First Pitch: The Balance Between Minor League Stats and Skills

Tyler Glasnow had one of the best strikeout seasons by a pitcher in a long time. (Photo Credit: Tom Bragg)

Tyler Glasnow had one of the best strikeout seasons by a pitcher in a long time. (Photo Credit: Tom Bragg)

All season I’ve talked about Tyler Glasnow, who dominated the South Atlantic League this year. I’ve also talked a lot lately about Austin Meadows, due to the fact that Meadows has been crushing the ball in the last week for Jamestown, capping off a strong pro debut. In each case the numbers are great, but I think we also need to add some perspective on what the numbers really tell us.

In the next week I’ll be starting the process of writing the 2014 Prospect Guide. A big part of that process is evaluating individual seasons, writing up player reports, creating a list of rankings, and most importantly, weighing stats vs skills.

Everyone does their rankings differently. For me, I draw a line between high-A and Double-A. That’s the point where prospects need to start showing results, and can’t rely on potential anymore. That line is the mid-point. If you’re relying on potential in Double-A and Triple-A, and you don’t have the numbers to justify being a top prospect, you’re going to get lowered in the rankings. If a guy struggles in the lower levels, but has a lot of upside, that poor season won’t hurt as much. On the flip side, if a guy has an amazing season in A-ball, but doesn’t have good tools, I usually won’t put him on the prospect radar. If a guy has a great season in the upper levels and doesn’t have any tools, I’ll probably consider him a prospect, although usually only a bench/bullpen option due to the lack of tools.

Basically the higher you go from A-ball, the more it needs to be about numbers. The lower you are from A-ball, the more it needs to be about talent.

So what does that mean for Glasnow and Meadows? Is that hypocritical to tout their numbers as some great accomplishment, while saying that numbers don’t matter as much for other guys at the same levels? It depends on what the numbers say.

In these two cases, the numbers are just re-affirming what we already know. In Glasnow’s case, he has been extremely dominant this year. Last night I talked about how he’s had one of the best strikeout percentages in baseball in a long time. Glasnow is currently our number three prospect, and that probably won’t change in the off-season rankings. But that isn’t because of the dominant numbers this year. It’s because of his stuff, which is also the reason for the dominant numbers.

Glasnow throws a fastball in the mid-90s, touching as high as 99 MPH this year. He does a good job throwing the pitch on a steep downward angle, although obviously his control needs work, mostly due to issues with repeating his delivery. He pairs the fastball with a curveball that can be a plus offering at times. He also has a feel for a changeup, but needs to work on improving the pitch, mostly slowing it down to add separation from the fastball while maintaining deception.

I look at Glasnow, and I look at where Jameson Taillon was at when he was at the same level at the same age. Taillon had trouble throwing the ball down in the zone. He also had some trouble commanding his plus breaking pitch. And he needed improvements with his changeup, which he made the following season. I look at Taillon, who has developed just fine since his time in West Virginia, and then I look at Glasnow. In my opinion, Glasnow is further along in his development than Taillon was at the same stage. That’s why he’s got the un-hittable numbers. It’s because his stuff is un-hittable. That’s also why he’s ranked high, and why his numbers are so encouraging. They’re just telling the story of his stuff, which is far more important than those numbers in low-A.

Austin Meadows hit seven homers this year between the GCL and Jamestown.

Austin Meadows hit seven homers this year between the GCL and Jamestown.

Then you’ve got Austin Meadows. He’s hitting a ton, including for power in some leagues that are very pitcher friendly. Once again, this is more about the stats matching up with the skills than the stats just being good on their own. Meadows was described as a great pure hitter who could hit for above average power in the majors, along with great plate patience. He’s got some stuff to work on in his game in the minors, as do all players at his age and level. But he has shown the ability to crush opposing pitching. He has shown a good approach at the plate. He’s shown great defensive skills, which could allow him to stick in center field for as long as he is needed. Basically, Meadows is living up to the hype from when he was drafted.

But the numbers do have some meaning here. Meadows is just out of high school, as in he graduated three months ago. He could have been a candidate to go first overall this year, but he didn’t exactly dominate with his power in his senior year of high school. So he dropped to ninth overall and the Pirates took him. There’s two versions of power than a young player can have. Raw power, and game power. Raw power just shows that you have the ability to hit a ball really far. Usually this shows up in batting practice. It’s one thing to do that. It’s another to be able to apply that power in a game. If you’ve got raw power, you can crush a batting practice fastball. But hitting a home run in the game when you don’t know what pitch is coming next, and you don’t know where it will be thrown? That takes a lot of skill. Not every player with raw power translates that to the game. Some only translate it to doubles and triples, like Mel Rojas.

So in the case with Meadows, the fact that he hit seven homers this year in two pitcher friendly leagues is a great sign. It shows that he’s able to use that power in the game. But don’t think that’s final. We still need to consider that he’s doing this in the lowest levels of the minors, pitcher friendly leagues or not. Can he do the same next year in West Virginia, where the pitchers are more talented, and can throw better off-speed stuff? How about in 2014 in high-A, and maybe Double-A in the second half, where command is better and pitchers know how to throw a changeup? All of these are tests. Meadows passed the test this year in the lowest levels, but that’s only the first step to proving that he has what it takes to covert raw power to game power.

In both cases, the Pirates have some elite prospects. You can throw the amazing numbers out and you still have two very talented players. The numbers just tell us what we already knew about those guys: Glasnow has dominant stuff, and Meadows is a great hitter with a lot of power. But they’re both in the lower levels, which means it will be harder to put up such dominant numbers as they move up. They both have the stuff to put up great numbers in the upper levels, and that’s why once they reach those levels it will be more about showing they can put up those numbers, and less about the stuff we already knew they had.

Links and Notes

Prospects

**Pitching Inside: The Pirates Way

**Prospect Watch: Jerry Sands Homers Twice, But Indians Lose Second Playoff Game

**Minor League Schedule: Rodriguez and Taillon Attempt to Keep Indianapolis in Playoffs

Pirates

**Wandy Rodriguez to Make an International League Rehab Start Tomorrow

**Pittsburgh Pirates Projected Super Two Players Following the 2013 Season

**Huntington’s Deals Indicative of Focus Beyond 81 Wins

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

    Good numbers are always good. Glasnow strikes out a lot of batters. Those who put the ball in play seldom produce hits. He easily has the best H/9 rate of every pitcher above A ball.

    It’s better to have those numbers than to have middling or poor numbers. What he might accomplish in +A and AA ball has no bearing on what he has accomplished so far. Glasnow was the best pitcher among his peers — his age-league cohort — in 2013. This success, when coupled to the scout’s view of things, makes Glasnow a top prospect. He may falter in the future. But the future has yet to happen. Right now, though, he’s a top prospect.

    Meadows began his career with some difficulty making contact. He’s mashed since then. Scout’s view and performance indicate that he’s another top prospect.

    If either falters next year, the year afterwards, etc., then observers can adjust their ratings accordingly. But, let them fail first before docking them rating grades.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      “If either falters next year, the year afterwards, etc., then observers can adjust their ratings accordingly. But, let them fail first before docking them rating grades.”

      We’ve got Glasnow third and Meadows fifth, so they’re not being docked. I’m just pointing out that these two are ranked where they are because of the tools and upside.

      • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

        My comment was not directed at you and P² as much as it was directed at those individuals who do dock Glasnow for putting up the numbers he achieved while pitching in the low minors. To my mind. Glasnow is a top-25 prospect in a group that includes all eligible prospects.

        To be sure, the 'dock the prospect because he pitches in the low minors' rule is not consistently applied. Dylan Bundy's work in A ball was considered excellent by everyone. Bundy was 19 at the time. In 2013, Glasnow achieved better K/9 and H/9 rates than Bundy, Whereas Bundy was a polished pitcher when he began his 2012 season, Glasnow was not a complete package in April and remains a work in progress now. Bundy, unlike Glasnow, shot to the top of the prospect rankings soon after he began his 2012 campaign. Glasnow has become notorious because he dominated the opposition. Observers want to hedge their bets with Glasnow. For me, a top 20 rank would amount to bet hedging.

        Rankings should be based on talent. Estimates of risk should refer to talent, not league classification.

        This is a pet peeve — almost an idée fixe — of mine.

  • leadoff

    Good numbers always help, but in reality good numbers to a non prospect don’t matter much, his chances of seeing the majors are usually small. They do matter to a prospect because it is tough to keep a top prospect at a certain level when his stats are very good. This is where the Pirates are pretty good, if the numbers are fake or tainted, they know it. The fans and the media do there share to hype the player, you know the “Free Lambo” stuff and so on. If Meadows hits 30 home runs in A ball next year everyone is going to want him in the majors like now, that is not likely to happen though.
    I remember a converstation Huntington had about Tabata when he was moved up to AAA and hitting for a high average, Huntington said yes he is hitting for a high average, but a lot of those hits are not solid contact, same thing about Presley when he got to AAA. I know that the organization does keep track of how many cheap hits a hitter gets, but they also keep track of how many cheap hits their pitchers give up. I don’t know if any stats reveal cheap hits. I keep track of them on the major league team when I grade out a pitchers performance, Locke for example has the worst luck of any pitcher in the majors right now, he has given up the most cheap hits I have seen. The amount of ground balls through the infield in the first half of the year was around .200 in the second half of the year they are close to .500. That means one out of two balls hit on the ground go through the infield, that is incredible.

    • Andrew

      I think batted Ball (LD, GB, FB, IFH…) data and batting average for balls in play, BABIP, is helpful for the major league level. Less so for minors b/c (I do not know if batted ball data is readily available) and BABIP data assumes major league talent is on the field. Then there is the question of sample size, and the maxim that in small samples a good scout is always better.

  • Kevin_Young

    What I’ve been trying to figure out lately is why I’m hearing so many pundits toot the horn of Clint Frazier and not Meadows? By all accounts their tools were very similar coming into pro ball. Then Meadows goes and completely outperforms him (and in important categories like k rate), and Frazier pulls ahead? Prospect pundit hype, in my opinion, has such a negative impact on rankings and evaluation.

  • SteveW

    Tim, a hypothetical question if you have time. Last year there were reports the Bucs were prepared to take David Dahl, who they would have signed, before Appel fell into their laps. Dahl, of course, went on to have a great first year in Rookie ball before getting hurt this year. The Bucs in turn used the compensatory pick from Appel to draft Meadows this year.

    My question: would you rather have Dahl or Meadows if you had a choice, and why? Both look like tremendous prospects.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      We do writeups of possible picks before draft day, so we can get the article up almost instantly when a player is drafted. This also serves as a sort of time capsule where we can go back and see the opinion of a player when he was drafted. We had a post ready for Dahl, and I just went back and looked at it. He had a lot of tools and good upside, but his floor was lower than other prospects. There were also issues with his work ethic, and I think he’s had some problems in that area in pro ball.

      I think a lot of people became higher on Dahl because of his monster numbers in rookie ball last year. As I mentioned in this article, those shouldn’t matter as much as tools at that level. Dahl has the tools, but I think Meadows is more likely to use the tools in the game, and realize his potential. I also think Meadows has a better work ethic, which is going to allow him to be a better player. So I’d take Meadows. It just seems like Meadows had more hype coming into his draft than Dahl did for the 2012 draft, and the reason people are high on Dahl is more because of the numbers.

  • CalipariFan506

    Earlier this summer Tim I remember you doing a feature on Kingham and saying if he was a higher draft pick he would be considered a top prospect with the career track he has taken.

    I don’t think guys that aren’t top 100 or so picks in their draft ever get recognized the way they should based on their perceived value at draft time.

    Like if Kozikoski was a top 100 pick in this draft everybody would be thrilled with his GCL season and he would be considered a top 10 or so prospect in the system.

    It’s almost like in college football teams ranked higher in the preseason end up ranked higher at the end of the season than teams that perhaps performed better but were handicapped by their preseason ranking.

    I don’t think there is any good solution to this but IMO prospect ranks for any player under AA should be taken with extreme cautiousness.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I think it depends on what people are looking at. If people are looking at numbers and draft positions, that’s one thing. If you’re looking at the actual players, it’s easier to point out someone is good before they get on the national radar.

      In the last year Polanco, Glasnow, and Kingham all started getting national prospect attention. We had them all pretty high before they had their breakout seasons, based on how good they looked. It was only after they put up the numbers that they started getting national attention. Anyone watching them could see the talent was there, even though they weren’t getting national attention.

      So to your point about guys below AA, I think you just need to find out why the player is ranked the way he is. If it’s draft position and stats, that might not tell the story. If it’s live reports, that’s much stronger. Thus the reason we put such a huge focus on seeing every player in the system.