Fangraphs released their list of the top 100 prospects and they have some major differences from the other top 100 lists that have been posted this off-season. This is the first list to have five Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s also the first list that has included Cole Tucker and Colin Moran.

As with every other list, Mitch Keller is the top prospect for the Pirates. Fangraphs has him 23rd, which is the lowest ranking so far. In their description for Keller, they mention how bad his changeup is and how that could hold him back. As we have mentioned here multiple times, Keller came up with a new changeup grip late in the season and he noted that he had a lot of success with the pitch in the playoffs, using it often. He continued to work on the pitch in the Fall Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League, so that information may have helped Keller rank up where he is for everyone else, which is the 12-18 range.

Austin Meadows was next up, which has been true of every prior list except Keith Law, who had Meadows as the fourth best prospect in the system. Fangraphs has him ranked 47th, which is one spot below his average ranking on the previous four lists. If you averaged out the five lists now, he would still average out at 48th spot.

Next up is the first surprise ranking. Colin Moran ranks 53rd on this new list and Fangraphs explains it by noting that Moran made a change to his swing to unlock more power, without sacrificing his natural hitting ability. Most people are in the wait-and-see mode with him because his first show of power came while repeating the level and playing in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The problem with that thinking is that he already has 34 at-bats in the majors, so by the time we find out whether or not the power translates to the majors, he won’t be considered a prospect anymore. So anyone who believes it’s legit would rank him higher than someone waiting to see if it’s legit.

Three spots after Moran on the list is Ke’Bryan Hayes, who makes his second appearance on a top 100 list. Keith Law had him ranked 61st, while both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline noted that he just missed their lists. Fangraphs calls Hayes a plus-plus defender, who projects to be an above average regular, although they give him a higher ceiling.

The final spot goes to Cole Tucker, which gives the Pirates five of the top 74 prospects on the list. Fangraphs seemed to go a little light on Tucker’s defense, calling him a potential average defender. I would have agreed with that going into 2017, but he really improved as the season went along and by the end of the regular season with Altoona, he was making above average plays daily.

This was the second list that Shane Baz didn’t make this off-season. He was ranked 65th by Law, 67th by Pipeline and 96th by Baseball Prospectus.

ZiPS is Kind to the Pirates

Dan Szymborski does ZiPS for all 30 teams in the majors, which is a stats projection system for the upcoming season. Szymborski posted his list of the top 100 prospects for 2018 season, which he compares to Keith Law’s list in his article. Here’s his description of this list and why it differs from all of the lists referenced above:

“The ZiPS projection system is data-driven, so the names here will not necessarily match the names you see on a more scout-driven list. Which is fine, computers are great at sorting through large amounts of data, not scouting players, and what the data say provides a well-rounded look at a player in addition to the stats.”

That means that there is no adjustment for scouting, which would obviously make the list a lot different. His projections work better with players who already have stats in the majors as opposed to projecting what someone at a lower level could do if everything works out. With that in mind, here are his top prospects for the Pirates and their spots on the top 100 list:

28. Austin Meadows

50. Cole Tucker

77. Ke’Bryan Hayes

78. Mitch Keller

86. Kevin Newman

92. Colin Moran

I’m not going to critique the list because it’s strictly data-driven, eliminating the human element of scouting. If you like the ZiPS projection, then this list is for you.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Hard not to be pleased when a reputable org like Fangraphs places 5 Pirates in the Top 100 Prospects. Baz probably missed because his numbers in the GCL were not impressive – 24 IP, 3.80 ERA, 19K/14W.

    Why is Mason Martin missing? Martin set a new HR record, posted a 1.087 OPS, and just as impressive are the 32 Walks in 166 PA. Another guy from that GCL team that has to be real close is Lolo Sanchez. Sanchez played errorless CF with 7 Assists in 49 games, posted a .776 OPS, stole 14 bases, and still maintained a productive BB/K of 21/19. Special numbers by both of these young players.

  2. I like that the ZiPS projections weigh for MLB at bats. We tend to overvalue raw projects over ready for primetime players. If a player has put 4/5/6 years into the minors they have probably encountered issues along the way. Moran was drafted as a talent and he put it together last year, that should be more valuable than 300 at bats in the Sally league.

    • And Tucker and a few others? They got enough to make it a good trade – now it is up to our Management team to make it work.

  3. Happy to see Hayes and Tucker getting some love.

    Moran in the top 100 makes some sense, as does leaving him off. He has a much higher floor than a lot of the 18-year-olds on the list, so his ranking depends largely on floor/ceiling preference.

    Also happy to see Heliot Ramos left off their Top 100, making me less anxious about the Pirates not getting him in the McCutchen trade.

  4. The ZiPS comparison was a fun article. Purely statistical rankings like KATOH and Brian Cartwright’s OLIVER love Jordan Luplow as well.

    • I think I prefer the other two, unless I’m missing something with ZiPS. The list seems way too close to the regular top 100 lists for it not to include something outside of just pure performance. Meadows at 28 and Luplow not on the list? Hmm. I know Luplow is older, but he’s clearly outperformed Meadows.
      Maybe includes draft position or some other scouting adjacent component, making it more like KATOH+.

      • Luiz Gohara as the best pitching prospect in all of baseball kind of fits the bill there, but I know what you mean.

        I think it’s fascinating that different projection systems with similar data can come up with such wildly different results. And as much as I’ve tried, I can’t seem to figure them out; a combination of performance metrics that looks like it works in some situations doesn’t seem to in others.

        Defense is really the part that’s a true black box here, in terms of WAR projections. It’s almost purely a guess. For instance, I buy Colin Moran as an above average (100-110 wRC+) hitter, but there could *easily* be a full-win swing based on how his defense stacks up against other big league third baseman. It’s a young man’s position right now.

        • It’s a new game in a new era of “hot” baseballs, and power is King. Watch for the zone to expand upward.

          Hitters and hitting instructors have developed uppercut swings to adjust to the low strike zone. Now they will have to adjust to strikes called in the top part of the zone – pitches right below the letters and on the inside corner.

      • ““The ZiPS projection system is data-driven, so the names here will not
        necessarily match the names you see on a more scout-driven list. Which
        is fine, computers are great at sorting through large amounts of data,
        not scouting players, and what the data say provides a well-rounded look
        at a player in addition to the stats.””

        • Right, but my question is about what constitutes the data. Draft position, for example, is the result of scouting, but it has predictive value for future success. One could conceivably use draft position in an algorithm. (I’m not saying you should, btw).
          I get the impression from looking at the list that he includes age as a factor, so it’s not 100% about on-field stats. Anyway, I guess he didn’t share his methodology, so we can just guess!

    • Katoh loved Moroff too, if memory serves.

      like… top 60 midseason i think

      do you know what Oliver thought of Moroff?

  5. I was really happy to see 5 Pirates prospects in Fangraphs top 74… but no Shane Baz? Overall, six different players in the prominent top 100 lists makes for a more optimistic view of the farm system than what has seemed to be the prevailing sentiment this off season.

    • Baz is so young that I’m not worried about any rankings on him until after this coming season is complete

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