Oscar v. Colby and prospect comparison silliness

Man...that's pretty.

Near the end of Goold's chat yesterday someone asked whether Oscar Taveras was the next Colby Rasmus. Here's why comparisons such as that one are foolish.

The headline for Derrick Goold's chat on Wednesday was certainly an attention grabber:

Is Taveras just Rasmus revisited?

Really Post-Dispatch headline writers? I mean, I know it's your business to sell papers and clicks and all that, but that's just irresponsible headline writing when your writer's actual response to this silly question is about as mundane as stale beer on a Sunday:

Q12: So how much does the experience with Colby Rasmus, figure into the treatment of Oscar?

by dub the beachcomber

DG: Not so much. It's individualized, I think. There are some similarities that the fans and media will fixate on, but so many of them follow the arc of a standout prospect. Accusing a teen of immaturity? Check. Confusing injury? Check. Learning how to play hurt and at less than 100 percent? Check. Deal with adversity the first time? Check. Deal with adversity poorly the first time? Check. Have big disappointment or sudden demotion or get overlooked for a September callup? Check.

Rise again? To be determined.

Goold's answer couldn't be more perfect: Nearly all top prospects have setbacks during their development -- it's a rare for any player to not have at least one. As much as we'd like for their development to follow a linear curve, it's much more of a "two steps forward, one step back" style of process.

  • Wil Myers got moved from C to OF in 2011, stunk up AA for the whole year, then hit .343/.414/.731 in 34 AA games in 2012 and never looked back.
  • Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, and Mike Stanton have all dealt with various ailments after making their big league debuts but would still be considered 3 of the top 12 or so under-25 players in the game.

Still, there's some eerie similarities to the prospect stories of both Rasmus and Taveras, so let's parse them here just for the sake of comparison.

Prospect Rankings:

Rasmus jumped onto the Top 100 prospect list in the spring of 2007 after putting up a combined 140 wRC+ in A and A+ in his first full season in pro ball, slugging 16 home runs in 554 PA's while playing excellent defense in CF at the ripe age of 19. His season at Springfield that year cemented his Top 10 status: .275/.381/.551 which was good for a 149 wRC+ while setting the single season record for home runs by a Redbird with 29 (since eclipsed by Matt Adams, who hit 31 in 2011). Colby remained in the top 10 until graduating to MLB in 2009, rising as high as #8 on Baseball Prospectus list ('08 & '09) and was a  top 5 player two years in a row at Baseball America (#5 in '08, #3 in '09), even though he struggled with injuries and effectiveness at AAA.

Taveras has followed a similar path, albeit doing everything a full year earlier on the age curve than Rasmus. He entered pro ball at age 17, had his big breakout two years later in the Midwest League, hitting a ridiculous .386/.444/.584 in 347 PA's with the Quad Cities in 2011. That performance placed him squarely in top 100 rankings the next spring, with a lot of discussion about whether he could succeed at higher levels of the minors with his "max effort swing". Taveras silences those critics in 2012, putting up a .321/.380/.572 line in Springfield and hitting 23 homers in his first full season's worth of plate appearances (531 to be exact). Oscar's been a consensus top 5 prospect ever since, even after an injury riddled 2013 at Memphis.

Verdict: Both had big years in the Midwest League and the Texas League while struggling with injuries in their first year in the PCL. Similar, although Taveras still hit awfully well when he was able to play last year, posting a .306/.341/.462 line in 186 PA's early in the year before his ankle injury ended his season.

Injuries

Rasmus dealt with various injuries in his one full season in AAA, missing time with knee and groin injuries that never allowed him to get going.  Didn't hurt his prospect status any and he made the club out of spring training a year later and did not repeat AAA -- but the Cardinal outfield wasn't nearly as strong then as it is right now and Colby had finished the year strong, playing every game the last 6 weeks of the 2008 season.

Taveras' injury was a bit more severe: A sprained ankle that required surgery and ended his 2013 season. He hadn't done any baseball related activity since last July, so he was a long shot to make the club out of spring training and a slight hamstring pull ended his opportunity. Again, it's not tarnished his prospect status and he's hit well every time he's gotten on the field.

Verdict: Similar in terms of timing, but the only reason Oscar wasn't given more of a look this spring is due to the Cardinals excellent outfield depth and the fact that he lost his entire second half of the season to an injury that required surgery. He can still hit though and put up much better numbers in his short time at AAA than Rasmus did. Both were very durable players prior to their initial injury issues, and Colby has been pretty durable since then, playing in 140+ games 3 different times in his big league career.

Tools & Skills

This is where these two players differ the most. Rasmus walked a ton as a prospect, sporting BB rates above 12% in his minor league career. He hit .300 only once, his first half season in the Midwest league, and generally was in the .265 - .275 range with plus power especially to his pull side. Defensively, Rasmus was an above average to plus defender in CF: Plus power, high walk rates, and a solid/average hit tool at a premium position?  You can see why he was such a highly rated prospect.

Taveras, by contrast, has probably the best hit tool in the entire minor leagues during his time as a prospect. He's hit .300 at every level of the minor leagues while also slugging over .500 at each stop -- keeping in mind that he was a year younger at every single level than Rasmus was in his time there, a significant difference in age when you're talking about prospects. Oscar has played some CF, but projects as a RF, which should tell you all you need to know about the bat: It's special -- one of the very best in the entire minor leagues and able to place him the the top 5 of all minor league prospects all by itself.

Verdict: Very dissimilar skill sets. Taveras is one that the casual fan will likely appreciate a bit more as he's less likely to go 3 weeks without so much as a base hit (which is what led to the backlash against Colby in 2011, imo: Casual fans, especially those who are used to watching Albert Pujols, hate streaky players about as much as they hate stale beer...on Sunday). Taveras' bat is just better overall than Colby's was, at least from a prospect point of view, and he's still just 21 years old.  Rasmus didn't make his MLB debut until his age 22 season. There's still time. Lots and lots of time.

*********

My response to "dub the beachcomber" would have been:

Would Taveras being similar to Rasmus be so bad?

Rasmus has put up 4+ WAR twice in his major league career, plays a premium position, and has hit 20+ homers three different times. His big seasons are BABIP driven, sure, but Taveras actually projects to be able to sustain high BABIP's because of the way he pastes the ball all over the ballpark in ways that Rasmus simply hasn't been able to do.

Neil Paine over at re-launched FiveThirtyEight.com took at look at what to expect from Top 100 prospects and concludes that a top 10 prospect since 1990 has been worth an average of 15 WAR in the 7 seasons after he first appeared on the rankings. Paine's analysis doesn't separate pitching prospects from position players, however, and the former have a much higher rate of flaming out than the latter, so top 10 position players might well be much higher in terms of WAR.

Still: Rasmus first appeared in 2007, peaked as a top 10 prospect and 2013 was the 7th season out from that initial ranking -- he's been worth exactly 13 WAR in that time and is in his last year of team control in 2014.

So I say again: Would that be so bad?  No, it wouldn't.  Disappointing, certainly, but nowhere near a bust.

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