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January 2014

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The Fallen: The Former Highly Ranked Prospects, Mike Olt Edition

Written by , Posted in General, Minor League

While four top current talents buoy the strongest Cubs’ system, the system also contains several formerly high ranked prospects who fell down the prospect rankings to some extent or another. Mike Olt, Arodys Vizcaino, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson are the prime members of this group. Prior to the start of spring training games, we’ll look at the best case and worst case scenarios for the prospects, starting with third base prospect Mike Olt.

The Heights: Olt improved from back end of Top 100 prospect lists to a plus power, solid on base, plus defensive third baseman in 2012 when he hit .288/.398/.579, including 28 home runs, for the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers’ Double A Affiliate. Following the 2012 season, a significant majority of prospect analysts viewed him as a Top 50 in baseball prospect, with Baseball America naming him the twenty-second best prospect in baseball. 

The Depths: Olt was beaned in the head while playing winter ball last offseason, and had some significant vision problems. He was also terrible, posting a .684 OPS during a season split between the Rangers’ and Cubs’ Triple A affiliates. Less than a year after the Rangers said he was nearly untouchable, they traded him to the Cubs as, at best, the second best prospect the Cubs received for Matt Garza.

Best Case Scenario: The vision issue was the sole significant cause of Olt’s 2013 struggles, and offseason surgery corrected that problem. With the vision issues behind him, he hits like he did in 2012, claims the Cubs’ starting third base spot at the start of the season, at least holding the position until Javier Baez or Kris Bryant are ready, and potentially causing some discussions regarding a logjam of very good players on the left side of the infield if he approaches the promise of his Double A campaign.

Worst Case Scenario: Olt has two potential worst case scenarios. The first is that the bad vision did not cause his problems in 2013, but instead because Triple A pitchers could take advantage of Olt’s swing and miss tendencies, or were caused by his vision problems and those problems aren’t fixed. He gets a shot at the Cubs’ third base spot to start the season, but fails miserably, completely destroying any trade value he still possesses.

  • Bryan

    When you have as many “great” prospects as the Cubs do, it would be foolish to think that every one of them is going to live up to their potential (I was only 14, but I thought Kevin Orie was going to be a franchise player). And obviously it is not a “Cubs” things; it happens to every team in every sport. One thing that gets forgotten though is that you get the reverse sometimes. Minor leaguers that no one has ever heard of before play well above their potential and become significant contributing members to the team. Here’s to hoping the Cubs have a few diamond in the rough!

  • Chuck

    People need to get their heads around the fact that over half of “top prospects” wash out when they hit the Bigs. Prospects are the new overvalued commodity in MLB.

    • Jedi

      A resounding amen!

    • Noah_I

      That heavily depends on what your definition of “top prospects” is and what your definition of “wash out” is. If you’re looking at the guys who, say, make the top ten in lists of prospects throughout all of baseball, the success rate of at least being an above average MLB starter for an extended period of time is very high. So if you look at BA’s 2010 top ten prospects, which is a year I randomly selected, you have Heyward (injury issues, but very good), Strasburg (star), Stanton (star), Montero (bust), Matusz (disappointment but solid relief pitcher), Desmond Jennings (above average MLB regular), Posey (star), Pedro Alvarez (average to above average MLB regular), Neftali Feliz (highly regarded closer but has had injury issues upon moving to the bullpen) and Carlos Santana (very good). So 7 of the 10 have been at least average starting pitchers or position players, and five of those are at least very good players. Only one player of the top 10 has been a bust. But if a Top 10 prospect has to be an MVP candidate or perennial to not wash out, then yes, the wash out rate is very high throughout.

      Now, as you move down, yes, the numbers get worse, and the bottom half, perhaps even the bottom 60 percent, of top 100 lists are the types of prospects where at least half of them will fail to contribute to the Majors at all.

      But this is why it’s important for an organization to both have high end prospect talent and a lot of depth, which the Cubs have both of right now. Now, odds are that a maximum of one of the four guys I’m writing about meets the “best case scenario” I’m going to lay out in this series.

      The fact remains that every single team that made the playoffs except the Dodgers either directly developed the talent that led them to the playoffs through their farm systems, or acquired the talent that led them to the playoffs by using their farm system to acquire established MLBers via trade. Prospects may be the new overvalued commodity, but the playoffs are dominated, year in and year out, by organizations that built through the farm.

      • Jedi

        That supposed fact in your last paragraph simply isn’t true.

      • Noah_I

        Three best hitters and pitchers for each playoff team, their 2013 fWAR, and how initially acquired by their 2013 team:

        Boston hitters: Ellsbury (5.8 WAR, drafted); Victorino (5.6 WAR, free agent); Pedroia (5.4 WAR, drafted)
        Boston pitchers: Lester (4.3 WAR, drafted); Uehara (3.3 WAR, free agent); Buchholz (3.2 WAR drafted)

        TB hitters: Longoria (6.8 WAR, drafted); Ben Zobrist (5.4 WAR, traded as prospect to TB for Aubrey Huff, came up through TB’s farm system); Yunel Escobar (3.6 WAR, traded in return for prospect)
        TB pitchers: David Price (4.4, drafted); Alex Cobb (2.4, drafted); Matt Moore (1.8 drafted)

        Oakland hitters: Josh Donaldson (7.7, traded as prospect to A’s in Harden trade); Crisp (free agent); Jed Lowrie (3.6, MLB player for MLB player trade)
        Oakland pitchers: Bartolo Colon (3.9, free agent); Straily (1.9, drafted); Sean Doolittle (1.6, drafted)

        LAD hitters: Uribe (5.1, free agent); Hanley Ramirez (5.1 WAR, traded in return for prospects); Yasiel Puig (even though he came through the Dodgers farm system, we’ll call him a FA)
        LAD pitchers: Kershaw: (6.5, drafted); Ryu (3.1, posting system, but best fits FA spot); Greinke (FA.)

        Detroit hitters: Miguel Cabrera (7.6, traded in return for prospects); Peralta (3.6, traded in return for prospects); Austin Jackson (3.1, traded as prospect in return for Curtis Granderson)
        Detroit pitchers: Scherzer (6.4 fWAR, part of Curtis Granderson trade, but already established MLBer); Anibal Sanchez (6.2, traded in return for prospects); Verlander (5.4 drafted)

        Atlanta hitters: Freddie Freeman (4.8, drafted); Andrelton Simmons (4.7, drafted); Jason Heyward (3.4 drafted)
        Atlanta pitchers: Mike Minor (3.4, drafted); Kris Medlen (2.5, drafted); Julio Teheran (2.4, international amateur free agent)

        Reds hitters: Votto (6.2, drafted); Choo (5.2, traded in return for prospects and Drew Stubbs); Bruce (4.1, drafted)
        Reds pitchers: Latos (4.4, traded in return for prospects); Bailey (3.7, drafted); Leake (1.6, drafted)

        STL hitters: Matt Carpenter (7.0, drafted); Yadier Molina (5.6, drafted); Matt Holliday (4.5, traded in return for prospects)
        STL pitchers: Wainwright (6.2, traded as prospect to STL from Atlanta), Lance Lynn (3.3, drafted), Trevor Rosenthal (2.1, drafted)

        Pittsburgh hitters: McCutchen (8.2, drafted); Starling Marte (4.6, international amateur free agent); Russell Martin (4.1, free agent)
        Pittsburgh pitchers: Burnett (4, traded in return for prospects); Liriano (3.1, free agent), Mark Melancon (2.5, MLB player for MLB player trade)

        Cleveland hitters: Jason Kipnis (4.5, drafted); Yan Gomes (3.7, MLB player for MLB player trade); Carlos Santana (3.6, acquired as prospect in Casey Blake trade)
        Cleveland pitchers: Masterson (3.4, traded as prospect in Victor Martinez trade); Ubaldo Jimenez (3.2, traded in return for prospects); Corey Kluber (2.7, traded as prospect).

        So, of the top 3 hitters and top 3 pitchers for all the 2013 playoff teams combined, ten came to their 2013 teams as free agents. Four were a part of an MLB player for MLB player trade. Ten were players who were traded in return for prospects. And THIRTY-FOUR came to their 2013 teams as prospects, either through the draft or through trade. That’s over 55%. So more than half of the best players on each of the 2013 playoff teams were prospects for those teams.

      • Sean Powell

        Yes it is.

      • Seymour Butts

        Ramen!

      • Seymour Butts

        Ramen!

      • Jedi

        Look no further than the WS champions.

        Napoli, Drew, Gomes, Victorino, and Ortiz were ALL signed as market FAs. That’s 5 everyday players!

        The guy who won all their important postseason games – John Lackey. The guy who beat David Price, Justin Verlander, AND Adam Wainwright in one postseason. Free agent.

        That team doesn’t win jack without significant free agent signings.

        Let it be noted – I’m not disputing that these teams built substantial parts of their team through their farm system too. Especially the Red Sox. I just disagree heavily with Noah’s fallacious notion that these playoff teams are all constructed on the backs of nothing but prospects (via trade or development).

      • PLCB3

        Why does it matter how the player is acquired? So they signed a lot of free agents. But all those signings were short-term signings for about 100M total. Not the long-term quarter billion dollars that the Dodgers took from them.

        As for Papi, he was signed 10+ years ago after the Twins non-tendered him.

      • Noah_I

        Which isn’t what I said, nor at all what I believe. I said they were LED to the playoffs by the players they developed through the farm, or players they acquired through the farm. Contributions from free agents are important, and the 2013 Red Sox were a great example of using second tier free agents to bolster a talented group largely developed by the Red Sox. But if those free agents are the guys that you are relying on to be your best players, and your best players are who get you to the playoffs, you better be willing to spend like the Yankees or Dodgers if you’re going to get your best players through free agency. The majority of the best players on the Red Sox fit that notion. Aside from Ortiz, all the guys you named were intended to be supplemental pieces on the 2013 Red Sox team (Victorino in particular had a resurgent year).

        In other words, for most teams, it’s vastly more important to get the draft and development right than to get free agency right because if you don’t get the prior right, it’s very expensive to fix the problem.

      • Jedi

        Parse the words as you will – it is what you said. “Playoffs are dominated, year in and year out, by organizations that built through the farm.”

        They signed Lackey, Napoli, and Ortiz all to hold significant positions of leadership and production on their team. These aren’t “second-tier” additions. They signed other guys to be EVERYDAY players…this isn’t the Cubs adding Nate Schierholtz – even though that’s how you position it.

      • Noah_I

        They signed Ortiz out of the bargain bin 11 years ago and got lucky. When they signed him, he was PRECISELY a Nate Schierholtz type of signing, but one they got very lucky on. Lackey was a big name signing that was a boondoggle for the Red Sox before last season. Napoli was a one year deal to be a complimentary player while he showed he could stay healthy. Who are the players that were the foundation of the 2013 Red Sox: Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, Ortiz are the clear ones. Three of those are draftees, and the other was the greatest bargain bin finds. Unless a team has essentially unlimited funds, it builds through the draft and supplements through free agency. Which is precisely what the Red Sox did.

        Everyone else read what I wrote to mean this but you. And yes, I know your brother is going to come on later and say “I read it the same way Jedi did,” so I’ll spare him the trouble.

      • Jedi

        No – Napoli agreed to a bigger deal (3 years, $39mil) that was only changed after a physical revealed he had a rare condition that might affect his performance. They hardly plucked him from the scrap heap – he was a 2012 All-Star after a 2011 season that was the greatest of his career. (They re-signed him this offseason to a 2-year $32mil deal…$16mil annually is a lot for a complimentary player).

        Get nasty and personal if you must. You’re still positioning everything the same way (minimizing the importance of free agency, wildly overvaluing the draft), not at all different from my interpretation “these playoff teams are all constructed on the backs of nothing but prospects (via trade or development).” Which is what I took umbrage with in the first place.

      • Diz4Shiz

        The draft is 20+ rounds every season, I would guess that 90% of all players are drafted to a team. So “overvaluing” the draft is impossible, the draft is the foundation if every organization in baseball.

      • Noah_I

        They signed Ortiz out of the bargain bin 11 years ago and got lucky. When they signed him, he was PRECISELY a Nate Schierholtz type of signing, but one they got very lucky on. Lackey was a big name signing that was a boondoggle for the Red Sox before last season. Napoli was a one year deal to be a complimentary player while he showed he could stay healthy. Who are the players that were the foundation of the 2013 Red Sox: Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, Ortiz are the clear ones. Three of those are draftees, and the other was the greatest bargain bin finds. Unless a team has essentially unlimited funds, it builds through the draft and supplements through free agency. Which is precisely what the Red Sox did.

        Everyone else read what I wrote to mean this but you. And yes, I know your brother is going to come on later and say “I read it the same way Jedi did,” so I’ll spare him the trouble.

      • Jedi

        No – Napoli agreed to a bigger deal (3 years, $39mil) that was only changed after a physical revealed he had a rare condition that might affect his performance. They hardly plucked him from the scrap heap – he was a 2012 All-Star after a 2011 season that was the greatest of his career. (They re-signed him this offseason to a 2-year $32mil deal…$16mil annually is a lot for a complimentary player).

        Get nasty and personal if you must. You’re still positioning everything the same way (minimizing the importance of free agency, wildly overvaluing the draft), not at all different from my interpretation “these playoff teams are all constructed on the backs of nothing but prospects (via trade or development).” Which is what I took umbrage with in the first place.

      • Diz4Shiz

        The draft is 20+ rounds every season, I would guess that 90% of all players are drafted to a team. So “overvaluing” the draft is impossible, the draft is the foundation if every organization in baseball.

      • PLCB3

        The Dodgers might be spending wild, but a lot of their players were homegrown: Kershaw, Kemp, Ethier, and Puig were homegrown. (Forget that Puig was a Cuban defector with a big contract. Still homegrown player IMO.) they used prospects to take the quarter billion from Boston.

      • Noah_I

        Yeah, I counted Puig as not home grown to give Jedi the benefit of the doubt, but he’s sort of a hybrid. The Dodgers are the example, though, of what you have to do if you want to compete now and your farm system isn’t ready. Kemp’s injuries have really hurt the Dodgers, as well as the big contract they gave Ethier, and they had a good farm system but not a great one and not one that was ready to compete on day one. I think what the Dodgers are doing is interesting, and I actually applaud teams willing to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on payroll and luxury tax. I’d much rather that money goes there than into the owners’ pockets. I’m just curious how long the economics of it hold out, and I do not know the answer to that.

      • PLCB3

        Well they’ve got 280M bucks a year from the tv deal. That’s before selling any tickets, parking, hot dogs, beers, hats, and shirts.

      • Chuck

        What I mean by “top prospects” is that each year various sources publish their Top 10 prospects for each team and the Top 100 Prospects in Baseball. By simple math (and I am simplifying here) each team will have 3 or 4 guys in the top 100 prospects (some teams more some teams less) with the rest of the team top 10 on the outside looking in. So when you look at a team’s top 10 or 15 or whatever, only a handful of those guys will become above-average players. One of them may have a shot at being an All-Star caliber player. Most are bench guys or AAAA players. To be fair, I believe the top prospects in the Cub’s system have a better than average chance to be meaningful players at the MLB level because the overall quality of the Cub’s top prospects are so much better than in years past. I just try and not get too excited because history tells us that some of these guys will not make it.

        MLB is the toughest professional league to crack.

      • Noah_I

        I generally agree, but I do think it’s worth differentiating between the top 10/15/20 lists and the top 100 prospects in baseball. Every team has its top 10/15/20, but some teams will have only 1, or in rare occasions none, on a top 100. So a bad farm system may have only 2 or 3 of its top 15 prospects contribute, while a good one could have 8 or 10 of them contribute (look at the current Cardinals).

        With the Cubs’ current farm system, though, the one thing to remember is that especially Baez and Bryant are just a different breed of prospect than what the Cubs have had in recent history. Does it mean they will succeed? No. But they have better odds than the Felix Pies and Brett Jacksons of the world.

      • Chuck

        Agreed. We are on the same page.

        Now, when I say that prospects are the new overvalued commodity I mean that people should not get overly excited when the Cubs trade Player X to a team for prospects (depending on the prospects)if the prospects are the #8, #15, and some kid in low-A ball. That #8 prospect may sound nice, but he probably will have less of an impact on the MLB team than a bucket of baseballs.

    • Doc Raker

      That has to be the highest washout rate of top prospects out of all the major sports. It just goes to show how complex the greatest game of baseball is and how hard it is to hit big league pitching.

      • PLCB3

        How about football? All the first round draft picks who flame out, all the undrafted players who become mainstays.

  • Chuck

    People need to get their heads around the fact that over half of “top prospects” wash out when they hit the Bigs. Prospects are the new overvalued commodity in MLB.

    • Jedi

      A resounding amen!

    • Noah_I

      That heavily depends on what your definition of “top prospects” is and what your definition of “wash out” is. If you’re looking at the guys who, say, make the top ten in lists of prospects throughout all of baseball, the success rate of at least being an above average MLB starter for an extended period of time is very high. So if you look at BA’s 2010 top ten prospects, which is a year I randomly selected, you have Heyward (injury issues, but very good), Strasburg (star), Stanton (star), Montero (bust), Matusz (disappointment but solid relief pitcher), Desmond Jennings (above average MLB regular), Posey (star), Pedro Alvarez (average to above average MLB regular), Neftali Feliz (highly regarded closer but has had injury issues upon moving to the bullpen) and Carlos Santana (very good). So 7 of the 10 have been at least average starting pitchers or position players, and five of those are at least very good players. Only one player of the top 10 has been a bust. But if a Top 10 prospect has to be an MVP candidate or perennial to not wash out, then yes, the wash out rate is very high throughout.

      Now, as you move down, yes, the numbers get worse, and the bottom half, perhaps even the bottom 60 percent, of top 100 lists are the types of prospects where at least half of them will fail to contribute to the Majors at all.

      But this is why it’s important for an organization to both have high end prospect talent and a lot of depth, which the Cubs have both of right now. Now, odds are that a maximum of one of the four guys I’m writing about meets the “best case scenario” I’m going to lay out in this series.

      The fact remains that every single team that made the playoffs except the Dodgers either directly developed the talent that led them to the playoffs through their farm systems, or acquired the talent that led them to the playoffs by using their farm system to acquire established MLBers via trade. Prospects may be the new overvalued commodity, but the playoffs are dominated, year in and year out, by organizations that built through the farm.

      • AC0000000

        The Dodgers might be spending wild, but a lot of their players were homegrown: Kershaw, Kemp, Ethier, and Puig were homegrown. (Forget that Puig was a Cuban defector with a big contract. Still homegrown player IMO.) they used prospects to take the quarter billion from Boston.

      • Chuck

        What I mean by “top prospects” is that each year various sources publish their Top 10 prospects for each team and the Top 100 Prospects in Baseball. By simple math (and I am simplifying here) each team will have 3 or 4 guys in the top 100 prospects (some teams more some teams less) with the rest of the team top 10 on the outside looking in. So when you look at a team’s top 10 or 15 or whatever, only a handful of those guys will become above-average players. One of them may have a shot at being an All-Star caliber player. Most are bench guys or AAAA players. To be fair, I believe the top prospects in the Cub’s system have a better than average chance to be meaningful players at the MLB level because the overall quality of the Cub’s top prospects are so much better than in years past. I just try and not get too excited because history tells us that some of these guys will not make it.

        MLB is the toughest professional league to crack.

      • Noah_I

        I generally agree, but I do think it’s worth differentiating between the top 10/15/20 lists and the top 100 prospects in baseball. Every team has its top 10/15/20, but some teams will have only 1, or in rare occasions none, on a top 100. So a bad farm system may have only 2 or 3 of its top 15 prospects contribute, while a good one could have 8 or 10 of them contribute (look at the current Cardinals).

        With the Cubs’ current farm system, though, the one thing to remember is that especially Baez and Bryant are just a different breed of prospect than what the Cubs have had in recent history. Does it mean they will succeed? No. But they have better odds than the Felix Pies and Brett Jacksons of the world.

      • Chuck

        Agreed. We are on the same page.

        Now, when I say that prospects are the new overvalued commodity I mean that people should not get overly excited when the Cubs trade Player X to a team for prospects (depending on the prospects)if the prospects are the #8, #15, and some kid in low-A ball. That #8 prospect may sound nice, but he probably will have less of an impact on the MLB team than a bucket of baseballs.