Teenagers in high-A

A few weeks ago, I chronicled the plight of teenagers in double-A ball, and found that playing at so advanced a level while of so young an age was a pretty good indicator of future success in the big leagues.  For that piece, I was working with an admittedly small sample – 36 teenagers between 2000 and 2007.  Lately I’ve been sort of obsessed with the ideas of prospect age, so I decided to go back and look at the success rate of teenagers in Advanced-A leagues.

High-A has existed as a classification of the minor leagues since 1990, providing me with a convenient cut-off point with which to use.  I looked at the three High-A leagues and documented the success of each teenager to play in those leagues up through 2007.  I used 2007 as the cut off date because we would at least be able to see what sort of career trajectory the player seems to have.

Note: Unlike my last study, I only looked at hitters for this post.  I figured the statistics for pitchers would be skewed by a high rate of arm injuries, and decided not to consider them.

On to the numbers: since 1990, 131 teenagers played in one of the three High-A leagues.  83 of them played in the major leagues; that’s 63%.  Of those 83 players, over a quarter of them would be below replacement level; 28 to be exact.  I categorized a further 18 players as “replacement level,” which is to say these are fringe major leaguers or career bench players.  This category includes players like Felix Pie, Cesar Izturis, and Andres Blanco.

If we add up those three categories (didn’t make majors, sub-replacement level, and replacement level), we have 37 players out of 131 who achieved the level I’ve called “starter” at the major league level.  That’s 28% of players who reached High-A as a teenager, which is a pretty good percentage.  Players that typify this category include Ryan Klesko, Jhonny Peralta, Eric Chavez, and Colby Rasmus.  As we get higher in the hierarchy, some tough judgment calls have to be made.  For example, I classified Elvis Andrus as a “starter” even though he is likely to make at least one All-Star game in the future.

Of the 37 players to reach the “starter” level, 13 of them made more than one All-Star game.  That’s 10% of the original sample, which is significant.  The 13 are: Ivan Rodriguez (14 ASGs), Miguel Cabrera (6), Andruw Jones (5), Edgar Renteria (5), Paul Konerko (5), Torii Hunter (4), Jose Reyes (4), Grady Sizemore (3), Shawn Green (2), Bobby Abreu (2), Adrian Beltre (2), Aramis Ramirez (2), and Derrek Lee (2).  That’s a pretty impressive collection of players, and all of them played in high-A as a teenager.

Of those thirteen players, I have five of them that will be considered at least somewhat seriously as a Hall of Fame candidate.  Ivan Rodriguez should get in; he was one of the best catchers in baseball for more than a decade.  Bobby Abreu, who Joe Posnanski labeled “the greatest boring player in baseball history,” seems like an unlikely choice, but a career .293/.397/.481 slash line, above-average outfield defense, and career 58.9 rWAR are all pretty good indicators of a Hall of Fame career.  Four of his top 10 comparables on BB-Ref are in the Hall of Fame.  Andruw Jones will be remembered as one of the greatest defensive center fielders of all time, but his deterioration into a bench player after he turned 29 will not doubt color the memories of many voters, and they may forget the player that had 342 home runs through age 30.

Adrian Beltre is only 32, had two of his best seasons the last two years, and is already over 2000 hits for his career.  He might be the best defensive third baseman this side of Brooks Robinson (with consideration to Scott Rolen and Robin Ventura).  He’s racked up 47.7 rWAR already, and should end up with at least 70 by the time his career is over.  I feel comfortable saying that he’s a decent bet for the Hall as well.

To call Miguel Cabrera a future Hall-of-Famer is to take a significant leap of faith.  He could, I suppose, fall down a manhole in January.  That being said, he’s had quite the career trajectory.  He doesn’t turn 29 until April, and he’s already got 346 doubles, and 277 home runs, which gives him a decent chance at 600 doubles and 500 home runs.  That particular combination has been achieved exactly twice in baseball history: by Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.  He already has accumulated 40.5 rWAR.  He’s not even 29 yet.  Six of his top 10 “comparable through at 28” on BB-Ref are in the Hall, and two of the other four are Ken Griffey, Jr., and Albert Pujols.  I’d say he’s a very good bet at this point to reach the Hall.

Here are the final numbers:

Total Players

131

Didn’t make MLB

48

37%

Sub-replacement level

28

21%

Replacement level (bench)

18

14%

Starters/regulars

37

28%

>1 All-Star game

13

10%

Potential Hall of Fame

5

4%

All in all, the numbers indicate that playing in high-A as a teenager is a very good indicator of future success.  28% of those prospects became a starter in the bigs, and 10% made more than one All-Star game.  These numbers back up the assertion that I have come to believe to be true over the last few weeks: that age is the most important individual factor when trying to deduce whether or not a prospect will be successful in the major league, and it is often overlooked by those in the business of projecting prospects’ futures.

-NM

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