Fangraphs writer and creator of the KATOH projection system, Chris Mitchell, who was kind enough to answer a few questions from us.
1. For those who are not familiar, can you give a quick description of your KATOH projection system.
KATOH is a computer-based projection system that uses a prospect’s minor league performance, age and physical characteristics to forecast how good he’ll be in the majors. For each player, it provides a WAR value for his first six years in the big leagues, which is meant to align with a player’s years under team control. KATOH isn’t meant to replace scouting, but rather to complement it. Due to its objectivity, it can be useful in identifying players who might be overlooked or underrated by the scouting consensus.
2. Your rankings seem to be more bullish on Samir Duenez. Why do you think this is?
Duenez is an unconventional player in that he’s a a first baseman who doesn’t hit for power. Scouts tend to write off players like that from the get-go. In most cases that instinct is correct, as there are very powerless first basemen in the league. But I’d argue Duenez is an exception due to his contact ability, athleticism and youth.
Prior to reaching Double-A, Duenez rarely struck out, which suggested he’d have relatively easy transitions up the minor league ladder. He’s also been active on the bases, which suggests he’s more athletic than your typical first baseman. And considering he just turned 21 last month, there’s still plenty of time for more power to develop.
3. What made you want to create KATOH?
I’ve always been a big fan of sabermetrics and also a prospect junkie. Despite all the progress the sabernetric community had made, I noticed that almost all of the prospect coverage was purely scouting-based, even at FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading scouting reports, but they’re not always free of subjectivity. And since there are literally thousands of players in the minors, plus thousands more eligible to be drafted each year, talent can sometimes go unnoticed by scouts. A good scout is better at identifying prospects than a bunch of equations will ever be. But KATOH can evaluate all players objectively and efficiently, which makes it a good complement to scouting.
4. How did you become so passionate about minor league baseball?
Part of it is that I grew up very close to the now-defunct New Haven Ravens, who were a Double-A team. I even slept in a tent in their outfield as a Cub Scout. For me, it’s never been enough to just know who the good players are right now; I also want to know about the next big thing. I enjoy following future big leaguers as they grind through the minors, and I especially enjoy following them before they’re on anyone else’s radar. It’s kind of analogous to seeing a no-name band up close and later seeing them sell out a stadium. I guess you could say I’m a prospect hipster.
5. The Royals farm system isn’t in the best shape right now. But are there any players you are particularly high on? If so, who?
· Hunter Dozier hit very well in Triple-A last year and appeared to be ready to start a productive big-league career. It’s just a matter of health at this point.
· I mentioned Duenez before, and although he’s sputtered a bit this year in Double-A, I still think he’s one of KC’s better prospects.
· Last year’s 5th rounder, Nicky Lopez, is doing some interesting things in High-A right now. Any speedy shortstop who puts up numbers like his is worth watching.
· Donnie Dewees has nearly halved his strikeout rate this year while also adding power. That’s quite encouraging coming from someone with his speed.
6. Overall thoughts on the Royals draft?
They leaned heavily on high school and JuCo guys early on, which are harder for me to analyze since I don’t have KATOH projections for them. I did see a couple of their early-round high school guys — second rounder MJ Melendez and fifth rounder Charlie Neuweiler — in person, and liked them both. You can find my write-ups and video here. KC also snagged a few KATOH guys in the later rounds:
· Michael Gigliotti played in a relatively weak conference, which makes it tough to evaluate his performance. But he hit well against better competition on the Cape Cod League last summer. He’s a speedster who walks a ton.
· Brewer Hicklen is another speedy outfielder who caught KATOH’s eye. He also hit for an encouraging amount of power.
· Sal Biasi put up encouraging strikeout numbers at Penn State.
· Robert Garcia’s 2017 numbers were underwhelming, but he was one of the top pitchers in the Big West in 2016. He also held his own in the Cape last summer.
· JC Cloney (9th), Cason Sherrod (13th) and Adam Bainbridge (30th) also performed decently in college.
7. Who are some underrated prospects in the Royals system?
Well, Samir Duenez, of course. A bit further off the radar, Foster Griffin and Frank Schwindel have put up encouraging numbers this year. Zach Lovvorn and Luke Farrell have both shown some promise in the upper-levels. I think they all of these guys have a good chance of contributing in the near-future, even if they top out as role players.
8. KATOH also seemed pretty high on Raul Mondesi. After struggling in the majors, what do you see his future as?
Mondesi has been terrible in Kansas City, but he’s hit really well in the upper-levels, including in Triple-A this year. A player with Mondesi’s defensive and baserunning prowess doesn’t need to hit much to be an everyday player, yet Mondesi’s minor league numbers suggest he could be a decent hitter in the not-too-distant future. It’s easy to forget how young he is (he isn’t even 22 yet) so there’s time for him to figure it out. Any other speedy, 21-year-old shortstop hitting over .300 with power in Triple-A would be a tippy-top prospect. My stats-only version of KATOH projects him for 9.9 WAR, which would make him the No. 9 prospect in baseball.