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The John Sickels Prospect Retrospective Project: 1996-2013

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Grade A prospects Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera
Grade A prospects Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

I have a new project, and a new product, in the works for you.

It is called the John Sickels Prospect Retrospective Project, 1996-2013. This will be an electronic-format product, in .pdf format, with a tentative release date of September 1st, 2014.

The goal of the project is to study the current population of productive major league players and analyze how they were viewed as prospects. How many of the current star players were actually rated as future stars when they were in the minors? How often do hot prospects actually reach their potential? What can we learn from this? Can we improve analysis for the future?

I am still working out the details but this is what I know so far.

The product will be divided into four sections.

SECTION ONE: This will be an overview of how I analyze prospects, how the system works, and how it has changed over time, dating back to my first prospect book in 1996.

SECTION TWO
: This section will look at all of my Top 50 prospect lists from 1996 through 2013. We will look at how each prospect performed and what kind of career they had. My goal is to look at every player who got a Grade A, A-, or B+ in this time frame.

SECTION THREE:
This section will look at the top players in major league baseball in 2014 and summarize how they were viewed as prospects. It will include the old book player comments from most players, their grades, how/if they ranked on the Top 50 lists, and an assessment of where they currently stand.

SECTION FOUR
: Lessons learned.

The product will be at least 100 pages long, but I can't give an exact length yet. Indeed, the outline itself may change depending on what I find as I do the research. This is very much a "see how the sausage is made" concept. My goal is to find ways to improve my analytical process.

It will cost $9.95 and will be released in .pdf format on or around September 1st, 2014. We are taking pre-orders and we need as many as possible to make it worthwhile!  You can order at Johnsickels.net.

Here are some examples of Section Three comments. There will be at least 100 of these in the product.

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Born: August 7, 1991 Drafted: Angels, First Round, 2009, Millville, New Jersey HS
GRADE DISTRIBUTION: B+/A/A
TOP 50 RANKS: 28/4/2
PLAYER COMMENTS:
2010: Trout was drafted in the first round last year, 25th overall, out of high school in Millville, New Jersey, one spot after Texas high school outfielder Randal Grichuk. Of the two, I prefer Trout, who has better overall tools and is more polished as a hitter. Some scouts felt that Trout would have gone in the first ten picks of the draft if he’d played in warmer weather and received more scouting exposure during the spring. He’s an excellent athlete with plus speed, a decent throwing arm, and center field defensive ability. He controls the strike zone well, will take a walk, and is strong enough to hit home runs, though he hasn’t fully tapped into his power yet. Certainly there was nothing wrong with his early pro performance. I think he’ll hit more home runs in time. Trout basically needs experience at this point, but scouts love his work ethic and overall approach to the game. He may need a bit extra development time due to his cold-weather background, but he’s a fast learner and I’m comfortable giving him a Grade B+.
2011: The 25th overall pick in the 2009 draft, New Jersey high school outfielder Mike Trout has been a revelation in pro ball, and right now looks like he’ll have a better career than several guys drafted ahead of him. Scouts always liked his athleticism and makeup, but he’s proven to be much more polished as a player than expected, showing excellent strike zone judgment, good power potential, aggressiveness on the bases, and very strong defense in center field. He destroyed the Midwest League in the first part of the season, and continued to perform well after moving up to the California League at just age 18. His main hitting weakness right now is home run power, but that is expected to improve as he gains experience. His arm isn’t strong, but he is fundamentally sound and accurate with his throws. His work ethic and emotional maturity are outstanding for his age. If the home run power comes along, Trout will be a complete Seven Skill player. Even if he doesn’t fully develop his home run potential, he’ll still have a great career. Grade A.
2012: At this point, everyone is familiar with Mike Trout. He had no problems adapting to Double-A last year, continuing to hit for average with excellent on-base skills. He’s fast and aggressive on the bases, and is a highly-skilled defensive outfielder who could win Gold Gloves eventually. He showed more home run power, and with experience and maturity he should be good for 20 homers a year in addition to his other skills. Trout was overmatched at times during his major league trial, but he was just 19/20 years old and skipped Triple-A. No one should be worried. About the only negatives I can think of are a non-terrific throwing arm, and the fact that he looked exhausted in the Arizona Fall League and didn’t play with his usual zest. Neither of those are genuine negatives. Barring catastrophic injury, Trout will be as good as everyone thinks. Grade A.
ASSESSMENT: The best player in baseball, Mike Trout has met or exceeded all reasonable (and unreasonable) expectations. It is hard to believe that there were genuine questions about his power potential early in his career, but he’s blown past even the (at the time) optimistic projection that he could be a 20-homer guy. Power, speed, defense, strike zone judgment. . .he does everything, a genuine Five Tool/Seven Skill player. He’s a clear Hall of Fame talent in terms of peak performance, but of course we’ll have to see if he can sustain this and build up his counting stats enough to qualify for the Hall later in the century. If he can sustain this, he is the Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio of his generation, in the best ways.

Matt Carpenter, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
Born: November 26, 1985 Drafted: Cardinals, 13th round, 2009, Texas Christian
GRADE DISTRIBUTION: C/B-/B-
TOP 50 RANKS: N/N/N
PLAYER COMMENTS: 2010: No comment
2011: Matt Carpenter was a 13th round pick in 2009 out of Texas Christian University. A pure hitter, he reached the Texas League in his first full season and performed admirably, showing excellent strike zone judgment and moderate power. It is hard to fault his statistical performance, but some scouts don’t think he’ll have the power to play third base in the majors, at least not regularly. His defense was very good on a statistical basis, with a low error rate and a good range factor. Scouts don’t like Carpenter’s throwing motion, but it doesn’t show up as anything negative, at least on paper. Carpenter doesn’t have the tools or pedigree of Zack Cox, but if he has a good spring he could get to the majors sooner. Bill Mueller? Grade B-.
2012: A 13th round pick in ’09 from Texas Christian, Carpenter has done nothing but play well in pro ball. There are two main negatives for him. Scouts are still lukewarm about his tools and his swing, and he’s already 26 years old. However, there are many positives too. He has excellent plate discipline and has maintained it at every level. While he’s not going to hit a ton of home runs in the majors, he should hit plenty of doubles. There is nothing to complain about in the numbers; he hits for average, gets on base, and doesn’t strike out a lot. His BB/K/AB ratio is excellent, and I still think he could develop into a Bill Mueller-type hitter if all goes well. With the glove, Carpenter always posts excellent defensive statistics, with a low error rate and strong range factors, but scouts rate his glove as merely adequate. Although Zack Cox is considered the third baseman of the future for the Cardinals, Carpenter deserves a shot too, in St. Louis or elsewhere. The main advantage Cox has over Carpenter is a newer birthday, which gives Zack more room to develop. Grade B-
ASSESSMENT: Cox may have had better tools, but Carpenter developed into a superior player and does look similar to Mueller at this stage of his career with his combination of batting average, on-base ability, and adequate power. Carpenter led the National League with 55 doubles and 199 hits last year, which had to erase any of the old concerns about an unorthodox swing that dogged him in college. His defense has also turned out to be better than the scouts anticipated. In this case, the statistics showed him to be a good defender all along even when the scouting reports said he wasn’t. In my view, I assessed him correctly.

Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Born: April 10, 1986 Drafted: Padres, 4th round, 2007, Stetson University
GRADE DISTRIBUTION: C+/C/C/C/C
TOP 50 RANKS: N/N/N/N/N
PLAYER COMMENTS:
2008: Corey Kluber’s excellent spring for Stetson University garnered him a spot in the fourth round of the ’07 draft. A four-pitch starter, he has a 90-93 MPH fastball, a curveball, a slider and a changeup. While none of his pitches are terrific, none of them are bad, either. He held his own in his pro debut, and if he can sharpen his command a bit more, he could be a surprise in ’08. Kluber, along with fifth round Padres pick Jeremy Hefner out of Oral Roberts, is a possible breakthrough guy. Grade C+.
2009, 2010, 2011: No comments
2012: Kluber was a fourth round pick by the Padres out of Stetson in 2007. The Indians picked him up in 2010 as part of a three-way trade involving Jake Westbrook. Kluber has average stuff: 88-93 MPH fastball, decent slider, decent changeup. He has this little hook-hitch in his delivery that helps his stuff play up, and he’s always had good strikeout rates. A little kink can take some people a long way. Kluber is not spectacular but he can eat innings. With some command improvements he could be a useful utility pitcher. Grade C.
ASSESSMENT: One of the top pitchers in the American League in 2014, Kluber turned out to be a lot more than a "useful utility pitcher." In this case, I recognized his potential as a breakthrough pitcher when he was drafted, but did not retain the faith during most of his minor league career, relegating him to the large bin of Grade C types. He got back on my radar with a 3.59 ERA and a 128/49 K/BB in 125 innings in Triple-A in ’12, but even that just made him look like a possible fifth starter, not an ace. The hint in his profile: he always maintained good strikeout rates even when struggling in the high minors. Lesson learned: strikeouts are good; once a sleeper, always a sleeper.