Saturday, January 2, 2010

More on de los Santos

Thursday's post — built around a quote from the Twins top talent evaluator that Estarlin de los Santos is the only "true shortstop" in the system — was deliberately crafted to avoid giving an opinion on how good a prospect he is.

That's because I haven't the slightest notion.

Seth Stohs, a blogger (linked to on the sidebar) who is pretty well plugged into the Twins system, was surprised when the Twins put de los Santos on the 40-man roster. Prospect guru John Sickels, in his preliminary grading of Twins prospects, not only didn't put de los Santos in the top 20, he doesn't have him in the running. (Trevor Plouffe didn't make the top 20 either, but Sickles did include him in a lump of "Grade C" prospects.)

The Twins, on the other hand, believed that if they didn't protect him, de los Santos would get snatched away in the Rule 5 draft, a la Everth Cabrera, who played A ball for the Rockies in 2008, was picked by the Padres and finished 2009 as San Diego's regular shortstop.

Mike Radcliffe, in the Baseball America article that triggered the initial post, talked of de los Santos' "plus hands and plus arm" — scouting terms that mean he has well-above major league average defensive skills — and claimed that he has improved his strike zone judgment.

One could hardly design a better example of the difference between traditional player evaluation and stat-based evaluation. Radcliffe judges de los Santos by his physical gifts; Strohs and Sickles look at his numbers and aren't nearly as impressed.

If Radcliffe is correct about de los Santos' strike zone command, it's not showing in his walk and strikeout rates (13 walks and 50 strikeouts last season); if he's correct about the outstanding hands and throwing arm, it's not showing in his fielding percentage (.905 at short last season).

This split between perceived ability and demonstrated ability doesn't bother me — much — in a player in Class A ball. If it persists in the higher levels — in Double A, where I assume de los Santos will open 2010, or Triple A — then there's reason to be concerned. It takes time for most players with major league caliber tools to learn how to use those tools.

Do not get too worked up about his hitting stats. The Twins' current set of minor league affiliates are almost entirely in difficult places to hit. With the exception of Elizabethton in the Appy League, their parks depress offense and make pitchers look good. In the context of Fort Myers and the Florida State League, de los Santos actually hit well in 2009. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all above league average.

But ... it was the second straight season in which he missed considerable time to injury. He's about to turn 23 and he's still in High A; Plouffe is about six months older and has a year and a half of Triple A on his resume. That's significant.

My sense is that Sickles is right: Plouffe is the better prospect, but not by enough that one should wager heavily on either ever becoming a major league regular.

No comments:

Post a Comment