Dan Szymborski has released his 2014 Cincinnati Reds ZiPS projections today at Fangraphs. While the projections are simply that, projections. Historically speaking, ZiPS and other projection systems are much more accurate at projecting proven MLB players than minor league players. The reason for that is simple: They have more data to work with.
With that said, let’s take a look at what the ZiPS projections say about some minor leaguers.
Billy Hamilton is the guy from the minor leagues who will be the most likely to garner true playing time in the 2014 season. He has a big task ahead of him, taking over for Shin-Soo Choo in center field. While their games are very different, they both could provide plenty of value. ZiPS projects Hamilton to hit .264/.319/.362, which to this point is the friendliest projection I have seen on Hamilton. It also says he will steal 68 bases. The system projects him as an above-average defender as well and to provide 2.5 WAR, which would tie him with Brandon Phillips as the 3rd best position player in the projections. To be perfectly honest, I think the offensive projection may be a tad too high (though not unrealistic at all) and the defensive value a bit too low.
What about the other minor leaguers?
Tucker Barnhart rates out very favorably in the new ZiPS projections. He rates out much better than current backup Brayan Pena and just below projected starter Devin Mesoraco. Barnhart is projected to hit .249/.309/.350 if he were sent to the Major Leagues this year. He makes up plenty of value defensively where he is rated on par with Brandon Phillips in the defensive grade category.
Neftali Soto and Ryan LaMarre also find themselves on the positive side of the ledger. Soto is projected to hit .238/.280/.405 with 22 doubles and 20 home runs (if he played a full season). That doesn’t seem unreasonable for him. The power will play, but his plate discipline would probably hold him back from hitting for an average. LaMarre is projected to hit .236/.296/.326 with 17 doubles, 7 homers and 24 steals. That also seems pretty reasonable, though LaMarre’s second half surge could sway things slightly. The system also gives LaMarre a positive defensive rating, on par with Chris Heisey. I think he is a bit better defensively than Heisey is, so my brain adjusts that slightly upward.
On the pitching side of things there are several guys to look into. The first is top prospect Robert Stephenson. He barely pitched at the Double-A level with Pensacola this season, so the system only projected him for 100.2 innings. It did however give him 90 strikeouts and 42 walks to go with a 4.56 ERA. On the surface that seems reasonable, though I also want to note that I believe he could go out and perform much better than that too. With his projections it gives Stephenson a WAR of 0.6.
Carlos Contreras is an interesting case here, as the system projects him as a starting pitcher, while I feel there is very little chance that he is anything but a reliever for the Reds. Still, the system projects him for 124 innings and 91 strikeouts to go with a 4.72 ERA. It does project him for 70 walks too, which is an awful lot, but if he starts it wouldn’t surprise me. If he were a reliever, which I believe he will be when he reached the Majors, I would expect that walk rate to be quite a bit lower.
Jon Moscot is the next prospect on the pitching list, projecting him for 104.2 innings, 78 strikeouts and 41 walks to go with a 4.82 ERA. Those numbers seem on target for this year if he were to get that much playing time. Like Stephenson, Moscot didn’t spend much time in Double-A, so the projections are reaching pretty far down for him to find comps to work with for him.
Newly acquired David Holmberg rounds out the top 4 among pitching prospects. He finds himself slightly below 0.0 on the WAR scale, coming in at -0.1. The system projects him for 147 innings, 88 strikeouts, 56 walks and a 5.14 ERA. While my views on him are limited to a few starts in the 2013 season, those numbers look right to me if he were to jump directly to the Majors.
The entire projections are available, sans Yorman Rodriguez (Dan thought he had included him, but for now it isn’t showing up on Fangraphs, so it may appear later), for most prospects who were in at least Pensacola or Louisville and some who were in Bakersfield as well as all Major Leaguers. Go check them out and remember that these are all based on numbers and regression to the average (so a guy like Joey Votto who continuously beats BABIP because of his lack of pop ups gets dinged back to normalish areas because he is such an outlier that the system isn’t built for him). So go check them out. They project the Reds, when coupled with fangraphs projected playing time, to be an 89 win team in the 2014 season.