I’m going to drop the Toronto Blue Jays minor league report on Wednesday. They’ve got this dude Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that seems pretty hot to trot. Since we’re ahead of schedule on the previews, I decided to pull on the reins and stop and think about what makes Vlad Jr. so good. I think it will be helpful. It will explain how guys like me and you who have day job(s) and families evaluate prospects without actually getting to see them in person. We’ve got videos, stats, and real scouting reports to go by…and that’s about it. So how come Vlad is such a consensus top prospect? According to NFBC, he’s getting drafted 37th overall…as high as 17th. That’s pretty remarkable. It’s right after Anthony Rizzo and a few picks before the likes of Carlos Carrasco, Khris Davis, and dare I say it Adalberto Mondesi. Ya know, guys who have actually played in the majors. So let’s do it. Let’s break down Vlad Jr. and in turn pull back the curtain on how I (try to) break down prospects in general.
The Most Important Tool – Being able to hit a baseball. Baseball is a cool sport because you don’t have to be a genetic freak to hit a baseball. John Kruk was one of my favorite players growing up. He was built like my alcoholic neighbor, looked like my bus driver, and hit .300 in his ten-year career. Point is I don’t put a ton of stock into body types or buzz words like “incredible athlete” when it comes to baseball prospects. Can they hit or not? That’s my first question. Another reason I think this is the most important tool is that it tends to last. Speed doesn’t. Power might take time to develop. But the ability to straight up hit can be impactful immediately and last an entire career. Vlad Jr. can hit a baseball.
Patience – Being able to take a walk. Walking is kind of boring but it’s important. It shows that a player can lay off crap pitches – selecting those that he can do something with instead. Prospects often haven’t learned to do this yet. So when I look at prospects, I get especially excited by walk rates around or above 10% and strikeout rates below 20%. I get especially especially excited when the two rates are close to equal. That tells me the player is selective and it tends to yield good results in the upper levels of the minors and eventually the Bigs. For example, Vlad’s walk rate in 2018 was 9%. His strikeout rate was also 9%. Across four levels. Vlad Jr. can take a walk.
Age Versus Level – Being able to hang with older/more experienced players. If you have kids, you probably see this principle already. We’re going to push our son Tony up a level. He’s only eight, but they want him with the ten-year-olds. If the kid is that good, he’ll succeed against better competition, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll learn more by playing up. The upper minors (AA/AAA) are full of prospects between the ages of 21 and 25. So when you see a teenager kiss those levels, it’s a neon sign that they’re good. Vlad Jr. is about to make the majors at 19. In 2018, Vlad Jr. had 110 plate appearances in AAA. He slashed .336/.414/.564 with six homers. Vlad Jr. can hang with older/more experienced players.
Intangibles – Having the pedigree/makeup to be successful. This is true for everything we do in life – every profession. There are people who play above their actual talent level because they work hard. They learn from their mistakes. They find mentors and actually listen to them. Same for baseball. Good makeup is just those things listed above and applied to baseball. If you’re an uber-talented asshat, you might not make it on talent alone. It also helps to have baseball in the blood. Genes are real, and so is the advice and experience of family members who have done it before you. Nature and nurture and all that. Vlad Jr. has the pedigree and makeup to be successful.
So there you have it. You might think I’m oversimplifying it, but it’s the truth. Those are my go-to factors for “good” versus “not-as-good” versus “bad” prospects. There isn’t anything there that can’t be gleaned from a stat line or a widely-published scouting report, so hopefully it helps you when you’re trying to find good specs for your fantasy squad(s). Go Iggles!