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Alex Yarbrough and Sherman Johnson: Top Angels Prospect Performances

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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.


Back when I first began covering prospects, I'd have looked at the two guys below and declared with snarky conviction that Sherman Johnson was underrated and Alex Yarbrough significantly overrated. The latter gets all of the press despite their similar profiles and amateur track records; yet Johnson walks three times as much as Yarbrough while making nearly as much contact. With all of the self-righteousness that an internet-stat-wielder can muster, I'd declare it self-evident that their respective BB/K ratios would prove the critical indicator, and that Johnson would wind up a superior player to Yarbrough.

After doing this for awhile, however, you come realize that scouts get paid for a reason. Looking the part of big leaguer against the best possible competition is important, and Yarbrough showed the quick bat necessary to sting quality stuff: he turned around the Cal League's best fastballs with ease, including Giant's prospect Kyle Crick's heater. That ability to square up velocity is a necessary condition -- really, the necessary condition -- to carving out a role as a tools-challenged big leaguer.  Yarbrough appears to have that skill, while Johnson is still very much a question mark.

Still, there is a lot to like about Johnson. He provides a bit more defense, speed, arm and positional flexibility, and if he hits, he could become a classic Halos' utility man in the Chone/ Maicer tradition. If he hits. Johnson v Yarbrough is a classic stats vs. scouts scenario, and their respective outcomes might provide a lesson to us all.

(9)  Sherman Johnson, 22, 3b/2b. A/A+. 3.5 WAR. +10 bat, +6 glove. .264/.371/.380 with 4 HR & 14 SB

According to Baseball Prospectus, Johnson had the third best season in the Halos' system behind only Zach Borenstein and Eric Stamets, tallying up 4.8 WAR. Much of that value derived from the +10 glove with which BP's fielding runs above average ("FRAA") credits him. He mostly played third base with the Bees, but spent time at second and in the outfield both with Burlington and Inland Empire, and looked pretty good everywhere they put him. He was also above average with the stick, leading all full-season Angels' farmhands with a 14% walk rate and 69 total free passes. The lefty hitter showed a bit less patience against same handed pitchers (9% walk rate vs. 16% against righties), but actually hit them for higher average with a nearly-identical OPS.

Johnson's hitting mechanics in 2013 were notable primarily for an extremely casual set-up at the plate: he begins with an open stance, bat resting against his torso, standing tall and rocked way back on his heals as if he's taking a promo picture.  Just kind of hanging out, really. He didn't appear to do that in college, so it's an interesting tweak to add in professional ball, when hitters are usually doing their best to rid themselves of the less-than-optimal habits of their amateur days.

The slack set-up requires Sherman to use a big trigger with lots of moving parts to get himself into hitting position. He pulls his bat back and up over the letters only when the pitcher's arm starts slinging forward. Just before the pitcher releases, he raises his front knee, pulling it up and in to close his stance. He perches for a moment, coiled on his back leg, before striding forward on his front leg. All of that motion worked for him as a timing mechanism last year, but it will be interesting to see if the exaggerated trigger, coil, and stride become too cumbersome against elite stuff.

He's a breakout candidate with the 66'ers, and could ride a hot 2014 into the upper minors and eventually challenge Grant Green for the longterm, non-shortstop utility gig off the Halos' bench. He seems to me to be exactly the type of player to out-perform expectations. In case you don't have enough reasons to pull for him, check out the following:

(10)  Alex Yarbrough, 21, 2b. A+. 3.4 WAR +6 bat, +5 glove.  .313/.341/.459 with 11 HR & 14 SB

Yarbrough hits.  Then he hits some more.  He ranked third in all of the minors last year in knocks, so it doesn't take a ton of imagination to envision him continuing to hit all the way up the chain.

I don't have a whole lot to add to the conversation that hasen't already been said hereherehere, or here.  Folks like his hit tool, hope to see more patience, and seem to be cautiously optimistic about him touching double digit HR's in the majors.

If he can approach a .300 BA in the MLB, then, well, he could carve out a role as a regular for a few years.  His primary problem is Taylor Lindsey, a similar but probably better player right ahead of him, and the handful of guys in his own cohort who project as more versatile utility players.  Despite glowing reviews from within the organization, the Angels are not really in a position to best utilize his talents, and he's a marginal trade chip.

It will be interesting to see how Yarbrough fares with the glove in the coming years. He rarely makes mistakes, was voted best defensive second baseman in the Cal League last year by managers, and the organization cites him reaching defensive milestones in the link above; but reviews of his arm and range are tepid at best, and Baseball Prospectus' FRAA blasts him with a -20 rating, the lowest of any player in the system. Weird.  Despite being a below average runner, he may start to play some outfield next year in order to build versatility.