Last week’s Down on The Farm began what was to be a multi-part series on the Arizona Fall League rosters. After it was brought to my attention just how much AFL-related content had already been produced, I decided it would be best to switch gears. So rather than looking forward to October and November, this week Down On The Farm will go in the opposite direction and look back at the year that was 2012 in Minor League Baseball.
My primary interest in looking through the leaderboards at Triple-A and Double-A was, of course, prospects on the rise. But when doing some digging and trying to interpret Minor League numbers within the scope of future Major League impact, I found myself doing a lot of Major League Equivalency conversions.
For some background, the statistically-inclined have been trying for years to effectively translate Minor League statistics into “Major League Equivalents,” that is, a translation of what a player with numbers X-Y-Z would have looked like at the Major League level. To quote Dan Szymborski from a Baseball Think Factory piece, “One thing to remember is that MLEs are not a prediction of what the player will do, just a translation of what the major league equivalence of what the player actually did is. This is useful for predictions however, because like, major league statistics, MLEs have strong predictive value.” Thus, for the purposes of identifying 2013 fantasy assets, or simply keeping our expectations in check, MLEs can have value.
While there is no standard, widely-accepted MLE calculator, most of the ones available will give you roughly the same outcome. I chose to use this one because I found it easy to use and straight forward. There are more available, I believe, beyond paywalls, but this one is free (though it stopped being updated recently – not a large concern since changes over a small amount of time would not significantly alter our results). Basically, what follows is a look at some of the Minor League leaders at varying levels, with a focus on the higher levels for 2013 fantasy impact, and how their Minor League numbers stack up in terms of potential Major League production. Just a small note that I used context-neutral “Major League Team” as a means of comparing apples to apples for this exercise.
AAA – Pacific Coast League
Long known as a hitter’s haven, the PCL is home to many parks pitcher’s dread. As such, it tends to be the long-term home of many Quad-A players. Still, even with the inflated numbers we see some strong performances.
Adam Eaton – The 2012 PCL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player was absolutely Trout-ian at AAA Reno (without the homers), earning himself a September audition with the Diamondbacks. His .381/.456/.539 triple-slash line equates to a .318/.368/.440 MLE, while his 38 SBs and 119 runs convert to 31 and 89, respectively. Eaton is just 23 and could get a shot, at least as a 4th outfielder, in 2013.
Alex Castellanos – A part of the 2011 Rafael Furcal trade, Castellanos led the PCL with a 1.010 OPS while also chipping in 17 HR and 16 SB, making him and enticing prospect for fantasy owners. Unfortunately, his line translates to just a .250/.316/.435 mark, though MLEs see him as a potential 20-20 man if given full playing time. Castellanos earned a September call-up from the Dodgers, his third stint in the Majors this year.
Mike Hessman – Your 2012 PCL home-run champion is the 34-year old Astros minor leaguer, the proud owner of 35 HR…and a .231 AVG, .301 OBP, and 136 K. The profile says Quad-A all the way and MLEs agree, pegging him to hit below the Mendoza line and strikeout in 33% of his at bats, albeit with 26 bombs.
Jedd Gyorko – The Padres’ third-base prospect got the bump to AAA-Tucson early in the season and cruised to an impressive .968 OPS. At just 23-years old, Gyorko is headed for the Majors in the near future, especially if Chase Headley is moved in the offseason. MLEs like him to perform at a .272/.318/.463 level with 20+ home-run power now, and that’s not taking into account his development curve as a young player.
PCL/TEX Experiment – Wil Myers
Wil Myers – Myers gets a category of his own, having dominated at two levels this year. Plugging in his numbers separately for each league (combined he hit 37 homers with a .987 OPS), the MLEs spit out a .260 AVG with 27 homers and 80 RBI. Once again, these calculations don’t take into account the fact that Myers, at just 21-years old, is still very early on his development curve.
AAA – International League
So how does the International League, a notoriously friendlier league for pitchers, hold up in comparison to the PCL when it comes to MLEs for its top players? Let’s start with their MVP.
Mauro Gomez – At 28, Gomez is beyond prospect status and probably won’t crack the Red Sox as much more than a bench bat in 2013. With that said, his .960 OPS and 24 HR earned him an August call up, so at least he’s on the right track. MLEs think he could stick as a bench bat or lower-tier first baseman as well, projecting him for a .266/.314/.491 slash line and 19 homers in just 400 at bats.
Dan Johnson – The former Rays’ hero lead the IL in homers with 28, earning him a shot with the White Sox down the stretch. MLEs see Johnson’s power and keen eye (94 BB to 94 K in 476 AB) and think they could carry over (22 HR, 74BB). Unfortunately, they don’t see much else, pegging him for just a .221 AVG and a .715 OPS, below replacement level for a first baseman.
Matt LaPorta – The bane of fantasy writers everywhere, LaPorta has once again enticed with his Minor League numbers. Believe it or not, he’s now 27, so the clock is ticking. Unfortunately, his .822 OPS and 19 homers don’t translate, showing a .234/.298/.403 equivalency. Out of curiosity, I looked up his MLEs from after his first season in AAA-Columbus, back in 2009 if you can believe it, and let’s just say they were a lot higher on him then (.772 OPS, but at that time he was just 24).
AA – Eastern League
Darin Ruf – The 2012 Eastern League MVP and ROY is a bit old for the level at 26, a former 20th round pick and likely 1B/DH eventually. Still, an MVP deserves some attention, and his 38 HR and 1.028 OPS are cause for a double-take. The MLEs see him as a .258/.320/.476, 27HR player right now, though given his age and player type that might be his eventual upside.
Gary Brown – I chose Brown, the 23-year old CF prospect for the Giants, out of curiosity for how MLEs would treat his 33SB and 18CS (he also had a .279/.347/.385 slash line). They weren’t kind, showing an equivalent of 26 SB and 20 CS, marks that would give him a permanent red light (and also an awful .575 OPS). In all likelihood, ESPN’s 68th ranked prospect will repeat Double-A for at least part of 2013.
AA – Southern League
Hunter Morris – Sticking with our MVP analysis, I took a look at the MLEs for 23-year old Brewers first base prospect and 2012 Southern League MVP Hunter Morris. With a .920 OPS, 28 HR, and 113 RBI (though with a 40:117 BB:K ratio), the MLEs see Morris as needing more seasoning, pegging him for a .454 SLG and 21 HR but just a .295 OBP.
Matt Davidson – Davidson was ESPN’s #82 prospect before the season, and his success at AA at just age 21 is somewhat encouraging. With the caveat once again that MLEs are backwards-looking and not predictive using a development curve, MLEs like Davidson’s .836 OPS and 23HR to translate to a .215/.287/.367 line and 17HR right now. While that’s not enticing on the surface, it’s not a bad sign for the 2009 1st round selection.
AA – Texas League
Oscar Taveras – Rounding out our MVPs is 20-year old Cardinals’ OF prospect Taveras, owner of a batting title and Texas League MVP. His .321/.380/.572 slash line came with 23HR and 10SB, and MLEs think he could almost be an adequate regular already with a .254/.295/.425 slash line with 16HR and 8SB. It seems likely Taveras will play at AAA next year, but his double-digit potential in HR and SB, along with improving contact skills, make him an intriguing dynasty league watch.
Mike Olt – The Ranger’s heavy hitting third base prospect got the call to The Show in early August, stunting his AA numbers a bit, and disappointing those expecting instant MLB production. Had fans looked to MLEs, they would have known his .288/.398/.579 slash line equates to just a .224/.303/.421 Major League line. That’s nothing to scoff at, especially for a 24-year old, but it doesn’t scream savior.
Major League Equivalent stats aren’t perfect, and the fact that we have to wait until the offseason for projection systems to merge them with development curves to give us a predictive tool can be frustrating. Even still, MLE converters allow us to put the numbers of prospects, Quad-A mashers, and potential call-ups into the proper frame of reference, and can also aid as a fantasy tool by providing a check and balance for overzealous prospect hoarders.