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Steaming with B-Side Hitters
Mattatbatt22 discusses steamer projections of top prospects who could make an impact in 2024.
Guest Post by: Mattatbatt22
This is a beautiful time of the year. The crisp, cool air and a steamy fog in the mornings. The leaves dying in a radiant display of crimson, copper, ochre, and hazel. A new baseball champion has been crowned – congrats to the Texas Rangers on their first championship! – and many have turned their attention to inferior grid-based sports ball. But not those of us here at the Dynasty Dugout. Our dynasty games have no offseason, and those who wish to taste sweet victory next year are already preparing.
Chris Clegg and Zac Beck have a ton of great content planned for this offseason, covering everything from custom projections, in-depth rankings for a myriad of formats, and other exciting updates that I’m not at liberty to disclose. But in the muddy, spectacularly unsexy depths of the deepest leagues, Nate Handy and I are working to uncover prospects that might give you that extra edge.
For those that might have missed it, Nate invited me to revive his B-Sides podcast because we share a love for uncovering the underappreciated prospects: the guys that have been written off or never written about. We’re here to highlight and find the beauty in the diminutive, the rotund, the soft-tossers, the weird, wild, and wayward.
We’re in the midst of doing the usual rundown of B-side prospects: one hitter and one pitcher per team that is vastly under-owned according to our highly scientific and selective criteria. That is, these are prospects that are owned in under 5% of leagues, indeed, usually under 1% based on the end-of-season Fantrax roster percentages but we think deserve more love. We comb through data and videos and try to identify prospects that have a chance to vastly exceed their implied value. Nate’s been having success for years, identifying sleepers like Ezequiel Tovar, Jordan Diaz, Vaughn Grissom, Justyn-Henry Malloy, Edgar Quero, and Maikel Garcia well before anyone was interested. I’m just here as the rookie, hoping to add to the success rate and highlight some guys that might turn into Guys with a capital G.
The offseason B-Sides show kicked off with a little friendly competition between Nate and me. We went into the muck and mire to find the cream of the crop, to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to highlight some of our very favorite B-sides from this upcoming class. We drafted nine hitters and six pitchers each and sang the praises of each. I won’t spoil too much, but there were some real gems in there, and it’s worth listening just to hear Nate’s dulcet Wisconsin tones.
While I’m sad that the baseball playoffs are over, baseball continues all around us. Whether it’s Yamamoto dominating the Japan series, Nellie Cruz’s farewell tour in LIDOM, catching up on the 2023 minor league video, or the live looks the Dynasty Dugout boys are bringing you from the AFL, there’s still plenty to take in. Perhaps just as important, Jared Cross appears to have put out the first 2024 public projections with his Steamer 2024 live on FanGraphs.
Projections, especially when taken together, are better at predicting the future than you or me. They take different paths to get there, but they teach us humility about the difficulties inherent in assessing player performance and how the past might stretch into the future. They’re far from infallible, but I’ve learned over the years to give them significant weight in my player evaluations.
Projection systems generally take past performance, evaluate it against the thousands of seasons before, weigh those things that are most predictive of future performance, and spit out a prediction for each player’s stats for the upcoming year. They represent the 50th percentile of the range of outcomes, a nice middle point that, if done well, about half of the players will exceed and half will underperform. We’ll have to wait to see the other top-tier projection systems (The BAT is probably next, and ZiPS will roll out all throughout the off-season at FanGraphs), but now that Steamer is out, let’s see what it has to say about some about of the prospects we highlighted on our recent B-Side pod.
First, for context, who projects the best among prospects among minor leaguers according to Mr. Cross’s computers? No trick questions here: it’s Mr. Clegg’s top prospect, Junior Caminero with a very impressive 115.5 wRC+ projected for his rookie year. Not far behind is Wyatt Langford at 114.9. That’s clustered around perennial stars Christian Yelich, Francisco Lindor, and Marcus Semien. Rarified air for prospects so young!
But there are two surprises that follow at #3 and #4: Nolan Schanuel and Spencer Horwitz. Schanuel tore through the minors in near-record time, showing impressive plate skills in his limited exposure at the highest level, and the computers are buying it to the tune of a 113.7 wRC+. Horwitz is even more surprising, but torching the International League with more walks than strikeouts is a surefire way to impress, and he might be worth a long look even in shallower leagues.
The rest of the top of the list is mostly unsurprising with Kyle Manzardo (108.4), Evan Carter (107.7), Curtis Mead (106.2), Colton Cowser (105.6), Jordan Westburg (105.6), Colt Keith (104.8), Miguel Vargas (104.3), and Jackson Holliday (104.2). But mixed in there are Nate’s B-Side studs in Justyn-Henry Malloy (107.5) and Vaughn Grissom (105.2). A couple of guys I’ve followed are worth noting, too in Alan Roden (106.9) and Wilyer Abreu (104.1). All those guys project better than Jazz Chisholm (103.2), Matt Chapman (102.9), and Ha-Seong Kim (102.4) for the upcoming year.
Scroll a little further down the list, and we find our first 2023 B-Sider, with my number 1 pick Austin Gauthier, coming in with a 96.6 wRC+, comparable to top 100 prospects Tyler Locklear (96.6), Drew Gilbert (96.2), and Ronny Mauricio (95.9). Perhaps even more surprising is that he projects slightly better than Jasson Dominguez (95.8), and Elly De La Cruz (94.8). Fascinating and encouraging for my B-side debut pick. My second pick shows up favorably, too, with Troy Johnston earning a 93.3 wRC+ with his breakout year for the Marlins affiliates, translating even better than consensus top-5 prospect Jackson Chourio’s (93.1). Eye-opening, indeed.
A bit further down the list, 2021 B-Sider for Nate (and 2023 for me), Tirso Ornelas gets a not-terrible 83.9 wRC+ projection, which isn’t half bad considering his penchant for hitting everything on the ground. And it still exceeds top prospect Jordan Lawlar’s 82.7 wRC+ projection! There are plenty more surprising hitter translations in there, so go hunting and see who you might want to inquire about before the hype starts to build.
This is far from in-depth analysis and is frankly a borderline irresponsible use of early projections. But it does help us remember that prospecting, even at the very top, is super hard, and sometimes you can get discount versions of even the best prospects for significantly less. Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Austin Gauthier is a superior prospect to Jasson Dominguez or Elly De La Cruz. But it’s worth considering as you evaluate your teams that maybe you’re a touch high on the hyped-up prospects, and perhaps it’s worth giving a B-sider or two a shot at the back of your roster. Perhaps one of these unheralded guys will turn into an Isaac Paredes (number 25 overall projected hitter) or even a José Ramírez (number 17 overall).