“He passes the eye candy test, he’s got the looks, he’s ready to play the part.”
-A’s scout, Moneyball (2011)
Gone are the days of evaluating baseball prospects solely by how they look in their uniforms.
Front offices still use player comps to communicate about who prospects remind them of — i.e. “Jordan Lawlar plays like Derek Jeter” — but their analysis is now supported by data.
Dynasty fantasy baseball managers can benefit from this way of thinking too. If we can identify which minor leaguers remind us statistically of MLB stars and pick them up before they rise up Top 100 lists of popular prospect rankings sites, that’s the dream, right? Any dynasty manager that consistently does this corners the market on elite prospects and has a huge advantage over their leaguemates.
But how exactly do we find them?
In this new series — “Searching for Statistical Comps” — we’re going to explore different data-driven methodologies of how to discover dynasty assets that can rise up rankings 6-12 months down the line. Our first search will be for “statistical Juan Sotos,” and it turns out, this may lead us to the Dodgers’ next top prospect.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
Could a Statistical Comp of Juan Soto Be The Next Dodgers Top Prospect?
Juan Soto debuted for the Washington Nationals in 2018 after skipping Triple-A, placed second in Rookie of the Year, became the youngest player to win the NL batting title in 2020, and has the most walks (508) in MLB history before the age of 24; ahead of Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, and Bryce Harper. Soto is 8th all-time in adjusted OPS+ (157) before his 24th birthday.
Were there any markers of Soto’s performance in the minors that have been mirrored by other prospects since?
Let’s filter minor league data since Soto’s career began by the hallmarks of his skillset and any future Hall of Famer: plus-plus plate discipline, plus power, and performing abnormally well at a young age.
These are expressed in the following filters:
|Next Year’s MLB Pipeline Scouting Grade (Overall)||≥50|
*Data Sourced via Fangraphs and MLB Pipeline
We also added a filter for the next year’s scouting grade as reported by MLB Pipeline to ensure we limited our output to players who scouts believed generated the previous year’s statistical output with average or better tools, a 50 grade.
(This is important because it seeks to ignore the small handful of hitters who perform well enough in the Arizona Fall League and Dominican Summer League to meet these filters, but scouts deem irrelevant and unrepeatable at higher levels because of a major approach problem or lack of tools; in our review, zero players that met this criteria but received no subsequent scouting grade ever became big leaguers).
Historical Track Record of The Juan Soto Filter
Here are the results of the search going back to Juan Soto’s age-18 season in A ball.
|Juan Soto, WSN||2017||A||18||171|
|Grant Lavigne, COL||2018||R||18||160|
|Aaron Bracho, CLE||2019||R||18||162|
|Wander Franco, TBR||2018||R||17||159|
|Wander Franco, TBR||2019||A||18||155|
|Jeferson Quero, MIL||2021||CPX||18||148|
|Josue De Paula, LAD||2022||DSL||17||161|
How’d the results do?
Result 1: Miss — Grant Lavigne, the 6’4” 1B for the Colorado Rockies, hit these same filters a year after Soto and was promoted to A ball in 2019 where his power fell off a cliff (.519 SLG in 2018 vs. .327 in 2019). He didn’t play in the shortened COVID season, repeated A-ball in 2021 and has since made it to AA where he is again slugging below .400. It’s worth looking into why Lavigne stopped hitting for power and would be worth an entire analysis by itself.
Result 2: Miss — Aaron Bracho is a 5’11” 2B still in the Cleveland Guardians organization who tore up Rookie ball with a .296/.416/.593 line in 137 at-bats before getting a promotion to Low-A as an 18-year-old. His K-rate spiked to 25% at that level and has been at over 30% in the two years since at High-A. Bracho is a good example of someone who seems to have been exposed by higher-quality breaking and offspeed stuff that he didn’t see in Rookie ball.
Result 3: Hit — Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays is familiar to anyone who follows MLB prospects. Arguably the highest-rated prospect of all time and an 80-grade on many evaluators’ scales at his peak, Franco hit our filters in two consecutive seasons, most impressively doing so as a 17-year-old in Rookie ball. He kept up that production and debuted in the MLB at age 20, where he reached base in 43 consecutive games, tying Frank Robinson for the longest in league history by a player 20 or younger.
Two more names remain on the list who are still in the low minors today.
C Jeferson Quero, Brewers
Quero broke out in his age-18 season in the complex league and put up a .309/.434/.500 line in limited at-bats (83). He had a BABIP in line with his career norms and walked more than he struck out with a 14.5% BB% and a 12.0% K%. Quero maintained the bulk of this production when he started 2022 at low A before being promoted to High-A at the end of the year. In almost 100 at-bats at High A, he hit .313/.329/.530 and while his plate discipline dropped (2.4% BB%, 17.6% K%), he still struck out less than 20% of the time.
Quero is now the 6th-ranked Brewers prospect according to MLB Pipeline and is given average hit and power tools and an average (50) overall grade. Scouts there write he has “good pitch recognition” and increased his launch angle in 2022.
We’re less high on a 50-grade catcher becoming anything close to Juan Soto (especially since his plate discipline in High-A dropped), but if you’re specifically looking for underrated catching prospects, the fact that Quero did hit on this filter means he’s worth considering over guys who are ranked on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 like C Drew Romo (84), C Bo Naylor (64) and C Henry Davis (57).
There’s more upside with the next “hit” on the filter and he could become the next Dodgers top prospect.
OF/DH Josue De Paula, Dodgers
What immediately jumps out about De Paula is not that he’s getting hype in some fantasy prospect circles (he is), it’s just how what he did stands out as a 17-year-old.
Since 2006 (as far back as the public dataset on Fangraphs goes), Josue De Paula and Wander Franco are the only prospects in the entire universe of MILB, DSL, ACL, and affiliate leagues to walk more than they struck out and slug at least .500 in their age-17 seasons, and receive at least a 50 overall grade the subsequent year by scouts.
It suggests that scouts believe De Paula has the tools to back up his performance at higher levels just like they believed Wander Franco and Juan Soto backed up their rare performances in subsequent stops and eventually the MLB.
What’s fascinating is De Paula’s overall grade is actually being dragged down by his poor defense and slow foot speed despite stealing 16 bases in 53 games last year.
Josue De Paula Scouting Grades on MLB Pipeline
It’s this profile why some scouts think De Paula could move out of the field entirely and DH. This may hurt his real life value but for dynasty baseball purposes, it’s irrelevant assuming you play in a league with a UTL spot. Fangraphs already places a 55 hit/60 game power/65 raw power combo on him and he’s still just 17 years old.
In January, Eric Longenhagen wrote, “The comps that scouts (not just Dodgers personnel, scouts from outside the org) are throwing around here are borderline irresponsible, star DH/LF types who are currently among the most dangerous hitters in baseball.”
We assume they’re talking about Yordan Alvarez. De Paula has been compared to the Houston slugger both physically and in terms of his swing mechanics.
Here were Alvarez’s scouting grades on MLB pipeline at his peak prospect value, which are — astoundingly — lower than De Paula’s ranks in his age 17 season:
Yordan Alvarez Peak Scouting Grades on MLB Pipeline
What It All Means
Obviously, Alvarez vastly outperformed his grades, but the point is this: where there’s growing hype around De Paula, it isn’t just smoke.
There appears to be real fire here in the form of a filter that shows he demonstrated a rare combination of plate discipline and power that Juan Soto did before he broke out and did so in his age 17 season — something only De Paula and Wander Franco have done since 2006.
That’s a huge statistical improbability and for a player who may still be free on waivers in many leagues, it makes sense to get in now before he could appear in Top 100 lists over the summer and is the recipient of mega-hype as a newly anointed Dodgers top prospect.
It’s probably why Eric Cross wrote in February that De Paula was already ranked ahead of the Boston Red Sox’s new outfield signing Masataka Yoshida, for example.
Watch De Paula’s performance in 2023, and if he’s able to maintain his elite plate discipline (a BB/K over 1) and power while receiving a promotion to Low-A as an 18-year-old, he will be in rare company and will stay on a track that only a few other minor leaguers have been on in the last two decades.
Stay tuned for more entries in the “Searching for Statistical Comps” series on Fantrax.
Are you buying in on Tyler’s favorite bounce-back players? For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!