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Fun With Careless Percentile Comps!

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Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game
Neuse BABIPs make for tricky projections.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Always irresponsible, always one of my favorite posts to conjure up. Let’s look at some players I’ve never seen play and try to project their best 20th, 50th, and 80th percentile comps. It’s a way of visualizing the skill sets of young players as they endeavor to move up the ladder and fulfill their purported promise.

If the comps appear to be too rosy, remember that there is an understood caveat: many prospects will bust entirely and fail to have a major league career. These comps bypass the implied “if they make it at all” and look at the best comps if they pass the essential first test of not being in the sizable percentage of quality prospects whose best comp is AAA McFiller.

What’s helpful about comps is that they give you a vivid way to visualize a player in his best, worst, and most medium iterations. Away we go!

Sheldon Neuse

Neuse’s calling card is his hit tool, which exploded in 2017 both in the minor leagues (A, AA) and the Fall league. If he makes it to the big leagues it will be on the strength of his bat, which enjoyed BABIPs of .490 and .532 at Stockton and Midland. Those numbers suggest both that Neuse can hit the ball hard, far, and anywhere, and also that regression will not be his friend. But it was a promising season no matter how you slice it.

Neuse profiles as possibly league average at one position (3B), possibly able to be a tick below average at 2B or COF, making him a candidate either to stick at 3B for someone or perhaps to settle into a career of using versatility to carve out a longer career.

50th percentile comp: Ty Wigginton

Wigginton was a solid power hitting RH batter whose bat, and some defensive versatility, kept him around for years as a valued role player and occasional starter. Wigginton was good enough that some team always wanted him and was expendable enough that his current team was usually willing (willin?) to let him roam around the league.

A career .261/.323/.435 hitter, Wigginton played 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and RF in his career, mostly a bit below average but by no means badly. If Neuse makes it to the big leagues I would expect a Wiggintonesque career as his likeliest outcome.

80th percentile comp: David Freese

A likely good outcome for Neuse is to settle into being an average every day 3Bman with an above average bat, whose ability to hit the ball hard and take a walk make him a potent middle of the order hitter.

A career .274/.348/.411 hitter, Freese has had a solid 10 year career mostly as an average defensive 3Bman. Add .030 points of slugging (Freese’s career SLG is lowered by a downturn since 2012) and that’s probably Neuse’s profile if he reaches the higher end of his potential.

20th percentile comp: Casey McGehee

Remember that year when McGehee was all the rage? It was 2010 (.285/.337/.464, 23 HR) and since then he’s just been, well, Casey McGehee. Now a career .258/.317/.384 hitter who plays a slightly below average 3B, McGehee is just another guy who once showed what he could have been and then has made a career of showing who he actually is.

Dustin Fowler

Talk about hard to project. Is Fowler forever damaged or good as new? Is he a solid hitter or a hacker? Is he a worthy CFer or a COFer? Is he an every day starter or a tweener?

Even Fowler’s minor league stats regularly contradict themselves. Fowler had platoon splits until he didn’t, slugged little until he slugged a lot. Will the real Dustin Fowler please stand up? Assuming, of course, that the knee will allow it.

50th percentile comp: Ryan Sweeney

It’s hard to find a comp for Fowler because you have to identify someone who can play CF, but not too well, and who doesn’t walk. Odubel Herrera, David DeJesus, Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, Nick Markakis...they all either played too good a CF or they walked too much to be comps for Fowler.

So I finally settled on our old friend Sweeney, whose career slash line finished at .276/.333/.380 — a bit higher walk rate and lower slugging than you might expect from Fowler — but whose defensive profile is right on. Sweeney is also a good poster boy for an “excellent tweener but not quite adequate every day CFer,” which is probably Fowler’s likeliest outcome.

Note that I would like to think Sweeney is more like Fowler’s 30th-40th percentile outcome, but I also believe that with the injury recovery still unanswered one has to be cautious. Overall I’m not satisfied with this comp but have yet to think of a better one. I pondered David Murphy but eliminated him from consideration based on the fact that he was not a CFer and I think it’s premature to anoint Fowler as a COFer when he is the de facto 2018 Opening Day CFer.

80th percentile comp: Michael Brantley

While I like Odubel Herrera as a batting comp, Fowler’s defensive upside falls short of Herrera’s excellent CF play. So I ultimately settled on Brantley as what Fowler can aspire to be.

Brantley is super-talented but is stretched in CF, more solid in the corners. As a hitter, Brantley’s biggest skill is the ability to knock out base hits — he is a career .292 hitter — with some pop in his bat but not big time power. Brantley’s career .349 OBP is more than we should expect from Fowler but his career .423 SLG is modest. It’s a pretty good basis for what the A’s could have in Fowler if he is the prospect Oakland is hoping they acquired.

20th percentile comp: Ben Gamel

Despite a pleasant 2017 season, Gamel is a once highly regarded prospect who hasn’t amounted to anything much, but who has a big league job based on his pedigree and perennial potential. Currently a career .268/.318/.402 hitter, Gamel’s outfield defense is pedestrian but playable — which could describe Fowler if the knee slows him down at all long term.

Jorge Mateo

Supremely talented and equally raw, if you project Mateo you have to give him a high ceiling and a low floor. His most elite talent is his speed, which helped him to hit 7 triples in just 30 games for Midland.

Like Fowler, Mateo rarely sees a pitch he wants to let go by, which could be an issue for a hitter whose most natural spot in a batting order will be #1 or #2. As for SS, all the tools are there unless the ones between the ears get in the way — and that’s still an open question.

50th percentile comp: Ketel Marte

The jury is still out on exactly who Marte will be, and partly for that reason I think he’s a good comp for Mateo — highly talented, electric, and potentially erratic.

Marte wowed fans in his 2015 rookie season, hitting .283/.351/.402 and making regular web gems at SS. Then he was utterly lousy in 2016 (.259/.287/.323), then quite good again in 2017 (.260/.345/.395).

Defensively? Same inconsistency. Marte’s UZR/150 in 2015, 2016, and 2017 vacillated wildly from +1.2 to -15.3 to +3.4. I could see Mateo providing the spark and electricity that Marte does, along with the maddening inconsistency, leading fans to speculate 8 years into his career “So who is Jorge Mateo, really?”

80th percentile comp: Rafael Furcal

I ruled out Jose Reyes partly because that’s closer to a 99th percentile outcome but also because Reyes is a switch hitter. So I settled on an old A’s target, Rafael Furcal, who once led the league in triples and sported a career line of .281/.346/.402 to go with solid enough SS defense to let him secure the position for over 13,000 big league innings.

Furcal had a bit more pop in his bat than Mateo figures to, but if you take a few of Furcal’s HRs and turn them into “moar triples” then you have a pretty accurate view of what the A’s are hoping to see in Mateo.

20th percentile comp: Tim Anderson

Jemile Weeks is always a tempting comp for speedy and athletically gifted players who go ‘thud’, but Weeks gets a break here because he’s a switch hitter.

So let’s go with 1st round pick, super talented SS Tim Anderson...He of the career .268/.289/.414 slash line with negative UZR/150 (-4.5) and DRS (-2) at SS. Just 24, Anderson could still put it all together, but that’s part of the Mateo comp: if he busts, at age 27 people will probably be saying he could still put it all together.


I’m sure there are better comps out there, so please weigh in with your votes along with feedback on where you think I have nailed it and where I simply should be nailed to something to prevent me from suggesting the comp.

Poll

Which is the comp that most hits it out of the park?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Ty Wigginton
    (53 votes)
  • 9%
    David Freese
    (27 votes)
  • 5%
    Casey McGehee
    (14 votes)
  • 18%
    Ryan Sweeney
    (51 votes)
  • 17%
    Michael Brantley
    (48 votes)
  • 1%
    Ben Gamel
    (3 votes)
  • 6%
    Ketel Marte
    (18 votes)
  • 20%
    Rafael Furcal
    (56 votes)
  • 2%
    Tim Anderson
    (8 votes)
278 votes total Vote Now