Yesterday, on an entertaining edition of the Gwynntelligence podcast, the guys—HJ Preller and, this time, Woe Doctor—brought up David Marver’s recent tweets on Fernando Tatis Jr., which dovetailed into a good discussion on the riskiness of prospects and the inherent danger in relying too much on one player.
If you follow me on Twitter or have read any of my prospect-related love letters stuff over the last couple of years, you probably have a pretty good idea about my thoughts on Tatis. I once, for instance, ranked him as the Padres top 11 prospects. Yes, all of them. Of course, it’s important to consider the risks broached on Gwynntelligence and by Marver; I certainly understand that Tatis could bust completely or, more likely, simply become a so-so major-league player instead of a superstar, and I don’t want to be charged with overhyping him. The very early performance in Double-A—a .235/.250/.318 slash line with a 28.4 percent strikeout rate in 21 games—is perhaps a flickering warning sign that his developmental path could hit some rocky roads, especially with the way the Padres have fast-tracked him.
Then again, I remain almost unflinchingly high on Tatis, despite the risks and spotty recent performance. It’s certainly plausible that we, as observers of the Padres, are sometimes not great at respecting the risks. But I also think it’s possible that we’re just not used to dealing with a prospect of Tatis’ caliber, one who’s currently rated as a top 10 prospect by three of the biggest prospect-ranking outlets out there (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com) and just as high (or higher) elsewhere, like ESPN’s Keith Law or FanGraphs.
The Padres haven’t had a prospect this good in . . .well, a long time. First basemen like Anthony Rizzo and Yonder Alonso never even cracked the top 30 on an individual prospect list; Yasmani Grandal hovered around 50; Manuel Margot got close to the top 10 but never into it; even Jake Peavy only reached a peak of 28 back in 2002. The last Padres prospect this highly regarded was probably Sean Burroughs, who hit No. 4 on Baseball America’s list in 2002.
Sure, okay, yep . . . we know how that one turned out. But the point here is that the Padres simply haven’t had this kind of prospect in nearly two decades. For every post-Burroughs flameout you can recite off-hand—Matt Bush, Donavan Tate, Cedric Hunter, Kellen Kulbacki, I’ve got an article to finish here—none of them had the same performance or prospect pedigree that Tatis has built up already.
And that’s the thing. Given Tatis’ credentials—his easy and powerful swing, his defense, his speed, and, mostly, how the prospect-ranking world has seen the light—it’s not outlandish to envision a future superstar. And it’d be something of an upset if Tatis wasn’t, at least, a solid contributor.
I took all of the consensus top 10 position player prospects from 2010 through 2015 and tabulated their value, measured by Baseball Reference’s WAR, through roughly their first six big-league seasons. If they haven’t reached six seasons yet, I used their actual WAR total so far combined with PECOTA’s projection for the remaining years.
Here’s the list, with the year the player appeared as a consensus (BA, BP, and MLB.com) top 10 guy:
There are a lot of great players here. Yeah, there are some busts too—Jesus Montero, once dealt for Michael Pineda in a rare prospect-for-prospect challenge trade, just never stuck, and Jurickson Profar, Pedro Alvarez, and Dominic Brown are almost certain to fall well short of one-time expectations. Outside of the scattered flops, however (and all of them came in 2012 or earlier), the list contains mostly either good solid players (like Xander Bogaerts or Javier Baez) or star-like difference makers.
The average among the group is 19.6 wins over the player’s first six seasons, which is a little more than three wins a year. What’s amazing is how many of the group compiled north of 25 wins in their first six seasons—that’s four-plus wins a year, on average, or star-level goodness. Out of the group of 21, nine of them have surpassed—or are projected to surpass—that 25-win mark, led by Mike Trout, who’s doubled up 25 and some, and then, way back in second, Kris Bryant. By the way, Manny Machado, a frequent Tatis comp and recent discussion point, fell just one slot short of consensus top 10 status back in 2012 (BA ranked him 11th). Had he made this list, he would have been another 25-plus WAR guy.
One of the takeaways here, I think, is that the prospect-ranking community has gotten better at its craft. They aren’t perfect, by any means, but rarer are the Delmon Young or Brandon Wood type whiffs. If you make the top 10 on multiple lists these days and are a position player, you’re probably going to be a solid big-league contributor, if not something more. It makes sense, too. We’ve got more information than ever, more competition between sites doing the rankings, more access to streaming games or advanced performance data. Shoot, there’s probably even more accountability in the age of social media. And with all the information and experience, it’s just not that hard to spot the best of the best.
Of course, nothing mentioned above will keep Tatis from becoming the next can’t-miss prospect gone wrong, and his inclusion on a list with them doesn’t make him a sure-thing to become the next Correa or Lindor. But he’s done enough in his young professional career to put him into really good company, from a lotto ticket trade acquisition to the best prospect in a top-flight farm system. There are good reasons to prepare for something less than a best-case scenario, but you’re not quite drinking Padres-flavored Kool-Aid if you think Tatis has a good shot of turning into a big deal. Recent history tells us there’s a pretty good chance that he lives up to the hype.