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Two Prospect Analogs: A look at Yairo Muñoz and Max Schrock

The December 14 trade between the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics sent MLB RF Stephen Piscotty to Oakland and brought MiLB SS Yairo Muñoz and MiLB 2B Max Schrock to the Cardinals' minor league system. By all accounts, both Muñoz and Schrock were highly regarded in a deep A's system.

In 2016 organizational top prospect lists for the A's, both Muñoz and Schrock placed consistently in the 10-20 range. Both also had strong 2017 seasons and seemed poised to push into the A's top ten. Especially before the A's acquired SS Jorge Mateo, CF Dustin Fowler, and SP James Kaprelian for SP Sonny Gray.

Circumstances have placed them in an equally deep St. Louis system, and thus, again in the 10-20 range of most organizational top prospects lists.

Rankings aside, both Muñoz and Schrock come out ahead in the trade. They are now the Cardinals' clear top prospects at shortstop and second base, respectively. Yet, I still can't help but feel they have been slighted some in the rankings I have seen coming out so far.

The more I look at them, the more they resemble two other prospects on the rise in the Cardinals' system.

Analog 1: SS Yairo Muñoz and OF Randy Arozarena

Muñoz signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 at age 16 for $280,000. Arozarena signed out of Cuba in 2016 at age 21 for $1.25 million. Both will be turning 23 in the coming weeks and are regarded as exceptional athletes.

Muñoz holds at least a slight edge in terms of defense as he receives strong reviews for his plus arm and play at shortstop. In 2017 he primarily played shortstop, though he also played some at third base and center field.

Arozarena primarily played left field, though he also saw time in center field and right field. He should be at least average defensively at all three outfield positions.

With that, let's "scout" their respective stat lines.

Yairo Muñoz

Year League Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2014 A- 19 265 2.6% 15.8% 5 14 .298 .319 .448 .767 .151 .350 122
2015 A 20 400 5.5% 15.5% 9 10 .236 .278 .363 .641 .127 .297 84
2015 A+ 20 165 6.7% 12.1% 4 1 .320 .372 .480 .852 .160 .375 132
2016 AA 21 414 5.6% 18.4% 9 6 .240 .286 .367 .653 .127 .296 87
2016 AFL 21 80 6.3% 21.3% 0 3 .270 .313 .365 .677 .095
2017 AA 22 207 4.8% 16.9% 6 12 .316 .348 .532 .880 .216 .385 140
2017 AAA 22 272 4.0% 16.9% 7 10 .289 .316 .414 .730 .125 .319 86

Randy Arozarena

Year League Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2014 CSN 19 285 12.6% 13.0% 3 15 .291 .412 .419 .831 .128
2015 n/a 20
2016 MXPW 21 232 6.5% 14.7% 0 16 .289 .382 .347 .729 .058
2017 A+ 22 295 4.4% 18.0% 8 10 .275 .333 .427 .760 .196 .368 134
2017 AA 22 195 13.8% 17.4% 3 8 .252 .366 .380 .746 .129 .347 115
2017 MXPW 22 235 3.8% 20.4% 13 7 .298 .355 .577 .931 .279

Both excelled in their age 19 seasons. Muñoz finished with a 122 wRC+ (.767 OPS) in A-. Arozarena finished with a top 50 OPS (.831) in Cuba's Serie Nacional (CSN), which is roughly equivalent to A+. After this, however, their paths diverged. Arozarena defected from Cuba and wouldn't play another professional game for almost two years. During the same period, Muñoz was consistently challenged with aggressive promotions.

Arozarena's first U.S. assignment was A+ to start 2017. There he produced a .368 wOBA and 134 wRC+. This is remarkably similar to Muñoz' .375 wOBA and 132 wRC+. It is worth noting that Muñoz' numbers came in his age 20 season and Arozarena's in his age 22 season. However, Arozarena only had a little more than 200 plate appearances in the Mexico Pacific Winter League (MXPW) over the previous two years and was likely still recovering from the long layoff.

Today, Muñoz is about a year ahead of Arozarena in terms of placement. Muñoz should start 2018 at AAA and I expect to see Arozarena back at AA. This would also represent the second time each of them would repeat a level.

In their first attempt at repeating a level, both thrived. Muñoz's second stint in AA resulted in a phenomenal 140 wRC+ (.880 OPS). Arozarena obliterated the Mexico Pacific Winter League in his second go around with a .931 OPS, good for a top five OPS in the league. For what it's worth, the Mexico Pacific Winter League is probably around the equivalent of A+, maybe AA.

Overall, both appear to be ultra-aggressive hitters with low walk rates. Muñoz is regarded as a free-swinger with excellent bat control, resulting in a low K%. Arozarena, on the other hand, has teased an ability to be patient: first in Cuba, and briefly last year in AA. Both could benefit from developing more patience and selectivity in their approach.

Barring injury, I think Muñoz and Arozarena could each put together 20/20 seasons (in the minors) in 2018. They both have true impact potential.

Analog 2: 2B Max Schrock and C Andrew Knizner

Schrock and Knizner came out of Carolina colleges a year apart. Schrock was drafted in the 13th round of the 2015 draft and received a $500,000 signing bonus (the largest bonus given to a player drafted after the tenth round that year). Knizner was the last pick in the seventh round of the 2016 draft and signed at slot for a $185,300 bonus. Like Muñoz and Arozarena above, Schrock and Knizner are also entering their age 23 seasons.

Knizner holds the defensive edge in this comparison. After converting from third base to catcher in college, Knizner has continued to improve. He is now regarded as an average or better catcher by some accounts. Knizner has also occasionally played first base.

Schrock, on the other hand, has played exclusively at second base as a professional. He is viewed as an average defender. It is worth noting that in the trade announcement on the Cardinals team site, Schrock is mentioned as an option at third base or in the outfield.

With that, let's "scout" their respective stat lines.

Max Schrock

Year League Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2015 A- 20 186 7.0% 8.6% 2 2 .308 .355 .448 .803 .140 .375 136
2016 A 21 299 7.4% 6.7% 4 15 .326 .381 .459 .840 .133 .382 142
2016 A+ 21 244 3.7% 9.0% 5 7 .341 .373 .453 .826 .112 .378 131
2016 AFL 21 56 1.8% 3.6% 0 1 .278 .304 .407 .711 .129
2017 AA 22 457 7.4% 9.2% 7 4 .321 .379 .422 .801 .101 .366 128

Andrew Knizner

Year League Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2016 A- 21 222 9.5% 9.5% 6 0 .319 .423 .492 .915 .173 .420 156
2017 A 22 191 4.7% 11.5% 8 1 .279 .325 .480 .805 .201 .360 124
2017 AA 22 202 6.9% 13.4% 4 0 .324 .371 .462 .833 .137 .373 133
2017 AFL 22 72 5.6% 15.3% 3 0 .358 .403 .537 .940 .179

The first thing that jumps out about both Schrock and Knizner is that they have hit exceptionally well at every level they have played. Their overall production is remarkably similar. Schrock has produced an average wOBA of .375 and wRC+ of 134 across four levels. Knizner has produced an average wOBA of .384 and wRC+ of 138 across three levels.

Looking at their time in AA last year, the only real notable difference is the number of plate appearances. Schrock spent the entire season in AA and accumulated 457 plate appearances. Meanwhile Knizner pushed his way up to AA with enough time to bat just over 200 times. This separates them by about half a season in terms of placement.

Schrock should be placed in AAA to start the year. While some would like to see Knizner in AAA as well, I think it would be beneficial for him to spend a little more time at AA.

If you look hard enough, there are a few slight differences in their profiles. Knizner has a very respectable K%, however, Schrock is among the best players in the minors at avoiding strikeouts. Schrock has also hit for a slightly higher average. Meanwhile, Knizner has hit for more power at each level.

However you look at their numbers, it's certainly hard to argue with their production thus far. This pair could very well be the two best pure hitting prospects in the Cardinals' system.

A few general thoughts:

I remember reading some comments that the A's paid full price for Piscotty (and did not get a discount following his disappointing season). Given how similar these prospects appear to be, I would have to agree. Personally, I would have been very disappointed if the Cardinals traded a package of Arozarena and Knizner for a bounce back candidate who just put up 92 wRC+ and 0.2 WAR.

I do think Piscotty will be an above average player going forward, but his recent struggles have at least temporarily dimmed his star.

There is a bit of a similar dynamic at play with Muñoz. The young shortstop produced a below average 86 wRC+ in AAA to close the year. In fact, Muñoz is the only of the four prospects to post a wRC+ below 115 at any level so far. However, it is important to consider that he reached each level (A-, A, A+, AA, and AAA) a year before the next closest player.

Another way of looking at this is that all four players are the same age, all four had at least 195 at bats in AA last year, and Muñoz (.385 wOBA and 140 wRC+) was the best of the four.

I don't mean to give Muñoz a free pass for struggling at AAA. I just don't think he should be penalized for being the first of the group to make it to AAA. While the others haven't struggled yet at AAA, they haven't succeeded there yet either.

Muñoz has shown the ability to adjust and rebound from similar struggles at previous levels. I wouldn't put it beyond him to adjust again and put together a strong 2018 campaign in AAA.

Another factor in Muñoz's favor is that he projects well in the KATOH stats-based prospect projection models published on FanGraphs. There are two versions of KATOH. The Stats-Only KATOH model generates projections using minor league statistics and some player information including age, height, level of play, and position. The KATOH+ model adds a scouting grade to the stats-only formula.

In the 2017 KATOH midseason update, Muñoz is the 87th overall prospect in KATOH+ and the 63rd overall prospect in Stats-Only KATOH.

For comparison, other Cardinals prospects to appear are Jack Flaherty (KATOH+: 33, Stats-Only: 35), Alex Reyes (KATOH+: 34, Stats-Only: 52), Carson Kelly (KATOH+: 38, Stats-Only: 46), Tyler O'Neill (KATOH+: 45, Stats-Only: 31), Luke Weaver (KATOH+: 54, Stats-Only: 72), and Harrison Bader (KATOH+: 73, Stats-Only: 61). Using both KATOH models, Muñoz ranks most similar to Bader.

There is more FanGraphs love. Marc Hulet listed Muñoz as the A's "lottery ticket" prospect in 2015. Schrock received the same designation in 2016. In the Cardinals' 2017 minor league review, Hulet selected Arozarena as the system's top "riser." Knizner was one of KATOH's most improved prospects. Schrock is a regular in the "fringe five" column and is one of Carson Cistulli's favorites.

Just as some people are (possibly irrationally) excited about Arozarena and Knizner, I think there is a case for similar (possibly irrational) excitement about both Muñoz and Schrock.

With any luck, it shouldn't be too hard to keep tabs on all of them this year. By mid-season—if not sooner—it's possible all of them could be starting in the same lineup with Memphis.

And hopefully in St. Louis a few short years later.

Now, just for kicks...

Analog 3: Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty was drafted as a supplemental first round pick in the 2012 draft (pick 36 overall). He signed at slot for $1.4 million. He always carried a higher prospect pedigree than the four covered above due to where he was drafted. He also quickly rose up the ranks of Cardinals prospects by virtue of his hitting prowess.

Year League Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2012 A 21 237 7.6% 10.5% 4 3 .295 .376 .448 .824 .152 .377 134
2013 A+ 22 264 6.8% 10.2% 9 4 .292 .348 .477 .825 .185 .375 134
2013 AA 22 207 9.2% 9.2% 6 7 .299 .364 .446 .810 .147 .360 129
2013 AFL 22 100 9.0% 14.0% 1 7 .371 .430 .506 .936 .135
2014 AAA 23 556 7.7% 11.0% 9 11 .288 .355 .406 .761 .118 .342 100
2015 AAA 24 372 12.4% 16.7% 11 5 .272 .366 .475 .841 .203 .373 125

Piscotty started his professional career as a 21-year-old (the same as Knizner). His early career also eerily resembles Knizner's in terms of age, progression, and production. The only difference is Piscotty started in A while Knizner started in A-.

Piscotty's overall production (average wOBA of .370 and wRC+ of 132) between A and AA at the same age was remarkably similar to all four of the prospects covered above. In fact, looking even closer at their statistics reveals that Knizner so far has been almost a clone of Piscotty, even down to their standout Arizona Fall League (AFL) performances.

I just can't not add this comment now...

Personally, I'm not a fan of trading either Kelly or Knizner. This only makes me want to keep them both even more. Though it might sound a little crazy, I wouldn't rule out a roster with all three of Molina, Kelly, and Knizner on it in two or three years.

If Knizner's bat is really this good, he could see some time at first base (a la Piscotty) or elsewhere initially until Molina's contract expires. I'm especially curious to see if and where they try to get Knizner some versatility.

Okay, I said it. Now to get back on track...

Entering his age 23 season—precisely where Muñoz, Arozarena, Schrock, and Knizner are now—Piscotty ranked in the top 100 of all three major prospect lists (Baseball America: 70th, Baseball Prospectus: 66th, and MLB: 98th). With only 200 AA plate appearances, the Cardinals nonetheless promoted Piscotty to AAA, where he would stay for the entire season.

He struggled a little bit, ultimately putting together an up and down season that evened out to a league average 100 wRC+. The next offseason he again ranked in all three of the major prospect lists (Baseball America: 79th, Baseball Prospectus: 90th, and MLB: 32nd). This was also the storied offseason in which he rebuilt his swing to add more lift.

You all know what happened next. The successful swing adjustment boosted his slugging, and by the end of the season, he was a key producer in the St. Louis lineup.

It almost seems as if the Cardinals traded one age 27 version of Stephen Piscotty for two age 23 versions of Stephen Piscotty.

Like Piscotty, all four of the prospects covered above likely have at least one more adjustment to make in their development. It is also conceivable, if not expected, that they will all struggle some in AAA. But they should all also get plenty of time to work on these adjustments and prove their ability. Other than Muñoz, they might not be needed in St. Louis for another two or three years.

Below are all five players grouped by minor league level for easier comparison.

A-

Year Name Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2014 Yairo Muñoz 19 265 2.6% 15.8% 5 14 .298 .319 .448 .767 .151 .350 122
2015 Max Schrock 20 186 7.0% 8.6% 2 2 .308 .355 .448 .803 .140 .375 136
2016 Andrew Knizner 21 222 9.5% 9.5% 6 0 .319 .423 .492 .915 .173 .420 156

A

Year Name Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2015 Yairo Muñoz 20 400 5.5% 15.5% 9 10 .236 .278 .363 .641 .127 .297 84
2016 Max Schrock 21 299 7.4% 6.7% 4 15 .326 .381 .459 .840 .133 .382 142
2017 Andrew Knizner 22 191 4.7% 11.5% 8 1 .279 .325 .480 .805 .201 .360 124
2012 Stephen Piscotty 21 237 7.6% 10.5% 4 3 .295 .376 .448 .824 .152 .377 134

A+

Year Name Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2015 Yairo Muñoz 20 165 6.7% 12.1% 4 1 .320 .372 .480 .852 .160 .375 132
2017 Randy Arozarena 22 295 4.4% 18.0% 8 10 .275 .333 .427 .760 .196 .368 134
2016 Max Schrock 21 244 3.7% 9.0% 5 7 .341 .373 .453 .826 .112 .378 131
2013 Stephen Piscotty 22 264 6.8% 10.2% 9 4 .292 .348 .477 .825 .185 .375 134

AA

Year Name Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2016 Yairo Muñoz 21 414 5.6% 18.4% 9 6 .240 .286 .367 .653 .127 .296 87
2017 Yairo Muñoz 22 207 4.8% 16.9% 6 12 .316 .348 .532 .880 .216 .385 140
2017 Randy Arozarena 22 195 13.8% 17.4% 3 8 .252 .366 .380 .746 .129 .347 115
2017 Max Schrock 22 457 7.4% 9.2% 7 4 .321 .379 .422 .801 .101 .366 128
2017 Andrew Knizner 22 202 6.9% 13.4% 4 0 .324 .371 .462 .833 .137 .373 133
2013 Stephen Piscotty 22 207 9.2% 9.2% 6 7 .299 .364 .446 .810 .147 .360 129

AFL

Year Name Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2016 Yairo Muñoz 21 80 6.3% 21.3% 0 3 .270 .313 .365 .677 .095
2016 Max Schrock 21 56 1.8% 3.6% 0 1 .278 .304 .407 .711 .129
2017 Andrew Knizner 22 72 5.6% 15.3% 3 0 .358 .403 .537 .940 .179
2013 Stephen Piscotty 22 100 9.0% 14.0% 1 7 .371 .430 .506 .936 .135

AAA

Year Name Age PA BB% K% HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
2017 Yairo Muñoz 22 272 4.0% 16.9% 7 10 .289 .316 .414 .730 .125 .319 86
2014 Stephen Piscotty 23 556 7.7% 11.0% 9 11 .288 .355 .406 .761 .118 .342 100
2015 Stephen Piscotty 24 372 12.4% 16.7% 11 5 .272 .366 .475 .841 .203 .373 125

None of them are guaranteed success, but they all appear to have bright futures ahead of them. At this time next year, they could all be among the top ten prospects in the Cardinals' system. Perhaps they all could even appear in national top 100 lists.