Top Prospect Performances Of The First Half: Hitters

Not your typical first base profile. - Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESS

Keep in mind that this is not a traditional top prospect list because it focuses entirely on 2013 contributions. I rank guys according to advanced metrics which, for position players, include batting runs above average, positional adjustment, defense, and a replacement level calculation that scales the total to "Wins Above Replacement" (though the concept of replacement level doesn't really apply to minor leaguers). I use a standard "runs allowed based" WAR formula for pitchers.

1) Efren Navarro, 27, AAA, 3.3 WAR. +22 bat, +6 glove, .349/429/.485 with 6 HR and 6 SB.

Navarro is quietly putting together his masterpiece season. A former fiftieth round pick, Navarro has built up such a reputation with the glove that he is generally regarded as the finest defensive first baseman in all of minor league baseball. He won a Rawlings Gold Glove for his efforts last year, managers have always voted him best defender in his league, and it's all announcers can talk about when he steps into the batters' box. The numbers point to him being a little off his game this year in the field, but his personal bar is so high that a little regression is all but inevitable.

He's more than made up for the occasional fielding glitch by hitting out of his mind. While unlikely to sustain a .413 batting average on balls in play (who could?), he is spraying line drives across the field 30% of the time on contact. He's never struck out much, and his walks have picked up. He's been a monster for the Bees, and was the primary reason that they didn't implode entirely in the early going when decimated by injuries and call-ups.

Navarro mentioned in an interview that he received calls from teams interested in signing him to a minor league deal last offseason, despite the fact that he won't be a free agent until the conclusion of 2013. As a miracle-working first baseman, he can take some pressure off of young, raw infielders by saving them throwing errors here and there. That's a pretty valuable asset to have in your system, so in order to keep him, I imagine the Angels will have to show him a clear path to big league playing time. I don't see it happening.

He's likely a Callaspo-type bat at the big league level, so his odds of earning a job as a regular are thin. However, I could see a team like Boston, which is breaking in a whole new left side of the infield while lacking a top-caliber type player at first, picking Navarro up to platoon. Navarro's line drive, all fields approach might help him to sustain a healthy average -- with lots of doubles against the Monster -- in that park. He's not a horrible fit for the Angels' current roster, especially if Trumbo continues to struggle with the bat, but I doubt the Halos concede that particular point. Most likely, he's headed to another AAA team next year.

2) Kyle Johnson, 23, A, 2.8 WAR. + 15 bat, +2 glove, .308/.416/.421 with 2 HR and 30 SB.

The Angels' 2012, 25th round pick was one of the few bright spots in the Burlington Bees' line-up, so obviously the FO elected to ship him out for Collin Cowgill in June. His best attributes are plus speed, which plays up in games due to good instincts; a good arm that allows him to play right field; and above all, a very good approach at the plate. He was on the older side for the Midwest League, but he hasn't missed a beat since the Mets promoted him to the tough Florida State league, hitting .385/.469/.500 in his fist 30 AB's.

Johnson, we hardly knew ye.

3) Matt Long, 26, AAA, 2.4 WAR. +14 bat, +1 glove, .304/.381/.484 with 9 HR and 11 SB

Long's first full professional season began in much the same way as Johnson's did back in 2010, when he provided surprising OBP and a veteran presence at the top of a Midwest League line-up. While no slouch on the basepaths, Long never flashed Johnson's kind of speed, though he did show more pop. Since 2011, he's been a consistent 15 HR/50 BB/20 SB guy in his climb up the minor league ladder, and his hit tool has developed very well.

Long also provides versatility, with plus defense in the corners, adequate D in center, and he's even developed into a passable stop-gap second baseman. He has a rocket arm, and has consistently gunned down his fair share of runners from the outfield. I like him a lot, and was saddened to see him get so buried on the depth chart by Dipoto's mass import of journeyman outfielders.

But, for the second year in a row, he outperformed them all (save Shuck), reclaiming a spot on the depth chart through sheer, undeniable competence.

4) Alex Yarbrough, 21, A+, 2.4 WAR, +9 bat, +0 glove, .316/.343/.484 with 10 HR and 10 SB

Yarbrough currently leads the Angels' organization in hits, and is second on the farm in total bases. Encouragingly, after not going yard at all in his first professional season, Yarbrough's mashed 10 HR's with 29 other extra base hits in 2013. Check him out here:


The hit tool looks solid. He's steady if unspectacular in the field. What does worry me is the 3.9% walk rate that he's managed since joining the organization. Like other Angels' prospects who entered pro ball with the ‘polished' tag - Cron and Natanael Delgado come to mind - Yarbrough has forgotten how to walk entirely once the games start.

Lindsey's comparable performance in AA overshadows Yarbrough's season, and Yarbough lacks a plus-plus tool, so it's difficult to project the fourth round pick becoming the Halos' regular second baseman any time soon. Nevertheless, he's a safe bet to get to the big leagues somewhere. He looks like an Alexi Amarista type to me, with a tad more pop but less defense, and those guys can stick.

5) Zach Borenstein, 22, A+, 2.4 WAR, +17 bat, +2 glove, .328/.370/.602 with 16 HR and 4 SB

Whoa. That was a nice surprise. Can't say I saw it coming.

Borenstein played out of his mind through the first half. He was especially good in May, when he went .356/.412/.673 with seven HR's and 70 total bases. Unsurprisingly, the lefty swinger's been best against righties, pounding them at a .339/.374/.688 clip. He strikes out less than 20% of the time, and shows some ability to hit to the ball hard on the ground and to the opposite field. His .356 BABIP doesn't look too crazy, and even with some regression he should continue to hit for healthy average.

His 27.1% HR per outfield flyball rate, however, seems less sustainable. 13 of his 16 homeruns have come on the road, outside of moderately pitcher-friendly Inland Empire, so he's taken maximum advantage of the most extreme California League hitting environments. No doubt he's shown a knack for squaring up baseballs in 2013, but if regression doesn't bring the HR rate back to earth in the second half, then the Texas League will next year.

Power is Borenstein's best tool, and the Cal League is notorious for distorting assessments of true talent in that area. For me at least, he's going to have to hit 20+ HR's in the Texas League next year to have any hopes of approaching Kole Calhoun's status as favorite ‘non-prospect' in the organization.

6) Kole Calhoun, 25, AAA, 2.3 WAR, +15 bat, + 0 glove, .333/.403/.557 with 8 HR and 10 SB

Speaking of Calhoun, it's notable that our favorite over-achiever did all of this damage in just 51 games, so has fewer PA's than anyone on this list save the annual rookie ball aberration.

Kole's made his usual, across-the-board contributions, hitting for some power (26 extra base hits, including five triples), walking in 10% of his PA's, swiping bags at a high success rate (he's only been caught once!), and providing solid value in the field, playing more games in center than anywhere else. Who knows what his actual range is out there, but he gets good jumps, runs good routes, and makes all of the plays he can get to, sometimes in spectacular fashion.

What I find most fascinating about Calhoun is his transition from the college equivalent of David Ortiz -- a one-dimensional lefty masher -- to jack-of-all trades grinder. Not that it's gospel, but Calhoun's achieved a 7.6 "speed score" at Fangraphs, a metric that attempts to index a players' usable speed. That ties him with Kevin Johnson in the system, and ahead of guys like Travis Witherspoon, Andrew Romine, and Eric Stamets.... Crazy.

And, as I try to publish this while the frigg'n photo cropper freezes my browser, Calhoun breaks up a double play with a hard slide into second against Sacramento. Seriously, the guy does it all. Give him some friggin' playing time.

Update: Moments after I finally publish, he raps a pure hustle double on a flair that falls in front of the center-fielder.

7) Eric Stamets, 21, A+, 2.2 WAR, -1 bat, +5 glove, .287/.354/.376 with 2 HR 12 SB

Defensively, Stamets is a no-doubt major league shortstop. Odds are he's going to be limited offensively though, since even if everything works out great, he'll hit for just mediocre batting average, steal a few bags, and do little else. He walks some now, sure, but better pitchers won't hesitate to pound the strikezone, and there's little to suggest that Stamets is going to punish them for it. Meaning, he'll most likely be the next Andrew Romine.

That's cool though, because Andrew Romine is a valuable, if marginal piece on the big league depth chart. Stamets will be ready to claim that position just as Romine's time with the Angels likely comes to a close.

More soon...

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