June 3, 2016
The Baseball PROSPECT-us Mailbag
Q: How much do you discount hitters if they play in a high run scoring environment? Do value extra base hit totals at a lower scale than on-base percentage? It seems to me that high elevation has more of an impact on extra bases (distance, hang time) but it doesn’t help a guy get on base or just base hits at a statistically significant rate. – OJ C.
A: This is an interesting question and I think there are two distinct angles from which it must be tackled.
Looking at the question purely from a scouting perspective, the hitting environment – high octane or more standard – matters very little. When I’m scouting a hitter, it’s not so much about the distance the ball travels or a little extra carry the ball gets travelling to the gaps, as much as it is about barrel control, bat speed, exit velocity (to the extent that can be discerned with the naked eye), and the consistency of the launch angle. I am far more interested in questions that focus on a hitter’s ability to make consistent, hard contact, their ability to drive different types of pitches to all fields, and the ability to lift the ball when they drive it. Those factors are minimally impacted by the elevation of the park or the overall run scoring environment.
On the other hand, as we begin to bring a player’s performance into the evaluation, the run-scoring environment becomes at least somewhat more important. Seeing a hitter with monster numbers in the California or Pacific Coast Leagues may draw some intrigue just because of the raw statistics, but that may be discounted considerably if the scouting factors don’t match the on-field performance in that type of league. At the other end of the spectrum, a player may be posting strong but not eye-popping numbers in one of those leagues, but you can see plus bat speed, the ball exploding off the bat, and an ability to make consistent hard contact. Well, that player is going to be thought of much more highly, in spite of the lesser numbers, and those numbers are unlikely to be discounted to the same degree because they are backed by a projectable scouting profile.
All told, the offensive environment of the league or park play a very, very minor role in the scouting evaluation of a prospect, but can play a little more of a role when evaluating across the scouting and statistical realms. As an example, while our prospect rankings tend to ride the scouting profile, the performance angle is not ignored and those extreme offensive environments (both positive and negative environments) are considered as the overall evaluations and opinions are finalized.
Q: Tyler O’Neill is hitting really well in AA, isn’t quite 21 yet, and has a track record of hitting for power. How come he isn’t getting hype like Bader, Cozens, or a bunch of other guys who’ve upped their profiles this year? – Neil R.
A: O’Neill has made some interesting developmental strides in the last twelve months, and I would contend he’s getting a little more love than you suggest; albeit maybe not in public circles. Among many of the scouts I speak with regularly, O’Neill has been a significant topic of conversation. It was only two games, but I personally saw some differences in his game in April, with improvement from the last time I had seen him as an amateur.
O’Neill’s biggest stumbling block has long been his plate discipline and barrel control, and both attributes have taken steps forward since the mid-point of last season. There is always going to be some swing-and-miss in his game, but O’Neill has begun going from simply recognizing breaking pitches and still chasing them, to recognizing them and at least occasionally laying off them. With that type of development, combined with his obvious plus raw power, he suddenly starts to look a little more like an everyday player. The glove has to catch up some to prevent him from being a defensive liability, but in the American League, guys with his power and the developing polish in his offensive game will find at-bats and chances to drive the ball out of the park.
Continued slugging in the Southern League this summer will see O’Neill’s stock soar in more public circles than it has to date, but rest assured, he’s getting some love within the industry of late.
If you'd like to ask a question to be answered in the mailbag, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org!