Zach Borenstein: Top Angels' Prospect Performance of 2013

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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) Zach Borenstein, 22, Lf.  A+. 4.7 WAR, +38 bat, +0 glove.  .337/.403/.631 with 28 HR and 5 SB

Spectacular.  And incredibly well documented, thanks to Zach's brother, Josh, who captured highlights ranging from Zach perfecting his swagger in April to his rousing rendition of the national anthem in late August.  Take the video tour: the pure awesomeness is well worth a lunch break.

Borenstein torched the Cal League, and would have coasted to the triple crown had he not gone down with a hip flexor injury for most of July. Despite the missed month, he still paced the league in average and dingers, though he never again regained the lead in RBI's. He had to settle for being just Cal League MVP.

I could talk at great length about Borenstein -- and I do, below -- but for those of you pressed for time, here's the key stat: Borenstein slugged .705 against righties in 2013.  The dude can mash.  If, on the other hand, you find yourself with a moment or two to delve into the finer things in life, take a look at Borenstein swinging the stick. Here it is folks, perfection manifest:


He begins upright and open, then loads by pulling his front foot in, tapping his toe, and taking a modest stride forward. The head hardly moves at all, and the back leg firms up and steepens just before he launches into his cut. The bat is quick off of his shoulder, whipping directly into the hitting zone and staying there for a long time, before achieving full extension out in front. Technically proficient in every way, the cut transcends mechanics and in its perfect balance flirts with divinity.

Crushing an inner half fastball with a ballet dancer's grace is one thing, but what really separated Borenstein from the pack was his ability to hit for power to the opposite field (check out his spray chart at MLB Farm). Seven HR's, twelve doubles, and a triple all went to left field. Here's what that looked like:


The posture and balance aren't as textbook perfect here as they were against an inner half pitch, but he makes up for it by getting his arms fully extended. The outcome is the same.

Now let's contextualize the swing with some numbers. By my calculation, Borenstein put up the best offensive season that the Halos' farm has seen since Kole Calhoun's 2011 campaign, which also took place in the California League. His .290 isolated power mark was the highest of any full time, full season ball Angels' farmhand in the last three years (Kole's 2013 .268 mark comes in second).  And did I mention that he slugged .705 against Cal League righthanders? Had he more draft pedigree, 2013 would have announced his arrival on the national prospect scene.

Below is a table comparing Zach's campaign to those of other notable Angels' college hitters who have passed played their home games at Inland Empire's park (Age = players age in their Cal League season):

AGE

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

iso

HR

HR/Con

BB%

K%

TAv

Borenstein

22

465

0.337

0.403

0.631

0.290

28

8.6%

9.1%

19.1%

0.368

K Calhoun

23

594

0.324

0.410

0.547

0.223

22

5.2%

12.3%

16.2%

0.331

CJ Cron

22

557

0.293

0.327

0.516

0.223

27

5.9%

3.1%

12.9%

0.302

M Long

24

558

0.301

0.382

0.507

0.206

16

4.0%

10.0%

15.4%

0.304

M Snyder

23

590

0.280

0.337

0.506

0.225

25

6.4%

7.3%

25.3%

0.307

The obvious take-away here is that Zach's slugging percentages is in a class of its own. His isolated slugging mark is nearly 30% higher than the next guy.  He blended the highest HR-on-contact percentage with a solid a walk rate. Borenstein did swing and miss more than anyone here save teammate Michael Snyder, but his k-percentage more resembles Calhoun's than Snyder's.  So far, so good.

What fires me up the most is how Borenstein's batted ball profile compares to the other guys, and especially Kole Calhoun's:

AGE

BABIP

LD %

PU %

GB%

BB%

K%

Borenstein

22

0.366

20.5%

4.9%

41.3%

9.1%

19.1%

K Calhoun

23

0.362

16.6%

5.2%

41.3%

12.3%

16.2%

CJ Cron

22

0.295

15.3%

9.0%

37.0%

3.1%

12.9%

M Long

24

0.335

14.5%

10.1%

31.3%

10.0%

15.4%

M Snyder

23

0.337

17.9%

2.8%

36.2%

7.3%

25.3%

If you're like me, you believe that BABIP's are earned, not lucked-into (even if they are volatile), and that's reflected in the numbers: Borenstein's distribution is most similar to Kole Calhoun's, and includes plenty of line drives, few pop-ups, and plenty of BABIP-inflating ground balls.  Borenstein's hit tool is advanced -- he's not just a power guy -- which I think gets lost a bit in the conversation.

Ok, now to complicate the picture a bit.  Here's a third table, including some splits against younger pitchers, splits at home (the 66'ers play in a really difficult home park), and splits against same-handed pitching. There's also advanced base running stats (‘BRR') and fielding stats (‘FRAA'), courtesy of Baseball Prospectus.

OPS v Youth K% v Youth Home slg. Home iso. Home OPS Home HRs OPS v SHP BRR FRAA
Borenstein 0.986 20% 0.551 0.224 0.939 7 0.828 -4.5 -3.1
K Calhoun 0.998 17% 0.476 0.164 0.858 7 0.897 2.5 -3
CJ Cron 0.997 12% 0.384 0.120 0.685 5 0.817 -5.2 0.1
M Long 0.900 15% 0.514 0.214 0.889 8 0.958 2.4 -1.7
M Snyder 0.769 23% 0.520 0.231 0.884 13 0.828 -1.9 -2.7

Now we start to see a few red flags, albeit minor ones. Maybe they're more like yellow flags.  Let's start with the k-rate. Borenstein showed a sharper drop in production  against younger pitching - the real prospects - than anyone else on this list save Michael Snyder, though he remained pretty darn good.  That does jive with scouting reports (and AFL results) that forecast struggles against quality stuff.  When I saw him face Giant's fireballer Kyle Crick, for example, Borenstein didn't look overmatched, exactly; he stayed patient, reached for just a few tough pitches out of the zone, and managed to work a walk and flair a single to right over five plate appearances. However, he couldn't do anything with Crick's fastball, even when it was left over the plate; looked bad on a couple of good change-ups; and wound up fanning in his other three PA's against the Giant's prospect.  No shame in struggling against the best, but it does highlight what to look out for as his competition improves.

As a side note, check out how much Cron improved against younger pitching. Those are the numbers that best confirm scouting reports, showing that Cron can mash quality stuff (despite flailing in the face of guile).  This leads to the age-old question: are you with the scouting camp that prefers Cron, or are the numbers significant enough to push you into the SABR camp and prefer Borenstein?  Calhoun's precedent isn't especially helpful here, because while he was slightly better against youth, he was also a year older than Borenstein and Cron were at the time so faced a much larger share of pitchers younger than himself.

Borenstein lost much of his distance power at home, like all of the other college bats save one. Mike Snyder is the only Angels farmhand ever to keep hitting the ball over the fence in San Bernardino with any regularity, which boosts excitement over what he'll do next year in the Trav's home park (though he certainly comes with his own flaws). Borenstein again compares favorably to Calhoun, so there's likely nothing to worry about.

Against same-handed pitching, Borenstein more than held his own, which is a significant improvement over his 2012 splits. The numbers weren't great, falling short of Calhoun's .897 OPS against lefties (and far short of Long's otherworldly .958 OPS against same-handers in 2011), but Borenstein did manage southpaws better than Cron managed righties. Interesting.

Baseball Prospectus' Base Running Runs ('BRR') and Fielding Runs Above Average ('FRAA') are both highly volatile stats, but I think there's truth to them here. When Calhoun was in the Cal League, he was in the midst of transforming himself from one-dimensional college slugger to jack-of-all-trades on the baseball diamond, and that showed up loud and clear in his base running. Borenstein has a similar narrative, which his boosters are quick to highlight, but so far he's been a mild negative everywhere but the batters' box. There are flashes of hope that he'll show competence at the highest levels -- his generally disappointing AFL experience at the plate obscured a decent defensive performance, including a three-assist game, for example -- but he has yet to prove that he can contribute in consistently in other ways.

I was slow to jump on the Borenstein bandwagon, but I think there's enough evidence here to put him in the top tier of Angels' prospects, even if I remain anxious to see if he hits at the upper levels.  He doesn't have standout tools, but if he can slug against right-handers -- especially if he can slug against elite right-handers -- the Halos will make room for him. Long term, I think his ceiling and best comp is Raul Ibanez, and heaven knows that guy has made his contributions over the years (and hopefully in 2014).

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