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: What’s The Deal With Eric Hosmer’s Defense?

What’s the deal with Eric Hosmer’s defense?

You’ve probably heard it discussed already: The observers generally love Hosmer’s glovework at first, whereas the numbers think he has the range of a lost Tetris block. The former Royal has won four out of the last five American League Gold Gloves at first, nipped only by Mitch Moreland in 2016, yet here are his advanced numbers over the last four years:

Year UZR DRS BP’s FRAA
2014 -0.4 3 8.0
2015 1.0 1 3.6
2016 -8.4 -6 -2.2
2017 -0.3 -7 0.6
2014-2017 -8.1 -9 10

Okay, they’re not exactly terrible, depending on how you look at them, but they aren’t great either. And If you look at them this way, they do look pretty bad: Among the 32 first basemen with at least 1,000 innings played over the past two seasons combined, Hosmer ranks 30th by DRS and dead last by UZR.

Eric Hosmer, Pickin’ Machine?

One of the reasons Hosmer gets touted as a good defender is thanks to his reputation for vacuuming up errant throws at first, particularly ones in the dirt. We don’t generally think about this skill when we think about the fielding ability of infielders, instead turning to range as the driving factor behind fielding prowess. But part of a first baseman’s primary responsibility, of course, is to receive throws from his infield mates. Could the fielding metrics be missing the mark here?

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Newsletter Free Preview: Chase Headley Is Still A Padre (And It’s A Little Awkward)

When the Padres acquired Chase Headley (and Bryan Mitchell) from the Yankees earlier this winter, I was sure they were going to flip him before Opening Day. I’m not so sure anymore.

What’s happened since, of course, is . . . well, a whole lotta nothin’. The Angels, one of the teams in need of a third baseman and rumored to be interested in Headley, instead signed Zack Cozart, a bigger upgrade, to play there. And the entire offseason, for the most part, has come to a screeching standstill. Outside of Yu Darvish and Lorenzo Cain—and Shohei Ohtani, who was essentially forced to sign—most of the big name free agents remain unsigned. Teams still interested in third base help could be waiting on Mike Moustakas to land somewhere, or perhaps other players to fill other holes, biding time until a clearer picture develops.

Meanwhile, the Padres are stuck with Headley. At the time of the deal, back in the middle of December, Headley’s one-year, $13 million remaining contract seemed eminently tradable. But that was before Bizarro Offseason took hold. Just last week, the Mets signed third baseman Todd Frazier for two years and a paltry $17 million total. Check out the comparison between Headley and Frazier:

Player Age ’18 ZiPS WAR ’18 Steamer WAR ’18 PECOTA WAR
Headley 34 1.9 1.1 1.0
Frazier 32 3.5 2.1 1.4

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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 Free Preview: Thoughts on the Freddy Galvis Trade

Padres acquire shortstop Freddy Galvis from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for RHP Enyel De Los Santos

Behind every baseball trade, we search for something deeper than a player-for-player swap. No, we’re not necessarily looking for the meaning of life; a general and coherent direction from our club of interest will do.

When the Padres traded Craig Kimbrel to Boston two winters ago, we saw a focused effort to throw in the towel on A.J. Preller’s first vision of a winning team and rebuild for the future. When they traded James Shields to the White Sox, we saw the same thing. When they signed Trevor Cahill last year and then traded him to the Royals at the deadline for a couple of interesting prospects, we viewed it as part of a continued process to build for something down the road.

No, the Padres haven’t gone with a Cubs or Astros-style rebuild, but they’ve done a good job of making moves that generally fit together inside of a bigger plan. From the blockbusters like Kimbrel-to-Boston to the smaller moves (Yonder Alonso-for-Drew Pomeranz, Melvin Upton Jr.-for-Hansel Rodriguez, etc.) to all of those Rule 5 picks and the international class of 2016, the Padres have been building and building toward an eventual crescendo that should take place in 2020 or 2021 or whenever the baseball gods say they can win again. It’s mostly all made sense, save for the occasional hiccup.

And then came yesterday’s trade, where the Padres sent soon-to-be 22-year-old right-handed pitcher Enyel De Los Santos to the Phillies and received 28-year-old shortstop Freddy Galvis.

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Newsletter Free Preview: Talking Myself Into Zack Cozart

After writing about why I wouldn’t sign Eric Hosmer on Monday, I thought I’d take a look through the top free agents in search of what might be a smarter, more realistic use of money—just in case the Padres are interested in shelling out some dough this winter, that is. In the end, after hemming on Alex Cobb and hawing on C.C. Sabathia, I landed on one name: Zachary Warren Cozart.

Cozart isn’t really my cup of tea at first glance, as he’s coming off a career-year and is already 32 years old. That’s the right combo for a big offseason contract and subsequent underperformance, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a team not yet ready to compete. The good news: Cozart isn’t really treated like a slick-fielding shortstop coming off a five-win year, and the Padres are perpetually looking for an answer at the position. The Reds couldn’t trade him over the summer and then didn’t even give him a qualifying offer after the season, and MLB Trade Rumors—which has him ranked as the 13th best free agent—projects him to get a reasonable three-year, $42 million deal. (Others, like Jon Heyman, Jon Heyman’s expert, and Dave Cameron have him in a similar price range.) Cozart is the rare free agent who flies all the red flags of a potential overpay yet remains comfortably underrated.

Cozart’s really had two different careers. From 2012 through 2014, he was well below average offensively, rarely walking while showing just occasional pop. He was still close to an average player just based on a good glove at short alone, as he racked up 35 DRS over that stretch. Since then, Cozart’s remained a solid (if steadily declining) gloveman, but he’s morphed into a better than average hitter. Counting his breakout this past year, he’s posted the fourth-best wRC+ (114) among regular shortstops since the start of 2015. In 2017, he doubled his career walk rate (12.2 percent) while also easily notching career highs in ISO (.251) and wRC+ (141).

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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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