Fernando Tatis Jr. is in Good Company

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.

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Newsletter Free Preview: eBay Ranks the Prospects

When we think about what kind of people care deeply about baseball prospects, two groups generally jump to mind: there are those who obsessively track their favorite team’s prospects (hey there), and there are those looking for every possible edge in their upcoming fantasy draft. In fact, the rise of fantasy baseball—with money or bragging rights on the line—is probably the main reason prospect coverage has gone so mainstream over the years.

There is, however, another group of people invested in prospects with cold, hard cash, and it’s a group that speaks not in snake draft results or auction prices, but real dollars. Baseball card collectors, particularly the ones who invest in prospects hoping to one day make a small fortune, own an interesting space in the modern-day prospecting niche. Did you know, for instance, that Mike Trout’s Topps Update rookie card once sold for just a few bucks, and could be found in packs at Target? Now you can’t find one in decent condition for under $100.

With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to compare the sale prices of top prospects on eBay. I chose each player’s Bowman Chrome base autograph (like this one), graded in 9.5 condition by BGS. From some limited knowledge, I gather that this is generally a player’s most coveted non-parallel rookie card, especially among pre-MLB debut cards. I took the five most recent sales, where applicable, for everyone on Phillips’ consensus top 25. Shohei Ohtani and Hunter Greene were omitted, as they don’t have such cards yet.

Without further ado, here’s the eBay top 15:

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Newsletter Snippet: Padres Outfield Prospects, Reviewed

The Outfielders

Overview: It’s something of a theme for various areas of the farm, specifically on the position player side, but there’s all kinds of talent here but no slam-bang, no-doubt future superstar. There are enough young, promising players, however, that it wouldn’t be surprising if one emerged over the next year or two. There’s also a nice complement of safer, closer-to-the-majors types, like Franchy Cordero and Franmil Reyes, to balance things out. With Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, and Alex Dickerson already at the big-league level, the Padres should be able to put together solid homegrown outfields for the next half decade, if that’s the route they choose.

  1. Franchy Cordero

If you count his work between Triple-A El Paso and the majors, Cordero had the rare 20/20/20 season in 2017, collecting 24 doubles, 21 triples, and 20 home runs in 518 plate appearances. That feat—plus good defense and base running—gives you a sense of the power-speed game that earned Cordero the top spot on this list.

The problem remains the strikeouts: In 99 plate appearances in San Diego, Cordero whiffed 44 times. After a hot start in the majors, pitchers simply figured out how to exploit the rookie, and in a stretch of 24 plate appearances in late June, he went hitless while striking out 17 times. His strikeout rate in Triple-A was a more manageable (but still high) 28.2 percent.

Cordero’s batting average on balls in play was high at both levels, which is something of a regression concern going forward. He BABiPed .400 with the Padres and a crazy-high .431 in El Paso, where, apparently, even tumbleweeds fall in for hits. That’s a sign he was consistently hitting the ball hard, sure, but also unsustainable. From 2010-2017, the highest BABiP among big-league hitters with at least 1,000 PAs is Miguel Sano’s .362 mark.

If Cordero can cure his swing-and-miss issues, he’s a star in the making. More likely, that problem will accompany his return to the majors, limiting his upside. Ultimately, he’s still a fleet-footed center fielder with speed and power, which is why he sits atop this list despite the obvious faults. He’s got a good shot to be a solid platoon/fourth outfielder, at least, and maybe something more.

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