starting in AA Chattanooga, he’s done well enough for himself in 43 PAs: .289/.372/.447.

In Rancho Cucamonga:

Jake Lemmerman (22yo SS) was a hot name at the end of last year and he was promoted from Rookie league Ogden to A+ Rancho this year. An impressive jump, but questions are still abound about whether or not his dominance last year in Ogden was simply because he was above his age group.

Well Lemmerman has done well early, but has struggled with contact in 53 PAs: .261/.340/.413. That’s four doubles and one homer. The contact drop probably has more to do with adjusting to A+ than anything, but we’ll keep an eye on Lemmerman as the year progresses.

So you can see a video of Lemmerman, here he is playing for Duke vs. UVA just before the 2010 draft:

Not a bad swing, let’s see how it plays out later.

In the mold of Kyle Russell, Blake Smith (23yo OF) was a decent power hitter playing above his age group in A Great Lakes last year. This year, Smith is in Rancho and the power and contact have weakened, though we’re only 55 PAs in: .250/.345/.417.

The three hot pitching names this year in Rancho are Allen Webster (21), Ethan Martin (22) and Matt Magill (21). Though Webster and Martin were the hotter names last year, it’s Magill who’s doing the showing off.

Magill: 12 IP, 7 hits, 1 run, 1 earned run, 0 home runs, 9 strike outs, 3 walks
Webster: 16.1 IP, 18 hits, 11 runs, 10 earned, 1 home run, 18 strike outs, 9 walks
Martin: 12 IP, 12 hits, 10 runs, 10 earned runs, 3 home runs, 10 strike outs, 4 walks

Important thing to note for Martin is that his walks are way down. This may be a reason why his numbers are spiked so high–he’s focusing way more on control than working on his stuff. Likewise, Webster may be focusing on something other than end results. This is pretty typical in the Dodgers system, though maybe Webster and Martin are just not doing as well against tougher competition.

In Great Lakes:

The big name so far on offense for the Loons is Jonathan Garcia, a toolsy 19-year-old OF who has only improved his line since our last post on him (in 51 PAs): .313/.353/.813, six homers, six doubles. He leads all of the league with six home runs, which is more than his number of walks (3). He’ll probably get a promotion to A+ soon.

Another name you may be familiar with via the 2010 draft is Leon Landry. Landry has struggled mightily out of the gate (50 PAs): .190/.286/.238 with one triple. We’ll keep an eye on him.

The pitching in Great Lakes is noteworthy for two 19-year-old names: Zach Lee and Garrett Gould.

Zach Lee: 14.0 IP, 14 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 0 home runs, 7 walks, 21 Ks
Garrett Gould: 11.0 IP, 6 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 1 home run, 4 walks, 8 Ks

Gould’s numbers aren’t as gaudy, for sure, but he’s almost as effective. The coolest thing to note is Gould’s lack of hits against. Lee, meanwhile, has 21 Ks and a 3.0 K/BB ratio, which will likely improve as the season goes on–something for him to work on.

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Youtube: Jerry Sands and Jonathan Garcia Hit Some Long Balls

Correction: The Jerry Sands home run was from TONIGHT, April 12, not April 11.

via Scott Northrup

The great thing about baseball: there’s always hope.

Potential 2011 call-up Jerry Sands hit a home run tonight that went more than 428. It was hit off a right-handed pitcher and to straight center. Here’s the video:

Pretty effortless swing and he drove it deep. Some of that may be Albuquerque, but you don’t see everyone hitting it that deep to straight center. That was Sands’ fourth home run in four games. It’ll be interesting to see the difference between this home run and one at an away park.

___

Jonathan Garcia is another Dodgers MiLB product. He’s a toolsy 19-year-old in A Great Lakes (which is where Sands was at the beginning of last year.

On April 10, 2011, Garcia hit two home runs. Here are both videos:

Beautiful swing, very quick. He got around on that pitch very, very quickly and that allowed his hips to pull strong on the second one. It’s also an awesomely crisp swing, but the problem with toolsy guys is repeating success. It’s obvious the second swing is much cleaner than the first. Perhaps he’s emulating Sands, but he has three home runs in five games. And oddly, all of his five hits have been XBH.

Garcia had a pretty decent season in Rookie Ogden last year: .305/.365/.527 (18 doubles, 10 homers) in 266 plate appearances. Not the most patient batter, but that’s a pretty stat line.

Definitely keep an eye on him as the season progresses.

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Choice Quotes from Dollar Sign on the Muscle.

Don’t want to break any copyright laws, but there is some awesome stuff in this book.

Dollar Sign on the Muscle is a book on scouting, written in 1984. It’s very well-written, it’s got some excellent stories, and Kevin Kerrane, the author, has done an excellent job (as far as I’ve read) on telling the full story, from the gut-feeling scouts to the scientific measurements used to the inexact science

I’m reading Dollar Sign on the Muscle, written ~1981 and there’s some really, really good stuff in this book. It gushed early and was more or less a platform for scouts to tell their stories with a few interesting tidbits. Then around Ch. 3, it started getting really interesting, talking about player make-up and the necessary psychological information, which is HUGELY important, according to scouts. Makes sense.

From Lou Gorman, who worked in Kansas City’s scouting department as the director of player development.

Ewing Kauffman used to say: ‘We have to be more definitive [about scouting]. Scouting has always been just an inexact science.’ Well, it has. And it probably always will be. You can try to make it a science, but it’s really more of an art form.

He said, ‘But why can’t you scout more like football people do? They do all these workups, strength tests, and all that.’ I said, ‘Mr. Kauffman, we can use a Cybex to measure ratios of muscle strength, even get a computer to graph them, but what that spots is physical flaws not physical abilities.’ Look at Ernie Banks. Shit, he was weak. But he could hit the ball as far as anyone in the game. Good hitters depend more on bat speed than strength.

So Kauffman said, ‘You tell me bat speed’s important. All right, let’s get a goddamn machine to measure bat speed.’ I said ‘Bat speed is important, but what’s more important is when the bat speed occurs.’ He said ‘Then we can do reflex tests and eye tests.’ I said ‘Fine, Mr. Kauffman, but there’s so many skills involved here that you’ll never have the machines to isolate them all and tell you everything you need to know. Because so much of baseball is psychological, like lack of fear at the plate.

Jim McLaughlin was a scouting director in the ’60s and ’70s for the Orioles and Reds. He “mapped out the strategies of draft-era scouting” and quoted Shakespeare.

When Fred Hoffman scouted Brooks Robinson, he saw the whole ballplayer. Brooks was just an average runner, he didn’t have a great arm, his frame was still kind of frail, his hitting was still a question mark, and he was playing at second base. But Fred visualized him as a third baseman. He said, ‘This boy’s quick even though he’s not fast, and he’s gonna be just like a vacuum cleaner in the infield. Fred saw the soft hands, the live body, the great reflexes that allow you to project hitters. He was able to see the masterpiece in its entirety. Not just the total coordination in that body, but the total coordination in that person–beyond what could be seen with the eye.

The book talks about “the good face,” which is a quality some scouts use to describe a player who has the kindly, Je-ne-sais-quoi in him that just screams “he’s gonna be in the pros some day.” McLaughlin continues:

I used to hear scouts talk about ‘the good face’–as if they could tell about a kid’s makeup just by looking at him, instead of taking the trouble to get to know him, or studying the results of a psychological test. I used to hear those ‘good face’ stories and they’d drive me up the wall. Scouts can be so damn unscientific! At one time, it was the conventional wisdom that a black kid couldn’t become a successful big-league pitcher, because he wouldn’t have any guts when he walked out to the mound, because he’d be only sixty feet, six inches from home plate. There was no basis for that. It was just prejudice–or fantasy, or myth, whatever you want to call it. I was the scouting director and I had to listen to this bullshit.

More later.

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UPDATE: Talking Kyle Russell and the Why of K Rates

Update: Read the comments section, where we had an interesting discussion into valuing the weight of potential in players.

There’s been a lot of discussion over at TrueBlueLA about the true talent level of Kyle Russell, a power-hitting centerfielder in the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Russell destroyed A+ Inland Empire in the California League (.354/.448/.692 in 239 PAs) and struggled upon promotion to AA Chattanooga in the Southern League (.245/.319/.462 in 308 PAs). Russell had a high BABIP for IE, which some claim was his downfall transitioning into AA. But sometimes high BABIPs are a function of a player absolutely destroying his competition. 

Southern League is also a big pitcher’s league.  League ERA is sub-4 (3.99), which is lower than the Eastern League by quite a bit (and .01 higher than the Texas League).  To say AA is pitcher friendly is an understatement.

Compared to A+ leagues:

California League: 4.57 ERA
Carolina League: 3.90 ERA
Florida League: 3.67 ERA

Obviously California League is way, way cooler. 

So yeah, it’s not a huge stretch that he struggled a bit in the second half because he faced not only better competition, but hugely better pitching league-wide and perhaps different, more pitcher-friendly parks.  Ya know he’s got a high walk rate as well, which people seem to overlook.  The conclusion that drives me to is that he’s bad at pitch recognition. He likes to take pitches, which is great, but he can sometimes take on a strike three or swing and miss on a two-strike count. That’s actually a common feature among huge power hitters. Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Mark Reynolds and more basically had the same K-rate. The K-rate is still extraordinary–177 Ks in 571 PAs on the year is unfathomable–but there’s a lot to build on.

The cause for concern is reasonable. But for K-rates, it’s not a huge deal. Yes, he strikes out a lot. He also walks a lot and hits for a lot of power. He was just short of 30 walks in 300 PAs in AA. Even when he was struggling in Chattanooga, he had a .462 slugging to go with a .319 OBP. That’s above league average (.337/.390); not too bad for a promotion. He also had 23 doubles and 10 home runs in those 300 PAs.

The question seems to be, Is he going to be able to maintain hitting for average as he progresses. Considering that the Southern League is tougher competition, that it was a promotion to a tougher, pitcher-friendlier league, and that he still put up a good line in a half-season–and let’s also not forget that the switches to different minor league levels are pretty hard on players. They’re playing with almost an entirely new team against entirely new opponents and often have to adjust to different culture with a new place to live and other amenities. Inland Empire compared to Chattanooga … that’s a pretty big change. All these things considered, Russell did OK.

Some players progress rapidly because they have it all figured out, but there are a number of players who struggled briefly in the minors. Struggling is cause for concern in a 24-year-old in the minors, but Russell’s struggles were also in just half a season. And he did pretty well for someone who was struggling.

I think 2011 will be a great year for Russell. Russell’s shown some amazing abilities. Some contact rate adjustments will put him in the ballpark of .300/.390/.550-.600. I can’t wait.

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Some Arizona Fall League Stats, News and Notes

Fall League ends this coming Thursday, the championship game will be Saturday, Nov. 20.  MinorLeagueBlog posted some updated stats on who’s doing what so far.

AFL avg’s: Dustin Ackley .456, Juan Carlos Linares .422; Charlie Culberson .388; Andy Parrino .382; Eric Farris .379; Brandon Belt .373

AFL Total Bases: Eduardo Escobar 56; Charlie Culberson 54; Chris Parmelee 47; Andrew Lambo 47; Dustin Ackley 46; Brandon Belt 46

AFL SB Leaders: Ben Revere 11; Jeremy Moore 8; Adron Chambers 8; Eric Farris 7; Jordany Valdespin 7; Trayvon Robinson 6; A J Pollock 6

Your leaders in OPS:

Dustin Ackley:       1.412
Juan Carlos Linares: 1.151
Derek Norris:        1.098
Charlie Culberson:   1.058
Brandon Belt:        1.042
Mike McDade:         1.001
Cory Harrilchak:      .989
Kris Negron:          .987
Jordan Pacheco:       .958
Andy Parrino:         .954

Slugging leaders:


Dustin Ackley:       .807
Juan Carlos Linares: .708
Derek Norris:        .681
Charlie Culberson:   .635
Jason Kipnis:        .623
Kris Negron:         .622
Brandon Belt:        .613
Eduardo Escobar:     .577
Johnny Giavotella:   .569
Mike McDade:         .556

Some other notes:

  • Yeah, don’t sweat Dustin Ackley anymore. .456/.605/.807 triple-slash. and on top of everything listed above, he leads the league in walks with 23, five more than second place.
  • Charlie Culberson leads the AFL in doubles (11) and has a .388/.422/.635 (yikes, look at that ISOD). He’s a 21-year-old 2B in the Giants’ system (assholes).
  • Jerry Sands‘ magic has waned a bit, but lots of walks: .278/.404/.417; same with Trayvon Robinson (.250/.389/.347). Meanwhile, Ivan DeJesus has looked pretty damn good in a small sample size: .349/.446/.476. That may earn him some consideration for the Dodgers’ starting 2B job.
  • Couple of scouts and scouting reporters have chimed in to say Brandon Belt is for real, though that’s not hard to imagine.
  • Belt, Negron and Escobar are tied for triples with 4 each.
  • White Sox fans should be pretty damn content with Escobar. Escobar is a 21-year-old shortstop putting up a .330/.375/.577 line.
  • Same with Nats fans and Derek Norris (.277/.417/.681). Norris is a 21-year-old catcher.
  • Probably shouldn’t read too much into Linares’ production. Linares is a 26-year-old OF in the Boston system. Even if he’s for real, they don’t have many places to play him.
  • Another non-prospect is Matt Rizzotti, a Phillies product, who’s putting up a .521 OBP with a .407 slugging. Yowzers.
  • And of minor note, Rzep is destroying on the pitching side. 26 innings, 0.69 ERA (3 runs allowed, 2 earned), 20 K, 8 BB, 21 hits allowed. No GB rates, as far as I know.
  • Kam Mickolio (Orioles) is, likewise, putting up a sub-1 ERA in 12 innings of relief; 18 K, 2 BB

A couple of other pitchers are noteworthy, but pitching isn’t great in the AFL. A lot of wild pitchers, a lot of high BB rates, a lot of high XBH rates.

 

Update: A friend of mine just pointed me to this fangraphs article about Jerry Sands and his lack of AFL power:

For Sands, the focus has been hitting the ball the other way. At first, I thought maybe Sands was primarily an opposite field hitter, but given the sheer number of balls he’s hit towards right field in two days, I’m convinced it’s the orders he was given by the Dodgers. This is a guy not out there to show that he can hit the ball 400 feet, but working on improving his game by spraying balls around the park.

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