Prospect Smackdown: Jacoby Ellsbury vs. Felix Pie
Background and Intangibles
Ellsbury: Ellsbury was drafted by the Red Sox in the first round in 2005, 23rd overall, out of Oregon State University, where he led the Beavers to the College World Series. Signed for $1.4 million, he had a strong full-season debut in '06, playing well in the Class A Carolina League and the Double-A Eastern League. He has a good work ethic and strong makeup to back up his amateur pedigree.
Pie:Pie was signed by the Cubs out of the Dominican Republic in 2001. He made his full-season debut in the Midwest League in '03, and has made steady progress up the ladder in the Chicago system. He was erratic in '06 but strong in the second half for Triple-A Iowa. Cubs officials have good things to say about his work ethic and makeup, particularly his ability to stay positive when things don't go well.
Advantage: Ellsbury was better known as an amateur, but the comparison between a college guy and a Dominican product is hard to make in that regard. Both of them draw praise for their "intangibles". Looks even to me.
Physicality, Health, and Tools
Ellsbury: Ellsbury is a 6-1, 185 pound lefthanded hitter and thrower, born September 11, 1983. An outstanding athlete, he is an excellent defensive outfielder, although his arm is below average in strength. His speed plays well on the bases. He's shown sound contact hitting ability and gap power as a pro, along with very good strike zone judgment. His home run power is just average right now, but should improve at least slightly as he gets older. He's had no major health problems worth noting.
Pie: Pie is a 6-2, 175 pound lefthanded hitter and thrower, born February 8, 1985. Pie is an outstanding overall athlete. Like Ellsbury, his speed is a major asset on defense, but his arm is stronger (suitable for right field). He has more raw power, and more present power, than Ellsbury, but is less refined as a hitter and fielder, and needs particular work on his strike zone judgment. He missed more than half of the '05 season due to an ankle injury, but showed no ill effects last year.
Advantage: Both players are fine athletes. Ellsbury has more speed, but Pie is hardly slow. Pie has more power, more power potential, a stronger arm. Edge goes to Pie.
Performance and Polish
Ellsbury: Ellsbury's career mark is .306/.391/.427 with 64 steals in 146 games, including .308/.387/.434 last year in half a season of Double-A. His BB/K/AB ratio is excellent at 73/73/581, showing strong plate discipline. He's quite polished in most phases of the game, needing only additional power development. His MLE OPS last year was about .760 with about 30 steals and strong defense.
Pie: Pie hit .283/.341/.451 last year in Triple-A, his career mark now standing at .294/.353/.459. His BB/K/AB ratio not very good: 46/126/559 last year, and 164/438/.1945 in his career. His MLE OPS last year was about .760 with about 17 steals.
Advantage: Pie has proven himself at a higher level and has produced more power, but Ellsbury's polish and plate discipline really stand out. Although the "flavor" of their success is different, Ellsbury is more polished in more phases of the game and I will give him a slight edge here.
Ellsbury: Although some people compare him to Johnny Damon, I don't think Ellsbury will have that kind of home run power. I expect he'll develop into a .280-.300 hitter with a high on base percentage, plenty of speed, lots of doubles and triples, 10-15 homers, and strong glovework. PECOTA upside VORP is 78.6.
Pie: Some people are starting to compare Pie to Carlos Beltran. I don't think he'll be quite that good, but Pie (like Ellsbury) could develop into a .280-.300 hitter. He'll have more home run power, but his OBP and strike zone judgment could be more erratic, and I think he'll lose his speed more quickly. PECOTA upside VORP is 158.5.
Advantage: PECOTA obviously likes Pie's upside more than Ellsbury's, and this is understandable given Pie's younger age and greater power potential. PECOTA is just one system, however. I think Pie has more projection than Ellsbury and could be a more complete player, but he also has a higher risk of flaming out on us, if his strike zone judgment doesn't improve. I think PECOTA probably overstates the difference between them somewhat, but Pie does have more projection in traditional terms.
I rate them as even on background/intangibles, Pie with an edge on tools, Ellsbury with an edge on current polish, and Pie an edge on projection. Overall Pie comes out a bit ahead, which is not how I rated them in the book this year: I had Ellsbury at 21 and Pie at 22. So is the book right, or is this analysis right? Going over it in this kind of detail has led me to change my mind, and if I was doing the list again I'd swap them out, Pie moving up a notch ahead of Ellsbury. I will adjust this in the next version of the 50/50 list.